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Planners Continue Work On West Berkeley Zoning

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday February 24, 2009 - 04:05:00 PM

Planning commissioners will take a break from their rewrite of the Downtown Area Plan Wednesday night when they return to their revisions of West Berkeley land use rules. 

Acting on the direction of the City Council, commissioners are considering proposals to make development easier in the city’s only industrially zoned section. 

Members will also receive a staff update on progress towards revising the city’s General Plan Housing Element, and will elect officers for the coming year, 

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. At Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

 


Environmental Review Hearing Moves Downtown Plan Closer

By Richard Brenneman
Monday February 23, 2009 - 06:32:00 PM

With the struggle to shape the future of downtown Berkeley entering its final months, planning commissioners are moving closer to finalizing their own vision.  

Last Wednesday’s meeting brought one benchmark—a hearing on the Downtown Area Plan’s draft environmental impact report (EIR)—and the penultimate stages of two others—honing zoning boundaries and defining what can be built in each, and how high. 

Commissioners began with the draft EIR hearing, a legally mandated session to gather public concerns to be addressed in the final version. 

While EIR hearings are routine events, last Wednesday’s version ventured beyond the usual confines to feature one angry blast from a commissioner aimed at a member of another commission. 

The hearing opened with John Courtney, traffic consultant and senior planner at Lamphier Gregory, the firm hired to produce the EIR. While the plan evaluated the maximum buildout under a development scenario set by planning commissioners in December, Courtney said, “We don’t know what will actually happen.” 

While chair James Samuels has said the commission isn’t drafting the final plan, and is only making recommendations to the City Council, it was the commission which defined the scale of growth outlined in the EIR. 

And that scale is significantly enlarged from the document drafted by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), a 21-member citizen panel which spent nearly two years on its creation. 

The commission, with a majority of members drawn from the development community, has been considerably more expansion-friendly in its building allotments than DAPAC. 

 

Context 

Both sides have invoked the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions as a justification for their argument, with the development-friendly side invoking the large percentage of greenhouse gases that comes from transportation, and their opponents the even larger percentage that comes from construction. 

But on a deeper and older level of Berkeley politics, one side features long-time residents who fight for a cause they call neighborhood preservation, a cause their “Smart Growth” opponents call "nimbyism". 

While the neighborhood advocates found consistent though sometimes narrow majorities on DAPAC votes, Smart Growth reigns at the commission. 

Smart growth proponents want development concentrated along densely populated transportation corridors, a move they say will halt urban sprawl, get commuters out of the polluting cars, revitalize the streets and reinvigorate commerce. 

Neighborhood advocates say the development boomers base their claims on a string of dubious assumptions, ignoring impacts on traffic, noise, and the fragile character of neighborhood communities. 

The importance of the EIR is that the document sets the standards for the maximum amount of development that can occur without triggering yet another costly and potentially lengthy individual review. 

After setting up one level of development for the EIR, a commission majority has proposed allowing for even more, a move that would trigger another supplemental review later this year. 

Courtney said the plan’s review found only four areas where impacts would be legally significant and beyond mitigation. 

To approve the plan, the City Council must make an explicit finding that overriding considerations were justification for their approval of the document that will determine what can and can’t be built in the city center through 2030. 

The specific impacts included:  

• Loss of some neighborhood views of the Berkeley hills due to high-rise construction; 

• High-rise shadowing of the university’s crescent at the western entrance to the campus east of Oxford Street; 

• Possible encroachment on Climate Action Plan limits; 

• Demolition of historic buildings to make way for new structures.  

• Traffic noise and congestion, and 

• Noise and vibration resulting from new construction. 

Comments addressed both what is in the plan and what isn’t. 

 

Hearing  

The leadoff speaker sparked the evening’s sharpest exchange. 

Anne Wagley, Daily Planet arts and calendar editor and member of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, has sued both entities responsible for the plan, the city and UC Berkeley. 

Wagley was among the plaintiffs who sued over the Board of Regents approval of the Berkeley campus Long Range Development Plan 2020 and its accompanying EIR. That plan called for 850,000 square feet of new off-campus buildings in downtown Berkeley. 

The city of Berkeley, another plaintiff, opted for a settlement which spelled out mitigation payments to the city to help compensate for the impact of development and required the City Council to adopt a plan that allowed for their projects by May 25. 

Wagley said the plan—along with the commission’s proposal to extend the core area where buildings of up to 225 feet would be allowed—“would wipe out the buffer zone and any protections for the neighborhoods.” 

After criticizing the settlement agreement’s provision giving the university veto power over the plan, Wagley said she was concerned about the impact of “studentification” on nearby neighborhoods. 

The hearing’s momentum veered off course when commissioner Patti Dacey asked Wagley what that term meant. 

Wagley said the term was used in the planning community to describe negative impacts on property values caused by increased noise, crime and other factors which resulted from the increased presence of students. 

That’s when commissioner Harry Pollack erupted. 

Pollack, an attorney who often represents developers, asked Wagley (also who holds a law degree), “Do you have a university degree?” 

“Yes,” she said, “we were all students once.” 

While Pollack lashed out at Wagley for what he called labelling and name-calling, Wagley said she was reflecting complaints from residential neighbors south of campus. 

 

Other comments 

Steve Wollmer, who followed Wagley to the microphone, said he was concerned that the settlement agreement had expanded the downtown plan’s boundaries without public discussion. 

“When the settlement agreement was promulgated, neighbors were quite surprised to learn they had moved downtown without ever leaving their houses,” Wollmer said. “Now we’re talking about 85-foot buildings right across the street.” 

Either city staff had an agenda all along, he said, or the plan “has been hijacked by development interests on the commission.” 

“It’s very important that you consider why the plan’s area was expanded,” said Wollmer. “It was so the transition (to neighborhoods) could be managed and wouldn’t be abrupt.” 

He also called on the commission to reverse its proposal to reject DAPAC’s call to downzone some of the downtown residential neighborhoods—a move commissioners followed after the hearing, with qualifications. 

Daniel Caraco, an Oxford Street resident who said he holds several advanced degrees including one in health policy administration, faulted the plan and planning staff for ignoring what he said were plans to close both Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Herrick Hospital in the city. 

In preparing the plan and the EIR, he said, “staff has specifically refused to acknowledge what it will mean for there to be no emergency facilities in a town of a 100,000 people.” 

Planners must consider the additional deaths that would result, he said, “and you or one of your family could be among them.” 

Carl Friberg, a co-plaintiff with Wagley in the UC Berkeley LRDP suit, charged that the settlement agreement violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by giving the university veto power over the plan. 

CEQA is the same law which mandates the EIR process. 

Jim Rusin, an architect and member of the pro-densification Downtown Berkeley Association, said he didn’t believe the EIR adequately addresses impacts of transforming Center Street between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street into a pedestrian mall. 

While the DAPAC plan calls for the closure, the planning commission revisions leave the issue open. 

Rusin said the EIR also paid short shrift to the impacts of the loss of parking spaces embodied in some of the plan’s proposals, including the possible replacement of the city-owned Berkeley Way lot by housing. 

This time it was the commission chair who questioned a speaker, asking Rusin what businesses would be impacted by closure of Center. In addition to new housing planned for the block, Rusin said some businesses on the block relied on 18-wheel trucks for supplies. 

John English, a retired planner and a preservationist, said the EIR contained “no shortage of mistakes and inconsistencies,” enough so that a detailed written response would be forthcoming. 

He said the commission’s efforts to extend the numbers, heights and potential sites for high-rises could prompt a lawsuit or even a referendum on the plan. 

Dean Metzger, another neighborhood activist, said the increased density and resulting traffic congestion mean that the planners “are making three Berkeleys here,” north, downtown and south. 

With car traffic increasing while AC Transit is cutting service and boosting rates, Metzger asked, “How are you going to make all of Berkeley want to go downtown?” 

Nischit Hedge, representing Local 2859 of the hotel and restaurant workers union, said she was speaking for hotel and laundry workers. 

“We can really appreciate hotel growth in downtown Berkeley,” she said, “but we’re just not convinced skyscrapers are the way to do it.”  

Just take away those two giant hotels, she said. 

The skyscrapers she mentioned are the pair of 225-foot hotels included in the EIR, which would include the proposed but currently stalled hotel and condo tower proposed by Carpenter & Co., the Massachusetts hotelier picked by the university to developer the complex at the northeast corner of the Shattuck and Center Street intersection. 

When it came time for commissioners to make their own comments, members had little to add—though Gene Poschman, the commission’s resident policy wonk, said he would have plenty, to be presented later in writing. 

Pollack said he’d only read the document’s executive summary, then questioned the EIR’s figures on current parking in the city’s Center Street garage. 

He said the plan’s assumptions about available parking in 2030 were based on current parking regulations and said a reduction of parking requirements for new construction might lead to inaccurate results. 

Smart growth advocates call for a reduction in parking at new projects as a stimulus to nudge occupants out of their cars and onto public transit. 

Samuels questioned whether shadowing of the university’s entry crescent was really a significant adverse impact, but Courtney said it had been included because the crescent was “one of a limited number of publicly accessible open spaces available” in downtown Berkeley. 

Samuels gently but firmly nudged the consultant to conceding his point, that “it doesn’t seem unusual to you that we have these kinds of impact in a city the size of Berkeley.” 

While last Wednesday’s session was the only time for spoken comment, downtown planner Matt Taecker said written comments could be submitted through March 13. 

The draft EIR is available online at www.ci.berkeley,ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id+33630. 

Written comments may be submitted in person at the city’s Permit Services Center, 2120 Milvia St., or by e-mail to Taecker at mtaecker@ci.berkeley.ca.us 

 


WORTH READING: from other sources

Sunday February 22, 2009 - 10:18:00 AM

UCB's deal with Dow Chemical produces questionable research about termite control.


City Alarmed by Police Impounding Cars of Undocumented Immigrants

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday February 21, 2009 - 05:14:00 PM

Community organizers met with Berkeley city officials on Thursday to discuss concerns about the Berkeley police seizing cars of undocumented immigrants, which they said had generated fear among some Latino families.  

Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates, said that although the mayor was aware of the issue and sympathized with the immigrants, there was little that could be done since state law authorized the police to tow and impound vehicles for 30 days when driven by drivers who were unlicensed, or who had suspended or revoked licenses. 

“The mayor has been continuously opposed to the state law which says that immigration status is required to get a driver’s license,” she said. “But we don’t know what local law you could pass that would supersede the state law, except for someone actually changing the state law.” 

At Thursday’s meeting, Belen Pulido, lead organizer for the Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action, asked Jesse Arreguin, Berkeley’s first Latino councilmember, to help the undocumented immigrants whose cars were being seized by Berkeley police at DUI checkpoints or traffic stops. 

“They are really scared because they feel their cars might be taken away when they are picking up their kids from school or coming home from work,” Pulido said. “And there’s no way they can get a license. So what should they do? Give up driving?” Calls for comment to the Berkeley Police Department were not returned Friday. 

“People are obviously upset,” Arreguin said, adding that he couldn’t understand how the police could do this in Berkeley, a city of refuge for illegal immigrants. “This is a big issue and not in the best interest of the city. It’s been going on for a long time and the city has not been doing anything about it. It raises important legal questions and whether we are discriminating against one group of people.” 

Mark Silverman, an attorney for the Immigration Legal Research Center in San Francisco, said that the police had been towing cars of undocumented immigrants for a long time in Berkeley, but the issue had become a bigger problem in other cities last year where authorities prevented drivers from taking back their seized cars for over a period of 30 days. 

Silverman said that although state law allowed the police to tow a car when the driver did not possess a license, it was unconstitutional and went against the individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. 

“We want people to unite and organize and get the City of Berkeley to change their policy,” he said. 

Silverman, who is working with immigrant groups in seven counties in California who are trying to end the police practice of impounding cars based on the sole reason that the driver is not licensed, said that the Fourth Amendment protects people from “unreasonable seizures.” 

“If the car is causing a danger to public safety then the police can remove and seize the car,” he said. “But it’s unconstitutional to take someone’s property away solely because he doesn’t have a license—it’s not enough reason to justify a seizure. If the driver takes this issue to the court, I am not sure he would win, but I am certain that if the Berkeley Police Department and the City of Berkeley continues to tow cars, they face a big chance of incurring significant financial liability.” 

Pulido said that she had come across seven cases last year and two so far this year in which undocumented Latino immigrants had called her for help on getting their impounded cars released. 

“People will call me when the police take away their cars but I can only help so many,” she said, adding that four months ago she had helped a Latino woman to get her car back after paying $200 to the impoundment center. “And that was only for a day. This other man gave up on his car because he had to pay the impoundment center a four-day fee and the car itself was worth less than $2,000. A lot of people never get their cars back because they can’t afford the fees. Something needs to be done to make the process easier for them.” 

BOCA played a prominent role in supporting the Latino community last May when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained a Berkeley couple who were unable to show the officers their licenses while driving to the BART station, according to Silverman, and subsequently failed to provide documentation to prove their legal immigration status. 

ICE called the detainment routine targeted enforcement action at that time. 

Lori Haley, a spokesperson for ICE, said on Friday she was not aware of local authorities impounding cars belonging to undocumented immigrants in Berkeley. 

Sinai said that the Berkeley City Council had recently received a report from the Berkeley Police Department in response to their concerns about vehicles of undocumented immigrants being towed at DUI checkpoints. 

“There was some concern from city officials because one of the places where you ask for a driver’s license is at a checkpoint,” she said.  

In the report, Doug Hambleton, Berkeley chief of police, said “the department does not seek out undocumented immigrants for enforcement of DUI offenses or any other violation of law.” 

 


City Council to Consider Rescinding Ban on University Avenue Fast Foods

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday February 20, 2009 - 04:29:00 PM

A moratorium on new fast food restaurants and convenience stores along a portion of University Avenue in downtown Berkeley may soon be lifted. The Berkeley City Council is scheduled to consider a Planning Commission recommendation to lift the ban Tuesday night, Feb. 24. 

The ban on new fast food restaurants and carry-out food stores on University Avenue between Oxford Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way was first adopted by the council in 1999 at the request of the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) and with the support of then-Councilmember Dona Spring, who represented the downtown area on the council. 

In 2002, Spring successfully beat back an attempt to rescind the ban. The Daily Planet reported that Spring “said that lifting the moratorium would unfairly blight University Avenue, while other major thoroughfares [such as College, Solano, and San Pablo avenues] maintained strict limits.” 

“Why should University Avenue become the dumping ground for fast food?” Spring said at the time. 

But the Berkeley political and commercial landscape has significantly changed since then. The economic downturn has taken a deep bite out of Berkeley's retail tax base and has caused vacancies in many downtown commercial spaces. The DBA is now in favor of lifting the fast food/carry-out store ban on University Avenue. Spring has died. Her successor on City Council, Jesse Arreguin, told the Planning Commission last December that he was personally in favor of lifting the ban.  

Arreguin, who had only been elected a month before, also said he needed more time to talk with downtown area merchants to find out their feelings on the matter. The commission decided to move forward immediately, voting 6-2 to recommend lifting the ban, with commissioners Roia Ferrazares, Larry Gurley, Jim Novosel, Harry Pollack, James Samuels, and Dorothy Walker voting yes, Commissioners Patti Dacey and Gene Poschman voting no.  

 


AC Transit Supporters Seek to Stop MTC’s Shift of Federal Recovery Funds from Local Transit Agencies

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday February 20, 2009 - 04:29:00 PM

Officials and supporters of AC Transit are mobilizing opposition to a proposal before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that they feel could siphon away federal stimulus money from the East Bay bus agency.  

The money is slated to come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the $787 billion economy recovery package signed into law this week by President Barack Obama. Some of the money MTC requested in its original ARRA proposal to go directly to local transit agencies—including AC Transit—is now being proposed by MTC staff to be shifted into specific transportation project capital spending. 

About $70 million of that ARRA money originally proposed for local transportation agencies would now go to the BART Coliseum to Oakland Airport connector building project, with another $70 million to construction of a portion of the new Transbay public transit Terminal in San Francisco. 

While none of the money would go directly into transit agency operation, AC Transit could use the money for necessary preventative maintenance and bus rehabilitation needs, thus freeing up money in its budget for those projects for operational uses. 

In a Feb. 18 memo to the commission recommending the fund proposal shift, MTC Deputy Executive Director Therese W. McMillan said only that the changes came “in response to comments and the final funding levels.” 

MTC is scheduled to take up the proposal at its next regular meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 10 a.m. at MTC headquarters at 101 Eighth St. in Oakland near the Lake Merritt BART Station. 

“Whether you agree with everything that AC Transit is currently doing or not, it’s critical that the public speak out to support the agency’s funding,” Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said by telephone earlier this week. “It’s urgent that AC Transit get the stimulus funding in order to avoid cutbacks or a dramatic fare increase.” 

In a press release put out by organizers with the national Gamaliel Foundation, which is helping organize the support-AC-Transit effort, said, “The plan would divert more than $200 million away from transit operators, including more than $22 million intended for AC Transit bus service.”  

The release quoted Rev. Scott Denman, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Oakland, and president of Genesis, a regional faith- and values-based organization, as saying that "before Congress has even finalized an economic recovery package to give much needed help to struggling families across the country, MTC is behind closed doors planning how to siphon off stimulus money that should go to maintaining existing transit service.”  

Genesis is part of the national Gamaliel Foundation, the organization Barack Obama worked for when he was a community organizer. 

AC Transit Board President Chris Peeples, who supports the Transbay Terminal project but not the BART airport connector, says none of that money should come out of the MTC stimulus package proposal originally slated for local transit agency operation. 

“There’s relatively little federal money that can be used by transit agencies [to replace operating funds],” Peeples said by telephone this week. “And we’re desperately low on funds.”  

Peeples said he considers the proposed fund shift “outrageous.” 

AC Transit is considering both service cuts and a fare increase in order to keep its budget in balance. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is the transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, with the commission made up of representatives of the various governmental bodies in the region. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates serves as one of the 19 commissioners. Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Scott Haggerty is the commission vice president. 

 


Berkeley Unified School District Facing State Cuts in New Budget

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 20, 2009 - 09:07:00 AM

The state budget approved by lawmakers on Thursday to close California’s $42 billion budget deficit will impose billions of dollars in cuts on public education, leading to larger class sizes in grades K-12, fewer programs in arts and music and teacher lay-offs, officials said. 

The new budget will slash up to $6 million from Berkeley Unified School District over the next two years, according to Bill Huyett, district superintendent, and takes away 15 to 20 percent in funding from adult education, a major concern for the district. 

State schools chief Jack O’Connell told the Planet in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon that the new budget will take $8.4 billion from Prop. 98, a voter-approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools, which includes deferrals and the redesignation of funds. 

He said that he was concerned that the state was, in essence, transferring its cash flow problem to local agencies. 

O’Connell said the cuts would translate to fewer librarians and nurses, loss of intervention programs and a significant decrease in text books and computers, leaving school districts across the state to grapple with the lack of valuable resources.  

“It’s definitely a step backwards,” he said. “There is relief in Sacramento because there is a budget, that it’s done, but nobody is proud. In my opinion, because of the implosion of the financial situation in the country, I understand tough decisions had to be made. But it’s unfortunate that we are receiving less money at a time when our teachers need to be compensated.” 

Huyett said that the budget approved by the legislation makes the same dollar cuts that the governor proposed, except that instead of taking the money out completely from the general fund, it dips into categorical and the general fund equally. 

“It’s hard to say how this will affect the district since our categorical funds lead to our general funds,” he said. “In some cases it doesn’t really make a difference. Our general fund will take a half to two-third cut.” 

Berkeley Unified was able to rescind layoff notices to teachers last year when the legislature voted against cutting Prop. 98 in the last fiscal year, but still lost $2.5 million in funding. 

Huyett said that since Prop. 98 was based on state revenue, the current economical crisis had taken a big toll on it. 

He said that the district would be revealing the list of lay-offs for this year to the school board Friday.  

Under state law, the district is required to notify teachers about possible lay offs by March 15 and pass a budget by the end of June. 

The new budget, which state educators said generates more money, also makes more cuts. 

It seeks to boost categorical education funding by freeing up funding that is tied up “in restrictive Sacramento-prescribed categories,” so that local schools and districts can act in the best possible way to serve students, a proposal which is hoped to benefit schools falling victim to a cash-strapped economy, but according to O’Connell still doesn’t reduce the impact of the cuts. 

“It’s a painful budget, there are no winners,” he said. 

 


Golden Gates Fields Fate Uncertain; Corporate Owner’s Stock Plunges

By Richard Brenneman
Friday February 20, 2009 - 09:06:00 AM

After failing to raise enough cash to reorganize, the owners of Golden Gate Fields face the threat of liquidation—leaving the future of the Albany race track in doubt. 

Magna Entertainment Corp. (MEC), the company created by Canadian auto parts magnate Frank Stronach after investors in his parts company demanded that he spin off his money-losing racing ventures, issued a warning to investors Wednesday. 

MEC became the nation’s largest owner of race tracks, acquiring some of the nation’s premier venues. 

The company failed to pull off a joint development at the Albany track with Los Angeles “lifestyle” shopping mall developer Rick Caruso, which would have resulted in an upscale mall topped by condos at the track’s northern parking lot. 

The company hired a law firm specializing in bankruptcy reorganization to help with a corporate restructuring, but the company announced it was abandoning the plan Wednesday. Company shares plunged on the news, dropping more than 30 percent to an all-time low of 35 cents Thursday before closing at 36 cents—a precipitous fall from the stocks’ 52-week high of $20. 

The share price plunge prompted the Toronto Stock Exchange to announce Thursday that it was reviewing whether or not the company’s Class A subordinate voting shares should be removed from the exchange’s listings. 

“The Company is being review on an expedited basis,” the exchange announced in a formal statement posted in the afternoon. 

Magna had already said that all its assets were on the table when it announced the planned restructuring in November (see www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-12-04/article/31718). At the time, the company valued its assets at between $100 million and $120 million. 

In addition to Golden Gate Fields, the company owns Santa Anita Park in Southern California, Laurel Park and Pimlico in Maryland, Portland Meadows in Oregon, Lone Star Park in Texas, Remington Park in Oklahoma, The Meadows in Pennsylvania, Gulfstream Park in Florida and the Magna Racino in Stronach’s native Austria.  

Originally created as part of Magna International, Stronach’s car parts firm, the race tracks and associated ventures were spun off into a separate firm, MI Developments (MID), with Magna Entertainment as a subsidiary. 

The goal of the reorganization had been to consolidate the company into Stronach’s hand, with MID arranging the financing. 

But it was that plan which collapsed when MID company found itself unable to renew the interim financing arrangement which begins to come due next month. It is those obligations the company announced it may not be able to meet. 

Wednesday’s bad news is merely the latest in a series of blows which have shaken the company. 

Magna had hoped to win a Maryland state license to install video slot machines at its Laurel Park track, a potential source of ready new cash to supplement the steadily declining revenues from the track. 

But Maryland’s Video Lottery Facility Commission rejected the park’s bid earlier this month. Magna’s local affiliate, the Maryland Jockey Club, has filed a legal challenge. 

Next month Magna faces a series of critical due dates on loans arranged through MID, including $126 million borrowed through an MID subsidiary, another $100 million borrowed for a project at Gulfstream Park project, plus a third loan of $48.5 million. 

Magna had suffered two other major setbacks locally. 

On April 17, 2007, voters in Dixon rejected Magna’s plans for a high tech television-friendly track adjacent to that rural Sacramento Valley community. 

The proposed Dixon Downs would have brought a major racing facility within a half-hour drive of the state capital, featuring what a Magna executive called a “California fair type facility ... together with mixed use retail.”  

Nine months earlier, LA mall developer Caruso had backed out of his proposal to team with Magna on a $300 million waterfront mall at Golden Gate Fields after the Albany City Council rejected his demand to give his project a full environmental impact review (EIR) even before the council had seen an application describing exactly what the project entailed. 

What next? 

Robert Lieber, the Albany city councilmember who was serving as mayor at the time of the failed mall project, said he doesn’t believe the track is viable any longer. 

With liquidation of Magna’s assets on the table if the company is unable to reach a financing agreement, Lieber said, “I just hope that whoever acquires the track is willing to work with the community.” 

Marge Atkinson, the city’s current mayor, was elected as an opponent of the mall project along with current Vice Mayor Joanne Wile. 

Lieber said a community process now underway is working on alternative visions for the shoreline. 

He said the city hasn’t received any word that a sale might be near, “but we’re always the last to know. We weren’t notified before the sale to the previous two owners either.”  

Rumors are flying about talks between the track’s owners and one possible buyer, but no one was willing to go on the record as of Thursday afternoon. 

 


Toward a Sustainable Planet

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday February 19, 2009 - 10:08:00 AM

What’s with the blank front page? readers may ask. Well, what local community papers like the Daily Planet have always done, which metropolitan dailies have never done, is report in depth on local news. The fine essay Ben Bagdikian contributed to the Planet about a year ago, reprinted below, explains why this is important for democracy.  

But the most expensive part of the Planet’s budget, about a third to a half of the total, is paying for local reporting: salaries, benefits, editing, overhead. As we’ve said repeatedly in recent issues, advertising is drying up, which is why we hope readers will become community partners in supporting the cost of having a paper in Berkeley.  

Today, readers can get a sense of what Berkeley would be like without the Planet’s local news when they see our blank front page. (Of course, we’ve cheated a bit—there’s local news on the inside pages.)  

We hope this will motivate you to contribute to the Planet’s new Fund for Local Reporting. We need your help to keep the paper going. It’s easy to do so online, by phone or by mail.  

We want to hear from you as we look for ways to stay in business—please reply to the survey in today’s paper (see Page Three) and tell us what you think.


The Planet and Democracy

By Ben H. Bagdikian
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:57:00 PM

This commentary was originally published in the Daily Planet on Dec. 21, 2007. Bagdikian, a Berkeley resident, is former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, former editor of the Washington Post, and the author of The New Media Monopoly.  

 

I speak here not about Planet Earth, though god knows we need to protect it from the Strangeloves in Washington who don’t mind pulmonary disease from truck exhausts and lost shorelines from rising sea levels. I’m referring to the Berkeley Daily Planet because democracy in the United States requires something that is provided by papers like the Planet.  

I love our Daily Planet because it represents something fundamental in American democracy, fundamentals I have yet to hear in any broadcast or national news organization.  

Unlike any other industrialized democracy, the United States leaves to local communities basic powers that other industrial democracies leave to their national governments: education of our children, how our land will be used, sales taxes, where and how our highways will be built, and decisions on the community systems for water supply, sewage, fire and police departments.  

In other major countries these are national bureaucracies. In the United States, these are decided by local boards, locally elected. Do you want to know if last night your child’s middle school decided it will cut music and art to save money? Don’t wait to hear it on ABC “Good Morning America” or the CBS or CNN “Newsroom.”  

It’s a cliché that citizens need news but most serious people who pay attention to it think in terms of the New York Times, CNN and the PBS News Hour. Those and a smattering of other network broadcasts are useful for national, international or cultural news and enrichment. But they don’t produce what the Planet does.  

Our paper’s publisher, editor, reporters and essayists are more like the miracle of the big time comic strip’s Clark Kent of the funny paper’s Daily Planet, who keeps saving his city from the Bad Guys.  

I don’t think it is too heroic to say that the Berkeley Daily Planet is a real life version of Clark Kent’s comic strip Planet, except that Clark Kent saves his city from the Bad Guys who look like crooks or demons from outer space. The Berkeley Daily Planet (even if it’s not out every day) is an example of what saves one democracy right here, at home.  

Becky O’Malley, the executive editor and her husband, Michael, the publisher, not only seem to have beaten the jinx that killed other Berkeley newspapers in the last 30 years. National chains of “local papers” have also tried it with big backup money but their titles were usually oxymorons. They tried to look like “local” papers but they were really national corporations trying to add to their national circulation unconnected with the fate of Berkeley.  

Similarly, national TV and radio networks are full of self-congratulations for their clever accumulation of media power. Rupert Murdoch stalks the Earth in his ambition to dominate the globe. The New York Times is an admirable paper whose national edition is good for major events in the Bay Area. For those with strong stomachs there are Murdoch’s Fox commentators who, if they ever mention Berkeley, it’s a reference to a city of commie kooks.  

I love our local Planet because it is close to unique in being truly local. If you’re lucky, you may find a little local news from a lonely one-man tiny local radio news program, operating out of a storefront with egg crates for sound protection. Berkeley gets some Berkeley news in the Bay Guardian and from KPFA, depending on who’s in charge in the continuing warfare in that otherwise valuable FM outlet.  

Is a new highway going through your back lawn? Don’t waste your time on the Wall Street Journal or Newsweek. If you’re lucky, you will have a local paper reporting your city’s news.  

And what about locally owned and operated independent stores? Your neighborhood dry cleaner can’t afford and doesn’t want an ad on CNBC. CNBC goes to Montana, Texas, South Carolina and Oklahoma. His or her customers usually live within a mile of the establishment. The local shoe repair guy doesn’t have Fort Worth cowboys coming to Berkeley for new heels—our local heel-and-sole customers are in the same city as his store. The same goes for the local folk who open their own spaghetti joint, or bakery, flower shop, or fruit and vegetable stand. If they advertise at all beyond a sign in the window, it’s in the strictly local newspaper.  

For example, the Elmwood-Claremont folk have a love-hate relationship with the local landmark, the Claremont Hotel, and periodically some new international corporation buys the hotel and plans new local roads, an addition of condos and multi-level garages in the neighborhood.  

If it gets serious, as it has more than once, it may be hashed out in an afternoon meeting at Oakland City Hall, where a lot of people from Stonewall Road and environs, most in sweaters and sports-team jackets, some with babies in arms, go to the Oakland Zoning Board meeting, and argue it out with the hotel’s black-suited, black-shoed, black-socked team of lawyers. It becomes a civics-book demonstration of local democracy. Opponents sit near each other, and gossip and argue during breaks, and opponents who speak start their time at the microphone talking about how much they like the hotel, celebrate birthdays in the big dining room, use it to put up their visiting grandmothers, but hate the new plans that transform the open space it represents. You find no mention in the national media.  

If the hearing had been national and sessions held in Washington, it would have cost millions. It would be Section III, 4c,, paragraph S-22 of House Buildings and Grounds subcommittee agenda, and a group of $500-an-hour lobbyists who never saw the Claremont would have it at the bottom of their priority list.  

So let us not forget that many of our most important family and home problems, from schooling to sewers, are local, and that is not an arcane footnote in a civics book. It’s whether we really have a voice in some of the most central issues in the quality of our family life.  

That’s why I love the Daily Planet. I’m glad that a few other Bay Area local papers, like the Bay Guardian, deal now and then with Berkeley, though usually it’s news of some oddball event.  

So when you vote, if you don’t read local and nationally oriented propositions carefully, your kid’s school may eliminate calculus so they can win lottery money for high grades, and you may wake up to discover that your garden is going to be a freeway down ramp.


With Local Journalism in Peril, Planet’s Owners Seek Solution

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:57:00 PM

Confronted with the same harsh economic realities as other American newspapers, the owners of the Berkeley Daily Planet are seeking a new business model to keep community papers alive. 

Without it, say Mike and Becky O’Malley, Berkeley may join the growing roster of cities and towns without a staff of writers paid to track important developments and probe the workings of local government. 

“We’re saying that the era of the advertising-supported print publication seems to be over, and we’re facing the same problems as every publication, from the New York Times on down,” said Becky O’Malley, the paper’s executive editor. “When we took over, we had some hope that we would at least break even, but the reverse has happened.” 

“Not that advertising revenues have entirely gone away,” said Michael O’Malley, the paper’s publisher. But advertising doesn’t cover the paper’s biggest expense, the salaries of the reporters who gather the news and the editors who shape the final product that appears each Thursday morning in news boxes and stores from Richmond to Alameda. 

While downsizings have become daily news in the media world, “unlike other publications, we have a lot less to cut back. We’re starting from the point other papers are trying to reach,” said the editor. 

Subscribers never paid for the cost of producing a newspaper. Advertising did, with the reader only paying basically to cover delivery costs. In the case of free, non-subscription papers, advertising carried the whole weight, covering all the costs. 

“Now the San Francisco Chronicle has raised their subscription price to $400 a year,” said the Planet’s publisher. 

The advertising industry has collapsed along with print and electronic media. While Paper Cuts, a weblog (graphicdesignr.net/papercuts) that tracks newspaper job losses, reports that about 15,553 newspaper jobs vanished last year, Advertising Age reported last week that 18,700 ad business jobs vanished in December alone (see adage.com/article?article_id=134423).  

The magazine reported that the advertising industry’s only growth for the year was the 800-worker increase in Internet media and search engine sectors. 

But even Internet advertising has been hit by the slump, and while there’s talk that journalism may migrate to the online realm, “even online publications have to pay their reporters, while the price of advertising is much less and the revenues are much smaller,” said Becky O’Malley. 

So what does the future hold for the Berkeley Daily Planet? 

“We don’t have a solution,” said the newspaper’s editor. “But if we can work it out here in Berkeley, others could take it as a model for their own communities.” 

All options are on the table, she said. “There has been a lot of talk about other ways of funding community journalism, and we’re looking at all of them.” 

But, as yet, no single solution has emerged. 

The paper has already sought voluntary subscriptions, and the O’Malleys are currently exploring a range of options, including a subscription-only paper, and whether or not to migrate entirely to the Internet. A plea for voluntary subscriptions has yielded modest revenues, but not enough to keep the paper afloat. 

Becky O’Malley said that while grant funding isn’t a silver bullet, it may play some role in the paper’s future. 

“I’ve had extensive experience in non-profits,” she said. “I’ve worked at Pacific News Service, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and written for Mother Jones back in the days when it was a non-profit.”  

The O’Malleys have launched the Planet Fund for Local Reporting to raise money to support the newspaper’s reporting efforts, and they’re currently exploring the idea of incorporating the fund as a tax-exempt non-profit. For more information on the fund, see the box on Page Two of the print edition. 

Readers may donate to the fund either by mail or through the link at the top of the right-hand column of the paper’s website, www.berkeleydailyplanet.com. A survey appearing on Page Three of this issue, and as a link at the top of the web page—asks readers to comment on some of the options. 

“We’re trying to do a reality check,” said the editor. 

The O’Malleys said they haven’t set a deadline for a final decision on the newspaper’s fate. But the costs have been high, and at some point, they say, they may have to devote the remainder of their resources to their children and grandchildren. 

And with the Internet emerging as the dominant medium of the age, the loss of local journalism would mean “we’re looking at a world in which the only news you can’t get is the news about your own town,” said Becky O’Malley.


Citizens Turn Up the Heat On Pacific Steel Again

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 07:03:00 PM

Community members will take to the streets once again Saturday to protest what they called toxic emissions from the West Berkeley-based Pacific Steel Casting Company, following the publication of a report by USA Today last December which identified three Berkeley schools in the top 1 percent of the country’s most at-risk sites for exposure to dangerous toxic chemicals. 

Environmental activists and neighbors who have labeled Pacific Steel one of the four largest surviving steel foundries in the nation as the chief pollutant in West Berkeley for over two decades singled it out as the source behind the problem reported in the article. 

The allegations were promptly dismissed by Pacific Steel officials who argued that it was irresponsible to point all the blame in one direction, given the proximity of the steel plant to a major freeway and other industries. 

In a letter to city officials and the community, Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the USA Today series was “misleading and false” since the EPA data used to research the story was not scientifically valid or verified in order to make risk-based assessments. 

The news about the bad air quality shocked many parents at Black Pine Circle School, Via Center and Nihaus School—the three Berkeley educational institutions listed in the first percentile—and other area schools, leading to a growing movement since then to address the issue. At a recent town hall meeting at Rosa Parks Elementary School, which is next to Black Pine but ranked in the nation’s sixth percentile, community members had a chance to discuss their concerns with representatives from the air district and environmental activists. 

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District approved Pacific Steel’s final health risk assessment on Nov. 24, 2008, which states that the maximum health risks are below levels that require mandatory risk reduction measures under the air district’s policies and procedures. 

Henry Hilken, the director of planning, rules and research for the air district, said at the meeting that the USA Today report had not portrayed the risks accurately. 

“I am not saying that Pacific Steel is a great neighbor but the USA Today article did a disservice to the community,” he said, adding that in the Bay Area, mobile sources were by far the largest polluter. “Cars and buses have far more pollutants than Pacific Steel, and diesel, in particular, is a carcinogen. Diesel exhaust from I-80 and University Avenue are more of a concern than stationary sources.” 

Hilken said that the air district had a van parked four blocks east of the steel plant monitoring gaseous pollutants over a year. The results will be available in the spring.  

USA Today posted a response Dec. 11 defending its report, saying after weeks of discussions with officials at the U.S. EPA and those who created the model, the newspaper called its assesment the “most current way to track industrial pollution around the nation.” 

USA Today also stated that it used the most up-to-date version of the model to analyze data from 2005, which “represents a snapshot in time of what pollution might have been like at these locations then.” 

It acknowledged that some companies have said that they have curbed emissions since then and that, as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection correctly pointed out, its analysis “fails to take into account mobile sources that can greatly elevate health risks."  

Peter Guerrero, an environmental activist, told the public that the report raised important questions about pollutants from Pacific Steel and urged city officials to take action on the hundreds of complaints from area residents against emissions and odors from the plant.  

“We need a strategy for moving forward,” he said, calling for the formation of a good neighbor agreement. “The most important thing missing here is transparency.” 

Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, which is co-sponsoring the rally this weekend along with the Healthy Air Coalition, the Ecology Center and the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs among others, said that the USA Today article had spurred the community to organize against the ongoing pollution from Pacific Steel. 

“The air district did its usual action of backing up polluters, as they always do, acting like the public relations firm for Pacific Steel in rapidly attempting to discount the startling information reported in the USA Today story” he said. “But we believe the information in the article did show that kids in the community are at risk. We want to protest the total inaction by the City of Berkeley and the air district to take any steps at all to encourage or force Pacific Steel to reduce their pollution.” 

The protest rally and march to Pacific Steel, on Saturday, Feb. 21, will begin at 11 a.m. at 10th and Gilman, with the march at noon. 

 

 

 

 


No More Youth Parties at Gaia Arts Center

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:56:00 PM

Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy announced at the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board meeting last week that the Gaia Arts Center in downtown Berkeley will stop renting out space for youth events in light of a series of out-of-control parties there, with the most recent one leading to shots being fired in its aftermath three weeks ago. 

Kennedy, who leases the multi-level venue on 2120 Allston Way from real estate tycoon Sam Zell’s Equity Residential, told the zoning board that the space was rented out to the Oakland chapter of the national nonprofit, Jack and Jill of America, Inc., for the Jan. 30 party with the belief that it would be “tightly controlled in order to prevent any kind of overcrowding or other neighborhood nuisance.” 

The Gaia Arts Center was labeled a nuisance by the Berkeley Police Department last October after a rowdy post-football party resulted in young men and women trying to gatecrash the event, with crowds spilling out on the sidewalk and blocking streets, leaving the venue susceptible to a fine from the city in the event a similar incident occurred there in the next three months. 

As a result of the latest unruly party in January, Gaia’s owners will be fined $750 for violation of the notice, with the amount subject to increase if the incident gets repeated. Additionally, a new 120-day nuisance notice will be posted at the location, officials said. 

At last Thursday’s zoning meeting, Kennedy apologized for the inconvenience caused to local businesses when large groups of teenagers started to crowd the sidewalk and block the streets, forcing Cancun restaurant and Anna’s Jazz Island on Allston Way to close. 

“We thought they [Jack and Jill of America] were a valuable organization,” Kennedy told the board, adding that the event had been “purported to be a youth event where teens would gather for a dance.”  

Kennedy added that the situation was under control and that future events at Gaia Arts included a reggae performance and a blues and jazz benefit for the Berkeley Food and Housing Project’s homeless women and children on March 27, which he said would bring concerts at the facility tto an end for now. 

In a letter to Wendy Cosin, the city’s assistant principal planner, Kennedy and John Hyjer of Equity Residential said that in an effort to prevent another unruly party, Gaia’s owners had established several policies, including requiring a high chaperone ratio—one adult to 15 teens—as well as four hired security personnel who would assist with security. 

A flyer for the Jan. 30 party obtained by the Planet describes the event as a New Year’s fundraiser with a $15 entry fee, with music being provided by Russell’s DJ Co. and the dress code—“no white Ts or doo rags”—strictly enforced. 

It also mentions that only individuals who were between high school age and nineteen and were on the guest list would be allowed into the party with ID, that security would be present and that the doors would open at 7:30 p.m. and close by 9 p.m. 

The party, scheduled to end at midnight, was shut down by Berkeley police around 9 p.m. Officers started dispersing an uncooperative crowd, during which three shots were fired on the 2200 block of Shattuck Ave. 

Police reported about 300 teenagers inside the Gaia Arts Center, with at least 100 others trying to enter the party through the Gaia Building garage, climbing over a back fence and pushing their way through the front door.  

The admonition from the Berkeley police about the rowdy parties comes at a time when the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board is grappling with the question of whether Gaia’s owners are violating a condition in their use permit—which requires a certain amount of cultural activity in the arts center in exchange for higher density—by renting out space to churches, weddings and private parties. 

At a zoning meeting last September, the board gave Equity six months to hire a marketing firm to promote cultural use at Gaia Arts. 

Calls to Allen Matkins, Equity’s lawyers, for comment from company officials were not returned. 

Steve Ross, the city’s principal planner, said that the status of the Gaia Arts Center use permit would be returning to the zoning board in April or May for review of the marketing plan that is now under way. 


UC Berkeley Wants to Buy Golden Bear Building

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:47:00 PM

UC Berkeley is buying the Golden Bear, the University Avenue building that sparked a major political battle 40 years ago and continues to rumble today. 

Jennifer McDougall, the UC Berkeley planner working with city staff on the new Downtown Area Plan, told city planning commissioners last week that “the campus is working to acquire the Golden Bear.” 

The stark five-story edifice at 1995 University Ave. is half the size of the structure originally proposed by developers Michael Korman and Miriam Ng. 

One of the participants in that struggle was Tom Hunt, who once lived at the rear of the property, where turn-of-the-last-century homes were subsequently demolished to make way for an underground parking area. 

His landlords, Golden Bear Ford, owned both the houses and the car dealership, which fronted University Avenue. Hunt was among the tenants evicted in 1968. 

After the demolitions, the property sat vacant for a decade until Korman and Ng announced their plans for a 10-story office project at the site, rousing nearby residential neighbors, including Hunt, a computer consultant who had moved further up Berkeley Way. 

“They promised a lot of things, including a YMCA health club on the first floor, but it was going to be the biggest downtown building” since construction of the Great Western Building, which was built in 1970. 

The project’s details were hashed out in negotiations between the developers and a committee of neighbors, resulting in the current five-story structure. 

While the environmental impact report prepared for the project said the building would affect both city services and infrastructure, Hunt said, “it promised the costs would all be offset by the sales taxes generated by retail commercial uses on the ground floor. Needless to say, we never got any retail.” 

UC Berkeley added another twist to the story when it moved its extension programs to the site in 1995 from their previous headquarters at 2223 Fulton St. 

Because the university’s leasehold is used for educational purposes, the part of the building that the school holds was pulled from the tax roles. 

“There’s no loss to the city at least from taxes” if the university buys the building, said Steve Wollmer, a neighbor who said he’s not especially concerned about the sale of the building itself. 

What concerns both Wollmer and Hunt is the rear of the lot, where the concrete slab atop the underground lot is currently used for parking, even though the city agreement allowing the project had called for residential housing to be built atop the garage. 

“I can’t see any justification whatever for having anything other than housing on the Berkeley Way side,” said Hunt. 

“My goal is to see family housing on the Berkeley Way side,” said Wollmer. “It’s a nice residential neighborhood, close to schools and there’s a park a short walk away. It would be a decent place to raise a family.” 

Wollmer asked both the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee and the planning commission to designate the site for multi-family housing in the upcoming downtown plan. 

Since the university already leases most of the building, Wollmer said, “buying is probably the cheapest way for them to get total control.”  

Hunt said neighbors will be closely monitoring the building’s fate. 

Construction of the Golden Bear galvanized both the neighborhood and the city, coming at the same time as the Berkeley City Council shifted from conservative to progressive, Hunt said. 

One result of the conflict over the site was passage of the Neighborhood Preservation in 1973, the first of its kind in the nation. The law placed strict limits on demolition of existing housing and created new public hearing requirements for new housing projects. 

“I don’t want to see the Berkeley Way side become another office building,” said Wollmer. “I don’t want to see a Golden Bear II.”


Police Blotter

By Ali Winston
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:54:00 PM

Sexual predator at large 

Berkeley police are asking for the community’s assistance to apprehend a suspect linked with at least 10 recent sexual assaults south of UC Berkeley’s campus. On Jan. 8, police issued a community bulletin concerning six assaults of college-age women. In each case, the assailant approached the victim from behind, lifted her skirt and tried to penetrate her vagina with his finger. None of the victims was able to provide a description.  

Recently, four new instances of assault were reported in the 2300 and 2400 blocks of Piedmont Avenue, between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Based on victims’ accounts, police are now looking for a white man in his early 20s, 5’10” tall, of medium build with short, dark wavy hair.  

Any victims of sexual assaults who did not report the crime to police may call the Sex Crimes Detail at 981-5735. If the attack just took place or is ongoing, please call BPD dispatch at 981-5900 or 981-5911 from a cellphone. 

Should you wish to remain anonymous, call Bay Area Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS 

Sexual predator arrested 

On Feb. 12, Berkeley police arrested a homeless man tied to one sexual assault in Berkeley and three other such cases in East Bay cities. James Beldin, 46, was arrested on the 1900 block of Parker Street by police officers responding to a report of a prowler peering into the windows of a house. Beldin initially eluded police, who sealed off the street. Eventually, police arrested Beldin without a struggle, acting on information provided by local residents.  

Beldin, who was wanted by police after a Feb. 9 sexual assault, had been released from prison a week prior. He was book for peeing, prowling, sexual battery and a parole violation. 

Armed robberies 

Two armed robberies took place north and south of UC Berkeley’s campus last Thursday. The first incident took place between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. on Dwight Way and Piedmont Avenue. The 22-year-old victim was tripped by two suspects hiding in the bushes as he walked east on Dwight. When he tried to get up, one of the suspects pushed him back to the ground. Another assailant pulled a handgun from his waistband and demanded the victim’s cash. The gunman fled west on Dwight with his accomplice. 

Later that evening, a 27-year-old Berkeley man was held up at Ridge Road and Le Roy street by two men. One of the suspects pointed a gun at the victim while a second suspect rifled through the victim’s pockets. The two men fled on foot with a cellphone and cash.  

According to Officer Andrew Frankel, the Berkeley police spokesperson, police have noticed an increase in such robberies in the vicinity of UC Berkeley.  

Bar holdup 

The Missouri Lounge, a San Pablo Avenue bar, was held up last Thursday afternoon. Around 4 p.m. a man walked up to the bartender and pulled up his shirt to show his waistband. The bartender believed the suspect had a gun, and emptied the cash register upon his command. After taking the cash, the suspect fled east on Parker Street. Statements were taken from multiple witnesses, but the bartender was alone at the time of the incident.  

Such incidents are rare, according to Officer Frankel, but businesses on San Pablo Avenue have been targeted by stickup men before. Frankel said that a string of similar incidents took place at the beginning of 2008, but died out shortly thereafter.  

Random assault 

An Oakland man was arrested by police on Saturday afternoon after assaulting a man and a women on Shattuck Avenue and Oregon Street. According to police, Sule Shangshola, 23, of Oakland, attacked a 26-year-old man and a 29-year-old Berkeley woman around 5:30 p.m. after the man jostled him in passing on the street. Shangshola shoved the woman to the ground and punched the man in the head repeatedly until a passer-by intervened. Shangshola fled police who arrived on the scene, but was caught in a foot chase. He is charged with battery and resisting arrest.  

Liquor store assault 

A 45-year-old Berkeley resident was arrested on Friday night after assaulting the clerk at Marina Liquors on University Avenue. According to police, around 9:30 p.m., Henry Whitmore attacked the liquor store clerk on the sidewalk outside the store, demanding money and cigarettes. When the clerk ran into the store, Whitmore followed and tried to attack the clerk again. After fleeing north on University Avenue, Whitmore was arrested at University and Bonar Street. He is charged with robbery and a probation violation.  


Fire Department Log

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 07:04:00 PM

Unfalse alarm 

Friday the 13th wasn’t entirely unlucky for the occupants of a Berkeley apartment building, thanks to a resident’s carbon monoxide detector. 

Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said that when a resident of a building in the 2700 block of Durant Street first heard the sound of his apartment’s alarm, “he thought the battery had gone dead.” 

But with a fresh battery inserted, the alarm alerted again, so the building manager was summoned and firefighters were called. 

On arrival the engine company tried out their new CO detector, and found levels of 25 parts per million on the first and second floors, levels that just reached the threshold for donning air tanks. 

But the numbers soared even higher when they descended into the basement boiler room, where a reading of 250 parts per million prompted immediate evacuation of the building and the use of fans to clear out the colorless, odorless and lethal gas. 

After shutting down the basement furnace and boiler, which had been serviced two or three days earlier, firefighters reignited the burners, and readings soared to 941 ppm. 

“This is a clear example of why carbon monoxide detectors should be in every residence,” said the deputy chief. 

The potentially lethal leak was traced to a pipe joint and repairs were ordered. 

Chimney fire 

Residents of a home in the 1500 block of Acton Street learned the need for another form of fire safety on Valentine’s Day when their nice, festive fire set the chimney ablaze. 

After receiving the call at precisely 5 p.m., firefighters arrived to see smoke pouring from the chimney and along the side of the house. 

The burning logs in the fireplace had ignited creosote and soot built up in the chimney, but quick action spared the residence any significant damage. 

“If you use your fireplace, make sure you have the chimney cleaned every year,” said the deputy chief. 

 

Restaurant fire  

A watched pot may never boil, but unwatched, it could set the stove on fire. 

Called to the Tropical Paradise Restaurant at 2021 University Ave. Sunday at 4:40 p.m. by a caller reporting a structural fire, the arriving engine company found the doors locked but spotted smoke inside. 

Forcing entry, they headed to the kitchen where they found a stovetop blaze, a grease fire ignited after restaurant workers left the building with a burner ablaze. 

Damage from the fire and from the forced entry was estimated at about $5,000. 

Deputy Chief Dong said the incident was referred to the city’s Environmental Health office, which must investigate any fire in a restaurant.


Farrakhan in Oakland to Address Grant Shooting

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:49:00 PM

National Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan came to Oakland this week to lend his powerful voice to the rising chorus of protest in the death of Oscar Grant III, telling an overflow audience of more than a thousand at West Oakland’s Olivet Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday night that “Oscar Grant’s assassination stirred up something that was building in Oakland for a long, long time.” 

Both the Oakland and San Francisco Nation of Islam mosques have been active in the coalition that has been organizing the Oscar Grant protest actions. 

In an hour-long speech interrupted several times by standing ovations, Farrakhan took special aim at Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff and BART Police Chief Gary Gee, familiar targets of the BART protesters, saying that “they have sewn the wind, but they will reap the whirlwind. To Oscar Grant’s grandfather, to his mother, and to the beautiful woman with whom he fathered a child, don’t fret. Don’t grieve. Don’t think they can get away from that universal law that’s not dependent on crooked law and prosecutors and police chiefs who don’t do their job.”  

At Tuesday’s meeting, organizations in the Grant protest coalition announced they were going forward with plans to try to recall Orloff, saying they were kicking off a petition drive to collect the 80,000 signatures needed to put a recall vote on the ballot. Grant protest coalition organizations are also calling for the firing of Gee and of BART Police Officer Tony Pirone, who is seen on cellphone videos punching Grant in the head prior to Grant’s shooting, and is the officer with his knee on Grant’s face when Mehserle shot grant. 

But Farrakhan also criticized African-American organizations and individuals who only mobilize around deaths of African-Americans by whites. “I don’t know how you can march on Orloff and not march when day after day we are killing each other,” Farrakhan said. “You mean it’s only bad when a white man does it, but it’s okay when we do it? How many grandmothers have to take their grandchildren to their final resting place, not because of Orloff, not because of the police chief, but because of one of us?” 

However, CAPE and many of the organizations protesting Grant’s death have also been working in violence prevention projects in the East Bay’s African-American and Latino communities, and have called for the establishment of healing centers in Oakland and other East Bay cities for youth who have been affected by the rash of violence in the East Bay. 

Earlier, Oscar Grant senior, the 63-year-old grandfather of Oscar Grant III, called for patience from community members looking for justice in the Grant case. “Something good is going to come out of all this,” he said. Grant Sr. also renewed the Grant family’s call for activists not to engage in violence in their protests. At least two of the Grant protest marches in early January ended in vandalism and rioting in downtown Oakland. 

But Tuesday night’s meeting showed signs that the various groups working in the Oscar Grant movement are attempting to heal the split over the January violence that had threatened to derail the various Grant coalitions. Blackmon had publicly criticized the rioters last month, but on Tuesday night, she signaled that she now understands the reasons for the rioting, while not specifically endorsing it as a tactic. “A lot of people were whispering in my ear, giving me advice and counsel, telling me we should distance ourselves from the rioting,” Blackmon said. “But leadership comes from the community, and it was the people who were out there in the streets those nights, angry. I humbly apologize for whatever condemnation [of the violence] I got sucked into.” 

Members of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights & Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), one of the groups that had been trying to straddle the gap between the anti-violence and support-the-rioters wings of the Oscar Grant coalitions since the January rioting, announced a March 4, 7 p.m. “independent tribunal” at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland at which they promised many witnesses to the Grant shooting—including some of the men who were on the platform when Grant was shot—will tell their stories in public about the shooting for the first time. 

Meanwhile, the Oscar Grant coalition groups are rapidly broadening their scope into other areas of concern. On Thursday, coalition groups planned to be part of a Caravan For Justice set to send several busloads of citizens from the Bay Area to Sacramento to lobby legislative leaders for a broad collection of legislative goals, including an end to the Proposition 209 “three strikes law,” to “address California’s high school dropout rate,” and to protest what they called the “criminalization of urban youth” and the “prison industrial complex.”  


Little Action Taken After Chaotic BART Board Meeting

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:49:00 PM

In a chaotic, unruly, and frequently disrupted special meeting held in part to move forward on the Oscar Grant controversy, members of the BART Board of Directors took virtually no action last week on the controversy itself, instead spending most of their time answering immediate audience concerns and, in some cases, responding to repeated audience participation.  

Grant, 22, was shot and killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day on the Fruitvale BART platform. Mehserle, who has since resigned from the BART police force, has been arrested and charged with murder in Grant’s death.  

A coalition of Bay Area organizations have called for further action by BART and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, including the firing and arrest of other officers involved in the New Year’s Day events on the Fruitvale BART platform as well as the firing of BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and BART Police Chief Gary Gee. Two BART board members, Lynette Sweet and Tom Radulovich, have also called for the removal of Dugger and Gee. In addition, the BART board has authorized an internal investigation of all of the events on the Fruitvale BART platform on the night Grant died, as well as a more comprehensive look at tthe BART police department as a whole, including its training and its practices.  

It was with this background that the BART board called its special Feb. 11 morning meeting to update board members and the public on its various responses.  

At one point during the meeting, members of the Committee to End Police Executions (CAPE) and black-bereted members of the Bay Area Black Panther Coalition took over the board meeting, ceding themselves a half-hour presentation time, taking control of the front portion of the BART meeting room immediately in front of the staff and board dais, unfurling a 20-foot banner, and peppering board members to make individual commitments on a list of organization demands.  

At another point, the meeting grew so volatile that one audience member rushed the dais to argue directly in the face of board member Joel Keller after Keller and Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks had engaged in a series of sometimes heated exchanges. CAPE co-founder Dereca Blackmon intervened and drew the man away before BART police officers moved in. Audience members frequently interrupted the meeting with shouts and chants, and at several points, members of the audience came to the public speakers’ podium during board deliberations, lecturing, chastising, or instructing board members on certain actions while the board members themselves meekly listened.  

Midway in the meeting, some audience members were heard in what appeared to be shouting at BART police officers in the hallway just outside the meeting room. BART police officers were pointedly restrained in the meeting and when they began to move in on some audience members inside the meeting room at one particularly chaotic point, they backed off after board member Keller repeatedly told them “it’s not a problem.”  

And board member Carole Ward Allen, chairing the special BART Police Department Review Committee set up to coordinate the agency’s response to the Oscar Grant crisis, disappeared without explanation from the dais in the middle of the meeting, missing her scheduled presentation of the committee’s recent activities, amidst confused speculation as to the meaning of her absence.  

In what appeared to be the only action taken in a special meeting—preceding the regular board meeting—that lasted from 9 a.m. until 1:45 p.m., without a break, board members approved a process for the hiring of a consultant to manage the district’s upcoming comprehensive review of the BART Police Department and stipulated that the consultant would report directly to the special board committee itself, not to BART General Manager Dugger.  

At least one board member—Lynette Sweet—contended that the BART Board of Directors is not controlling the agency’s response to the aftermath of the New Year’s Day shooting of Hayward resident Oscar Grant, but instead is allowing the response to be “staff-driven.”  

The meeting got off to a rocky start when the board members attempted to go through the regular meeting consent calendar agenda before switching over to the special meeting, which had scheduled a report from the BART Police Department Review Committee and a discussion of the consultant for the comprehensive BART police review. Midway through the consent calendar discussion—which contained the general transportation agency items of property leases and fund management—many members of the packed meeting room audience began chanting “Oscar Grant was lying down. We want justice for this town,” while CAPE co-founder Blackmon and several Black Panther Party members strode to the podium.  

Interrupting the board discussion, Blackmon took the speakers mic saying, “This is a sham. You know that all of these people came out here to discuss the Oscar Grant situation. Why are you making people wait while you discuss these other things? This is disrespectful to the community.”  

One black-jacketed man identifying himself as a member of the Black Panther Coalition shouted at board members, “Do you want to listen to us now or listen to us shutting down BART?”  

In response, BART board president Thomas Blalock put off the remaining part of the regular meeting and moved forward with the special meeting, and the board never fully controlled its own board meeting after that.  

In a letter signed by several local public officials, including Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, Oakland City Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Nancy Nadel, and Rebecca Kaplan and Berkeley City Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Max Anderson, members of the Black Elected Officials released a letter to the BART board at Wednesday’s meeting calling, among other things, for a California Attorney General and United States Attorney’s investigation of the death of Oscar Grant. The letter said that “the community does not have confidence that the BART Police Department or organization has the ability or objectivity to investigate itself.”  

BART had moved to quell that concern by announcing on the day before the Wednesday meeting that the agency had “turned over its internal affairs investigation to the Oakland-based law firm of Meyers Nave … [to] investigate the actions of all the officers present during the events leading up to the shooting death of Oscar Grant on Jan. 1, 2009, on the Fruitvale Station platform.”  

The Meyers Nave lead attorney is Jayne Williams, the former Oakland city attorney. 

BART officials said this internal affairs investigation, which could lead to possible sanctions or firings of BART personnel if violations are found, is separate from the investigation by the BART Police Department of possible criminal wrongdoing by BART personnel in the Oscar Grant incident. The criminal investigation is expected to be completed in two weeks, while the internal affairs investigation is scheduled to last three weeks. If any criminal wrongdoing by BART personnel is found, that information is expected to be turned over to the Alameda County district attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution. The internal affairs investigation results are expected to be reported back to the board for any possible action, as well as to the public.  

But Oakland Councilmember Brooks, speaking for the Black Elected Officials organization, criticized the internal affairs investigation, said, “It is now 43 days since Oscar Grant was killed, and you have now hired a consultant who will take three more months to see if there was police misconduct. You have known for a long time that there were problems with your police department. You’ve been more concerned about the image of BART than you have been with the death of Oscar Grant.”  

Brooks said that she was “not pleased with the selection of Myers Nave without a public process. We expect much more of you. We expect it sooner. We are not going away.”  

BART Board member Gail Murray assured Brooks and other audience members that the board had scheduled a vote on the Myers Nave contract for later in that meeting, and the public would have a chance both to weigh in on the contract and to hear the board deliberations. But several minutes later, after many audience members had left, Murray had to correct herself when she was advised by BART staff that the Myers Nave contract had already been signed.  

That led to a further eruption in the meeting that the public was being misled “even in this meeting,” and further confusion over the details over how the Myers Nave contract came about. Dugger said that she had entered into the contract under broad authority granted to her by the board, but board president Blalock said that Dugger had consulted with him on the contract individually and he had given his approval, and board member Keller, Vice Chair of the BART Police Department Review Committee, said that he had talked with Dugger frequently over the days before the contract’s signing, urging her to move forward rapidly with the internal investigation.  

What was clear was that at least some of the members of the board’s special police review committee had been kept out of the loop, leading to Sweet’s comments on the process.  

“Going forward, this can’t be staff-driven, it has to be board-driven,” Sweet said. “Staff should not have been the sole interviewers of candidates for this contract. The [police department review] committee should have been doing the interviews. This board needs to be on top of this. I refuse to continue to sit on this committee and have staff run this process.”  

Later, at Radulovich’s suggestion, the board agreed to bring Myers Nave to a public board meeting in the near future to discuss their expertise in the field and for a public airing of the scope of their work.  

That may not be nearly enough, however, to forestall further community action on the growing controversy over the Oscar Grant shooting death. Several audience members mentioned that a possible next step in the Grant protests—if organizations and the community are not satisfied with the BART response or actions within the criminal justice process—could be a BART boycott. And at least one speaker threatened more serious disruptions.  

Christopher Kantor, who said he was a member of the organizing committee of a group called No Justice No BART, said, “We’re here to threaten you, not with violence, but with reality. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and the Oakland Police Department are in the hot seat now [in the BART demonstrations]. We’ve been costing the City of Oakland millions of dollars while [BART] has been sitting back. But we’re bringing it to your turf next. To your platforms. To your BART cars. And to your tracks.”  

Kantor distributed a leaflet calling for direct action against BART beginning on an unspecified date, including “potential disruptions in service” during peak evening commute hours.


Zoning Board Allows Thai Temple To Continue Sunday Brunch

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 07:03:00 PM

Mango sticky rice and pad Thai aficionados in the Bay Area can finally breathe a sigh of relief.  

In a 8-to-1 nod to Sunday brunch at the Berkeley Thai Temple, the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board voted last week to keep the almost two-decades- long tradition alive, despite heavy criticism from a group of neighbors who argued that the outdoor food fair violated the city’s use permit by operating as a commercial kitchen, bringing large crowds, traffic, trash and odor to a residential neighborhood.  

Bob Allen, the board’s vice chair, was the only member to vote against the project at the Feb. 12 meeting, explaining that the temple, Wat Mongkolratanaram, at 1911 Russell St., had failed to comply with the law since 1993.  

Last April, when the temple’s members approached the zoning board to request a permit to build a Buddha sanctuary, a group of individuals criticized the expansion and complained that the Sunday picnics were breaking the law, prompting zoning officials to investigate the temple’s original use permit, which restricted festivities to only three times a year.  

The board recommended mediation, but six sessions later, the opposing groups were yet to arrive at any kind of resolution.  

Temple supporters gathered more than 2,700 signatures on a petition, and won the support of UC Berkeley’s student body, the Associated Students of the University of California, who passed a bill in its favor.  

At Thursday’s meeting, Siwaraya Rochanahusdin, who teaches at the temple school, described the Sunday food offerings as a religious practice, or tum-boon, under Theravada Buddhism, during which Buddhist monks build goodwill for later on in life or the next life which is not defined by monetary value.  

Similar to earlier public hearings about the project, several dozen people called the temple a “good neighbor,” and local gourmands labeled its food as the best in the Bay Area.  

“Their yellow curry is delicious,” said Josh Hug, drawing laughter from the audience. “What scares me is that if this place goes away, I will lose the source of this delicious curry made from highly addictive and hopefully legal additives.”  

Debbie Sheen of the Asian Law Caucus reminded the board about the importance of preserving ethnic institutions, calling the temple “quintessentially Berkeley.”  

Wat Mongkolratanaram’s members told the board that a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton protected "religious exercise in land use,” arguing that the loss of donations would stop cultural activities and Thai language classes at the temple.  

Tom Rough, a neighbor whose property abuts the Thai temple, told the board that the neighbors were not trying to shut it down.  

“This is not a clash of cultures,” he said. “It’s a zoning issue. The temple has changed this into a culture attack, contradicting its message of peace and coexistence.”  

Rough told the Planet that he was frustrated by the lack of progress on the part of the Thai temple to address the neighbors’ concerns during the mediations, especially with respect to the frequency of the weekend activities and the proposed scale of expansion.  

The modified use permit approved by the zoning board will allow the temple to sell food weekly instead of only three times annually, but limits the crowd to 200 individuals at one time, something at least two zoning board members said would be difficult if not impossible to enforce.  

“Sometimes people take the food and sit down on the lawns next door or the sidewalk,” said board member Sara Shumer. “So I do think we have to think about how to enforce the 200.”  

Volunteers will be able to start preparing the food at 8 a.m.; only and food sales will be limited to between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the last patron out by 2 p.m.  

The food service which took place on Oregon Street will be relocated to Martin Luther King. Jr. Way, project planner Greg Powell said, making way for a Buddha garden.  

“I am doubtful what they propose can be carried out,” Rough told the Planet, adding that he was still open to negotiations.  

Dina Tasani, a neighbor who spoke against the Sunday brunch, told the Planet after the meeting that she was concerned that the real issue had got swallowed in the nearly three-hour-long discussion preceding the board’s decision.  

“A residential zone is not an appropriate place to have outdoor eating and congregating 52 weeks a year where seating for 200 is permitted and approximately 600 people visit the site during a three-hour period,” she said. “What neighbor would tolerate a party in their backyard every weekend ? We feel that we were not heard and wasted time in mediation in hopes that our requests to reduce the number of events would be considered.”  

Tasani said she was disappointed that only one zoning board member had stood up for the neighbors and the city’s land use law.  

“The fact that this is a religious or cultural activity is not and was not the issue; the issue before the zoning board was: Is this type of use compatible with the neighborhood and does it have a significant impact on the environment?” she said.  

Board member Jesse Anthony said the temple was an asset to the city.  

“We shouldn’t get too worried about the meals, and if some odors come out that might be good—better than some of the odors I get when I walk down the street,” he said.  

Allen strongly condemned the actions of the Thai temple.  

“I am just really puzzled and stunned that we seem to be heading down the road ignoring zoning code and letting the neighbors bear the brunt of this,” he said, adding that the city had warned the temple against holding barbecues in 1991.  

“Our city enforcement process has let us down and now the neighbors are being called racist,” he said. “I don’t think anyone questions Buddhist values, but they question the validity of the group managing the temple because they have been going against the zoning code. There’s no give—it’s all or none. Our choice is 52 days a year because this has been going on for 20 years. What other organization would be allowed to do that?”  

Board chair Deborah Matthews praised the temple for being a positive influence in a neighborhood often blighted by drugs and gang violence.  

“I am not sure of what happened in 1993 or 1994, but we have arrived at this now,” she said. “Their contribution provides another option. I am fearful of what this community might become without this being there.”  

The board will vote on a final version once city officials make the revised conditions on the temple’s use permit available to them.


Office Vacancies Climb, But Retail Remains Solid

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 07:02:00 PM

If housing is a bust, offices and commercial rentals aren’t far behind.  

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Jeffrey Weil, an executive with Colliers International who runs the East Bay Almost-Daily Commercial Real Estate Blog (jeffreyweil.blogspot.com).  

Weil, who got his MBA from UC Berkeley in 1973, has been in commercial real estate in the East Bay for 33 years.  

“I’ve been through real bad down cycles before,” he said, but the current downturn differs significantly from others—like the dotcom bust—which were limited to certain sectors of the economy.  

“This one is across the board,” he said. “This time, there are very few companies that are not affected.”  

For Berkeley, office vacancies edged up to 15.14 percent at the end of the year, up from 13.35 at the end of September, said city Economic Development Manager Michael Caplan.  

“That’s the highest it’s been since 2004, when it was about 16 percent,” Caplan said.  

Weil said there’s one bright spot in the otherwise gloomy picture. “For a tenant it’s an awesome time, one of the best tenant markets for the last 30 or 40 years. If you have a viable business and you need space, it’s a great time,” he said. “But if you’re an owner and your loan is coming due, it’s a terrible time.”  

The economic meltdown has been so dramatic that “it’s like before the Berlin Wall and after the Berlin Wall,” Weil said, referring to one of the defining moments of the Cold War era.  

While Berkeley is impacted by the same factors as elsewhere, he said the local economy has several bright spots, including the Theater District, Weil said, which is expanding with the move of Freight & Salvage up from the San Pablo corridor, and the university.  

Caplan agreed that the university’s space needs were a stabilizing force on the local office market. “We tend to be more stable because there’s a relatively small inventory,” he said. At the same time, fluctuations in the few large spaces can have a significant impact on the statistical picture.  

But even green technology, which East Bay cities are counting on to keep the local economies thriving, have been struggling, Weil said.  

“Solar companies are laying off now when just six months ago they were hiring,” he said, “because the world revolves around finance, and to get any now, you have to pledge not only your first-born but your second-born as well. It’s scary.”  

The office market collapse is global, and California has been hard hit, with major brokerage houses reporting soaring vacancies throughout the state, along with plunging rents and a slowdown in new office construction.  

Caplan said Berkeley’s retail vacancy rates were generally good, either stable or improved in three of four key areas.  

Downtown commercial property vacancies were listed at 15.11 percent at the start of the year, down from 16.2 percent a year earlier. Fourth Street vacancies dropped from 8.6 percent in the third quarter of last year to 5.8 percent at the start of this year, while vacancies on Telegraph Avenue declined from 17.19 percent to 14.09 percent in the same period.  

The one area reporting a major increase in vacancies was North Shattuck, where the closing of Elephant Pharm sent the vacancy rate soaring from 4.05 percent to 10.14 percent.  

But even with the good news on the retail front, Caplan said, “It’s a frightening time, though Berkeley’s bottom won’t be as bad as Oakland’s or as bad as Stockton’s.”  

The city’s unemployment rate is also on the rise, with the loss of about 500 workers in current weeks with layoffs at Xoma, the closing of Scharfen-Berger Chocolates and the bankruptcy of Elephant Pharm.  

There’s one bright spot for some of those who lost jobs at Elephant, however. Caplan said they’ll have slots waiting when the new Berkeley Bowl opens in West Berkeley


Commission Expands Downtown Area for High-Rise Construction

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:58:00 PM

A proposal to dramatically expand the section of downtown Berkeley where high rises could soar hit a rough spot last week.  

Four commissioners, including Chair James Samuels, had written their own revised Land Use chapter, which would remove the 220-foot maximum building height as well as open most of the city center to a soaring skyline.  

But city Planning and Development Director Dan Marks said at the Feb. 11 meeting that the expanded boundaries, especially north of University Avenue, could force a new environmental review.  

He said redrafting and recirculating the plan’s Draft Environmental Impact Report would delay City Council action well past the May 26 signing date set by the agreement that ended a city lawsuit against UC Berkeley.  

Nonetheless, Marks said, staff might be able to work around the sticking points. “I continue to urge the commission to move forward,” he said.  

Four commissioners, all with livelihoods derived from development, had pushed the proposal, backed by Livable Berkeley and Berkeley Design Advocates, the city’s leading “Smart Growth” interest groups.  

The other three, in addition to Samuels, are:  

• Harry Pollack, an attorney whose clients include developers John Gordon and Avi Nevo. 

• David Stoloff, a professional planner. 

• Teresa Clarke, a construction project manager for Affordable Housing Associates, formerly headed by now-private developer Ali Kashani.  

Also speaking in favor of the project during the public comment session was Erin Rhoades, Livable Berkeley executive director and spouse of Kashani’s partner and former Berkeley city Land Use Planning Manager Mark Rhoades.  

The commission has been steadily rewriting the plan prepared by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), and will present its own version to the City Council alongside the original.  

The commission’s revisions are far more developer-friendly than the original.  

Two powerful external forces are shaping the plan. First is the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), a regional government body that parcels out an array of state and federal revenues to local governments. The second is UC Berkeley.  

 

Changing or not  

At the start of the meeting, Samuels insisted the commission isn’t changing the downtown plan. “In my mind, what we’ve been doing are making recommendations. But we are not changing the DAPAC plan.”  

Nonetheless, the environmental impact review now under way was based on commission-specified development standards, not the more restrictive limits set in the DAPAC version.  

The EIR will determine growth limits and ease construction of projects within those limits—although the eventual implementation of measures mandated by new state legislation (SB 375) would eliminate the need for further EIRs on many new projects in the planning area,  

One commissioner who had raised questions about some of the commission majority’s earlier revisions—Roia Ferrazares—was fired by City Councilmember Darryl Moore and replaced with Clarke, who helped draft the greatly expanded proposal now before the panel.  

That move left only architect James Novosel as a swing vote. It was Novosel who had first proposed the inner and outer core designations which the commission majority initially sought to eliminate.  

While the DAPAC plan allowed for two 220-foot hotel towers and a limited number of 180-foot buildings in the inner core, the four commissioners want to dump height limits for any high rise that helps the downtown gain an additional 5,000 residents.  

They also, at least initially, sought to expand the no-height-limit zone south along Shattuck Avenue from the inner core to the outer all the way to the southern planning district boundary at Dwight Way, with a minimum six-story height for new buildings in the district’s expanded core.  

Dacey warned that the expanded boundaries for high rises would “guarantee a lot more opposition if huge buildings start getting close to the neighborhoods.”  

But the biggest technical problems posed by the “gang of four” proposal—Commissioner Gene Poschman’s nickname—arose from pushing the area for unlimited height all the way north to Berkeley Way, where Matt Taecker, the planner hired with the help of university funds to guide the downtown planning process, said 180-foot buildings would shadow “a couple of homes” on Hearst Avenue in mid-winter.  

Because the shadowing and aesthetic impacts of high rises in the expanded core weren’t considered in the draft EIR, Marks said, a new review might be needed, depending on what consultants had to say on the question.  

 

Boundaries  

Commissioners spent the first two hours of the meeting parsing the district’s internal boundaries.  

Dacey’s strong insistence that pushing the inner core all the way to the southern boundary would spark resistance from neighbors worried that huge towers might be sprouting up along Shattuck did lead to a compromise, with the retention of a much-reduced outer core in the south, starting midblock between Durant Avenue and Channing Way and extending south to Dwight.  

That, in turn, would scrap DAPAC’s decision to allow at taller building at the Durant/Shattuck intersection only in exchange for a grocery store on the ground floor.  

While only Dacey and Poschman opposed the new boundaries, Novosel joined them on the losing end of a majority to raise the outer core maximum height from 65 feet to 85.  

A 7-2 vote also expanded the inner core boundaries to Oxford/Fulton street on the east.  

ABAG has given Berkeley a quota of 2,712 new housing units by 2014. While the quotas don’t mean the housing will actually be built, the city must grant permits up to that number if developers request them—and they fit city zoning requirements—or risk losing much-needed funds.  

But the four commissioners added a new twist by calling for population rather than housing units, with the 5,000 figure calculated by multiplying the 3,100 new units in the draft EIR by 1.75 residents per unit—which yields a total of 5,425.  

Commissioner James Novosel said the actual figure would be higher because downtown apartments are typically rented by students, giving a population per unit closer to 2.7 than 1.75.  

“I still believe the DEIR is far in excess of what we are likely to achieve,” said Marks.  

Samuels said his group had picked the 5,000 figure “as a way of getting across that we want a lot more people downtown.”  

Taecker, the planner guiding the process, described the commissioners’ proposal “a dramatic expansion of the inner core.”  

“This puts us on steroids,” quipped Patti Dacey, one of the two remaining commissioners who has been consistently critical of the commission revisions.  

She and fellow holdout Poschman both served on DAPAC, as did Samuels—where their roles were reversed, with Samuels on the losing end of key votes.  

 

Council choice  

Although both the DAPAC original and the Planning Commission versions of the plan will go to the City Council, the decision by Councilmember Moore—who typically votes with the council majority—could be a sign of which way the final vote might go.  

The council has the option of preparing its own draft, but councilmembers will have minimal time, a completed EIR and the strong support of development interests for the version nearing completion by the planning commission.  

Commissioners also sped through the plan’s Land Use chapter, the document that will set out policies governing what can be built and where.  

Again, commissioners hacked away at the DAPAC draft, removing restrictions. In some cases, Marks said, the restrictions were removed from the staff’s own suggested rewrite because the numbers involved couldn’t be sustained without further analysis.  

The draft that slowly emerged would be filled out later by staff with the charts and numbers.  

Samuels tried to restrict discussion to a rewritten version that lacked the stricken sections of the DAPAC draft, but relented when Dacey and Poschman sharply objected.  

Novosel said he wanted to add a statement about parking, reflecting a policy of restricting ground floor parking in new buildings in order to open space for more retail businesses.  

Marks said the rewrite would include parking.  

 

Consequences  

When Novosel asked why staff had removed DAPAC requirements for open space accompanying each building, Marks said specifics couldn’t be included without extensive analysis to determine what they should be or their consequences.  

Otherwise, he said, “huge, unintended consequences” might ensue.  

“That phrase is reserved for when you don’t have a very good argument,” Poschman said. “The great philosophical question is ‘unintended consequences,’” which he said was frequently invoked “by neocons and right-wingers.”  

“And left-wingers,” Marks shot back.  

Another quandary commissioners couldn’t resolve was how to create family housing in a downtown where apartments are usually gobbled up by students of a university which has a policy of not building its own housing.  

Commissioners briefly returned to the issue of minimum heights when they realized some of downtown’s newest or newly planned projects wouldn’t meet their newly promulgated minimums, including the planned UC Berkeley Art Museum and the now-in-construction Freight & Salvage Co. performance venue.  

And when it came to defining community benefits that would allow a high rise to scrap the height limits, Pollack said that any fees to pay for benefits should be set so the project would be financially successful and the city would get the hoped-for public benefits.  

Novosel said factors could include open space creation, restoring historic resources, improving downtown infrastructure and/or public works, green building certification and aesthetics.  

“I would like a set of options a developer could chose from,” said Clarke, so builders “would have to do three, four or five of those things.”  

“What if they did one thing really well?” Marks asked. And any policy the city adopted would have to be uniform, since the council has never told the Zoning Adjustments Board they can decide on projects on a case-by-case basis.  

Poschman said the staff’s proposed revision of the chapter’s section on benefits exchanged for height would effectively decouple the tradeoffs from the assurance that benefits would result.  

Stoloff said one solution might be a calculation to determine the value of benefits a developer received from the additional height. “I don’t know what percentage to say, but at least there’s a metric there.”  

“I like this direction,” said Pollack.  

Poschman smiled and shook his head.  

The meeting ended. 


School Board Approves BHS Redesign Plan

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:56:00 PM

The Berkeley Board of Education voted 4 to 1 last week to approve the Berkeley High School redesign plan, as recommended by Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett and Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp, which aims to help close the achievement gap.  

Board Director Shirley Issel voted against the proposal at the Feb. 11 meeting, citing the current economic crisis and the lack of substantial research to support the idea of advisory programs and other changes.  

Berkeley High senior Eve Shames, the student representative on the school board, voted in favor of the plan. Her votes are only advisory and do not count, as mandated by State Education Code.  

The board’s decision came after almost two hours of deliberation on the proposal, which has received mixed reactions from Berkeley High parents, students and teachers.  

Even as a large group of parents and teachers lauded the plan for offering a more intimate learning environment, there were those who complained that the proposal lacked community input and sufficient data to prove that it would work.  

One Berkeley High parent told the board: “I am all for change but I am not for change that’s not well thought through—that’s like George Bush going into Iraq.”  

Kate Trimlett, a science teacher at Berkeley High’s School of Social Justice and Ecology, said that she supported incorporating science labs into science periods—a subject of contention for many parents and educators at the high school—because it would mean increased attendance.  

Trimlett said that she was concerned that her current science lab class in advanced biology failed to attract students.  

Peggy Scott, another parent, criticized the lack of transparency of the Berkeley High School Governance Council, which approved the redesign in December, explaining that the very fact that the council was chaired by the school’s principal could prove to be a conflict of interest.  

Issel also questioned the constitution of the Governance Council during a subsequent board discussion, at the end of which Board President Nancy Riddle asked district administrators to conduct a review of the council.  

Berkeley High math teacher Jessica Quindel read out a statement from one of her former professors at UC Berkeley, Pedro Noguera, who is now a professor and the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University.  

In his statement, Noguera recalled leading a study at Berkeley High called the Diversity Project from 1996-2000, which identified the underlying causes of the achievement gap and recommended changes that might help to reduce it. He said that relatively few of the recommendations were implemented by the district or the high school largely because the school already worked well for some students, particularly high-achieving white and Asian students from affluent backgrounds.  

“Too often, the parents of these successful students have regarded any reform aimed at furthering equity at BHS as a threat to their student’s interest, and because they are more powerful, their interests have determined the direction of the school,” he said, urging the board to approve the superintendent’s recommendations, explaining that the changes proposed were “sound and supported by a wide body of educational research.”  

Mark Van Kriekan, chair of the Berkeley High Parent Teacher Student Association, said that although the group endorsed the recommendations, the process of formulating the plan had left a lot to be desired.  

Slemp reminded the audience, as he has done several times in the past, that the redesign was not a “wild haired strategy pulled out of something,” but had instead been around for almost six years.  

“We certainly have been listening to the community—clearly the more we can tie this to research and case study the more stronger the case for it will become,” Huyett said.  

The changes recommended by Huyett and Slemp to the board to the original redesign approved by the School Governance Council include the implementation of late-start Mondays for professional development of teachers in the fall of 2009, “regularly scheduled” advisory programs in the fall of 2010, development of a new schedule which will provide benefits such as “additional offerings, academic support, personalization and better student and teacher working conditions,” and the development of a new small school which would start in the fall of 2010 or 2011.  

Huyett’s recommendations came after a study session with the Berkeley High administration and board members on Feb. 4 and a public forum hosted jointly by the high school and the Berkeley High Parent Teacher Student Association last week.  

At Wednesday’s meeting, Huyett asked the board to approve the plan with some exceptions, and to delay its implementation until the 2010–11 school year due to the crisis in the state education budget.  

Huyett told the Planet that postponing the implementation would give the district more time to engage the district staff and the public in the process.  

Huyett recommended that instead of adopting a block schedule, the board should endorse the concept of starting a different schedule from the current six-period model, which would provide opportunity for more courses during the span of a year and time on a regularly scheduled basis for advisory programs and academic support.  

The board voted to approve the recommendation, which also asks that the new schedule not be in place until the 2010-11 school year.  

The high school and the district will be working together over the next six months to figure out a schedule and a funding model, as well as to settle any contract issues with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers before Feb. 1, 2010.  

The union, as of today (Thursday), is on its 234th day without a contract renewal.  

Board Vice President Karen Hemphill recalled the vandalism and arson Berkeley High had been subject to six years ago, placing it in danger of losing its accreditation. She said the creation of small schools has helped many of the students, particularly those of color, who felt alienated at school and added that the redesign would help to further personalize the high school experience for students.  

Issel objected to breaking Academic Choice into smaller groups under a core system, arguing that it was something each small school should be given the freedom to decide on its own.  

She said that she was against forming a new small school before getting more information about the district’s budget situation and she opposed late-start Mondays, explaining that they could lead to tardiness and increased drug use among students.  

Issel said that she was not convinced that advisory programs would close the achievement gap, reminding the board that she had been the only director to vote against the federal Smaller Learning Community grant last August, which aims to expand small school programs, provide students with a personalized college prep education and work on closing the achievement gap.  

“You say it has gone on for six years but mercifully I can only remember it being around for the last year and I don’t want next year to be absorbed with this,” she said of the advisory program, addressing Slemp.  

The lack of research to back the redesign, Issel told Slemp, had made her “cranky” and “grumpy.”  

“I am troubled and I lack confidence,” she said. “I have lost trust.”  

The school board also requested Slemp to brief them regularly about the progress of the redesign plan.


Just Four Candidates Left for AC Transit Board Seat

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:48:00 PM

The AC Transit Board of Directors has pared down the list of candidates to four finalists of the original 17 who sought to fill the remaining two years of the term of former AC Transit at-large board member Rebecca Kaplan. 

Kaplan resigned from the AC Transit board after she was elected last November to the Oakland City Council. 

The four candidates still in the running to replace Kaplan are:  

• Retired City of Vallejo General Manager of Public Transit Pamela Belchamber, a Berkeley resident, who received six board votes. 

• Obama-Biden presidential transition team member and former Google executive Elizabeth Echols of Oakland, who received five board votes. 

• State Senator Loni Hancock campaign field director Joel B. Young, with four votes. 

• Oakland Assistant United States attorney and former environmental attorney Drew Caputo, also with four board votes. 

No other candidate received more than two board votes and retired Oakland architect and transportation activist Joyce Roy, who ran unsuccessfully against AC Transit Board President Chris Peeples in last November’s election, received no board votes. 

The AC Transit board plans public interviews of the four candidates for the morning of Feb. 25 at the AC Transit headquarters on Franklin Street in Oakland, with Peeples saying that the board will “probably make a decision that day” on their final choice.  

The AC Transit board has until March 6 to choose a replacement for Kaplan. If they do not, the power to make the appointment falls to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors as the county with the largest number of voters represented in AC Transit’s two-county district and, if the supervisors make no decision, to a special election. 


In memory of Jengyee Liang, 1983-2008

By Shirley Rivera
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:51:00 PM

Jengyee Liang, UC Berkeley alumna, died on Nov. 10, 2008, near her hometown of Huntington Beach. The daughter of Mr. Tom Y. Liang and Mrs. Jan C. Liang, Jengyee was born in Fountain Valley on Feb. 18, 1983 and grew up in Huntington Beach with her parents and her two older brothers, Albert J. Liang and Ben J. Liang. Family and close friends surrounded her when she passed after her three-year struggle with lupus.  

During her 25 years, her accomplishments and actions touched many lives.  

Growing up in southern California, Jengyee attended Montessori Greenhouse, Mesa View Middle School and Marina High. After graduating from Marina High, she attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. She graduated with honors in 2005.  

While at Cal, many came to know Jengyee as energetic and purposeful. When asked about her numerous campus activities, Jengyee explained, "If you are an officer, it forces you to become involved." Therefore, to know Jengyee was to know that she was involved.  

And if not an officer, she also was known to volunteer for various events that supported personal growth and development. Often, she inspired and motivated others to do so, as well. Numerous are the organizations in which she actively participated, the awards that recognized her talents and character, and the activities that she enjoyed pursuing.  

Jengyee served as an ASUC senator, elected to the 20-member Senate from a pool of more than 100 candidates. Throughout her college years, she served as president of or held active positions in several clubs and organizations, which included the Institute of Industrial Engineers, Golden Key Honor Society, Society of Women Engineers, and Prytanean Women’s Society. Her campus achievements included receiving the highest honors by national and international offices for three societies for which she served as president and securing additional funds for the Engineers’ Joint Council amid campus-wide budget cuts. In her senior year, she joined the University Students Cooperative Association (USCA) and took residence at Hoyt Hall.  

Jengyee’s recognitions and awards included being the only North American recipient in her senior year for the Institute of Industrial Engineers Student Award of Excellence, being a Bechtel Scholar as a result of receiving the Bechtel Engineering Scholarship for the most outstanding sophomore or junior in engineering, and receiving an Alpha Pi Mu (Industrial Engineering Honor Society) National Award of Excellence among many other awards during her last two years at Cal.  

Throughout her student life, Jengyee also actively sought out opportunities to participate in various competitions. In her junior year, she was a finalist for E-business Case Competition, sponsored by Cisco Systems and Deloitte Consulting. During her last year at Cal, she represented the university in Denmark at an international competition, sponsored by the Copenhagen Business School.  

Many of her summers at Cal were spent as an intern for several Fortune 100 companies—UPS, Merck, and SBC. From her experience, at the age of 23 she authored “Hello Real World: A Student’s Approach to Great Internships, Co-ops, and Entry-Level Positions, 2006.” Acknowledged by students, career counselors, human resources professionals, hiring managers and peers, Jengyee continued to share her experience not only one-on-one with peers but also through publications, blogging, speaking engagements, and talk radio.  

After graduating from Cal, Jengyee relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, to take a position with Proctor & Gamble. Her time in Ohio was short-lived. When she was diagnosed with lupus, Jengyee returned to Huntington Beach to be with family, seek treatment and continue to further engage in efforts supporting the personal and professional development of college students and recent college graduates.  

Beyond Jengyee’s college activities and accomplishments, her family and friends remember her cheerful optimism, kindness, charm, generosity and distinctive laughter, among many other things. She enjoyed writing, swimming, hiking, traveling, community service, board games, reading, music, and dancing, watching Oprah shows and Luyu Shows (China’s Oprah-counterpart).  

All are welcome to celebrate Jengyee’s life during a memorial service that will be held on Sunday, Feb. 22, from 12–4 p.m., at the Clark Kerr Garden Room located at 2601 Warring St. in Berkeley. Immediately following the memorial service, attendees are invited to celebrate Jengyee’s birthday at a dinner at Long Life Vegi House located in Berkeley at 2129 University Ave. 

Please send an e-mail to michelle.s.davis@gmail.com so that we can make arrangements for your attendance.  

A memorial fund, Jengyee for a Better World Fund (www.jengyeeforever.org), has been established for those who also may choose to remember and honor her efforts to better the world. The fund has three major goals—fight diseases and improve health care systems, preserve the planet, and develop people. It is through her experience of the complexities of the health care and health insurance system, the limited research for treating lupus, an understanding of the benefit of a supportive community and a love of the environment that this fund hopes to serve others with a shared purpose.  

Whether through the memorial service, memorial fund, or other means that honor and acknowledge Jengyee’s life, the Liang family extends their appreciation and warmth to all who allowed Jengyee an opportunity to share a part of their life and to all who touched their daughter’s life.  


Mexico’s First Black President

By Ted Vincent Special to the Planet
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:17:00 PM

Barak Obama admires Abraham Lincoln. Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s first black president, was his nation’s Lincoln. In 1829 he issued Mexico’s slavery abolition decree (which led a few years later to Texas slave holders taking Texas out of Mexico). 

Obama and Lincoln are known for building coalitions. Guerrero built one when he was commander-in-chief of the Mexican army during the last three years of Mexico’s exhaustive 1810-1821 war for independence from Spain. Key actions by Guerrero to end the war were his spread of letters to Mexican officers who had been hired to fight for Spain. He convinced many that opportunity awaited if they switched sides. His subsequent team of rivals brought victory and made Guerrero Mexico’s Washington as well as Lincoln—he also created the basic design for the flag. 

After the war Guerrero had to be personable to win over influential Mexicans who looked with disdain upon him for having Afro-Indio roots and for being a mule driver by trade—the occupation of his father and uncles. In those years muleteers were very plentiful in Mexico, thanks in part to Spain’s reluctance to pay to create roads for carts and carriages. A history of the drivers describes them being considered unpleasant rowdies by the well-to-do, but welcomed in rural villages for bringing the news of the day, latest songs and the latest jokes about authority figures. Mule trains often convoyed contraband. From this profession came many a fighter for Mexico in the war with Spain. 

Guerrero was a descendant of the roughly 250,000 enslaved Africans brought to Mexico during colonial times. Part indigenous, he was raised in an Indio barrio in the mountain town of Tixtla in the state that carries his name. During the 1810 war his knowledge of native languages helped the future president rise in rank. In villages he organized the community for the war effort, often using a speech in which he praised the Indio political system of elected councils and chiefs, while asking for allegiance to the fight for “the bigger democracy” at the state level.  

During his presidency, Guerrero’s penchant for telling jokes and sprinkling his speech with native words annoyed members of the refined social elite. But for a time he had to be tolerated. Guerrero came out of the war with an immense following, notable for the Indios he had recruited into the fight. In 1828 he and a brilliant but consumptive cocaine addict, Ignacio Esteva, created the first “People’s Party” in Mexico and its followers put Guerrero in the presidency in April 1829. 

President Guerrero was known for eloquence, as displayed in his first speech to congress, “If we succeed in spreading the guarantees of the individual, if equality before the law destroys the efforts of power and gold, if the highest title between us is that of citizen, if the rewards we bestow are exclusively for talent and virtue, we have a republic, and she will be conserved by the universal suffrage of a people solid, free and happy.” 

Guerrero wanted his presidency to reflect the broad coalition built during the 1810 war. He allowed political centrists and conservatives to dominate his cabinet, and he accepted as Vice President Anastacio Bustamante who had spent most of the independence war in the uniform of Spain. Left-wing supporters of Guerrero criticized the president’s cabinet and other choices, and in the manner that Barak Obama has questioning friends who are more racially oriented than he, so too did Guerrero have his. One was Isidorio Montesdeoca, an Afro-Filipino campesino who became a general under Guerrero during the independence war. He called Guerrero’s references to racial equality achieved by asking everyone be judged by his or her “merits and virtues,” wishful thinking in a country where many powerful people didn’t believe blacks or Indios had merits and virtues. Moreover, argued Guerrero’s critics from the left, congress had made it near impossible to organize against racial injustice through their passage of Law No. 310 that, though ostensibly in the spirit of equality, prohibited mention of anyone’s race in any public document or in the records of the parish church. One consequence of this law has been that knowledge of the racial attitude of the elite toward Guerrero’s African roots are relegated to private letters and anonymous pamphlets against “the black,” and many a modern history identifies him merely as of “peasant”or “laboring-class” background. 

The political coalition Guerrero built fractured six months into his office, not from abandonment by the left, but by the right. His abolition of slavery, his promotion of a wider suffrage and his imposition of a stiff progressive tax code cost him most of his few upper-class supporters—including two cabinet members. In 1830 the conservatives rebelled, and led by Vice President Bustamante, they drove Guerrero from the capital. Most of the president’s progressive legislation was rescinded, but not the abolition of slavery, which had wide public support. 

In a subsequent civil war Guerrero was captured and assassinated by Bustamante hirelings, who included an Italian sea captain who kidnapped the president in Acapulco harbor and delivered him to a Cuban mercenary in Huatulco, who passed him to the son of a Spaniard who had been a general for Spain in the independence war. At a mock trial in Oaxaca the first judge resigned during the opening day, claiming illness. Bustamante ordered execution but feared an uprising if it happened in the city of Oaxaca. Guerrero was taken to a small town, where the mayor had fled and the priest who was scheduled to conduct the last rights was also missing. In last words to the firing squad, Guerrero said that whatever he had done, it was in the interest of Mexico. 

The execution infuriated many, including moderates, and Bustamante had to make peace with Guerrero’s lieutenants, who controlled the Pacific region from Puerto Vallarta down past Acapulco to the black town of Cuijinicuilapa. An unusual political accord granted the Guerreroistas autonomy on condition they never attack the capital. Over the years the close aide of Guerrero, the Afro-Acapulcan Juan Alvarez wrote and spread many diatribes against the elite, some of which are still in print today. In 1855 Alvarez broke the peace pact, marched on Mexico City, overthrew dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and became Mexico’s second black president. He included in his cabinet Benito Juarez, the pure-Zapotecan lawyer, who in his youth had campaigned for the election of Guerrero, and who later served twelve years as president and champion of liberal causes. 

Guerrero’s one offspring, Dolores, trained her children in the politics of her father, with whom she had been close. Her sons, Vicente and Carlos, became state governors under Juarez, son Jose a general and daughter Javiera, though prohibited from holding office, was significant enough behind the scenes to warrant a large statue. Generations of politicians and intellectuals poured from the family, including today’s prominent journalist Raymundo Riva Palacio. His writings include a 1987 anthology of his articles condemning the U.S. funding of the Contras against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. 

Today, the National Museum of History in Chapultepec Park honors only one family with its genealogical tree depicted on a wall, the family begun by Vicente Guerrero and his wife Guadalupe Hernandez. 

Two other presidents of Mexico had known African heritage: Juan Almonte fought in the independence war and at the Alamo on the Mexican side. He turned conservative and his brief term as president is considered a bad one for the nation. Lazaro Cardenas was a key figure in the 1910 revolution. As president nationalized oil and issued sweeping land reform. A popular biography notes in the opening paragraph that his grandfather was “a mulato.” 

The original of Guerrero’s address to congress reads, “If we succeed in protecting the rights of the individual, if equality under the law destroys the forces of power and money, if the primary title we use amongst ourselves is that of ‘citizen,’ if rewards are given exclusively for talent and virtue, then we have a republic, and it will be preserved through the universal suffrage of a solidly free and content people.”  

 

Ted Vincent is author of The Legacy of Vicente Guerrero: Mexico’s First Black Indian President, published by University Press of Florida in 2001.


Opinion

Editorials

Newspaper or Journal of Opinion? That’s a Good Question

By Becky O’Malley
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:12:00 PM

In the last issue of the Planet, reader Terry Doran asked some interesting questions which are central to our ongoing discussion of the future of the news. Here’s his letter again: 

Becky O’Malley, in her Jan. 29 editorial, justifiably bemoans the difficulties of sustaining a print publication. However, if Ms. O’Malley could figure out what she is trying to produce, and be honest about it, she may get more sympathy for her plight. She even sites Victor Navasky, former editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, but doesn’t seem to understand that he is talking about “journals of opinion,” not newspapers in his book titled, A Matter of Opinion. 

Ms. O’Malley describes the Planet as “professionally reported news,” but is it? Maybe if she described the Planet as “professionally created opinion” she might actually receive more than 50 or 60 responses to her appeal for support. 

Let’s just look at one article as an example from this same edition of the Planet, “Zoning Board Approves Kashani’s Ashby Ave. Condos.” This project was approved by the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) by a 7-1 vote. So what should a “professional journalist,” working for a “newspaper” write? What is the story that the readers would welcome as “news”? (Full disclosure: I am one of the seven board members voting yes, and am a retired journalism teacher). 

I would think, as a “news story,” that the overwhelming vote by ZAB should be in the article. It was not. I would also think that the reasons ZAB approved this project should be in the article, but not one ZAB member was quoted or cited. And I would think the public would be interested in knowing how this project effects Berkeley, being one of the largest residential structures proposed for West Berkeley in recent history. What was at this site before this project, how does it fit into Berkeley’s General Plan, San Pablo Avenue Plan, Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan, or help or hurt the housing needs of Berkeley? None of this was in the article. 

Instead, the few critics, supported by one ZAB member in the end, were highlighted in the first two paragraphs of the article and the bulk of the article was devoted to their objections. Again, seven out of eight members supported this project and yet not one thing was mentioned in the article, until the very last paragraph, about “any” benefit to Berkeley when many were discussed at the meeting, by board members and the public. 

So Ms. O’Malley, what is it you are trying to sustain, a “newspaper” or a “journal of opinion”? Your answer may just be the solution to your problem. 

Terry Doran 

Zoning Adjustments Board member 

Mr. Doran raises important points, worth a second look in this space. I don’t know whether he’s ever been a working journalist, but he’s certainly been around a long time—he was the Berkeley High yearbook adviser back in the day when my kids were there. He has sought many political offices locally and held some of them. 

He’s speaking up for a traditional American view of journalism which is fast vanishing: coverage of decision-making bodies as if they were baseball games, with a box score at the end. The problem here, just like in the big world of baseball, is that some of the players are on steroids and the fans don’t know about it. We think it’s the job of papers to give the whole story, not just report on winners and losers.  

In the ZAB decision in question, it would have been news if the seven members of the board who almost always vote yes on development proposals had voted no for a change—“man bites dog” is news, “dog bites man” is not. And the difficult part of reporting on a story like this is that reporters in a small town like Berkeley almost always know the back story, just as sports reporters in San Francisco gossiped for years about steroid use by prominent players before they were able to report on it in on the sports page. 

Reporters who cover land use decision-making bodies in Berkeley are well aware that members of the Planning Commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the West Berkeley Project Area Committee who disagree with the pro-development agenda advanced by Mayor Bates and the Planning Department staff have been systematically purged by members of the ruling council majority with an enthusiasm worthy of old Joe Stalin. Should reporters pretend that they don’t know this when they write their meeting stories, or should they let readers in on the game?  

All of our reporters, and indeed anyone who walks through our newsroom while stories are being swapped, even the lady who brings in the mail, can form a very accurate opinion about why ZAB likes almost everything it sees these days. Should we keep it a secret? 

In the story in question, the applicant, developer Ali Kashani, has entered into a business partnership with Mark Rhoades, formerly a highly placed official in the city of Berkeley’s Planning Department, which conveniently gave this project full support at ZAB. Not only that, Rhoades’ wife Erin runs the Livable Berkeley pro-development lobbying group. Should all of this back story, which certainly influences ZAB when Kashani’s projects are up for review, be in every story about his many projects? None of it, by the way, was in the story Doran criticized. 

And Planet readers have other ways of finding out what’s going on. One of our non-traditional policies is that we allow all of our employees to submit letters and commentaries to the opinion section. We recently received a letter from Anne Wagley, not a reporter, but the Planet’s Calendar and Arts Editor. She’s personally active in civic affairs, and like Mr. Doran, she’s a former City Council candidate.  

Here’s how she reacted to Doran’s letter: 

 

So Mr. Terry Doran does not like Ms. Bhattacharjee’s reporting because she does not give enough praise to the Zoning Adjustments Board, on which Mr. Doran sits, and the board’s approval of Mr. Kashani’s mega-condo project on San Pablo and Ashby. 

Isn’t this the same Mr. Kashani who wrote a letter to his developer friends urging them to give money to Mr. Doran’s (failed) attempt to win a City Council seat? The same letter landed in the hands of the Planet and was reported on. 

Well, what happened to Mr. Kashani’s plea for donations to this friend Mr. Doran? A quick look at the latest contribution reports on the City of Berkeley web site reveals that more than $3,000 came in to Mr. Doran’s campaign at the end of October, just before the election, from developers, their spouses, their employees and their architects, each giving the maximum allowable contribution of $250.  

Mr. Doran lost his city council bid, but he remains on the Zoning Adjustments Board. A great place to have friends. I think the phrase goes ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ but in this case the scratching is done with dollar bills. 

 

There’s more than a grain of truth in her letter, as there is in many communications we receive from our readers.  

Chances are that Mr. Doran is not the only member of a Berkeley quasi-judiciary body who’s effectively playing inside baseball with a little help from steroids, in the form of campaign contributions or other rewards. The Planning Commission, for example, is currently engaged in dismantling the citizen-created Downtown Area Plan. It’s not an accident that six of its nine members work in the building industry and stand to benefit from loosened zoning standards, including the commissioner who replaced Roia Ferrazares when Councilmember Darryl Moore purged her recently.  

Our Planning Commission reporter knows this, and points it out on occasion, including in this issue. Is he just reporting “his opinion,” or is he presenting a relevant fact of a kind too often papered over in traditional mainstream American dailies? 

In most of the world reporters are allowed, even encouraged, to bring the full scope of their world knowledge to bear on their stories. That’s true in England, in France, in Israel, and in many of the papers in India where Planet reporter Riya Bhattacharjee grew up. It makes for a much livelier read, and more important, it brings press accounts much closer to the truth on the ground. 

Mr. Doran hopes to instruct me on how to get more sympathy for my plight. But it’s not just my plight, it’s everyone’s plight if newspapers disappear. Perhaps some new angels can be found to rescue the Planet a second time, but that seems unlikely. Maybe it would be worthwhile, as Mr. Doran hints, simply to transform the paper into a pure journal of opinion, perhaps published online only, with no professional reporters to ferret out unpleasant secrets.  

What’s likely is that unless people who live here and read the paper decide that they’re ready to make the leap to community-supported journalism, the news reporting that they take for granted will disappear. Today’s front page, therefore, is designed to give citizens a taste of what Berkeley without news would be like. 

 

 


Cartoons

State Worker Layoffs

By Justin DeFreitas
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:40:00 PM


Public Comment

Readers Respond to Herskovits’ Israel-Palestine Commentary

Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:17:00 PM

Editors, Daily Planet: 

I want to thank you for printing Annette Herskovits’ opinion piece, “Who Remembers the Holocaust?” Her piece reminds us that the slogan “Never Again” should be intended to mean for all peoples. 

The Israeli military attack on Gaza and the resulting suffering of Palestinian civilians has moved people all over the world, including many Jews, to action. I believe that the attack against Gaza, in conjunction with ongoing settlement activity in the West Bank, has exposed the Israeli government’s insincerity in regards to a lasting peace process. 

This past week, more than 900 Jewish people participated in a 24-hour demonstration in front of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency’s offices in New York City to say “Not in Our Name.” The message was directed to the Israeli government and those American Jewish institutions who represent themselves as “the Jewish Community.” However, they do not represent many of us. As one of many Jews in the United States who have been working for a long time against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands taken in 1967 and ongoing U.S. support for the occupation, I’m glad that there is finally a place for our voices to be heard in the general discourse.  

Cindy Shamban 

Member, Jewish Voice for Peace 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just wanted to thank you so much for publishing Annette Herskovits’ powerful commentary. There are many of us Jews who are so angry, so appalled, and so sad about the unconscionable and unforgivable actions of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians. No matter what one’s political beliefs are about how the conflict in the Middle East should be dealt with, “never again” applies to the treatment of all human beings. 

Karen Platt 

Albany 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you very much for publishing Annette Herskovits’ article on Israel-Palestine. She has given us her own history and the history of the founding of Israel and its impact on the people of Palestine with careful and compassionate detail. 

Her own experience of living in hiding and under bombings as a child has given her an empathy which she has generously shared with us. And she is very even-handed with the sharing of the blame for the situation. Two thousand years of anti-Semitism and hundreds of years of European colonialism have combined to shape the disaster we see today. 

Thank you, Annette, for opening that window and thank you Berkeley Daily Planet for giving Annette space on your pages. 

Carolyn Scarr 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ms. Annette Herskovits questions “Who Remembers The Holocaust?” I do. I was arrested on Nov. 9, 1934, on Kristallnacht, in Munich, Germany, and sent to Dachau concentration camp. I managed to survive but most of my family perished because they were Jews. They had committed no crime, but were murdered.  

Ms. Herskovits compares this event to the fate of the Gazan people but there is no comparison. Israel does not, and did not, occupy Gaza. Israel withdrew in 2005. Gaza was occupied by Egypt between 1949 and 1967. Israel defended Jewish people who lived in Gaza who were under constant threat of annihilation and were making a living by growing flowers and vegetables. World pressure forced Israel to remove Jewish farmers leaving Gaza Judenrein even though 1.2 million Arab Palestinians are full citizens in Israel.  

In response to Israel’s pullout Hamas attacked Israeli cities with over 6000 missile attacks against Jewish civilian targets. Israel’s right to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks is being compared to the Holocaust by Ms. Herskovits. All Israel requested was to bring an end to the attacks. When this diplomatic policy failed Israel defended itself militarily. Hamas fighters mixed into the middle of civilian centers, hence the civilian casualties. 

Susanne (Sanne) DeWitt 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for printing the courageous and moving commentary, “Who Remembers the Holocaust?” by Annette Herskovits about the plight of the Palestinians and the tragedy in Gaza. Her questioning of Israel’s action in Gaza is particularly moving given her family history and personal experience of the holocaust. More viewpoints like hers need to be heard in this country so that our Middle East policies can evolve, be more informed, and thus serve both Israel and the Palestinians to end this horrible conflict. Unfortunately, it is more common to find alternative perspectives like those expressed by Ms Herskovits’ that question Israel’s policies in Israel than in the U.S. 

Edwin Herzog 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for publishing Ms. Annette Herskovits’ Feb. 11 commentary.  

It is healing to hear the voice of a Jewish woman, the daughter of Holocaust victims, telling the truth about Israel’s attack on Gaza.  

I expect the Jewish people, who suffered a lot, to stand up against oppression and racism. But when it comes to the Palestinians, dehumanization and violence are legitimized and most human rights conventions are suspended. 

When the world closed its doors in the face of the Jews who fled European anti-Semitism in the last century, they found refuge in Palestine. 

Instead of living side by side with the Palestinians, the Zionists chose to drive out the Palestinians from their homes, destroy their villages and take their lands. 

I hope that more conscientious Jews will speak the truth and not be scared to criticize Israel. Israel needs protection from its own racist and self-destructive actions. 

Nabil Wahbeh 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

I can agree that there are the horrors of the Gaza intensive by Israel, but I can’t agree with the biased information given by Annette Herskovits. The Israeli side of the story was not properly given. There are individual incidents on both sides which would take reams of paper to document. We need to see the “whole picture.” 

I read this line: “Hamas scrupulously observed a ceasefire from last June until Nov. 4, when Israel broke it, purportedly to destroy a tunnel dug by Palestinian militants to kidnap Israeli soldiers—difficult to believe in light of a report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz’ that Israel had prepared the attacks for months.” 

I thought this was incorrect because of what I read in Facts and Logic about the Middle East (FLAME), an e-mail that I receive. Please inform your readers that they can access FLAME to read other information for themselves at www.factsandlogic.org. 

Suzanne Cerny 

Walnut Creek 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Annette Herskovits is to be commended for her commentary, “Who Remembers the Holocaust?,” for both its historical perspective and its compassion. 

It is also a very moving piece of writing and the Planet should be proud to have published it. 

Suzanne Rogalin  

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

We found Annette Herskovits’ Feb. 12 commentary on the Gaza conflict inspiring. When is one side or the other going to have a heart as big as hers? Israel, as the stronger party, should be the first to try. 

Ann and William Smock 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for publishing Annette Herskovits’ article. I really appreciate her point of view and her courage in expressing it. 

Beau Takahara 

San Francisco 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for the excellent Feb. 11th article by Holocaust survivor Annette Herskovits, who writes so eloquently of her experiences as a Jewish child hiding in Paris after the Nazi invasion and compares that to what children are experiencing in Gaza now. Annette is a true voice of conscience who speaks from a point of actual experience (her parents died in Auschwitz) and moral authority that few can equal. 

I know you will be sent a lot of hate mail by the usual fanatics because you’ve printed this piece, but you are doing the right thing. 

I hope the Berkeley Daily Planet prints more articles by Annette Herskovits. Her wise and compassionate voice is much needed in these dire times. 

Francesca Rosa 

San Francisco 

 

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Editors, Daily Planet: 

Obviously your Annette Herskovits does not know the true facts as to what is happening there. She needs to be aware that it has been the Palestinians that have sent rockets into Israel on a daily basis for the past eight years. I am totally shocked you would even report anything even remotely so ill informed. This will go to every Jewish institution, synagogue and individual I know. Shame on the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

Micah David Ehrich 

Tarzana, Calif. 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for the excellent op-ed by Annette Herskovits in the Feb. 11 Berkeley Daily Planet comparing the assault on Gaza with her own experiences as a child hiding out from the Nazis. She not only lays out clearly the current situation but is able to emotionally connect the suffering of children in Gaza with the suffering of Jewish children during World War II. 

Having worked in the West Bank for two summers with Christian Peacemaker Teams in a violence reduction program and having continued to read the on-the-ground reports from that group, I am painfully aware of the determined and constant illegal efforts of the Israeli government and the Jewish settlers to drive more and more Palestinians from their homes. While I can sympathize with the feeling of many Jewish people that the only way they can be assured of not enduring another holocaust is by having a Jewish-only state, I also am thoroughly convinced that the way Zionists have carried out that desire in the past 61 years is not only contrary to international law, immoral, and highly destructive of the Palestinian people, but also is ultimately destructive of Jewish lives and dreams and imperils the possibility of the continued existence of Jews in the Middle East.  

Esther Mohler Ho 

Hayward 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am grateful to Ms. Herskovits for her courageous letter and to the Planet for publishing it. Although there is much unbiased, scholarly information available on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we do not seek it out. Even when we are uneasy about the massive destruction of Palestinian homes and life, I think we are afraid to raise the issue. We are afraid of being labelled terrorist sympathizers or anti-Semitic. 

It is easier to mention the rockets and turn aside than to find out how much U.S.-supplied weaponry is raining down on the Palestinians. 

But I hope that most of us want peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. I think that is the purpose of Ms. Herskovits’ letter. 

Mel Paul 

Fresno 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Anna Hershkovits’ moving testimony should be required reading for everyone. As one who has known suffering and who lost her family to the Nazi death camps she has more than earned the right to speak out when her people (and mine as well) translate “Never Again” into the subjugation of a people whose land they coveted even before the Holocaust. 

When the state of Israel came into being as a result of European anti-Semitism, the Palestinians also paid the price for that anti-Semitism. At least 750 thousand Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes by the Haganah, the Jewish army of the day. Those who remained lived under brutal military rule until 1966 and many also lost their homes in areas where Jewish Israelis wanted to live free of Arabs. The United Nations ruled that those refugees who wanted to live in peace should be allowed to return but the Jewish state said “No.” After all, if there were a significant number of Muslims and Christians in the country how could it be a Jewish state? They had to go and that was one of the great tragedies of the post World War II era. 

Today the Palestinians who have been driven into ever-smaller enclaves are still paying the price. Israel has commandeered much of the land and the water resources of the illegally occupied West Bank while bulldozing Palestinian homes and destroying tens of thousands of Palestinian olive and fruit trees. At the same time Israel is expanding Jewish-only settlements and Jewish-only roads. Meanwhile Israel has locked a million and a half Palestinians into the world’s largest outdoor prison, Gaza where they expected the imprisoned people not to resist. And just as oppressed people have resisted their oppressors since time immemorial so do their Palestinians resist. Israel has taken away their hopes and they have nothing else to lose. 

It is past time for Israel to end the occupation, withdraw to the 1967 line and, at the very least, compensate those who were forced to leave their homes in the Nakba of 1948. It is also high time for the United States to stop funding Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Otherwise, “Never Again,” a slogan that should apply to all peoples is nothing but meaningless jargon. 

Jan Bauman 

Mill Valley 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for Annette Herskovits excellent article, “Who Remembers the Holocaust?” I was moved by Ms. Herskovits’ description of her own childhood experience of the Holocaust and how she related her terror to the terror Gazan children are experiencing. Her insightful summary of events leading up to the desperate plight of the Palestinians was enlightening. 

I applaud you for letting the public hear Ms. Herskovits’ story. 

Edith Cacciatore 

Novato 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for publishing Annette Herskovits’ moving essay. Germany took responsibility for the Holocaust, officially apologized to the Jews, paid reparations and took measures within its own country to ensure the remembrance of the Holocaust and the main lesson we must learn from it: that we must protect the human rights of all people. As a consequence, Israel and Germany have a good relationship today, and Germany became a valued member of the international community. Someday I hope the Jews can do the same with respect to the Palestinians. 

Esther Riley 

Fairfax 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for publishing Annette Herskovits’ “Who Remembers The Holocaust”? As a fellow Jew, I applaud her forthright statement of the crimes that are being committed in our names by Israel (with the help of our tax dollars). Shame on all Jews who refuse to protest the butchery against the Palestinians which makes a mockery of our 3000 year-old moral heritage.  

Chuck Sher 

Petaluma 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you to Annette Herskovits for so generously sharing her thoughts with us, and her childhood memories, which must have been a very painful thing to do. 

It is one of the best I have read on the subject, and I have read many. 

Jane Jewell 

San Rafael 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for Annette Herskovits’ lucid, penetrating analysis of the Israel- Palestine situation. In the name of compassion and human dignity we must challenge U.S. support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. 

Eric Doyle, Nora Reza 

Menlo Park 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ms. Herskovits has spent years studying the plight of the Palestinians. She writes with the combined strength of learning, and personal experience of the holocaust. 

No wonder that readers who do no more than repeat the propaganda of the Israeli government are furious. 

Emily Dalgarno 

Watertown, Mass. 

 

• 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for Annette Herskovits’ comments (Feb. 11) on Israel’s brutal blitzkrieg against the already-starved and largely defenseless 1.5 million Gazans, half of them children, trapped by Israel and Egypt’s Mubarak in, effectively, an open-air prison. 

Historical knowledge helps us understand Palestinians’ struggle in Gaza. In 1948, Jewish terrorists, among them Israel’s “founding fathers,” bombed the King David Hotel, booby-trapped British soldiers they’d hanged and drove 700,000 indigenous Palestinians from Palestine and 200,000 into Gaza, crowding the 80,000 indigenous Gazans already there.  

After Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War, things worsened. Israel’s army, illegally restricting Palestinians’ movements, began systematically destroying their civilian infrastructure, even shooting farmers and fishermen earning their livings. Eighty percent of Gazans suffer enforced poverty, most in refugee camps served by UN Relief and Works Agency.  

Since 1967, Israel, ignoring scores of UN resolutions demanding respect for Palestinians’ rights, began illegally colonizing the Occupied Palestinian Territories, jailing and torturing thousands.  

With curfews, checkpoints, roadblocks, colored pass cards, Jews-only highways, military and civil codes channeling Palestinian land, water, resources into Jewish immigrant hands and a “separation” wall longer than the Berlin Wall, Israel’s made daily life for Palestinians a hell worse than blacks in South Africa suffered under apartheid, according to South African visitors. 

After collectively punishing Gaza for democratically electing in 2006 a Muslim-based government, Israel has subjected Palestinian civilians to routine strip searches even deaths at checkpoints, sniper bullets, attack helicopter and F16 jetfighter guided missiles, tanks, heavy artillery, warships, killing and wounding thousands. With armored Caterpillar, Volvo, Daewoo bulldozers, Israel destroys millions of fruit trees, tens of thousands of Palestinian homes. 

Israeli leaders want Palestinians to disappear.  

In 2008 Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, declared Palestinians firing Qassam rockets would bring on themselves a “shoah [Hebrew for ‘holocaust’] because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” 

But “defense” is a flimsy pretext. Qassams, fired eight years at Israel, have killed a total of twenty-three Israelis—a stark contrast to Israel’s three-week slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians, injuring 5,300 more. Who are the “terrorists” here? 

For this reason, as the international community did to end apartheid in South Africa, thousands of citizens of good will around the world are organizing a Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement against Israel and Israeli businesses. Many of its leaders are Jews worried Israeli militarism is making Israel less, not more, secure, and want secular democracy there, not Jewish theocracy. 

Rittmer Steven Greaves 

San Rafael 


Letters to the Editor

Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:16:00 PM

MISSED OPPORTUNITY 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Neighbors of the Thai Temple in South Berkeley never sought to shut it down or even end its Sunday fundraising restaurant. The Temple’s extensive campaign, therefore, to “save” the Temple and protect it from “religious intolerance” and “racism” was irrelevant to the actual issues. Indeed, the Temple had never before sought a permit to sell food every week, so its security was perhaps undermined by its own failure to operate legally. However, neighbors were only seeking mitigations for the usual impacts associated with any large-scale operation—noise, crowds, cooking odors, and parking. The Temple’s campaign only impeded constructive communications about issues far more mundane than “religious intolerance.”  

Even the majority members of the Zoning Adjustments Board joined in to proclaim at their Feb. 12 public meeting they were “protecting religious freedom” by voting to approve the Temple’s use permit without examining the need for mitigation beyond what the Temple itself proposed. Did ZAB believe that the new Congregation Beth El synagogue in north Berkeley needed to be saved from “anti-Semitism” because neighbors sought a reduction in parking and traffic impacts? The Temple and ZAB’s behavior was simply theater with no foundation in zoning matters.  

The Temple shares a backyard fence with residential homeowners who are heavily impacted every weekend of their lives by a fundraising restaurant serving hundreds of people who come for lunch, not religious purposes. The Temple missed an opportunity for true neighborly communications, and ZAB ignored its basic civic responsibilities.  

Carolyn Shoulders 

 

• 

GAIA BUILDING PARTIES 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

In “Melee at the Gaia Building,” Dorothy Bryant asks, “what has changed in the definition of fun?” The answer is absolutely nothing. Teenagers still, as in “the good old days,” attend dances to see and be seen, meet and make friends and enjoy themselves. But it’s well known to public safety personnel that certain types of dances are likely to end in mob violence. And when police and city administrators allow those dances and mob violence results, those public safety personnel as well as dance promoters and the rioters themselves are fully responsible for any resulting deaths, injuries and or property damage. It is clear that Berkeley municipality stupidity, negligence and or incompetence is allowing these dangerous dances to take place downtown at the Gaia Building. Will we have to wait until we have deaths on our downtown streets before the municipality does its job which need they be reminded is to protect the safety of the public? 

Nathaniel Hardin 

El Cerrito 

 

• 

OUT OF WHACK 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Strange things are happening to the law of supply and demand. Along with recession and economic collapse a subplot is unfolding that involves the whacky interplay of prices and profits. Gas prices at the pump rise and fall, rise and fall, and go on rising and falling. The price of crude oil oscillates also but not necessarily in harmony with gasoline. Meanwhile, the profits of big oil companies move only in one direction. Up. 

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo 

 

• 

MARIO'S MOVE 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Really a great picture of Mario and Rosalinda Tejada in your last issue, though the closing of La Fiesta isn’t happy news. I was there when they first opened in 1959, having enjoyed Don Paquin’s before them and Telegraph’s third Mexican restaurant later run by Mario’s sister. Incidentally, the name of the location's prior establishment was “The Door” (singular, unlike the band). It’s great to know the Tejadas will continue their traditional cooking and atmosphere at 2506 Haste, the former location of several businesses including Barry Olivier’s folk music shop The Barrel and Campbell Coe’s Campus Music Shop. The late legendary guitar repairman/musician/record collector/raconteur/photographer was Mario’s tenant as well as frequent customer who even had a plate unofficially named for him: the “Photo Special,” a beef tostada dinner without the tortilla. Campbell preferred his maiz in the form of tostaditas (chips) which he unfailingly added to a steaming bowl of the restorative Tejada chicken soup, still curing what ails you somewhere near the corner of Haste and Telegraph. 

Sandy Rothman 

 

• 

‘IN THE NEXT ROOM’ 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Despite the “In the Other Room” [sic] review (which, unfortunately, I read before seeing the play), I enjoyed In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). The reviewer rambles on about the “dilettantish writing” and “desultory action”— perfect adjectives for his scribbling—and reels off space-filling authors and titles. Some genuinely related titles might include Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899). In the Next Room continues at the Berkeley Rep through March 15, and Issue 4 of the Berkeley Rep Magazine 2008-2009 is no mere playbill. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 

 

• 

PEACE SYMBOL ANNIVERSARY 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Peace for Keeps will celebrate the 51st anniversary of the peace symbol at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way with an in-progress showing of last year’s Berkeley Peace Symbol Golden Jubilee video. Featured in the video are Wavy Gravy, Michael Rossman, Carol Denney, Hali Hammer, Stoney Burke, Gary Lapow, Helen Holt, Peacenik and Arnie Passman. Tickets are $5 and up. 

The peace symbol was created in England in 1958 for the nuclear disarmament campaign, and by the mid 1960s had spread worldwide. This year’s celebration will be a benefit for the newly formed United Front Against Made-in-the-USA Overkill—No More War Weapons Development and Experimentation, and survivors of Khan Yunis, Gaza, one of the cruelest civilian bombings in history. 

The event will encourage demonstrations at congressional district offices with the largest military budgets, including California’s 8th (Pelosi), and 9th (Lee). For further information, contact Arnie Passman at 845-5481 or pazmopa@yahoo.com.  

Arnie Passman 

 

• 

CITIZEN’S ARREST 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

A long time ago, a friend of mine told me about the idea of citizen’s arrest and my first thought was, “Anyone could arrest anyone else!” I had thought this was a job solely for the police. Well, I didn’t think of it as a realistic measure, being a kid of only 8 or 9 years of age, just kind of a funny idea. You know, arresting your friend.  

Today, I was thinking of a pseudonym that would reflect my ethics and values and the concept jumped into my mind, “Citizens Arrest,” and I believe it’s time to use this power we possess. We need to show our dissent for the criminals wrapped up in high offices pushing documents and buttons that affect our lives and well-being. We cannot be passive while the Regents argue that they need to raise our tuition fees and cut unnecessary expenses, which mainly include new faculty, student services, and a variety of other non-administrative costs. The media resource center no longer rents out cameras to students, the university photography dark room is closing, the librarians are being paid salaries that are not comparable to their services and the list can go on.  

To add to this misfortune, we continue to buy overly priced coaches and spend increasingly more money on sports and recreation and support corporate and violent science (British Petroleum and nuclear warfare). This is incongruent with the pressing economy. What does it mean when a society stops funding for an educated citizenry? Or starts cutting good investigative reporting for entertaining reality shows and misleading linear commentary on macro politics as self-professed objective news?  

Thomas Jefferson believed that the public needed to be freely educated so it would not be lead blindly by group hegemonies. Too many students trust the staged history that UC Berkeley will fight against injustice whether we do anything about it or not. This is not true, when injustice is present we must stand up and put our time and meat in front of it, or the powers at hand will continue endlessly. We cannot blindly trust what we do not do. Is the machine of the University of California administration becoming so powerful that we no longer hold the reigns to readjust its malfunctions? Now it’s time to take our powers as citizens and students at UC Berkeley, and obstruct the overpaid administrative figures that would rather raise our tuition than cut their own salaries. This bureaucracy that binds us to their system must be broken if we expect to have a free and open education served to the public, from the pubic, for the public. 

Sebastian Groot 

 

• 

LA FIESTA 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the summer of 1964, I was a Texas transplant, living and working in San Francisco. Cheap and tasty Tex-Mex food was what I grew up eating, and on North Beach, where I lived then, the Mexican food was something quite different: weirdly highbrow and very expensive. 

One afternoon, a friend called me at work and asked if I liked Mexican food. I said yes, so he picked me up after work, and to my surprise, headed for the Bay Bridge. That was the first time I visited Berkeley and the first time I ate at La Fiesta, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. 

The food was not Tex-Mex, but it was Mexican food, the real article, and absolutely terrific. That fall, after I moved to Berkeley and went to work at UCB, I had flautas at La Fiesta at least once a week, and was never disappointed. 

Times have changed, and most of the old standbys are gone, but I can’t imagine Telegraph Avenue without La Fiesta. 

Shirley Stuart 

 

• 

LOOKING FOR A NEW FANNIE 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

The thought that keeps nagging me, as I listen to the TV pundits and the newspaper columnists and our representatives in Congress, who all speak excitedly about the collapse of the economy and joblessness, and their solutions, is their “well-off-ness.” None of them are jobless or worried about losing their job or home! The only person I can think who truly represented the hapless, the homeless and the “main streeters” years ago was Fannie Lou Hamer. She was poor; she knew what it felt like to be downtrodden. She was the last person whom I recall wasn’t privileged, who wasn’t a lawyer, wasn’t rich, wasn’t a college grad, who got some attention from the media for representing the “have-nots” in America. Isn’t it time for more Fannie Lou Hamers to be on TV; to be in Congress; and to be in our newspapers, who would genuinely represent the almost one third of us who are in serious trouble facing the difficult years ahead? Or am I being naive? 

Robert Blau 

 

• 

HIGHEST BOND RATING? 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for Zelda Bronstein’s wonderful exposé of Tom Bates’ claims to have “the highest bond rating in the United States.” 

He’s said it several times before, and I always wondered how it could be true—given even the most basic facts about Berkeley’s finances. Now, thanks to Zelda’s investigative reporting, we know it isn’t. 

Jim Fisher 

 

• 

CONTENTION VS. COOPERATION 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

President Obama’s administration hoped to find a more collaborative way to negotiate governance of our great country. After the Republicans’ “winner take all” steamroller politics, power has now swung to the Democrats. Obama’s leadership tried something different: listening respectfully, including Republicans in policy development, and compromising to accommodate Republican concerns.  

The final version of the Economic Recovery act has cut proposed spending by over $100 billion over the previous version, just to accommodate Republicans and gain their votes. The act also increased tax cuts for the wealthy in spite of ample experience that this doesn’t do much to help the economy. These compromises were made to include Republicans in solving our common problems, yet, only three voted with Democrats to pass the act. Republicans remain obstructionist.  

Democrats would be well-advised to use the political power they currently have to fix the massive problems caused by years of Republican hegemony, and not to dilute their cure with Republican snake oil. Collaboration is a two-way street, and Republicans have shown deceit in working toward effective solutions.  

In California’ legislature, six Republicans are paralyzing the state budget with their stubborn ideology instead of pragmatic governance. 

Bruce Joffe 

Piedmont 

 

• 

CALTRANS, KINDERGARTNERS 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

On facing pages in the Feb. 5 issue we learn that: (1) of the two pedestrian routes across Ashby Avenue adjacent to the grade school, one intersection is unguarded and without protective marking or signage, and (2) State Highway 13, aka Ashby Avenue (except in the Hills, where it’s Tunnel Road) will receive CalTrans funding for “traffic signals and signal timing, and for improvements that make the road safer for cyclists and pedestrians.” 

Hello, FBC and other neighbors involved in prioritizing this funding: Duh, or what? 

At a minimum, how about some long overdue graphic signage about little scampering bodies and elderly halting bodies? Maybe a zebra crossing with pavement flashers, as on Bancroft? And while you’re at it, get CalTrans to bring its King Street bike route signal timing into compatibility with the other crossings in Berkeley. (That is, why should it take three times as long to get a signal change so kids and bikes can cross Ashby at King as it does to cross University at California, for example?) 

M. Hall 

 

• 

BRONSTEIN’S COLUMN 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zelda Bernstein, in her Feb. 12 Public Eye column, “The City Manager’s Raise: Fact and Fiction,” should not use the story to pick on Susan Wengraf, who abstained with reasons on the salary increase. 

Zelda even included that Wengraf lives in the “fiscally conservative north Berkeley hills,” which caused me to remember that Zelda lives in the fiscally conservative north Berkeley foothills. 

To contrast Wengraf with Kriss Worthington, dis Wengraf, and praise Kriss, was a bit much of a fiction factor in the article. What mattered most was getting five votes not for the raise. Susan gave hers. Kriss might better have spent his speech-making energy getting the two more no votes needed for the “principled position.” 

After watching Worthington and Mayor Tom Bates’s dynamic Pro-Bus Rapid Transit team at the Feb. 17 BRT policy meeting in Oakland, I do not think the word for Kriss should be principled. Political is better, and leaves plenty room for principled decisions.  

Merrillee Mitchell


Blockade Harms U.S. More Than Cuba

By Margot Pepper
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:13:00 PM

The U.S. blockade is causing more economic damage to the United States than it is to Cuba. A December letter signed by a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged then President-elect Barack Obama to initiate the process of scrapping the 47-year old embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the US economy at $1.2 billion per year, an estimate made by the International Trade Commission in 2001. More recent sources put the projected 2009 loss at $3.6 billion annually in lost sales.  

Running an blockade is an expensive proposition. Beside the astronomical cost of lost trade opportunities, there are increased distribution costs involved in trading with countries farther than Cuba’s 90 miles proximity, in addition to the millions spent by the Treasury Department to enforce its rules. Furthermore, the United States spends $27 million each year to broadcast Radio and TV Martí to what critics have termed a black hole, since the television signals are effectively blocked by the Cuban government. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, this figure has reached half a billion dollars in the last twenty years. 

According to the non-profit Cuba Policy Foundation (CPF), run by a former U.S. ambassador, the blockade is causing the U.S. economy to lose up to $1.24 billion a year in agricultural exports alone, and up to $3.6 billion more a year in associated economic output. The CPF states that Arkansas alone is suffering half a billion dollars in lost business annually. According to the American Society of Travel Agents, if the U.S. were to lift its travel restrictions to Cuba, nearly 1.8 million Americans would visit the country by 2010. This could add to U.S. gross domestic product by as much as $1.6 billion, the society says. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, U.S. businesses have been missing out on up to $2 billion in annual trade with Cuba, a figure which translates to $1 billion more in lost trade for the United States than for Cuba each year. In 2002 the Cuban government estimated the loss to the Cubans at about $685 million annually. A December 2008 report by the BBC stated that, to date, the blockade has cost Cuba $93 billion in lost revenue since its introduction in 1962. 

In 1992, according to Johns Hopkins University, U.S. businesses had lost well over $30 billion in trade, contrasting with the $28.6 billion lost by Cubans, according to a 1992 study published by the Cuban Central Planning Board’s Institute of Economic Research. 

No matter whose figures are used, the cost to both countries has more than tripled in less than twenty years—something which neither citizenry can afford. Even so, Cuba has managed to provide its inhabitants with what the most affluent country in the world has been unable to achieve thus far: free top-notch health care, free university and graduate school education and subsidized food, utilities, and housing which has virtually eliminated homelessness. The fact that a poor, colonized country can meet the basic needs of all its citizens, underscores how inexpensive such an undertaking really is and could prove instructive as well to the president-elect. 

In addition to dealing the United States an economic blow, the blockade has deprived U.S. citizens of Cuba’s medical breakthroughs such as vaccines for meningitis B, cures for retinitis pigmentosa; a preservative for un-refrigerated milk and PPG, a cholesterol-reducing drug gobbled up by foreigners for its side effect: increased sexual potency. 

The CPF found that 52 percent of Americans nationwide say the blockade should be scrapped, and that 67 per cent of Americans want to lift the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba immediately. Recent polls have also shown a shifting in support of a majority of Miami Cubans toward lifting the blockade.  

The origins of the blockade date back to Cuba’s expropriation of US companies. According the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, Cuba “nationalized some $1.8 billion worth of U.S. owned property.” At five percent interest over the last 50 years, some argue that the United States has more than $4.5 billion pending in 5,911 separate claims against the government of Cuba. 

Cubans argue that early in the century, the United States had appropriated 70 percent of Cuban land, three quarters of Cuba’s primary industry. They say the ensuing life-threatening colonial conditions left them no recourse but to expel the “Yankis,” just as the “Yankees” here had once expelled the British. If we are to hold Cubans accountable for $4.5 billion, one can only gasp at what we owe the British after 233 years including accrued interest. 

Margot Pepper is a Mexican-born journalist and the author of a memoir, Through the Wall: A Year in Havana, about her year living and working in Cuba.


Berkeley Remembered

By Deborah Loreen Foster
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:14:00 PM

History denotes sculptures from ancient times to present as having significant meaning to the peoples and cultures of that time, often commemorating heroes and capturing history. Centuries later, we still have a glimpse into their past. Chiseled into stone, metal, clay and wood, even into the sides of mountains, is the artistic equivalent to the historic written word, communicating to future generations of all languages a vision of the past. 

You don’t have to be educated in the arts or artistically gifted to understand the significance and define the purpose or meaning of what your eyes discern. We are approached by bigger than life moldings, statues and busts that call out to us from the corner of our eye, a bas-relief that tells a story and we take the time to contemplate another era, seeking enlightenment. 

It is true a picture is worth a thousand words. When you read a book, you can only imagine what comes to your mind through your own experiences. But a picture, and that is what sculpture is, in 3D, shows you how it was in the eyes and experiences of others/someone else. 

Now, knowing that, how do you think your future generations will remember you? 

You erected a statue called Berkeley Big People symbolizing the city, its people and the activities that reflect the times. A scientist, a person in a wheelchair, a kite flyer, bird watcher, and someone playing the violin. And below that you can see medallions that reflect in even more detail the everyday happenings of your lives. 

Berkeley, you keep that sculpture right where you have it. Let the future generations see what kind of people you were. That while you flew your kites, you let dogs take a shit at your feet. I want my grandkids to be embarrassed by your vulgarity. I want them to look away and shake their heads in disgust. I want them to see the perverted medallions that look like a nasty little boy drew them in the mud and wonder how that one town was part of a sophisticated society and yet remained so primitive. That your culture consisted of the science of butt-sniffing and forever symbolized the recreational art form of watching dogs in the act of copulating. Did you put violin music to that? 

Keep your statue up, Berkeley. Don’t you dare take it down. It is a good reflection of your people and its culture. Let the birds obligingly defecate on your memory. No other form of honor can be more fitting.  

Let history books tell of a people who threw truckloads of money at the feet of an artist who was known to have been scoffed at, whose history of art was laughed at by the majority and they will wonder how it came to be that a minority of people could spend the taxes of the financially strapped majority with such unaccountable carelessness. 

And let your sculpture tell of a people whose accolades were either sculpted through the eyes of a perverted, warped artist, hired by the people to remember them in effigy, or truly reflected the flea-infested lifestyle of a community in an ancient fabled town called Berkeley. 

 

Deborah Loreen Foster is a resident of Phelan, Calif.


Grant Apologists Are Loud, But Wrong

By David Jackson
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:15:00 PM

Just had the opportunity to read J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s Jan. 28 column in the Daily Planet (“Justice Coalitions Fracturing in Oscar Grant Case”) about the BART Police officer’s accidental shooting of the convicted criminal Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day. 

You noted: 

“[I]t was a second BART officer—identified by KTVU as Tony Pirone—who appears to have precipitated the events that led up to the shooting, walking aggressively across the Fruitvale BART platform to confront Mr. Grant and then punch him in the side of his head. Prior to Mr. Pirone’s appearance, Mr. Grant and two Latino companions were standing up against the platform wall and being detained by a female BART police officer, with no apparent problems.” 

I realize that yours is an opinion piece, and as such does not require being rooted in facts; you can guess and be right. 

The problem is that Tony Pirone didn’t precipitate the events. Oscar Grant did. 

Oscar Grant was a convicted felon who was in possession of drugs. He continually antagonized and resisted the female officer’s attempts to detain him. He continually reached in his pockets, despite being warned not to. 

The sympathy for poor Oscar Grant is compelling. I agree that he did not deserve to die for his criminal actions that night. There is no death penalty for simply being a petty criminal. 

But Oscar Grant was not an innocent bystander that night. He was the reason the police were there. And is anybody stupid enough to think the police went to the Fruitvale station to murder Oscar Grant that night? 

I have heard many of the angry comments about this poor family man being victimized that night. 

Why wasn’t the family man home with his wife and child that night instead of being out with his friends? If Oscar Grant was such a devoted family man, why had he been incarcerated for two of his child’s four years? 

Oscar Grant had twelve separate police cases in the span of the past four years. (New Year’s morning was to be his lucky thirteenth, had he lived.) 

I know Tony Pirone. He is a stand-up guy with a great wife and two young daughters. He is a family man, and he is an outstanding police officer. For the few years that our family has known him, he has always shown himself to be an intelligent, friendly, caring person— a great family man and a great friend. 

And he is everything that a police officer should be. 

That this case is being tried in the press and in public is just the way it is; you can’t stop it from happening. But to make Tony Pirone out as something he isn’t because you think you know what happened is wrong. You weren’t there. You saw some grainy videos. You heard people say some things. And you guessed at the truth. 

Your opinion is your opinion, and the truth is the truth. And there is a difference between the two. 

There are quite a few people angry about what happened that morning. But many more are angry about how the officers are being portrayed, rather than what happened to Oscar Grant. The Oscar Grant apologists are louder and more destructive, and they make a better story, but that doesn’t make them any less wrong. 

 

David Jackson is an East Bay resident. 


Public Space on Center Street

By Jim Novosel
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:15:00 PM

This city planner did not give “thumbs down to closed Center Street” at the Feb. 4 city Planning Commission. I have desired the creation of a major public gathering space in the heart of our downtown since working on the citizens’ 1984 Outline for a Downtown Plan and the City’s 1990 Downtown Plan. Now, more than ever, I believe that with the new downtown plan, the creation of such a wonderful urban space is inevitable. And consensus from both the DAPAC and Planning Commission is that it will be on Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford. 

What I believed was needed last Wednesday, and what transpired, was to champion what we wanted on this stretch of the planet rather than to continue a discussion about traffic and the extent of street closure. The entire commission unanimously approved the powerful idea of creating an urban space that would allow for concerts, festivals, political rallies, exhibits and outdoor events. Prior, the conversation was fractious and bogged down over traffic issues without any agreement as to what would take place once the traffic was modified. It is not a lost opportunity to drop the street closure idea from the public discussion. It is an acknowledgement that it is premature and corrosive to the body politic to continue a limited discussion. 

We now have that agreement on purpose, and if approved by the council, could proceed to design the space. It will be a big effort. It will take place at another time. It must have City Council, merchant, DBA and citizen participation and acceptance. And it will only occur through another public forum that the council would need to establish, whose specific mission would be to program and design the space. At this time, let us talk of what events and activities we desire as a citizenry at the heart of our city. I hope that others join with me in looking forward to attending a Country Joe MacDonald concert, a beer festival, President Obama giving a speech, a how-Berkeley-can-you-be car exhibit, the grand opening celebration for the UC Art Center and the Thursday music events currently at the BART Plaza. 

As for the Walter Hood’s design effort, it must be understood that he has been commissioned by a private group whose original desires were to open Strawberry Creek and/or to pay homage to a Creek element. In my opinion, he has drawn some beautiful and inspiring ideas. In all of his proposals, there is not a significant public gathering space for what the Planning Commission has now endorsed. I would expect and hope that his continuing work to illuminate what his clients have commissioned will respond to the Planning Commission position. 

 

Jim Novosel is a member of Berkeley’s Planning Commission. 

 


What’s Next in Afghanistan?

By Ralph E. Stone
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:15:00 PM

President Obama recently announced that he is sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But he is still faced with a decision about what to do long term in Afghanistan and with worldwide terrorism. If there is one point of agreement between Republicans and Democrats, it is that the U.S. war in Afghanistan was a legitimate response to the Sept. 11 attacks, mainly aimed at bringing Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to justice—unlike the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which was bogus, based on the Bush administration’s falsehoods regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s links to al Qaeda. 

President Obama and Congress must now deal with the root causes of terrorism in Afghanistan and around the world, i.e., poverty, repression, and a sense of injustice that many Muslims feel at the hands of their U.S.-backed governments. After all, terrorism was not a sudden anti-Americanism, but the result of past American policy failures. Muslims don’t hate our freedom; they hate our policies. And our image abroad was not helped by our promoting or condoning torture, disappearances, secret jails, and rendition. Troops and money are not long term solutions to the war in Afghanistan. 

What is the cost of the Afghanistan war so far? As of Jan. 29, 640 Americans have died and 1,722 have been seriously wounded; 11,017 Afghan troops and 7,373 civilians have been killed; and 33,051 Afghan troops and 13,271 civilians have been seriously injured. The estimated dollar cost of the war in Afghanistan is estimated to reach $439.8 billion by the end of FY 2009 and at the current rate of spending, could reach $1 trillion by the end of Obama’s first term. Can we afford this expenditure, especially with our faltering economy? 

What have we achieved so far? The Taliban have reorganized and now control over 70 percent of the country, up from 50 percent in November 2007, where they collect taxes, enforce Sharia law, and dispense rough justice. But they do succeed in containing crime and corruption, which characterizes Hamid Karzai’s rule. The Taliban is even threatening to surround Kabul. 

In addition, neighboring Pakistan—our reluctant ally in fighting the Taliban—is suffering a meltdown under Asif Ali Zardari. His government has lost control of the North-West Frontier Province to the Pakistani Taliban, who now control the Khyber Pass, the key route between Pakistan and Aghanistan through which 70 percent of supplies for U.S. troops pass. The U.S. is now forced to seek alternative routes. And it was recently reported that Pakistan is about to agree to a cease-fire allowing the imposition of Islamic law in the Swat Valley, which will likely increase Taliban influence. Islamic law is already in effect along the Afghan border and elsewhere in Pakistan’s northwest. 

Before the U.S. sends more troops or spends more money in Afghanistan, Congress must have full and open hearings on the future of our war on terrorism. Congress cannot just continue to rubber stamp further expenditures of manpower and money as it did during the Bush administration. 

 

Ralph E. Stone is a retired Bay Area attorney. 


Of Councils, Courts and a Failure to Communicate

By Steve Martinot
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:16:00 PM

Let’s go over what is at stake in the cell phone antenna permits that City Council has approved for UC Storage and the French Hotel. First, there is the question of health protections against possibly injurious technology. And second, there is the question of representation.  

As a review, here are some of the health risks from radio frequency and microwave radiation. Based on both laboratory and epidemiological (community at large) studies, they include brain cancer tumors, lymphomas, breaks in DNA strands, leukemia in children, changes in sleep patterns, headaches, disruption of the blood-brain barrier, cell death, changes in calcium ion concentrations, changes in neural electrophysiology, eye damage, increased blood pressure, and memory impairment. (Documentation at www.wave-guide.org/library/studies.html) These are risks, not hidebound causal connections (yet). The precautionary principle would counsel that we pay attention. 

The industry and the government claim their radiation levels are safe because it does not heat human tissue (the microwave oven effect). But the list above is compiled from studies of non-thermal effects, which neither institution addresses. 

The City Council has consistently abstained from considering the “health issue” in its approval of permits. It has hidden behind the myth that the Telecommunications Act (1996) bars local government from including resident health concerns in the permitting process. Thus, it has abrogated its responsibilty to protect those who live in the city, and chosen instead to protect the interests of the industry (which live outside the city). 

It therefore behooves us to look carefully at this legal dodge deployed by the council (those readers with tender dispositions, who have adverse reactions to legal language, please proceed with caution). The Telecommunications Act states (slightly redacted), in the only clause in 170 pages relevant to this issue: “No state or local government may regulate the placement of personal wireless service facilities [cell phone antennas] on the basis of the environmental effects of radio-frequency emissions if the facilities comply with FCC regulations concerning emissions.” But there have been three cases decided in federal court, that suggest Council’s flight from its responsibility by way of this clause is baseless, to say the least. 

In U.S. vs. Lopez, which went to the Supreme Court in 1995, Rehnquist ruled that Congress could not bar local government from regulating activities that were truly local in character, and that the federal government over stepped its bounds when it sought to preempt local regulations. Congress, he argued, is bound in economic matters by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (art. 1.8.3). It can regulate interstate commerce only, and can prohibit local activities only insofar as they impact interstate commerce, and are economic in nature. It is important, he said, to distinguish between what is truly national and what is truly local—which is actually a paraphrase of the 10th Amendment, which states that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. In overturning the defendant’s conviction (the case involved gun possession), Rehnquist stated that if the federal government saw fit to preempt local regulations, it had to show that what it prohibited was clearly an economic factor, and a factor that directly impacted interstate commerce (which the gun possession in question did not).  

And neither would citizen health concerns. Indeed, the opposite is the case. Injuries to the health of local citizens from possibly dangerous technology would have adverse effects on commerce, owing to illness, and thus run the risk of impacting interstate commerce negatively if not protected locally. In other words, on Rehnquist’s argument, local health protections would be something Congress would not prohibit under their constitutional mandate to sustain interstate commerce. 

A second case, Santa Cruz vs. Mukasey (2008), was a suit to halt federal harassment of medical marijuana users. The Ninth Circuit court ruled that though federal statutes governed controlled substances, a patient had health rights, and those rights included protection against harassment by a federal agency. This too was a 10th Amendment case, and another instance in which the federal government sought to preempt local regulations.  

If patient’s have health rights, those rights would extend to potential patients (for instance, those made ill by injurious technology). But in that case, people, having rights, cannot be included in the category of “environmental effects.” To harm the environment and to harm a human being belong to different domains of law. On the basis of this decision, health protections would be a valid responsibility for the city to uphold. Yet the present City Council has chosen not to assume that responsibility in approving the present antenna permits, despite the fact that several neighborhood groups objected to Council, and despite the fact that cell phone use in the city has not increased, but slightly dropped off. There has definitely been a failure to communicate with alleged representatives. 

Finally, in Sprint vs. San Diego (2008), the Ninth Circuit court ruled that it was not sufficient for Sprint to think a city’s regulations might possibly be prohibitive. It had to show that there was actual and effective prohibition, which San Diego’s antenna regulations, against which Sprint sued, did not do. And neither would regulation of antenna power, which would serve to better protect Berkeley residents. 

In hiding behind the Telecommunications Act, our city council has ended up representing the wrong interests, and exercising a real abrogation of responsibility. 

The power density allowable in the U.S. under the Act is 579mW/cm^2. Don’t be non-plussed by that expression. It is a power output rating, analogous to the horsepower rating of an automobile engine. What is important about that number is that it is the second highest in the world. By comparison, Italy and Russia have set their power density standard at 10mW, and China has set it at 6mW. The technology exists to make antennas safer, operating at lower power. The legal framework exists for the city to include citizen health concerns in its permitting process. There is no excuse for the city’s abrogations. 

 

Steve Martinot is a Berkeley resident.


Columns

Dispatches From The Edge—Gaza: Death’s Laboratory

By Conn Hallinan
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:46:00 PM

It was as if they had stepped on a mine, but there was no shrapnel in the wound. Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they had been sliced off. I have been to war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before. 

—Dr. Erik Fosse, Norwegian cardiologist who  

worked in Gaza hospitals during the recent war. 

 

What Dr. Fosse was describing was the effects of a U.S. “focused lethality” weapon that minimalizes explosive damage to structures while inflicting catastrophic wounds on its victims. While the weapon has been used in Iraq, Gaza was the first test of the bomb in a densely populated environment. 

The specific weapon—the GBU-39—is a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) and was developed by the U.S. Air Force, Boeing Corporation, and University of California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2000. The weapon wraps the high explosives HMX or RDX with a tungsten alloy and other metals like cobalt, nickel or iron, in a carbon fiber/epoxy container. When the bomb explodes, the container evaporates and the tungsten turns into micro-shrapnel that is extremely lethal up to about 60 feet. 

Tungsten is inert, so it does not react chemically with the explosive. While a non-inert metal like aluminum would increase the blast, tungsten actually limits the explosion.  

Within the weapon’s range, however, it is inordinately lethal. According to Norwegian doctor Mad Gilbert, the blast results in multiple amputations and “very severe fractures. The muscles are sort of split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns.”  

Those who survive the initial blast quickly succumb to septicemia and organ collapse. “Initially, everything seems in order … but it turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all their organs,” says Dr. Jam Brommundt, a German doctor working in Kham Younis, a city in southern Gaza. “It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particles … that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically.” According to Brommundt, the particles cause multiple organ failures.  

If, by some miracle, victims do survive, they are almost to certain develop rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a particularly deadly cancer that deeply embeds itself into tissue and is almost impossible to treat. A 2005 U.S. Department of health study found that tungsten stimulated RMS cancers even in very low doses. Out of 92 rats tested, 92 developed the cancer. 

While DIMEs were originally designed to avoid “collateral” damage generated by standard high explosive bombs, the weapon’s lethality and profound long-term toxicity hardly seems like an improvement. And in Gaza, the ordinance was widely used. Al-Shifta alone has seen 100 to 150 such patients. 

Was Gaza a test of DIME in urban conditions?  

Dr. Gilbert told the Oslo Gardermoen,“There is a strong suspicion I think that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons.” 

The characteristics of the GBU-39 are likely to make it a go-to weapon in the future. The bomb is small and light—less than six feet long and only 285 pounds—that means an aircraft can carry four times as many weapons. It can also be dropped 60 miles from its target. Internal wings allow the bomb to navigate to its target. It can penetrate three feet of reinforced concrete. It can also be mounted on drones, like the Predator and the Reaper, and compared to other weapons systems, is a bargain.” 

Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s senior military advisor, says “It remains to be seen how Israel has acquired the technology, whether they purchased weapons from the United States under some agreement, or if they in fact licensed or developed their own type of munitions.” 

In fact, Congress approved the $77 million sale of 1.000 GBU-39s to Israel in September, 2008, and the weapons were delivered in December. Israel was the first foreign sales of the DIMES. 

DIME weapons are not banned under the Geneva Conventions because they have never been officially tested. However, any weapon capable of inflicting such horrendous damage is normally barred from use, particularly in one of the most densely populated regions in the world  

For one thing, no one is sure about how long the tungsten remains in the environment or how it could affect people who return to homes attacked by a DIME. University of Arizona cancer researcher Dr. Mark Witten, who investigates links between tungsten and leukemia, says that in his opinion “there needs to be much more research on the health effects of tungsten before the military increases its usage.” 

DIMEs were not the only controversial weapons used in Gaza. The Israeli Self-Defense Forces (IDF) also made generous use of white phosphorus, a chemical that burns with intense heat and inflicts terrible burns on victims. In its vapor form it also damages breathing passages 

International law prohibits the weapon’s use near population areas and requires that “all reasonable precautions” be taken to avoid civilians. 

Israel initially denied it was using the chemical. “The IDF acts only in accordance with what is permitted by international law and does not use white phosphorus,” said Israel’s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on Jan. 13. 

But eyewitness accounts in Gaza and Israel soon forced the IDF to admit that they were, indeed, using the substance. On Jan 20, the IDF confessed to using phosphorus artillery shells as smoke screens, as well as 200 U.S.-made M825A1 phosphorus mortar shells on “Hamas fighters and rocket launching crews in northern Gaza.” 

Three of those shells hit the UN Works and Relief Agency compound Jan. 15, igniting a fire that destroyed hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies. Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City was also hit by a phosphorus shell. The Israelis say there were Hamas fighters near the two targets, a charge that witnesses adamantly deny. 

Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International said, “Such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza’s densely-populated residential neighborhoods … and its toll on civilians, is a war crime.” 

Israel is also accused of using depleted uranium ammunition (DUA), which in a UN sub-commission in 2002 found in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, the Conventional Weapons Convention, and the Hague Conventions against the use of poison weapons. 

DUA is not highly radioactive, but after exploding some of it turns into a gas that can easily be inhaled. The dense shrapnel that survives also tends to bury itself deeply, leaching low-level radioactivity into water tables. 

Other human rights groups, including B’Tselem, Gisha, and Physicians for Human Rights, charge that the IDF intentionally targeted medical personal, killing over a dozen, including paramedics and ambulance drivers. 

The International Federation for Human Rights called upon the UN Security Council to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes. 

While the Israelis dismiss the war crimes charges, the fact that the Israeli cabinet held a special meeting on Jan 25 to discuss the issue suggests they are concerned they could be charged with “disproportionate” use of force. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to at “all times” distinguish between combatants and civilians and to avoid “disproportionate force” in seeking military gains.  

Hamas’ use of unguided missiles fired at Israel would also be a war crime under the Conventions. 

“The one-sidedness of casualty figures is one measure of disproportion,” says Richard Falk, the UN’s human rights envoy for the occupied territories. A total of 14 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, three of them civilians killed by rockets, 11 of them soldiers, four of the latter by “friendly fire.” Some 50 IDF soldiers were also wounded. 

In contrast, 1330 Palestinians have died and 5450 were injured, the overwhelming number of them civilians. 

“This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare, which we ask to be investigated by the Commission of War Crimes,” a coalition of Israeli human rights groups and Amnesty International said in a joint statement. “The responsibility of the state of Israel is beyond doubt.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann would coordinate the defense of any soldier or commander charged with a war crime. In any case, the U.S. would veto any effort by the UN Security Council to refer Israelis to the International Court at The Hague. 

But, as the Financial Times points out, “all countries have an obligation to search out those accused of ‘grave’ breaches of the rules of war and to put them on trial or extradite them to a country that will.” 

That was the basis under which Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in Britain in 1998. 

“We’re in a seismic shift in international law,” Amnesty International legal advisor Christopher Hall told the Financial Times, who says that Israel’s foreign ministry is already examining the risk to Israelis who travel abroad. 

“It’s like walking across the street against a red light,” he says. “The risk may be low, but you’re going to think twice before committing a crime or traveling if you have committed one.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Undercurrents: Limited Scope, Limited Results in BART Investigation

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:07:00 PM

Late in last week’s chaotic BART meeting, BART Board Director Tom Radulovich made a point that almost certainly got overlooked by most of the meeting’s observers, especially since the boardroom had virtually cleared by then. Radulovich said that he wanted BART staff to make available to the public the “scope of work” which BART has given the law firm of Meyers Nave in its investigation of the New Year’s Day events on the Fruitvale BART platform. Those events included the shooting death of Hayward resident Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. 

“Scope of work” is one of those business-speak/government-speak terms that generally gets overlooked by the general public, but in setting the direction that such an investigation is mandated to go, it makes all the difference in the world in the outcome. Determining the “scope” is at least as important as choosing the consultant firm itself, which most of the BART protesters concentrated on. 

There are currently at least two parallel investigations now ongoing into the New Year’s Day Fruitvale BART Station events, with vastly different purposes. 

The first is being conducted by the BART Police Department into possible criminal conduct by BART personnel—besides Mr. Mehserle, who has already been charged with murder—on the night Mr. Grant died. That is expected to be completed sometime next week, with any possible potential criminal conduct findings to then be turned over to the Alameda County district attorney’s office. Presumably, that BART police investigation will include, in part, the striking of Oscar Grant by BART officer Tony Pirone just prior to Grant’s death. 

The second investigation—by the Myers Nave firm—is described by Vice Chair Joel Keller of the BART Board’s BART Police Department Review Committee in a BART release as “primarily focus[ing] on the time those officers were on the platform, however, it will also look into the events on the train that preceded the officers’ arrival as well investigate the tactics and actions of the command staff who directed the officers.” 

While that mandate might have been broad enough to satisfy public concerns, Mr. Keller somewhat narrowed the “scope” of the Myers Nave investigation when he said, during last week’s board deliberations, that the firm would be charged with the investigation of “violations of BART procedures” by BART personnel during the Grant/New Year’s Day events. 

But that, unfortunately, will not be nearly enough. 

A BART-sanctioned investigation of possible “violations of BART procedures” by BART personnel might—or might not—lead to personnel action against Mr. Pirone, whom many Grant protest organizations have identified as the person who may have instigated the New Year’s Day Fruitvale BART events, and whom these groups want fired and criminally charged. 

But by focusing only on possible violations of BART policies and procedures, the proposed Myers Nave investigation leaves out a review of instances on the Fruitvale BART platform where BART employees followed procedure, but where those procedures themselves may have led to an unnecessary escalation of the situation. In addition, a narrowed scope of investigation looking for possible BART employee wrongdoing leaves out the most important thing needed for both Oscar Grant protesters and supporters, supporters of Mr. Mehserle or Mr. Pirone, and the general public at large: an understanding of the events—all of the events—on the Fruitvale BART Platform in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day that surrounded the shooting death of Oscar Grant. 

So I would suggest a broader approach, beginning with a review of how the BART police came to converge on the Fruitvale BART Station in the first place. 

It is widely accepted that BART police were responding to a fight somewhere near the West Oakland BART Station aboard a Dublin BART train coming out of San Francisco. But published details surrounding that original fight have been all but nonexistent. 

In its “Motion In Opposition To Defendant’s Release On Bail” filed in the People v. Mehserle case, the Alameda County district attorney’s office writes as part of its “Statement of Facts” that the “BART train operator alerted central dispatch to a complaint of a fight that was taking place onboard the train’s leading car involving five African American males.” We know that the BART train was stopped at the Fruitvale Station, where BART officers planned to intercept it. The DA’s “Statement of Facts” goes on to say that “Officer Pirone walked upstairs to the Fruitvale station’s boarding platform and saw five African American males on the platform near the lead car of the train. Pirone approached this group of men and advised them that he wanted to speak with them about a report of a fight on the train.” 

The “Statement of Facts” was taken from witness statements given in the various police and DA’s office investigations of the Grant shooting, but the DA’s moving papers does not say specifically who gave the information contained in this statement. In their Motion To Set Bail filed for the same hearing, Mehserle attorneys Rains Lucia Stern, PC write that according to Mr. Pirone’s statement to investigators, presumably following his detention of the five African-American men on the platform “Pirone went to the train operator to inquire if he had detained the persons in the fight. The train operator said the males he had detained were the ones involved in the fight.” 

There is an elegant symmetry to this collection of “facts” in the district attorney’s and defense attorney’s moving papers, leading to an all-but-inevitable conclusion for the unwary or the unthinking. Five African-American men were reported by the train operator to be fighting on the lead car of the BART train. Mr. Pirone saw five African-American man shortly thereafter standing on the platform by the lead car of the BART train, one of them being Oscar Grant. Mr. Pirone states that the train operator then identified the five African-American men as the ones who were involved in the fight. Oscar Grant, therefore, was one of the five African-American men fighting on the train. 

But the symmetry begins to break down as one takes a second look. 

We learn from relatives of one of the men taken from the BART train that a total of seven men were detained on the Fruitvale platform that night. Oscar Grant was shot dead. Five men were arrested, taken from the scene in police cars, and then released without charges. One man was not arrested, and was presumably released at the Fruitvale station. Assuming that the seventh man was a case of mistaken identity by the police and was not involved in the fighting, that leaves six men either arrested or shot dead after accused of being involved in a fight that was supposed to have involved only five men. 

There are other puzzlements in the “facts” presented in the moving papers. We know from persons present on the BART train that night that the cars were crowded with people returning from San Francisco from New Year’s Eve celebrations. If we believe the statements in the attorneys’ papers, the train operator is supposed to have seen a fight in a crowded car—either through the surveillance cameras or by turning around and looking through the operator’s glass door into the first car—and have stopped to count the number of people fighting. I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of fights in crowded places before, but it has never occurred to me to take an exact count of the participants. Further, Mr. Pirone’s statement in the defense attorney’s moving papers says that the officer “went to the train operator” to ask for an identification of the fighters once Mr. Grant and several others had been detained, with no further clarification as to the details or circumstances of that identification. The train operator’s statement itself, which was presumably taken by at least one of the agencies investigating the Oscar Grant events, is not quoted in the bail papers at all, so we are only left with questions. 

The other puzzlement comes if you accept the premise that Mr. Grant and the four other African-American men on the platform were the ones involved in the earlier fight on the train. If it was true that these were the five men fighting, why did they go out on the platform, and what were they doing there? 

The district attorney’s “Statement Of Facts,” one remembers, said that when Mr. Pirone walked upstairs on the platform, the officer “saw five African American males on the platform” and “advised them he wanted to speak with them about a report of a fight on the train.” One can fairly presume that the five men were neither fighting nor arguing amongst themselves when Mr. Pirone first observed them on the platform, since if he did, he probably would have included that in a statement that makes some effort at justifying the detention of these men. 

But if the five African-American men on the platform—including Mr. Grant—were neither arguing nor fighting, why were they on the platform at all? It is possible that five men fighting inside a moving BART train decided to get off the train at the first available spot to renew their fighting in a place with more room than the crowded car. Possible, yes, but somewhat unlikely. Were the five intending to get off at the Fruitvale stop—far from Mr. Grant’s home in Hayward—or had the train operator announced that the train was not going further because of the reported disturbance, and the five had gotten off until the announcement was made to reboard because the train was continuing on? What actions were the five men taking that led Mr. Pirone to single them out and question them first about the fight on the train? 

The questions are important because they go to one of the key concerns of many of the individuals and organizations involved in the Oscar Grant protests, that BART police officers may have been involved in racial profiling that night on the platform, singling out Mr. Grant and the other six men who were initially detained not because there was direct evidence that they were involved in a fight on the train, but because they were either African-American or of mixed Latino/African-American heritage. 

There are many other questions that need to be answered in the Oscar Grant investigations that might not lead to further criminal charges or to citations of employee misconduct, but are important both to understand the events of New Year’s Day on the Fruitvale BART Station platform as well as to move towards possible necessary reforms of BART policies and procedures. We’ll bring more of those up, as the issue of the BART investigations moves forward. 


Green Neighbors: The Richmond Chainsaw Massacre, Part One

By Ron Sullivan
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:23:00 PM
This photo shows a flourishing native-plant understory.
Urban Creeks Council
This photo shows a flourishing native-plant understory.
Barebanks: No more stream-cooling understory.
Ron Sullivan
Barebanks: No more stream-cooling understory.

This was the second time I’d seen the same stunned, stoic, pale, pained reaction to revisiting a restoration site.  

Lisa had invited us on the spur of the moment to see the part of Baxter Creek that she and her allies had restored nine years ago. The accomplishment was her master’s thesis, but her involvement had continued way beyond that; for example, she’d been showing the spot off on creek-restoration tours as recently as a few months ago. Now, as we unloaded the little tree she wanted to slip into the plantings, she was frozen and staring: “What happened? Where’s the understory? Where are all the plants?” And then: “Who did this?”  

Who had done this? Not vandals in the usual sense, but a paid maintenance crew from the City of Richmond. Clearly they’d thought they were doing the right thing. In fact, the taxpayers had paid them to effectively destroy half the carefully planned, working creekside woods in Booker T. Anderson Park.  

This short stretch of creek had nurtured a carefully chosen community of native plants, which in turn made welcome some wildlife—Pacific chorus frogs, fox-squirrels, birds including hawks, ducks, woodpeckers, waxwings, warblers—more wholesome and congenial than urban rats. Based on previous observations, we’d even been thinking about an organized survey in spring and fall to document the place as a stopover for migrating birds. 

It was obvious somebody had come through, chainsaws blazing, and clearcut everything below about five feet from the ground. There were stumps where there had been native currant bushes and dogwoods, ninebark and wild rose. Some of the willows were still there, cut in ridiculous ways with stubs galore; some were just finger-length sprouts poking up from more stumps.  

Down at creek level, weeds and invasives—cress, nasturtium, “Chinese chives”—were already rampant, but there was still lots of bare dirt waiting to be washed into the creek by the next rain.  

In 2000, the Friends of Baxter Creek and the Urban Creeks Council had received about $150,000 to begin the work. That and lots of in-kind donations and labor from the East Bay Conservation Corps, conservationists, students and staff of nearby Stege Elementary School, and other park neighbors had been invested to make the restored stretch of creek into something more than a channelized storm drain.  

The understory had functioned to slow and filter rainwater running into the creek, and to harbor and feed many of the organisms of its lifeweb: flowers for butterflies and other pollinators, leaves for native caterpillars, berries and flowers for birds.  

Evidently, what the city crew had done was render the creekside more visible to patrol cars on the street. People were said to be concerned about drugs, muggings, and/or sex in the shrubbery. 

A month later, a group including reps of the state’s Fish and Game and Water Quality departments, the Coastal Conservancy, the Urban Creeks Council; Richmond’s Department of Public Works, Parks Department, City Council, mayor, and city manager, and several of the park’s neighbors met there.  

What happened? Tune in next week. 

 


East Bay: Then and Now—Berkeley’s City Hall Was Inspired by a Mairie on the Loire

By Daniella Thompson
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:21:00 PM
Old City Hall was renamed the Maudelle Shirek Building in March 2007.
Daniella Thompson
Old City Hall was renamed the Maudelle Shirek Building in March 2007.
The Hôtel de Ville of Tours served as inspiration in the design of our City Hall.
Willtron
The Hôtel de Ville of Tours served as inspiration in the design of our City Hall.
Built in 1884, Berkeley’s first Town Hall was moved in 1899 from University and Sacramento to Allston and Grove.
Berkeley: The Town & Gown of It
Built in 1884, Berkeley’s first Town Hall was moved in 1899 from University and Sacramento to Allston and Grove.
Berkeley City Hall, designed by Bakewell & Brown, shortly after its completion in 1909.
BAHA archives
Berkeley City Hall, designed by Bakewell & Brown, shortly after its completion in 1909.

On June 27, 1908, at the laying of the cornerstone for Berkeley’s new City Hall, University of California president Benjamin Ide Wheeler delivered the keynote address. His was no florid speech politely suitable to the occasion. On the contrary. Wheeler seized the moment to “flay the politicians,” as the San Francisco Call reported the following day, and “then asked citizens to take a more active part in municipal affairs.” 

One can’t imagine the current UC president saying, as Wheeler did, “A people cannot have the consciousness of being self-governed unless they attend themselves to the things over against their own doors. The real imperialism, the real oppression, the real political slavery, is the intrusion of power from without into a local condition.” 

The cornerstone was laid almost four years after a fire consumed Berkeley’s previous Town Hall. That building, erected in 1884, was designed by San Francisco architects Samuel and Joseph Cather Newsom, who the same year also created America’s most notorious Victorian house--the Carson Mansion in Eureka. 

Having previously worked for their elder brother, John, Samuel and Joseph established their own office in 1879, the year in which they designed the first school house in East Berkeley, Kellogg Grammar School. The lot on which the school was to be built—between Oxford St., Center St., and Allston Way—was traversed diagonally by Strawberry Creek. The Town Trustees had a culvert built to submerge the creek under the school site. This is the very same creek section that present-day advocates hope to see daylighted along Center Street. 

Although the Newsoms are best known for their elaborate Victorian architecture, Berkeley’s strict budget dictated an austere design for the Town Hall, which contractor C. R. Lord built for $3,000. 

The location of this civic edifice was a hotly debated issue whose outcome, born of compromise, satisfied no one. The story was best told by John E. Boyd, in a letter to the editor of the Berkeley World-Gazette dated Sept. 29, 1899: 

On the incorporation of the Town of Berkeley in 1878, the first meetings of the Board of Trustees and School Directors were held in the store which J. R. Little now occupies as a real estate office [in the Francis K. Shattuck Bldg., 2108 Shattuck Ave.]. Complaints were made by the residents of West Berkeley about the meetings being held away up in Soupbone town, as the Eastern end was called, and to satisfy the West Berkeley people the Town Board held its meetings the second year in one of the stores in the Sisterna Block. After being there a year or two the place of meeting was changed to the east end and held in the store under Pythian Hall, where Moorhead’s grocery now is. 

About that time the question of building a Town Hall was agitated, and the only question was: “Where shall it be located?” The East Enders said that Jack Brennan, who was a member of the Board, wanted it located back of his livery stable on the bay shore, while the West Enders argued that F. K. Shattuck and other large property owners were bound to place it on the summit of Grizzly Peak. No agreement that would satisfy both parties could be reached until some one proposed to buy a lot midway between the East and West End, and locate it there. This agreement proved satisfactory to both parties, and the lot on the corner of University Avenue and Sacramento Street was bought from the Shaw estate and the building commenced in the spring of ‘84. 

Some people thought that the location of the Town Hall would boom the neighborhood property and induce building. It never induced anything except the erection of a “goat milk factory” by a man named Casey, who while he did not get rich by it, got a term in the county jail for being 150 feet inside the “mile limit.” 

Perusal of Berkeley directories from the early 1880s reveals no listing for the Knights of Pythias. George A. Pettitt, author of Berkeley: the Town and Gown of It, also listed Clapp Hall (Shattuck Ave. and Berkeley Way) and the Workingmen’s Club (Sixth and Delaware) among the Trustees’ temporary meeting places. 

The Town Hall’s location being equally inconvenient to all, it came as no surprise when the San Francisco Call noted on July 18, 1897, “It is proposed to have the entire building moved to the east end, intact, rather than build a new one, as has been under consideration for some time. Strenuous opposition to the removal is anticipated from the people at the west end, but the east end members of the board are greatly in the majority.” 

On Aug. 10, the Call reported, “A number of East Berkeley citizens have proposed the purchase of the entire block on Stanford place [the east branch of Shattuck Ave.], from Center to Addison street, as a site for the Town Hall and a public park.” The money was to be raised by subscription. 

Two week later, the Town Board decided in principle on the move and appointed Trustee William H. Marston of North Berkeley and Trustee Reginald T. Guard of Lorin as the site selection committee. Meanwhile, the West Berkeley contingent didn’t sit idle. At a mass meeting held on Aug. 27 at the Beacon fire station on Sixth St. near University Ave., Trustees Christian Hoff and C.D. Maloney, as well as County Recorder Charles Spear, vowed to oppose the move. By then, Marston had already secured bids on moving the building. 

Berkeley being Berkeley, nothing further was done for over two years. Not until Sept. 16, 1899, did the Board of Trustees pass a resolution to lease six lots from James McGee with an option to buy at $3,000. The parcel was bounded by Grove St., Allston Way, Mary [now McKinley] St., and Strawberry Creek, which bisected the block. The Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1903 noted that the creek was “dry in summer.” A footbridge crossed the creek on the west side of Mary Street. 

Bids were solicited for moving Town Hall, and contractor W.P. Grant was the only bidder. He was given a contract to move the building within thirty days and set it up on a foundation in as good as its current condition for the sum of $999. “The town officials were given permission to hold office hours as they saw fit while the hall was in motion,” reported the World-Gazette on Sept. 26, “For the next thirty days it will be a common sight to see a town official looking for his office with a telescope, and when he does find it climbing into the window by means of a rope ladder.” 

The move lasted three weeks, and the Board of Trustees continued to meet in the building en route. Such meeting took place on Oct. 9, 1899. The World-Gazette noted that a large crowd had attended, concluding, “Meeting in the middle of University avenue in a building tilted to the grade of the street seemed to agree with the Board for it did a great deal of business last evening.” When the building reached its destination, it was necessary to place it on an 8-foot basement to avoid the Grove St. façade being 18 inches below grade. 

For five years, Town Hall stood by the bank of Strawberry Creek. Behind it were a buggy shed and a six-foot iron bell tower, which served for alarms. But no alarm helped the wooden building on the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1904, when defective electric wires in the attic sparked a blaze that burned the entire structure to the ground within an hour. 

The San Francisco Call reported that a scanty water supply rendered the firemen’s work ineffective, and within ten minutes they gave up hope of saving any part of the building, concentrating a lone stream of water on the City Clerk’s vault to save the records stored in it. Other city employees had sufficient warning to evacuate their documents, and with the exception of a few survey books, all the city records emerged unharmed. Business continued without interruption in rented space at the Francis K. Shattuck Building. 

Trustee Hoff, who had been opposed to moving the old Town Hall, wasted no time to call for a new building. On Nov. 14, 1904, he introduced a resolution to allocate $100,000 for a new Town Hall in the next bond issue. Nevertheless, the Trustees did not solicit architectural plans until 1907. Eleven competing designs were submitted in May and went on exhibit on July 3rd. John Galen Howard volunteered to help the Trustees select the winning design, and together they picked the plan by John Bakewell, Jr. and Arthur M. Brown, Jr. of San Francisco, both Cal alumni and Beta Theta Pi members. 

The Bakewell & Brown design, described as “French renaissance” by the Oakland Tribune, drew heavily upon the Hôtel de Ville (1896-1904) of Tours on the Loire, designed by Victor Laloux, a major exponent of the Beaux-Arts style. Like its far more elaborate French precedent, the Berkeley design included an ornamental tower on top of the roof, but the Trustees rejected this feature for budgetary reasons. The citizenry, however, desired a tower, and it was twice added to and removed from the plans before the final decision was made to spend an additional $2,400 to erect it. No money was available to place a large clock in the round medallion under the tower, and the building remains clockless to this day. 

In August 1909, a month before the new City Hall was completed, the Oakland Enquirer announced that the interior was poorly designed, with space too generously allocated to the hallways while the offices were cramped. Still, after inspection by city officials and the architects, the building was accepted and final payment authorized. 

Substantially larger than the first Town Hall, the new structure used up more of the property and required the culverting of Strawberry Creek on the parcel and under McKinley St., although the creek continued for some years to meander freely on blocks to the west. By 1925, City Hall was joined by an annex in the rear, and houses replaced the creek on the adjacent blocks. 

The city administration worked in the building until 1977, when it became the administrative home of the Berkeley Unified School District. Long known as Old City Hall, it was officially renamed the Maudelle Shirek Building on March 22, 2007. 

 

Daniella Thompson publishes berkeleyheritage.com for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA). She thanks Anthony Bruce and Jerry Sulliger for their research help for this article.


About the House: The Good Old Days

By Matt Cantor
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:20:00 PM

I’ve long observed (with some glee) that houses and their owners tend to be alike in notable ways and that this only increases over time. 

Though a house may only share similarities with the owner initially (based on their choice of that house) the passage of time gives owners a chance to manifest their personalities in the style and condition of their house. And so it was today when I met Joan and her house. 

I arrived a bit early and, peeking through the window, surmised the house to have been prepped for sale and “staged” with perfect furniture, sparsely placed with just the right pillow tossed here and there. But no, it was, in fact, exactly the way Joan lives. 

Joan is a product of a time (as is her house of similar vintage) when order and cleanliness were considered extremely important and doing it right the first time was drilled into the entire population. Doing things quickly and cheaply was scorned behavior and the people and the products of the time (cars, houses, blenders) reflect it. 

The house was dated, both technologically and stylistically, but the quality of the foundation, while primitive compared to current methods, was awe inspiring. It was rock hard and showed barely a crack anywhere.  

True, the house did benefit from being from the late 30’s and not the teens when foundations were generally poor by comparison but still, the point stands. Given the methods that were available, everyone tried to do their absolute best work and even small, low-cost houses of this time show these traits.  

The idea that you would try to do things as cheaply as you could with little thought for the next generation was foreign and even repugnant to the Americans that grew up in the early 20th century. There is clearly a different thinking inside the culture today. 

Though some of Joan’s choices in the years since she lost her husband were designed to save money, each job was still done well and was monitored and maintained. I did find a leak in a porch outside but I am quite sure that neither she nor her army of helpers were aware of it or she would have quickly mended it. 

In precisely the same way that it would have been impossible for Joan to go out (to the Safeway!) without brushing hair, putting on a little makeup and accessorizing a bit, She was constitutionally incapable of hiring a part-time handyman to retile her shower. The house was painted the same way she lined her drawers and arranged her clothes closet. The right way (as best as she might assess). 

I have often noted the extraordinary variance that one can find in the condition of two apartments in the same building, explicable by nothing more complex than the most fundamental cleaning and maintenance tasks (e.g. picking up the bath mat after a shower and hanging it on the shower rod). One unit might have been occupied by someone like Joan (squeegee hanging in the shower to drive all the water away prior to exit) and the other by a bunch of college students who didn’t seem to get the concept of a shower curtain (water inside, not outside). Toilets and showers and whole kitchens might need to be replaced decades earlier in the latter case, while simple measures and a little prophylaxis (asking for the landlord to caulk the bath when those gaps appear) could prevent the need for even moderate-level repair. 

Now, this does not seem to extend to upgrades in the same way that it informs issues of maintenance. A house, such as Joan’s may be extremely well painted and neat as a pin but still contain an ancient furnace that should long ago have gone to the dust heap but this is consistent with the personality type in other ways. Joan’s generation (and I continue to meet some younger people like this as well) was very slow to throw out something that was still working. Labor cost was more in line with the cost of living and it was possible to hire someone to fix something like a furnace, perhaps several times over. Moreover, it was considered the right thing to do. Devices (and houses) were built to be repaired and manuals and parts were widely available. If a man (forgive me but we’re speaking of a different time and culture) did not own tools and a pair of overalls he was considered a poor provider (and probably preferred going to musicals too). 

Today, most people don’t know how to maintain or repair the equipment in their homes and even professionals are less skilled as the disposable culture makes these activities less warranted and significant. But I digress. 

The opposite case to Joan’s, the person who has no awareness of their surroundings or concern for maintenance will manifest their behavior through visible and non-visible vehicles. If the house hasn’t been painted for a decade or two, there is a good chance that the furnace filter is clogged, the toilet is loose and the broken window is still broken. 

This is handy when looking at houses and it even extends to areas that have nothing to do with the house so clues always abound. If you can walk through a house with crammed closets and signs of disorganization, the likelihood that regular maintenance has been in force is small. Sometimes the condition of a house is obvious from the street and it’s tempting to drive by and phone it in (but it’s too much fun to see all the juicy details).  

A well-built house may be within hopes of resurrection if the homunculi of destruction and their six-packs, have not been too long at work but a poorly built one, combined with poor maintenance may be devastated in a couple of decades. I saw this one last week. 

The siding on this house was a composite panel type that should never have been shipped off the assembly-line. A lack of paint and caulk had allowed for the quick destruction of several sections and the “shear” strength it was likely to provide in an earthquake was pretty questionable. It was bad enough that replacement of all the siding had be considered.  

The trim details attempted to defy all the laws of thermodynamics and several key religious principles and will probably end up in a slide show one of these days. There was lots more but you get the picture. These features, combined with the maintenance provided by a typical ‘70s cocaine dealer (I’m just guessing here but you follow my thinking) had produced a house that was starting to fall apart after about 20 years. Joan’s house was pushing 80 (a number she may have exceeded herself, though you couldn’t tell by her dress or manner) and showed few signs of age. Plenty of history but not much age. 

I guess this is a little like those pictures of people and their dogs. Sometimes I don’t get it but then you see one where the dog that has just been bathed, closely cropped and adorned, bizarrely, with a pink sweater that matches the owner’s and you see it. It’s not about biology (or carpentry). It’s about anthropology. 


Arts & Events

Arts Calendar

Thursday February 19, 2009 - 02:40:00 PM

THURSDAY, FEB. 19 

EXHIBITIONS 

“Portraits of Buddhist Bhutan” An exhibit of photographer Mark Tuschman’s images of Bhutan opens at IEAS gallery, 2223 Fulton St., 6th floor. 643-5104. http://buddhiststudies.berkeley.edu 

FILM 

Pulp Writers on Film “Miami Blues” at 6:30 p.m. and “Black Angel” at 8:45 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive. Cost is $5.50-$9.50. 642-0808.  

READINGS AND LECTURES 

June Jordan’s Poetry for the People with Tyehimba Jess and Aya de Leon at 7:30 p.m. at La Peña. Cost is $5-$10. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

“Sweet Dreams” Artist talk by Ben Hazard on his exhibition of works spanning four decades at 7 p.m. at Craft & Cultural Arts Gallery, State of California Office Building - Atrium, 1515 Clay St., Oakland. Performance at 5 p.m. 622-8190. www.oaklandculturalarts.org 

David Thomson reads from “Try To Tell the Story: A Memoir” at 7:30 p.m. at the Berkeley City Club. Tickets are $10 at the door. berkeleyarts.org 

Laura Shumaker on “A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism” at 7:30 p.m. at Mrs. Dalloways, 2904 College Ave. 704-8222. 

Holloway Poetry Series with Rob Fitterman at 7 p.m. in the Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall, UC campus. http://holloway.english.berkeley.edu 

Don Paul reads from his new book “The World is Turning” at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $5. www.Humanist Hall.org 

Blair Kilpatrick discusses “Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music” at 6:30 p.m. at University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way. 548-0585. www.universitypressbooks.com 

Jonathan Keats “The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six” at 6:30 p.m. at Magnes Museum, 2222 Harold Way. 549-6950, ext. 337.  

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Opera in the Library Highlights from “Tales of Hoffman” with members of Berkeley Opera at 12:15 p.m. at the Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. 981-6241. 

Pablo Moses, Jah Glory Band at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $15-$20. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Julian Smedley & Mike Wollenberg at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Kelly Park & Friends at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $10. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Absynth Quintet, The Cyndi Harvell Band, The John Howland Trio at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

Adrian Gormley’s Jazz Ensemble at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Richard Bona at 8 and 10 p.m., through Sun. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $12-$22. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

FRIDAY, FEB. 20 

THEATER 

Actors Ensemble of Berkeley “Exit the King” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. at Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Ave. at Berryman, through Feb. 21. Tickets are $12. 649-5999. www.aeofberkeley.org 

Aurora Theatre “Betrayed” Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 and 7 p.m., at 2081 Addison St. to March 8. Tickets are $40-$42. 843-4822. auroratheatre.org 

Berkeley Rep “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” at 2015 Addison St., through March 15. Tickets are $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Black Repertory Group “Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” at 3201 Adeline St., through Feb. 22. Tickets are $15-$44. 652-2120. 

“Celestial Celebration” in Celebration of Black History Month Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 3 p.m. at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St. Oakland, to March 1. Tickets are $15-$25. 800-848-9809. www.brownpapertickets.com  

Contra Costa Civic Theater “Nine (The Musical)” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito, through March 28. Tickets are $15-$24. 524-9132. www.ccct.org 

Impact Theatre “A Midsummers Night’s Dream” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m. at La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., through March 14. Tickets are $10-$17. impacttheatre.com 

Masquers Playhouse “Absent Friends” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2:30 p.m. at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond, and runs through Feb. 28. Tickets are $18. 232-4031. www.masquers.org 

EXHIBITIONS 

Ernesto Bazan “Photo- 

graphs-CUBA” Reception at 6 p.m., lecture at 7 p.m. at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, corner of Hearst and Euclid. http://fotovision.org 

Garden Art Show Opening reception at 7 p.m. at The Potters’ Studio, 637 Cedar St. at 3rd. 528-3286. 

FILM 

“Vertigo” film showing at 7 p.m., followed by discussion at The Dream Institute, 1672 University at McGee. Cost is $15, $25 for two. 845-1767.  

READINGS AND LECTURES 

“Art Science Fusion: IDENTITY Genotype-Phenotype” with Gabriele Seethaler, Viennese biochemist and photographer at 1:30 p.m. at Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. Cost is $20. RSVP to whoisylvia@aol.com 

Thea Hillman and Alvin Orloff read at 7:30 p.m. at Pegasus Books, 2349 Shattuck Ave. 649-1320. 

Pratap Chatterjee describes “Halliburton’s Way: The Long, Strange Tale of a Private, Profitable, and Out-of-Control Texas Oil Company” at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Tickets are $10 at the door. berkeleyarts.org 

Sara Houghteling reads from her debut novel “Pictures at an Exhibition” at 7:30 p.m. at Mrs. Dalloways, 2904 College Ave. 704-8222. 

Friday Night Poetry Readings and Open Mic “Love Poems” by the Entrekins at 7 p.m. at Expressions Gallery, 2035 Ashby Ave. 644-4930. www.expressionsgallery.org 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Dept. of Music Chamber Music Concert at noon at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Free. 642-4864. http://music.berkeley.edu 

Harpsichord and Organ Music of the Italian Renaissance at 8 p.m. at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 1501 Washington Ave., Albany. Free, suggested donation $10. 525-1716. 

Holly Near, songs and ideas, at 8 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $15. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Audrye Sessions at 6 p.m. at Amoeba Records, 2455 Telegraph Ave. 549-1125. 

Black History Month Concert at 7:30 p.m. at Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Blvd. bhm2009@blackwallstreet.org  

Stew at 8:30 p.m. at New Oakland Metro Operahouse, 630 3rd St., Oakland. Tickets are $12. 763-1146. 

Falso Baiano Choro at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Leon Mobley & Da Lion Antioquia at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Drum workshop at 9 p.m. Cost is $10-$30. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Guitar Summit with Teja Gerken, Scott Nygaard, Mesut Ozgen at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $22.50-$23.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

East Bay Twang Party with 77 El Dora, The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $9. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

Zero Boys, Black Fork at 7 p.m. at 924 Gilman St., an all-ages, member-run, no alcohol, no drugs, no violence club. Cost is $10. 525-9926. 

Green Machine at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Ethan Byxbye & Ryan Feldthouse, gypsy jazz/world, at 8 p.. at Spuds Pizza, 3290 Adeline St. 597-0795. 

Josh Jones Trio at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 

SATURDAY, FEB. 21 

CHILDREN  

Los Amiguitos de La Peña with Uncle Eye & the Strange Change Machine at 10:30 a.m. at La Peña. Cost is $5 for adults, $4 for children. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

African-American Folktales and Music with Muriel Johnson at 11 a.m. at Habitot, 2065 Kittredge St. Cost is $7-$8. 647-1111. www.habitot.org 

Mother Goose, music and tales, Sat. and Sun. at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. at Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. Cost is $6. 452-2259.  

The Bubble Lady at 11 a.m. at Studio Grow, 1235 10th St. Cost is $8. 526-9888 

THEATER 

Central Works “The Window Age: A Guided Tour of the Unconscious” opens at 8 p.m. at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Tickets are $21-$25. 558-1381. centralworks.org 

Eroplay “Reality Playthings” with Frank Moore at 8 p.m. at Temescal Arts Center, 511 48th St., Oakland. 526-7858. fmoore@eroplay.com 

EXHIBITIONS 

“Images of Devotion” Photomontage Studies by Barry Shapiro on Hasidim. Reception at 1:30 p.m. at Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont. www.KehillaSynagogue.org 

FILM 

Pulp Writers on Film “Série Noire” at 8:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive. Cost is $5.50-$9.50. 642-0808. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu 

International Film Festival on Aging at 3 and 7 p.m. and Sun. at 2, 5 and 7 p.m. at AMC Bay Street Theater, Emeryville. Tickets are $10, $6 for seniors. www.filmfestonaging.org 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

“Marysville’s Chinatown” with author Brian Tom at 3:30 p.m. at Eastwind Books of Berkeley, 2066 University Ave. www.asiabookcenter.com 

Carl Djerassi discusses “Four Jews on Parnassus” at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. Donation $10. www.hisllsideclub.org 

Eric Maisel describes “The Atheist’s Way: Living Well Without Gods” at 7 p.m. at Black Oak Books. 486-0698. www.blackoakbooks.com 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Pocket Opera “La Belle Helene” at 2 p.m. at Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $20-$37. 415-346-7805. www.pocketopera.org 

Mahan Esfahani “Echoes of the Young Bach: Seven Toccatas for Harpsichord” at 8 p.m. at Julia Morgan Center, 2640 College Ave. Cost is $22-$25, $10 students. 528-1725. www.sfems.org 

Classical Madolin Ensembles Works of Vivaldi and other Baroque masters at 8 p.m. at Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St. Tickets are $8-$12. 549-3864. www.trinitychamberconcerts.com 

Voices of Music “The Romance of the Rose” with Susan Rode Morris, soprano, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 1501 Washington Ave., Albany. Tickets are $20-$25. 236-9808. www.voicesofmusic.org 

Kensington Symphony “Romance and Reformation” at 8 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. Suggested donation $12-$15, children free. 524-9912. www.kensingtonsymphonyorchestra.org 

“Music Down Deep in my Soul” with the University Gospel Chorus at 8 p.m. at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Tickets are $5-$15. 642-4864. http://music.berkeley.edu 

Moment’s Notice improvised music, dance and theater at 8 p.m. at Western Sky Studio, 2525 8th St. between Dwight Way and Parker. Tickets are $8-$15, sliding scale. 992-6295. 

Robin Gregory & Her Quartet at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Sophis & Kalbasskreyol, Afro-Caribbean, Haitian at 9:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is tba. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Kelly Joe Phelps at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Voodooville: Mardi Gras Countdown at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $12-$15. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Beep Jazz Trio with Michael Coleman at 9:30 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. Cost is $3. 843-2473.  

John Bowman’s Jammer Showcase at 8 p.m. at Spuds Pizza, 3290 Adeline St. Cost is $7. 558-0881. 

The Loyd Family Players, Dgiin, Buxter Hoot’n at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $9. 841-2082.  

Zero Boys, Stitches, Bodies, Nuts and Bolts at 7 p.m. at 924 Gilman St., an all-ages, member-run, no alcohol, no drugs, no violence club. Cost is $10. 525-9926. 

SUNDAY, FEB. 22 

CHILDREN 

Charity Kahn & the Jam Band at Ashkenaz at 3 p.m. Cost is $4-$6. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Guy Gash’s Sharp Five Jazz Band at 11:30 a.m. at Habitot, 2065 Kittredge St. Cost is $7-$8. 647-1111. www.habitot.org 

FILM 

Talk Cinema Berkeley Preview of new independent films with discussion afterwards at 10 a.m. at Albany Twin Theater, 1115 Solano Ave., Albany. Cost is $20. http://talkcinema.com 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

Mario Garcia Torres, artist talk and reception for the opening of his MATRIX exhibition at 3 p.m. at Berkeley Art Museum. 642-0808. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu 

Dick Stewart will answer car questions and discuss his new book “Car-ma; Why Bad Cars Happen to Good People” at 10 a.m. at The Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, 5000 Clarewood Drive, Oakland. 547-1979. www.oaklandcsl.org 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

San Francisco Chamber Orchestra Family Concert “Stories in Music” at noon at Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave. Free. www.sfchamberorchestra.org 

Pacific Collegium Chorus and Orchestra “The Motets of J. S. Bach” at 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 114 Montecito Ave., Oakland. Tickets are $10-$40. 834-4314. 

G.Q. Wang, tenor, at 4 p.m. at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. Suggested donation $20. 526-3805. 

James Tinsley, trumpet, at 2 p.m. at OPC’s Ed Kelly Hall, 1615 Franklin St., Oakland. Tickets are $10-$25. 836-4649. 

Gojogo at 7 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $12, $8 students. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Mahealani Uchiyama at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Josh Roseman’s Execution Quintet at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Dan Bern at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

MONDAY, FEB. 23 

THEATER 

Aurora Theatre Company “and when we awoke there was light and light” by Laura Jacqmin at 7:30 p.m. at 2081 Addison St. Par4t of the Global Age Project new works initiative. Free. 843-4822. auroratheatre.org 

FILM 

Monday Afternoon at the Movies Krzysztof Kieslowski's “The Decalogue” Segments 1 and 2 at 1:15 p.m. at JCCEB, 1414 Walnut St. Co-sponsored by JCCEB and BAS. Free, donations accepted. 848-0237. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Classical at the Freight with the SF Brass Quintet at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage Coffee House. Cost is $8.50-$9.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Downtown Jam Session with Glen Pearson at 7 p.m. at Ed Kelly Hall, Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, 1616 Franklin St., Oakland. Cost is $5. www.opcmucsic.org 

Rhonda Benin at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $10-$16. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

TUESDAY, FEB. 24 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

San Francisco Noir 2 with Janet Dawson, Peter Maravelis, Oscar Penaranda, and John Shirley at 7:30 p.m. at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph Ave. 849-2087. 

Todd Boss reads from “Yellowrocket: Poems” at 7 p.m. at Black Oak Books. 486-0698. www.blackoakbooks.com 

Priscilla Royal discusses her new book “Forsaken Soul” from the Medieval Mysteries series at 5:30 p.m. at University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way. 548-0585. www.universitypressbooks.com 

Linda Furiya reads from “How to Cook a Dragon: Living, Loving, and Eating in China” at 7 p.m. at A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 La Salle Ave., Oakland. 339-8210. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Mark St. Mary Lousiana Blues and Zydeco Band at 8:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cajun Zydeco dance lesson at 8 p.m. Cost is $tba. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Singers’ Open Mic with Kelly Park at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $5. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Mike Marshall with Choro Famoso and Big Trio at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $20.50-$21.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Marco Benevento’s Quartet The Killer at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $10-$16. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 25 

FILM 

Human Rights Watch Film Festival “To See If I’m Smiling” (Israel) and “Deadly Playground” (Lebanon) at 6:30 p.m. at Pacific Film Archive. Cost is $5.50-$9.50. www. 

hrw.org/en/iff/san-fancisco 

“Arusi Persian Wedding” at 6:30 p.m. at Oakland Museum of California, 10th and Oak sts., Oakland. Cost is $5-$8. 238-2200. www.museumca.org 

Film 50: History of Cinema “Aparajito” at 3 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive. Cost is $5.50-$9.50. 642-0808. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu 

 

 

 

 

 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

“Milvia Street Art and Literary Journal” Readings and discussion at 6 p.m. at University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way. 548-0585. www.universitypressbooks.com 

Shanthi Sekaran reads from her debut novel “The Prayer Room” at 7:30 p.m. at Pegasus Books Downtown, 2349 Shattuck Ave. 649-1320. 

Bonita Hollow Writers Salon at 7 p.m. at 1631 Bonita Ave. Bring food, drink and your original work to read. 266-2069. 

“Adaptive Reuse: The Tipping Point” A panel discussion on the rehabilitation, adaptation and reuse of historical buildings at 5:30 p.m. at AIA East Bay, 1405 Clay St., Oakland. (12th St. BART). Tickets are $15-$25. 464-3600, www.aiaeb.org 

Veronica Chater decribes “Waiting for the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Faith and Family” at 7 p.m. at Black Oak Books. 486-0698. www.blackoakbooks.com 

Berkeley Poetry Slam with host Charles Ellik and Three Blind Mice, at 8 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $7. 841-2082 www.starryploughpub.com 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Wednesday Noon Concert, with Katherine Heater, fortepiano and Amy Border and Elisabeth Reed, cello, at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Free. 642-4864. http://music.berkeley.edu 

UC Jazz Ensembles at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $5. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Eric and Suzy Thompson at 8 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Mazacote at 9 p.m. at Shattuck Down Low, 2284 Shattuck Ave. Salsa dance lessons at 8:30 p.m. Cost is $5-$10. 548-1159.  

Radtrad, Celtic, at 7 p.m. at Le Bateau Ivre, 2629 Telegraph Ave. www.lebateauivre.net 

The Dillards at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Whiskey Brothers, old-time and bluegrass at 9 p.m. at Albatross, 1822 San Pablo Ave. 843-2473. www.albatrosspub.com 

Wally Schnalle at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $10-$14. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

THURSDAY, FEB. 26 

FILM 

Human Rights Watch Film Festival “Behave” (Brazil) at 6:30 p.m. and “Up the Yangtze” (Canada) at 8:30 p.m. at Pacific Film Archive. Cost is $5.50-$9.50. www.hrw.org/en/iff/san-fancisco 

“The Beatles Revealed” Rare film clips and recordings presented by Richie Unterberger at 7 p.m. at El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Ave., El Cerrito. 526-7512. 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

“Galaxy: A Hundred or So Stars Visible to the Naked Eye” Curator’s talk with Lawrence Rinder at 12:15 p.m. at Berkeley Art Museum. 642-0808. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu 

“Musings on Modernism” Pierluigi Serrano will discuss “Saarinen’s Quest” a recent book by the late Richard Knight at 7 p.m. at the Alameda Museum, 2324 Alameda Ave., near Park St. Cost is $5 for non-members. 748-0796. alameda-museum.org 

Poetry Flash “The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry” at 7:30 p.m. at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph Ave. 849-2087. 

Alva Noe reads from “Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness” at 7:30 p.m. at Berkeley City Club. Tickets are $10. berkeleyarts.org 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Groundation, Bob Marley Birthday tour, at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $20-$22. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Babshad at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $10. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Julie Fowlis at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $18.50-$19.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

The Parties, The By Bye Blackbirds, B and Not B at 9 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $8. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

Gregg Cross at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

FRIDAY, FEB. 27 

THEATER 

Altarena Playhouse “Gypsy” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda, through April 5. Tickets are $17-$20. 523-1553. www.altarena.org 

Aurora Theatre “Betrayed” Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 and 7 p.m., at 2081 Addison St. to March 8. Tickets are $40-$42. 843-4822. auroratheatre.org 

Berkeley Rep “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” at 2015 Addison St., through March 15. Tickets are $33-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

Berkeley Rep “Crime and Punishment” at 2025 Addison St., through Mar. 29. Tickets are $27-$71. 647-2949. berkeleyrep.org 

“Celestial Celebration” in Celebration of Black History Month Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 3 p.m. at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St. Oakland, to March 1. Tickets are $15-$25. 800-848-9809. www.brownpapertickets.com  

Central Works “The Window Age: A Guided Tour of the Unconscious” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 5 p.m. at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. Tickets are $21-$25. 558-1381. centralworks.org 

Contra Costa Civic Theater “Nine (The Musical)” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. at 951 Pomona Ave., El Cerrito, through March 28. Tickets are $15-$24. 524-9132. www.ccct.org 

Impact Theatre “A Midsummers Night’s Dream” Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m. at La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., through March 14. Tickets are $10-$17. impacttheatre.com 

Independent Theater Projects Three one-act plays independently directed and produced by Berkeley students, Fri. and Sat. at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., through March 7. Tickets are $12, $5 for students. 292-5058.  

Masquers Playhouse “Absent Friends” Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2:30 p.m. at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond, and runs through Feb. 28. Tickets are $18. 232-4031. www.masquers.org 

“Whipped: QTPOC recipes for love, sex, and disaster” at 8 p.m. at La Peña. Cost is $10-$15. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

EXHIBITIONS 

“New Nature” Group show by contemporary West Coast artists opens with a reception at 6 p.m. at the Alphonse Berber Gallery, 2546 Bancroft Way. Exhibit runs to April 11. 649-9492. alphonseberber.com 

“It’s Time to Build” Black History Art Exhibit Opening and panel discussion at 4 p.m. at Richmond Main Street office, 1000 Macdonald Ave., Suite C, Richmond. www.richmondmainstreet.org  

FILM 

Human Rights Watch Film Festival “The Sari Soldiers” at 6:30 p.m. “Our Disappeared” with filmmakers Juan Mandelbaum and Kathy Sloan in person at 8:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive. Cost is $5.50-$9.50. www./hrw.org/en/ 

iff/san-fancisco 

READINGS AND LECTURES 

Xinran reads from “China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation” at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Berkeley Tickets are $10. berkeleyarts.org 

Daniyal Mueenuddin reads from “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders” at 7:30 p.m. at Mrs. Dalloways, 2904 College Ave. 704-8222. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Volti “Contemporary Chamber Music for the Human Voice” at 8 p.m. at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way. Tickets are $18-$30. 415-771-3352. 

University Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Tickets are $5-$15. 642-4864. http://music.berkeley.edu 

Oakland East Bay Symphony “Celebrating Youth” with the Oakland Youth Orchestra at 8 p.m. at Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Tickets are $20-$65. 444-0802. www.oebs.org 

Kirk Whalum in Concert Gospel According to Jazz, Black History Month Concert Series, at 7:30 p.m. at Allen Temple Baptist Church 8501 International Blvd. Tickets are $10-$20, children under 5 free. www.blackwallstreet.org 

Bay Area Classical Harmonies Bernal Hill Players at 7:30 p.m. at Pro Arts Gallery, 550 Second St., Oakland. Tickets are $12-$18. 868-0695. www.bayareabach.org 

Jazzschool Studio Bands at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $12. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Eric Swinderman’s Straight Out’a Oakland at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Singing Bear, Sean Hodge & High Heat, Old Agoura at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $11-$10. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com 

Jill Knight at 8 p.m. at Caffe Trieste, 2500 San Pablo Ave., at Dwight. Donation $10-$15. 548-5198.  

Butterfly Bones, The Aimless Never Miss, Low Red Land at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $7. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

DCOI, All or Nothing, For the Win at 7:30 p.m. at 924 Gilman St., an all-ages, member-run, no alcohol, no drugs, no violence club. Cost is $7. 525-9926. 

The P-PL at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Blue Highway at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $20.50-$21.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Machina Sol at 8 p.m. at Jupiter. 843-8277. 

Country Joe’s Open Mic & Music Hall at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Hall, 1924 Cedar St. at Bonita. 841-4824. www.BFUU.org 

Steve MeckFessel & Bob Hahn at 8 p.m. at Spuds Pizza, 3290 Adeline St. 597-0795. 

John Nemeth at 8 and 10 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $22. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

SATURDAY, FEB. 28 

CHILDREN  

Los Amiguitos de La Peña with The Octopretzels at 10:30 a.m. at La Peña. Cost is $5 for adults, $4 for children. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Owen Baker “Act in a Box” Juggling, fire-eating and surprises, Sat. and Sun. at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. at Children’s Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland. Cost is $6. 452-2259. www.fairyland.org 

FILM 

“A Lesson Before Dying” at 2 p.m., followed by discussion at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, 6833 International Boulevard, Oakland. The Big Read of the book by the same title will continue to 4 p.m. 615-5728. www.blackwallstreet.org 

Pulp Writers on Film “The Woman Chaser” at 8:15 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive. Cost is $5.50-$9.50. 642-0808. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu 

EXHIBITIONS 

East Bay Women Artists Group show of paintings through March at Dibartolo Café, 3306 Grand Ave., Oakland. 451-0576. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Rhythm & Muse Young Musicians’ Night, in coordination with Berkeley Art Center’s annual Youth Arts Festival at 7 p.m. at 1275 Walnut St., between Eunice and Rose Sts., behind Live Oak Park. 644-6893.  

Sorelle “At Last” Women’s chamber chorus performs duets by Handel and Brahms; and the world premiere of four songs by Larry London at 8 p.m.at Loper Chapel, First Congregational Church, 2345 Dana. Sugested donation $15. 

“400 Years of History: Black Composers” Learn their history though music and vignettes, at 2 p.m. at African American Museum and Library, 659 14th St., Oakland. Free, but RSVP required. 637-0200. www.oaklandlibrary.org/AAMLO 

Berkeley Opera “Tales of Hoffman” at 8 p.m. at Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. Tickets are $48. 925-798-1300. www.berkeleyopera.org 

University Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. at Hertz Hall, UC campus. Tickets are $5-$15. 642-4864. http://music.berkeley.edu 

Sacred & Profane: Mozart’s “Requiem” with full period orchestra at 8 p.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. Tickets are $15-$20. www.sacredprofane.org 

Women Drummers International “Born to Drum” at 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. at La Peña Cultural Center. Cost is $18-$20. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

King Clarentz, alt blues, at 2 p.m. at Down Home Music, 10341 San Pablo Ave. El Cerrito. 

Quejerema at 8 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way. Cost is $14. 841-JAZZ. www.AnnasJazzIsland.com 

Shlomo Katz at 8:30 p.m. at Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd., Oakland. Free. 482-1147. 

Dragi Spasovski & The Mehanatones at 9 p.m. at Ashkenaz. Cost is $15. 525-5054. www.ashkenaz.com  

Country Joe McDonald at 8 p.m. at Freight and Salvage. Cost is $22.50-$23.50. 548-1761. www.freightandsalvage.org 

Inga Swearingen at 8 p.m. at the Jazzschool. Cost is $15. 845-5373. www.jazzschool.com 

Icarus Jones and The Collective at 10 p.m. at Beckett’s Irish Pub, 2271 Shattuck Ave. 647-1790. www.beckettsirishpub.com 

Solid Air at 8 p.m. at Spuds Pizza, 3290 Adeline St. Cost is $7. 597-0795. 

East Bay Grease, Yard Sale, The Clarences at 9:30 p.m. at The Starry Plough. Cost is $7. 841-2082. www.starryploughpub.com 

Ceremony, Cruel Hand, Skin Like Iron at 8 p.m. at 924 Gilman St., an all-ages, member-run, no alcohol, no drugs, no violence club. Cost is $8. 525-9926. 

Lou Donaldson, at 8 and 10 p.m., Sun. at 2 and 7 p.m. at Yoshi’s at Jack London Square. Cost is $18-$20. 238-9200. www.yoshis.com 

SUNDAY, MARCH 1 

EXHIBITIONS 

“L.A. Paint” Tour of the exhibition at 2 p.m. at Oakland Museum of California, 10th and Oak sts., Oakland. Cost is $5-$8. 238-2200. www.museumca.org 

FILM 

African Diaspora Film Society “Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers” at 2 p.m. at Parkway Theater, 1834 Park Blvd., Oakland. Cost is $5. 814-2400. 

MUSIC AND DANCE 

Phavia Kujichagulia, and musicians from the Troublemakers Union, commemorating Haiti: Five Years After the Coup, at 7 p.m. La Peña Cultural Center. 849-2568. www.lapena.org 

Sundays @ Four: New Esterhazy Quartet at 4 p.m. at Crowden Music Center, 1475 Rose St. Tickets at the door are $12. Children under 18 free. 559-6910. www.crowden.org  

Sorelle “At Last” Women’s chamber chorus performs duets by Handel and Brahms; and the world premiere of four songs by Larry London, at 4 p.m. at Loper Chapel, First Congregational Church, 2345 Dana. Sugested donation $15. 


The Musical Offering: ‘All the Elements of Civilization’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:44:00 PM
The Musical Offering remains a gathering place for those interested in good food and fine music.
The Musical Offering remains a gathering place for those interested in good food and fine music.

When I was a student here, in the early ’50s,” said concert pianist Daniell Revenaugh, over a cup of soup in the Musical Offering Cafe, “there were four or five record stores on Telegraph Avenue and around the university that featured classical music—and a couple of them were real meeting places, like the coffee houses of old London. This is the only place like that left.” 

However numerous or well-stocked record stores of yore, they were a different animal than the symbiotic creation under one roof at 2430 Bancroft Way, across from Zellerbach Auditorium: The Musical Offering & Cafe (also called the Café-Bistro), as well as the University Press Bookstore.  

“James Cahill, retired professor of art history, a partner in the store—and father of Sarah Cahill, the New Music pianist—once said this building had all the elements of civilization under one roof,” recalled William McClung, founder of the bookstore. “Books, coffee, wine, music—and community.” 

“It’s a place, not just a bookstore—or just a CD store or cafe,” McClung continued. The bookstore has been called McClung’s brainchild. “One of my perspectives is scholarly publishing—and of specialty presses struggling to survive.”  

He started at Princeton University Press in 1963. “The presses were right under the office. You could hear them roar, smell the ink,” he said. 

He dreamed up University Press Bookstore in 1974 while a sponsoring editor at the University of California Press. (The bookstore isn’t related to UC Press, “except for carrying their titles along with those of 139 other scholarly and academic presses of the 20,000 books in the store.”)  

At first located on Durant Avenue, the bookstore moved to Bancroft in 1981, a second partnership buying the Lucas Books building that has housed booksellers since the 1920s. Partitions were added; the Musical Offering and the café joined the bookstore. The Musical Offering had been brought into the partnership in 1978, located on the mall between Durant and Bancroft, formerly a sheet music store.  

Jean Spencer of the Musical Offering and her late husband Joseph—once a piano tuner to both Vladimir Horowitz and the Rolling Stones, whose pioneering Early Music radio program, “Chapel, Court & Countryside,” debuted on KPFK in Los Angeles in the 1970s, eventually airing on KPFA and finally on the tiny KMZT until 2001, the year of his death—came on board in 1987. “Joseph managed the record store,” she said. “I’ve always managed the café.”  

In Los Angeles, they hosted the nascent Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at the first West Coast Early Music Festival. “It was way before the critics wrote about Baroque music,” Spencer said. “They thought we were like the Renaissance Faire! No critical press—and a thousand people showed up.”  

The Philharmonia Baroque players still show up. There’s a signed poster of Philharmonia artistic director Nicholas McGegan on the wall. “Joseph was close to the American Bach Soloists, too,” Spencer reminisced. “And we were deeply involved in the San Francisco Early Music Society. Joseph started the Wildboar recording label [after his middle name, Wilbur].” 

“We do a lot of public events,” Spencer continued, “Receptions, that sort of thing. We put on one for Daniell Revenaugh and Larry Smith when they brought out their CD of Busoni’s complete two-piano music, displaying some of Daniell’s big collection of Busoni memorabilia. There have been dinners for Berkeley Symphony, Harmonia Mundi ... Kent Nagano would eat dinner here before concerts. Robert Coles of Cal Performances comes in often. And Cecilia Bertolli when she’s in town. We’re closely related to UC events, and the Café-Bistro offers special dinner menus on the nights of Zellerbach shows. I think we’re an institution—and for many, many years, an oasis.” 

The Café-Bistro features an ever-changing menu for omnivores and vegetarians alike. Recent dinner and late afternoon/evening tapas menus reveal such delectables as crispy-skin duck over confit, lamb shoulder braised with preserved lemon, served with sumac salad and flatbread, as well as an entrée of roasted baby eggplant stuffed with ratatouille. The chef, Erick B. (for Balbueno), “walked in the door one day,” Spencer recalls. “Born in Spain, raised in Mexico, trained in New York—and an insatiable learner—I knew after talking with him for five minutes that he was a terrific chef. And his presentations are beautiful.” 

The CD shop features 10,000 discs, according to Nadja Matisoff, co-manager (with Don Kaplan, who edits the “occasional newsletter,” Take Note, the current issue featuring his interview with viola da gamba maestro Jordi Savall and his wife soprano Montserrat Figueras, both store visitors during the annual Berkeley Early Music Festival), a “broad, yet shallow collection—many titles, but not too many copies of any one.” Matisoff commented, “It’s amazing how much influence on what we carry each person working here has.” 

“One of my visions, goals, is to have the Musical Offering be a joyous place, one that feeds the spirit as well as the body,” said Spencer. “That’s the bottom line.” 

Above the bookstore door is its slogan: “Ten Thousand Minds On Fire.” McClung says it’s from Emerson, “but I changed it from ‘A Mind’ to ‘Ten Thousand’” Besides the stock of books from scholarly and academic presses, there’s now a specialty shop upstairs in back, Handsome Books (Martin Holden, proprietor), with scarce and unusual books, often with decorated covers and spines, from over the past century or so.  

McClung also points to the big, handsome table in the back, where “we have our University Press Bookstore Conversations—creating conversations between authors and what we call interlocutors.” (Next Tuesday at 7 p.m., Christina Creveling of UPB will be in conversation with Priscilla Royal, author of Forsaken Soul, from the Medieval Mystery Series.) And to the gallery in the Café-Bistro, where Marty Knapp’s stunning photos of the Point Reyes Peninsula are on display. 

“If we sold just two more CDs a day, it would make a big difference,” said Jean Spencer.  

“We’re in a community,” William McClung said. “We have something to offer. But we need people to buy.” 

MUSICAL OFFERING 

849-0211. www.musicaloffering.com. 

UNIVERSITY PRESS BOOKS 

548-0585. www.universitypressbooks.com. 


‘An Evening with Stew’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:42:00 PM

Stew, the contemporary troubadour whose Tony, Obie and New York Drama Critic Circle Award-winning musical, Passing Strange (now a Spike Lee film), debuted at Berkeley Rep in 2006, will return to play an unusual solo concert Friday at the Oakland Metro Operahouse.  

It was at the Metro where he developed much of his musical’s material as “increasingly theatrical cabaret” from 2002-04.  

An Evening with Stew: Alone and Unguarded, which he described as “a solo acoustic-ish thing even though I will without doubt have a drummer playing quietly and a keyboardist on acoustic piano,” will be presented as a benefit for Oakland Opera.  

Alone and Unguarded will feature songs from Passing Strange as well as other numbers from throughout his career—fittingly, as Passing Strange itself told the semi-autobiographical story of an African-American musician, called The Youth, from Los Angeles searching for himself in Europe. The musical, which won Best Book of a Musical in 2008 Tonys, Best New Theater Piece and Best Performance Ensemble at the Obies, as well as Best Musical from the New York Drama Critics Circle, featured Berkeley native, actress, songwriter and playwright Eisa Davis in the role of The Youth’s mother. 

About the Oakland Metro show’s title, Stew said, “Me and my friends in music have always thought that was the most hilarious Vegas-style show title ever ... I think it’s often used for comedians—which pleases me—and frankly I have waited my entire career to use it.” 

Spike Lee’s film of a performance of Passing Strange premiered this Jan. 16 in the Sundance Festival’s noncompetative Spectrum Documentary program. “Less a documentary than a vividly shot homage,” as the New York Times described it, Passing Strange is different than other coming-of-age plays and films in Stew’s words to The Times: “White teen angst is the most documented thing in the world. You got Jimmy Dean and Marlon Brando, and everybody is riding around on motorcycles all angry, but you know what? Black folks have that too. Ask around.” 

Spike Lee underlined the point: “When you are a young black kid, you see three options. You can be a rapper, a baller in the NBA or NFL, or end up slinging drugs on a corner. But being an artist? C’mon. ... You’ve seen this kid before, but never in a play.” 

Stew, 47, whose given name is Mark Stewart, collaborates with Heidi Rodewald, developing his sound, “Afro-Baroque Cabaret,” and has led two bands, The Negro Problem, and Stew. 

AN EVENING WITH STEW: ALONE AND UNGUARDED 

8:30 p.m., Feb. 20 at Oakland Metro Operahouse, 630 Third St. (near Jack London Square). $12 advance, $15 at door. 

763-1146. oaklandmetro.org. 

 


Impact Stages ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at La Val’s

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:46:00 PM

“What fools these mortals be!” When The Bard’s famous fairy trickster—aka Robin Goodfellow—utters this verse in otherworldly weeds, maybe to the strains of Mendelssohn, outdoors in an amphitheater some August night, the audience, well-conditioned, knows just where it is and what he is saying. 

But when a punk rock Puck in a Sex Pistols T-shirt says the same thing, it seems to mean something else, drawing everybody in—or throwing them out—of the party. A real blowout, no gauzy rout of precious elemental folk. 

So Impact Theatre’s production in mid-winter of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, envisioned and directed by Impact’s artistic director, Melissa Hillman, resets the goings on from an Athenian court and wood to an ’80s bar, an anachronism both more and less crude than some of the Festivalese stretching of Shakespeare like taffy.  

The conceit of placing the action in a late 20th-century bar-room turns The Bard over to burlesque—Impact’s usual product, with its Impact Briefs, burlesque spelled with a ‘K’ at the end, the next opening appropriately on May Day. And this is the fun of it, the confusion of identities, of different (if interlocking) worlds—of youth, court, “blue collar” and supernatural—shaken up in a cocktail mixer, spilling out with a lot of fizz. 

Jordan Winer plays an ardent Theseus in a short-brimmed fedora, pursuing his statuesque Hippolyta (Sarah Thomas); the lovers are Miyuki Bierlein as Hermia, a Madonna knock-off, and tomboyish Helena (Marissa Keltie) in denim jacket and cowboy boots; their beaux are the New Romantic-type Lysander (Nick Jackson) and Demetrius (Seth Thygesen) in Buddy Holly specs.  

Stanley Spenger, founder of the original Shakespearean troupe in La Val’s cellar, bestows a touch of Bardic gravity on father Egeus’s protesting; and Tim Redmond as a youthful clubber Oberon plays well off his bride Titania (Sarah Coykendall) as well as majordomo Puck—Pete Caslavka, who’s really the star of the show, grimacing punkishly and doing doubletakes at all, including himself. Luisa Frasconi and Jenny Kang delightfully attend as Cobweb and Moth. 

The Rude Mechanicals are a little more problematic, though very game: Steven Epperson plays Quince straight, so he is very funny, and sets up the silliness of those amateur thesbians, portrayed by Perry Aliado, Mike Delaney and Brian Turner. Notorious Bottom, heart-and-soul of this comedy—and one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations, like Falstaff, as well as one of his most ambiguous—is cast as a woman. Casi Maggio is full of juice, playing the old ham up as a hot barrista, full of herself, especially good in the scenes with Titania, wearing the ass’s ears. 

But something of the wildness of the old folk comedy is lost, the great contrasts, the grotesqueness beyond the Surreal that The Bard’s transformed into wonder ... 

But this is a burlesque, a jumble of routines that parades the spectacle comedically, provoking gales of laughter from the audience—for some of which, the ‘80s aren’t even Nostalgia: Shakespeare in period dress (costumer Virginia Thorne’s), indeed. 

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM 

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through March 14 at La Val’s Subterranean, 1843 Euclid Ave. 

$10-$17. www.impacttheatre.com.


On DVD: 'Bottle Rocket,' 'Magnificent Obsession,' 'Europa' and 'The Derek Jarman Collection'

By Justin DeFreitas
Thursday February 19, 2009 - 08:37:00 AM

Bottle Rocket 

Bottle Rocket not only holds up, but seems to get better with age. The 1996 debut for actor Luke Wilson, writer-actor Owen Wilson, and writer-director Wes Anderson, in many ways remains the best work of each.  

Bottle Rocket was initially a short, homemade film—shot in black and white and running just 13 minutes—which the Wilson brothers and Anderson screened at the Sundance Film Festival in order to attract financial backing. It worked; they got the chance to develop the film into a full-length feature, and their careers were launched. The resulting film, recently released by Criterion in a new two-disc set, embodies all the youth, vitality and enthusiasm of its creators, employing the low-key charm of Luke, the madcap verbosity of Owen, and the minimalist aesthetic of Anderson in the creation of a distinctive cinematic voice—a quirky, comedic voice suffused with a simple humanism. 

It's a style that spawned many imitators. The "indie" film scene has been dominated over the past 10 years by less talented mimics producing self-consciously offbeat comic dramas that ape the minimalist framings and understated humor of the Wilson-Anderson aesthetic. And yet Anderson has fallen prey to it himself. Rushmore continued the style effectively, but with The Royal Tennenbaums and its two successors, The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited, self-consciousness seemed to creep in. The characters lost much of their freshness and become more precious, more self-consciously odd. The attempts to glean deeper insights from droll and somewhat two-dimensional characters often fell flat. And Anderson's tendency to rely too heavily on music video montage backed with 1960s mod rock has devolved into cliché.  

But Bottle Rocket is not saddled with the weight of pretension. The style is not yet impressed with itself, has not yet become quirky to the point of affectation. It is unpredictable and fun, ingratiating and playful. 

Criterion's new release includes many extra features, including storyboards, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes photos shot by the Wilson brothers' mother, and one of those bland, talking-head making-of documentaries that essentially shows the principal players telling us how much fun they had.  

But the best supplemental feature is Barry Braverman's Murita Cycles, a documentary portrait of the filmmaker's father, made in 1977, that greatly influenced Anderson and the Wilson brothers. Murita Cycles is an excellent use of the home movie, with Braverman interviewing his peculiar father Murray Braverman about his unique, if disconcerting, lifestyle. Murray lives alone since his wife's death in a house rapidly filling with junk—the overflow from a bike shop full of junk—which Murray sells, sporadically and piecemeal, as his needs require. He bathes rarely and spends most of his time sitting outside his Staten Island shop, which is so full of assorted spare parts and scavenged bric-a-brac that he really can't seem to get in the door anymore. The impact the film had on the Bottle Rocket boys is clear: Murita Cycles is an oddly moving story, walking the line between comic exposé and sympathetic portraiture, as a perplexed son struggles mightily to understand and appreciate his maddeningly eccentric and obstinate father. 

 

Bottle Rocket (1996) 

91 minutes. $39.95. www.criterion.com. 

 

 

Magnificent Obsession 

Director Douglas Sirk cranked up the melodrama, photographer Russell Metty saturated the color palette and composer Frank Skinner drenched the strings in syrup for the 1954 adaptation of a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas. Magnificent Obsession is movie of big emotions, and Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson play it for all it's worth. John M. Stahl's earlier version, starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, included as an extra feature on Criterion's new two-disc release, is more comic in tone, drawing more on the screwball comedies of the era, highlighting the fun and the romance. But Sirk's version dives headlong in the story's grandiose tragedy, exquisite pain, and all-consuming romantic drama. 

Modern viewers may find the 1954 version something an acquired taste. It's a style that hasn't necessarily aged all the well, and thus takes some getting used to. Sirk puts a bold emphasis on pure melodrama: characters deeply in love yet suffering under great duress—the two apparently forever intertwined.  

The breezy 1935 version goes down a little easier, but is far less daring and unique, its middle-of-the-road commercialism and straightforward approach essentially rendering it an asterisk attached to Sirk's later version. The earlier film sees Robert Taylor sauntering through about like a dandified playboy, whereas the Hudson plays the role as a brooding thug, a violent, disdainful, silver spooned brute, the more dramatic portrayal lending greater weight to the character's personal transformation.  

Extra features included an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and a 1991 documentary by Eckhart Schmidt about Sirk's career.  

 

Magnificent Obsession (1935 and 1954 versions) 

102 minutes and 108 minutes. $39.95. www.criterion.com. 

 

 

Derek Jarman 

Derek Jarman wasn't just part of England's independent film movement; for a long period of time, he simple was the movement, producing a string of low-budget films that broke cultural and cinematic taboos. Jarman blazed a trail not only for underground, independent filmmakers, but for openly gay filmmakers as well, establishing an oeuvre that was groundbreaking aesthetically as well as politically. Kino has released a box set containing three of Jarman's features, as well as a documentary about his life and career.  

Sebastiane (1976), Jarman's debut, is a historical drama about the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, but one which delves into the erotic underpinnings of the tale, achieving not just a landmark in the history of gay cinema but a pointed satire of the latent homosexuality that permeates Hollywood's Golden Age biblical epics. Telling the story entirely in Latin (with English subtitles) was a characteristically bold Jarman gambit. 

In 1979, Jarman released the first cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, remaining for the most part faithful to the original but dressing it stylistic excess. Full of bright, vibrant colors, Jarman stages the film like a 1940s MGM musical garnished with 1970s camp and a dash of horror.  

Disc three features War Requiem (1989), which stars frequent Jarman collaborator Tilda Swinton in a wordless interpretation of Benjamin Britten's 1961 orchestral piece. It is a bold experimental film, using music and imagery to examine the tragedy and futility of war. 

Derek, a 2008 documentary about Jarman's life and work written and narrated by Tilda Swinton, features the actress strolling through the English locales that mark the director's life. Her stylized narration is interspersed with interviews with Jarman and clips from 17 of his films, providing a portrait of the artist's development, personally and artistically. However, the stylized atmospherics of the footage of Swinton, combined with her pseudo-poetic voiceovers, detract from the film; the effort to pay homage to her friend and mentor unfortunately strikes a note of pretense and self-indulgence. Far more compelling is the footage of Jarman himself, shot sitting casually in his home and speaking conversationally. With a subject so articulate and charismatic, why bother with dramatic narration and high production values? Just drop in a few clips from his films and you're done. Apparently the filmmakers had an inkling of this, as one of the extra features is an extended version of the 1991 interview, running some 70 minutes. 

 

The Derek Jarman Collection 

$79.95. www.kino.com. 

 

 

Europa 

Danish director Lars von Trier reportedly gave the finger the to the Cannes jury when they failed to give the festival's grand prize to Europa, his 1991 film about Nazi Germany. They gave him a few other awards, but no matter; von Trier apparently felt he had created a masterpiece.  

He was wrong. The jury rightfully honored the technical and artistic prowess of the film, but it is simply much too obtuse to affect an audience in quite the way it should. Europa (retitled Zentropa when it was released in the United States) is a film of startling imagery. Von Trier blends black and white with splashes of color, process shots and overlays, creating a dreamlike montage that flows in and out of the past and in and out of various levels of consciousness. The trouble is, the imagery is so overwhelming that it distracts from the film itself, as plot and character and motivation are essentially drowned in a flood of visual virtuosity. The film ultimately descends into an extended reverie inspired by its own loveliness. 

Von Trier borrows freely from other films and genres. At times it seems that every other scene is a quote from another film, or a quote of a quote. What may have been intended as a sort of post-modern homage instead comes off like a series of in-jokes staged by a precocious movie brat who hasn't lived enough to infuse his film with life experience and can only borrow on the work of other filmmakers. Consequently, Europa's appeal is inherently limited, accessible only to those who share its frame of reference. 

 

Europa (1991) 

107 minutes. $39.95. www.criterion.com. 

 


East Bay: Then and Now—Berkeley’s City Hall Was Inspired by a Mairie on the Loire

By Daniella Thompson
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:21:00 PM
Old City Hall was renamed the Maudelle Shirek Building in March 2007.
Daniella Thompson
Old City Hall was renamed the Maudelle Shirek Building in March 2007.
The Hôtel de Ville of Tours served as inspiration in the design of our City Hall.
Willtron
The Hôtel de Ville of Tours served as inspiration in the design of our City Hall.
Built in 1884, Berkeley’s first Town Hall was moved in 1899 from University and Sacramento to Allston and Grove.
Berkeley: The Town & Gown of It
Built in 1884, Berkeley’s first Town Hall was moved in 1899 from University and Sacramento to Allston and Grove.
Berkeley City Hall, designed by Bakewell & Brown, shortly after its completion in 1909.
BAHA archives
Berkeley City Hall, designed by Bakewell & Brown, shortly after its completion in 1909.

On June 27, 1908, at the laying of the cornerstone for Berkeley’s new City Hall, University of California president Benjamin Ide Wheeler delivered the keynote address. His was no florid speech politely suitable to the occasion. On the contrary. Wheeler seized the moment to “flay the politicians,” as the San Francisco Call reported the following day, and “then asked citizens to take a more active part in municipal affairs.” 

One can’t imagine the current UC president saying, as Wheeler did, “A people cannot have the consciousness of being self-governed unless they attend themselves to the things over against their own doors. The real imperialism, the real oppression, the real political slavery, is the intrusion of power from without into a local condition.” 

The cornerstone was laid almost four years after a fire consumed Berkeley’s previous Town Hall. That building, erected in 1884, was designed by San Francisco architects Samuel and Joseph Cather Newsom, who the same year also created America’s most notorious Victorian house--the Carson Mansion in Eureka. 

Having previously worked for their elder brother, John, Samuel and Joseph established their own office in 1879, the year in which they designed the first school house in East Berkeley, Kellogg Grammar School. The lot on which the school was to be built—between Oxford St., Center St., and Allston Way—was traversed diagonally by Strawberry Creek. The Town Trustees had a culvert built to submerge the creek under the school site. This is the very same creek section that present-day advocates hope to see daylighted along Center Street. 

Although the Newsoms are best known for their elaborate Victorian architecture, Berkeley’s strict budget dictated an austere design for the Town Hall, which contractor C. R. Lord built for $3,000. 

The location of this civic edifice was a hotly debated issue whose outcome, born of compromise, satisfied no one. The story was best told by John E. Boyd, in a letter to the editor of the Berkeley World-Gazette dated Sept. 29, 1899: 

On the incorporation of the Town of Berkeley in 1878, the first meetings of the Board of Trustees and School Directors were held in the store which J. R. Little now occupies as a real estate office [in the Francis K. Shattuck Bldg., 2108 Shattuck Ave.]. Complaints were made by the residents of West Berkeley about the meetings being held away up in Soupbone town, as the Eastern end was called, and to satisfy the West Berkeley people the Town Board held its meetings the second year in one of the stores in the Sisterna Block. After being there a year or two the place of meeting was changed to the east end and held in the store under Pythian Hall, where Moorhead’s grocery now is. 

About that time the question of building a Town Hall was agitated, and the only question was: “Where shall it be located?” The East Enders said that Jack Brennan, who was a member of the Board, wanted it located back of his livery stable on the bay shore, while the West Enders argued that F. K. Shattuck and other large property owners were bound to place it on the summit of Grizzly Peak. No agreement that would satisfy both parties could be reached until some one proposed to buy a lot midway between the East and West End, and locate it there. This agreement proved satisfactory to both parties, and the lot on the corner of University Avenue and Sacramento Street was bought from the Shaw estate and the building commenced in the spring of ‘84. 

Some people thought that the location of the Town Hall would boom the neighborhood property and induce building. It never induced anything except the erection of a “goat milk factory” by a man named Casey, who while he did not get rich by it, got a term in the county jail for being 150 feet inside the “mile limit.” 

Perusal of Berkeley directories from the early 1880s reveals no listing for the Knights of Pythias. George A. Pettitt, author of Berkeley: the Town and Gown of It, also listed Clapp Hall (Shattuck Ave. and Berkeley Way) and the Workingmen’s Club (Sixth and Delaware) among the Trustees’ temporary meeting places. 

The Town Hall’s location being equally inconvenient to all, it came as no surprise when the San Francisco Call noted on July 18, 1897, “It is proposed to have the entire building moved to the east end, intact, rather than build a new one, as has been under consideration for some time. Strenuous opposition to the removal is anticipated from the people at the west end, but the east end members of the board are greatly in the majority.” 

On Aug. 10, the Call reported, “A number of East Berkeley citizens have proposed the purchase of the entire block on Stanford place [the east branch of Shattuck Ave.], from Center to Addison street, as a site for the Town Hall and a public park.” The money was to be raised by subscription. 

Two week later, the Town Board decided in principle on the move and appointed Trustee William H. Marston of North Berkeley and Trustee Reginald T. Guard of Lorin as the site selection committee. Meanwhile, the West Berkeley contingent didn’t sit idle. At a mass meeting held on Aug. 27 at the Beacon fire station on Sixth St. near University Ave., Trustees Christian Hoff and C.D. Maloney, as well as County Recorder Charles Spear, vowed to oppose the move. By then, Marston had already secured bids on moving the building. 

Berkeley being Berkeley, nothing further was done for over two years. Not until Sept. 16, 1899, did the Board of Trustees pass a resolution to lease six lots from James McGee with an option to buy at $3,000. The parcel was bounded by Grove St., Allston Way, Mary [now McKinley] St., and Strawberry Creek, which bisected the block. The Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1903 noted that the creek was “dry in summer.” A footbridge crossed the creek on the west side of Mary Street. 

Bids were solicited for moving Town Hall, and contractor W.P. Grant was the only bidder. He was given a contract to move the building within thirty days and set it up on a foundation in as good as its current condition for the sum of $999. “The town officials were given permission to hold office hours as they saw fit while the hall was in motion,” reported the World-Gazette on Sept. 26, “For the next thirty days it will be a common sight to see a town official looking for his office with a telescope, and when he does find it climbing into the window by means of a rope ladder.” 

The move lasted three weeks, and the Board of Trustees continued to meet in the building en route. Such meeting took place on Oct. 9, 1899. The World-Gazette noted that a large crowd had attended, concluding, “Meeting in the middle of University avenue in a building tilted to the grade of the street seemed to agree with the Board for it did a great deal of business last evening.” When the building reached its destination, it was necessary to place it on an 8-foot basement to avoid the Grove St. façade being 18 inches below grade. 

For five years, Town Hall stood by the bank of Strawberry Creek. Behind it were a buggy shed and a six-foot iron bell tower, which served for alarms. But no alarm helped the wooden building on the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1904, when defective electric wires in the attic sparked a blaze that burned the entire structure to the ground within an hour. 

The San Francisco Call reported that a scanty water supply rendered the firemen’s work ineffective, and within ten minutes they gave up hope of saving any part of the building, concentrating a lone stream of water on the City Clerk’s vault to save the records stored in it. Other city employees had sufficient warning to evacuate their documents, and with the exception of a few survey books, all the city records emerged unharmed. Business continued without interruption in rented space at the Francis K. Shattuck Building. 

Trustee Hoff, who had been opposed to moving the old Town Hall, wasted no time to call for a new building. On Nov. 14, 1904, he introduced a resolution to allocate $100,000 for a new Town Hall in the next bond issue. Nevertheless, the Trustees did not solicit architectural plans until 1907. Eleven competing designs were submitted in May and went on exhibit on July 3rd. John Galen Howard volunteered to help the Trustees select the winning design, and together they picked the plan by John Bakewell, Jr. and Arthur M. Brown, Jr. of San Francisco, both Cal alumni and Beta Theta Pi members. 

The Bakewell & Brown design, described as “French renaissance” by the Oakland Tribune, drew heavily upon the Hôtel de Ville (1896-1904) of Tours on the Loire, designed by Victor Laloux, a major exponent of the Beaux-Arts style. Like its far more elaborate French precedent, the Berkeley design included an ornamental tower on top of the roof, but the Trustees rejected this feature for budgetary reasons. The citizenry, however, desired a tower, and it was twice added to and removed from the plans before the final decision was made to spend an additional $2,400 to erect it. No money was available to place a large clock in the round medallion under the tower, and the building remains clockless to this day. 

In August 1909, a month before the new City Hall was completed, the Oakland Enquirer announced that the interior was poorly designed, with space too generously allocated to the hallways while the offices were cramped. Still, after inspection by city officials and the architects, the building was accepted and final payment authorized. 

Substantially larger than the first Town Hall, the new structure used up more of the property and required the culverting of Strawberry Creek on the parcel and under McKinley St., although the creek continued for some years to meander freely on blocks to the west. By 1925, City Hall was joined by an annex in the rear, and houses replaced the creek on the adjacent blocks. 

The city administration worked in the building until 1977, when it became the administrative home of the Berkeley Unified School District. Long known as Old City Hall, it was officially renamed the Maudelle Shirek Building on March 22, 2007. 

 

Daniella Thompson publishes berkeleyheritage.com for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA). She thanks Anthony Bruce and Jerry Sulliger for their research help for this article.


About the House: The Good Old Days

By Matt Cantor
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:20:00 PM

I’ve long observed (with some glee) that houses and their owners tend to be alike in notable ways and that this only increases over time. 

Though a house may only share similarities with the owner initially (based on their choice of that house) the passage of time gives owners a chance to manifest their personalities in the style and condition of their house. And so it was today when I met Joan and her house. 

I arrived a bit early and, peeking through the window, surmised the house to have been prepped for sale and “staged” with perfect furniture, sparsely placed with just the right pillow tossed here and there. But no, it was, in fact, exactly the way Joan lives. 

Joan is a product of a time (as is her house of similar vintage) when order and cleanliness were considered extremely important and doing it right the first time was drilled into the entire population. Doing things quickly and cheaply was scorned behavior and the people and the products of the time (cars, houses, blenders) reflect it. 

The house was dated, both technologically and stylistically, but the quality of the foundation, while primitive compared to current methods, was awe inspiring. It was rock hard and showed barely a crack anywhere.  

True, the house did benefit from being from the late 30’s and not the teens when foundations were generally poor by comparison but still, the point stands. Given the methods that were available, everyone tried to do their absolute best work and even small, low-cost houses of this time show these traits.  

The idea that you would try to do things as cheaply as you could with little thought for the next generation was foreign and even repugnant to the Americans that grew up in the early 20th century. There is clearly a different thinking inside the culture today. 

Though some of Joan’s choices in the years since she lost her husband were designed to save money, each job was still done well and was monitored and maintained. I did find a leak in a porch outside but I am quite sure that neither she nor her army of helpers were aware of it or she would have quickly mended it. 

In precisely the same way that it would have been impossible for Joan to go out (to the Safeway!) without brushing hair, putting on a little makeup and accessorizing a bit, She was constitutionally incapable of hiring a part-time handyman to retile her shower. The house was painted the same way she lined her drawers and arranged her clothes closet. The right way (as best as she might assess). 

I have often noted the extraordinary variance that one can find in the condition of two apartments in the same building, explicable by nothing more complex than the most fundamental cleaning and maintenance tasks (e.g. picking up the bath mat after a shower and hanging it on the shower rod). One unit might have been occupied by someone like Joan (squeegee hanging in the shower to drive all the water away prior to exit) and the other by a bunch of college students who didn’t seem to get the concept of a shower curtain (water inside, not outside). Toilets and showers and whole kitchens might need to be replaced decades earlier in the latter case, while simple measures and a little prophylaxis (asking for the landlord to caulk the bath when those gaps appear) could prevent the need for even moderate-level repair. 

Now, this does not seem to extend to upgrades in the same way that it informs issues of maintenance. A house, such as Joan’s may be extremely well painted and neat as a pin but still contain an ancient furnace that should long ago have gone to the dust heap but this is consistent with the personality type in other ways. Joan’s generation (and I continue to meet some younger people like this as well) was very slow to throw out something that was still working. Labor cost was more in line with the cost of living and it was possible to hire someone to fix something like a furnace, perhaps several times over. Moreover, it was considered the right thing to do. Devices (and houses) were built to be repaired and manuals and parts were widely available. If a man (forgive me but we’re speaking of a different time and culture) did not own tools and a pair of overalls he was considered a poor provider (and probably preferred going to musicals too). 

Today, most people don’t know how to maintain or repair the equipment in their homes and even professionals are less skilled as the disposable culture makes these activities less warranted and significant. But I digress. 

The opposite case to Joan’s, the person who has no awareness of their surroundings or concern for maintenance will manifest their behavior through visible and non-visible vehicles. If the house hasn’t been painted for a decade or two, there is a good chance that the furnace filter is clogged, the toilet is loose and the broken window is still broken. 

This is handy when looking at houses and it even extends to areas that have nothing to do with the house so clues always abound. If you can walk through a house with crammed closets and signs of disorganization, the likelihood that regular maintenance has been in force is small. Sometimes the condition of a house is obvious from the street and it’s tempting to drive by and phone it in (but it’s too much fun to see all the juicy details).  

A well-built house may be within hopes of resurrection if the homunculi of destruction and their six-packs, have not been too long at work but a poorly built one, combined with poor maintenance may be devastated in a couple of decades. I saw this one last week. 

The siding on this house was a composite panel type that should never have been shipped off the assembly-line. A lack of paint and caulk had allowed for the quick destruction of several sections and the “shear” strength it was likely to provide in an earthquake was pretty questionable. It was bad enough that replacement of all the siding had be considered.  

The trim details attempted to defy all the laws of thermodynamics and several key religious principles and will probably end up in a slide show one of these days. There was lots more but you get the picture. These features, combined with the maintenance provided by a typical ‘70s cocaine dealer (I’m just guessing here but you follow my thinking) had produced a house that was starting to fall apart after about 20 years. Joan’s house was pushing 80 (a number she may have exceeded herself, though you couldn’t tell by her dress or manner) and showed few signs of age. Plenty of history but not much age. 

I guess this is a little like those pictures of people and their dogs. Sometimes I don’t get it but then you see one where the dog that has just been bathed, closely cropped and adorned, bizarrely, with a pink sweater that matches the owner’s and you see it. It’s not about biology (or carpentry). It’s about anthropology. 


Community Calendar

Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:50:00 PM

THURSDAY, FEB. 19 

“Habitat Rehab: Restoring Bay Area Nature from the Mountains to your Downspout” An illustrated talk with East Bay naturalist Susan Schwartz highlighting the varied efforts that are underway to protect and revitalize our watersheds, at 7 p.m. at Redwood Gardens, 2951 Derby St. www.berkeleypaths.org 

“From Silent Spring to Silent Night: What Have We Learned?” with Tyrone B. Hayes on environmental health and the pesticide atrazine at 12:30 p.m. at Oakland Museum of California, 10th and Oak sts., Oakland. Cost is $5-$8. 238-2200. www.museumca.org 

“From Wasteland to Wetland: Two Urban Restoration Success Stories” with national Park Service staff at 6 p.m. at Point Richmond Community Center, 139 Washington Ave., Richmond. 665-3597. www.thewatershedproject.org 

“Race in the Age of Obama” with Tim Wise and Eva Paterson at 7 p.m. at First Congregational Church of Oakland, 2501 Harrison St., Oakland. Cost is $15-$20, $5 for age 17 and under. 601-0182. www.speakoutnow.org 

LiveTalk@CPS with Harry Chotiner “Academy Awards Preview Night” at 7 p.m. at College Prepatory School, Buttner Auditorium, 6100 Broadway. Tickets are $5-$15 at the door. www.college-prep.org/livetalk 

“Conservation Through Communication: Using Popular Media and Celebrity Power to Stop Illegal Wildlife Trade” with Peter Knights, co-director, Wild Aid, at 6:30 p.m. in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium, Oakland Zoo. Suggested donation $10-$20, $5 for high school students. amy@oaklandzoo.org 

Black History Month Extravaganza at 6 p.m. at Guice Christian Academy, 6925 International Boulevard. www.blackwallstreet.org 

Tilden Nature Area Docent Training from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fee. is $35. For an application or information call 544-3260. www.ebparks.org 

Baby & Toddler Storytime at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. 524-3043.  

Circle of Concern Vigil meets on West Lawn of UC campus across from Addison and Oxford, Thurs. at noon and Sun. at 1 p.m. to oppose UC weapons labs contracts. 848-8055. 

Three Beats for Nothing South Mostly ancient part music for fun and practice meets every Thurs. at 10 a.m. at the South Berkeley Senior Center, Ellis at Ashby. 655-8863. asiecker@sbcglobal 

Fitness Class for 55+ at 9:15 a.m. at Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut St. 848-0237. 

Free Meditation Classes Tues. and Thurs. at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarians, 2nd flr., 1606 Bonita Ave. 931-7742. 

Wheelchair Yoga Thurs. at noon, Family Yoga on Sat. at 10:30 a.m. at Niroga Center for Healing, 1808 University Ave. between MLK Way and Grant St. All classes by donation. 704-1330. www.niroga.org 

World of Plants Tours Thurs., Sat. and Sun. at 1:30 p.m. at the UC Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive. Cost is $5. 643-2755. http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu 

FRIDAY, FEB. 20 

City Commons Club Noon Luncheon with Robert Baer, retired CIA field officer on “The Nature of Iran’s Threat to our Security.” Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. for $14.50, speech at 12:30 p.m., at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant St. For information and reservations call 524-7468. www.citycommonsclub.org 

“Art Science Fusion: IDENTITY Genotype-Phenotype” with Gabriele Seethaler, Viennese biochemist and photographer at 1:30 p.m. at Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. Cost is $20. Part of the Last Friday Ladies Lunch series. RSVP to whoisylvia@aol.com 

Demonstrate for Peace! Bring your signs and determination. Tell Obama to bring our troops home NOW! from 2 to 4 p.m. at Acton and University Ave. 

“The Black Western Frontier” with Wilbert McAllister, President of the Black Cowboy’s Association at 2 p.m. at the West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St., Oakland. 238-7016. 

Berkeley Women in Black weekly vigil from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. Our focus is human rights in Palestine. 548-6310. 

Three Beats for Nothing Mostly ancient part music for fun and practice meets every Fri. at 10 a.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Hearst at MLK. 655-8863. asiecker@sbcglobal 

Berkeley Chess Club meets every Fri. at 7 p.m. at the Hillside School, 1581 Le Roy Ave. 843-0150. 

SATURDAY, FEB. 21 

Stop Pacific Steel Casting’s Toxic Emissions A community protest with a rally at 11 a.m. at 10th & Gilman. 996-7650. healthyaircoalition@hotmail.com 

Peace for Keeps Celebrate the 51st Anniversary of The Peace Symbol at 4 p.m. at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way, with a video of last year’s Berkeley Peace Symbol Golden JubileeWavy Gravy, Michael Rossman,Carol Denney, Hali Hammer, Stoney Burke, Gary Lapow, Helen Holt, Peacenik and Arnie Passman. Tickets are $5 and up. 

Bird Watching Bike Trip: East Shore State Park Meet 8:30 a.m. at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART Station or at 9 a.m. at the end of S. 51st St., Richmond. There is a spur from the SF Bay Trail to this point. We will bird along the SF Bay Trail from Richmond to Emeryville and end at Aquatic Park in Berkeley. Bring bicycle lock, sunscreen, helmet, lunch and liquids. All levels of birders and bicyclists welcome. Rain cancels. 547-1233. www.goldengateaudubon.org 

Arroyo Viejo Creek Work Day Help clean up the creek at the Oakland Zoo, from 9 a.m. to noon. All ages welcome. 632-9525, ext. 207. 

“Homebuyers Education” A workshop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Unity Council’s HomeOwnership Center, 3301 East 12th St., Suite 201, Oakland. Class is free, but pre-registration required. Call 535-6943. homeownership@unitycouncil.org 

“Climate Change Workshop: Save Money, Conserve Resources” Learn about easy, effective approaches for saving resources, saving money, and lessening your carbon foot print from 10 a.m. to noon at Women’s Cancer Resource Center, 5741 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Free, but RSVP required. 601-4040 ext. 111. www.wcrc.org 

Toddler Nature Walk A nature adventure for 2-3 year olds to learn about amphibians, at 2 p.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. 525-2233. 

Annual Quaker Heritage Day 2009 with Daniel A. Seeger on the contemporary relevance of John Woolman’s witness on the economy in “Commerce, Community, and the Economics of Love” from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Berkeley Friends Church, Sacramento and Cedar. RSVP to 524-4112. www.berkeleyfriendschurch.org 

“The State of Prop 8: The Case Before the California Supreme Court” with LGBT family protection lawyer Ora Prochovnick at 10:30 a.m. at JFK University School of Law, Berkeley Campus, 2956 San Pablo Ave., 2nd flr. 925-284-6255. 

In Honor of Black History Month A discussion with Regina Jackson, Executive Director, East Oakland Youth Development Center on the work she does with Oakland youth at 2 p.m. at the Rockridge Library, 5366 College Ave., Oakland. 597-5017. 

The Big Read Kick-Off Community reading of “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines with performances and and the music of Duke Ellington from 1 to 4 p.m. at Oakland Museum of California, 10th and Oak sts., Oakland. Cost is $5-$8. 238-2200. www.museumca.org 

“Will Medicare be there when you need it?” A panel of experts and advocates at 2 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., near Broadway, Oakland. 610-2888. jeantepper@gmail.com 

“The Path to Feedom during the Obama Administration & Beyond” An African American History Month celebration at 3 p.m. at Niebyl-Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Suggested donation $5. 251-1050. 

Celebrate African Cultural Heritage: Nigerian Cooking Workshop Ebun presents a demonstration on making healthy and delicious Nigerian food at 2 p.m. at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, 6833 International Boulevard. 615-5728. akokodoko@oaklandlibrary.org  

“Stimulus and Response: Can Obama and the Democrats fix the economy?” A Peace and Freedom Party discussion at 2 p.m. at Spud's Pizza, Adeline & Alcatraz. 

“Black Holes: Monsters Lurking at the Centers of Galaxies” with Astronomy Professor Eliot Quataert at 11 a.m. at 145 Dwinelle Hall, UC campus.  

“Inspired Expression” Workshop with Holly Near at 2:30 p.m. at La Peña. Cost is $10. To register see www.lapena.org 

“Four Jews on Parnassus” with Carl Djerassi at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. Donation $10. www.hillsideclub.org 

“Road to Guantanamo” and “Torturing Democracy” films at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St. Suggested donation $10. 841-4824. 

International Film Festival on Aging at 3 and 7 p.m. and Sun. at 2, 5 and 7 p.m. at AMC Bay Street Theater, Emeryville. Tickets are $10, $6 for seniors. www.filmfestonaging.org 

International Dancing at Festival of the Oaks, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Live Oak Recreation Center, 1301 Shattuck Ave. www.berkeleyfolkdancers.org 

Hospice Volunteer Training at 9:30 a.m. at 333 Hegenberger Road, Suite 700, Oakland. Second training day on Feb. 28. To enroll call 613-2017. 

“Ancient Tools for Successful Living” Workshops on Kamitic Astrology. Registration at 11:30 a.m. at ASA Academy, 2811 Adeline St., Oakland. Cost is $10 per workshop. 536-5934. 

Small Critter Adoption Fair with hamsters, rats, mice, guinea pigs and rabbits from 1 to 5 pm. at RabbitEARS, 377 Colusa Ave., Kensington. 525-6155. 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden Sat. and Sun. at 2 pm. Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Tilden Park. Call to confirm. 841-8732.  

Around the World Tour of Plants at 1:30 p.m., Thurs., Sat. and Sun. at UC Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive. 643-2755.  

The Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club provides free instruction every Wed. and Sat. at 10:30 a.m. at 2270 Acton St. 841-2174.  

Oakland Artisans Marketplace Sat. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sun. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Jack London Square. 238-4948. 

Car Wash Benefit for Options Recovery Services of Berkeley, held every Sat. from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lutheran Church, 1744 University Ave. 666-9552. 

SUNDAY, FEB. 22 

Flyway Forays A 2.5 mile walk to discover why thousands of shorebirds and waterfowl overwinter San Francisco Bay, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline. 525-2233. 

Family Environment Restoration Day Learn about nature’s interrealtionships and help remove invasive plants at 2 p.m. at Tilden Nature Center, Tilden Park. 525-2233. 

A Conversation with Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dorhn “Building a Movement for Peace in our Time” at 2 p.m. at King Middle School, 1781 Rose St. Tickets are $10-$15. Benefit for the Middle East Children’s Alliance, no one turned away. 548-0542. www.mecaforpeace.org 

Egyptology Lecture “The Unification of Egypt: A View from a Backwater Town” with Dr. Pat Podzorski, University of Memphis, at 2:30 p.m. at Barrows Hall, Room 20, Barrow Lane and Bancroft Way, UC campus. 415- 664-4767.  

Tour of the Berkeley City Club, designed by Julia Morgan, from 1 to 4 p.m. at 2315 Durant Ave. 848-7800. 

Free Hands-on Bicycle Clinic Learn how to do a safety inspection, from 10 to 11 a.m. at REI, 1338 San Pablo Ave. Bring your bike and tools. 527-4140. 

“Dark Matter and Dark Energy and their Significance for the Spiritual” with David Lingenfelter at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302, ext. 306. 

Report on the Zapatista World Festival of Dignified Rage at 6:30 p.m. at the Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. www.chiapas-support.org 

“Marxism and Freedom: The Movement from Practice and a New Concept of Theory” at 6:30 p.m. at Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 658-1448. 

“American Atheists: Where We Are & Where We’re Going” with Ed Buckner, new President of American Atheists, at 1:30 p.m. at the Berkeley Public Library, 3rd Floor Meeting Room, 2090 Kittredge St. 222-7580. www.eastbayatheists.org/meetings.html 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. Call to confirm. 841-8732.  

Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace Peace walk around the lake every Sun. Meet at 3 p.m. at the colonnade at the NE end of the lake. 763-8712. lmno4p.org 

“Cultural yet Jewish: Can Humanistic Judaism be your Home?” with Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Society of Humanistic Judaism, at 2 p.m. in the Edith Stone Room, Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave. 525-2296. 

Tibetan Buddhism with Rosalyn White on “Symbols in Tibetan Sacred Art” at 6 p.m. at the Tibetan Nyingma Institute, 1815 Highland Pl. 809-1000. www.nyingmainstitute.com 

Sew Your Own Open Studio Come learn to use our industrial and domestic machines, or work on your own projects, from 4 to 8 p.m. at 84 Bolivar Dr., Aquatic Park. Also on Fri. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost is $5 per hour. 644-2577. www.watersideworkshops.org  

MONDAY, FEB. 23 

“Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist” A film with Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis and Rosetta Lenoire at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St. Suggested donation $10. 841-4824. 

“Culture Change: Civil Liberty, Peak Oil, and the End of Empire” with Alexis Zeigler at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $5. www.Humanist Hall.org 

African American Olympic Greats: Eddie Hart speaks at 1 p.m. at Haywood Brothers Karate School, 4430 International Blvd. www.blackwallstreet.org 

Kensington Book Club meets to discuss “History of Love” by Nicole Krauss at 7 p.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. 524-3043. 

East Bay Track Club for girls and boys ages 3-15 meets Mon. at 6 p.m. at Berkeley High School track field. Free. 776-7451. 

Morning Meditation Every Mon., Wed., and Fri. at 7:45 a.m. at Rudramandir, 830 Bancroft Way at 6th. 486-8700. 

ASUC Student Legal Clinic provides free legal research and case intake. Drop-in hours Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. anfd Fri. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., UC campus. 642-9986. asuclegalclinic@gmail.com 

Small-Business Counseling Free one-hour one-on-one counseling to help you start and run your small business with a volunteer from Service Core of Retired Executives, Mon. evenings by appointment at Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. For appointment call 981-6148. www.eastbayscore.org 

World Affairs/Politics Discussion Group, for people 60 years and over, meets at 9:45 a.m. at Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave, Albany. Cost is $3.  

Berkeley CopWatch organizational meeting at 8 p.m. at 2022 Blake St. Join us to work on current issues around police misconduct. Volunteers needed. For information call 548-0425. 

TUESDAY, FEB. 24 

Tuesdays for the Birds Tranquil bird walks in local parklands, led by Bethany Facendini, from 7 to 9:30 a.m. Today we will visit EBMUD Valle Vista Staging Area. Call for meeting place and if you need to borrow binoculars. 525-2233. 

Phyllis Schlafly on “Feminism vs Conservatism: The Great Debate” at 7:30 p.m. at 110 Barrows Hall, UC campus. Sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans. 

“Green Living Project: Sustainability Across Africa” at 7 p.m. at REI, 1338 San Pablo Ave. 527-4140. 

El Cerrito Democratic Club “Getting to Know You” Meet the local staff from our State and Federal representatives’ offices at 7:30 p.m. in Fellowship Hall, El Cerrito United Methodist Church, 6830 Stockton Ave., El Cerrito. 527-5953. panterazero@gmail.com 

Documentary Film Club “When We Were Kings” the 1996 Academy Award winning documentary on the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman at 6:30 p.m. at the Bayview Branch Library, 5100 Hartnett Ave., Richmond. Sponsored by the Richmond Public Library.  

Tuesday Tilden Walkers Join a few slowpoke seniors at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot near the Little Farm for an hour or two walk. 215-7672, 524-9992. 

End the Occupation Vigil every Tues. at noon at Oakland Federal Bldg., 1301 Clay St. www.epicalc.org 

Street Level Cycles Community Bike Program Come use our tools as well as receive help with performing repairs free of charge. Youth classes available. Tues., Thurs., and Sat. from 2 to 6 p.m. at at 84 Bolivar Dr., Aquatic Park. 644-2577. www.watersideworkshops.org 

Berkeley Camera Club meets at 7:30 p.m., at the Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. Share your digital images, slides and prints and learn what other photographers are doing. Monthly field trips. 548-3991. www.berkeleycameraclub.org 

St. John’s Prime Timers meets at 9:30 a.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. We offer ongoing classes in exercise and creative arts, and always welcome new members over 50. 845-6830. 

Sing-A-Long Group from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave., Albany. 524-9122. 

Ceramics Class Learn hand building techniques to make decorative and functional items, Tues. at 9:30 a.m. at St. John's Senior Center, 2727 College Ave. Free, materials and firing charges only. 525-5497. 

Rhythm Tap Exercise Class Tues. at 5 p.m. at Redwood Gardens, 2951 Derby St. Donation $2. 548-9840. 

Qi Gong Meditation 7:30 p.m. at 830 Bancroft Way, Lotus Room 114. Cost is $5-$10. 883-1920. tgif@tiangong.org 

Free Meditation Classes Tues. and Thurs. at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarians, 2nd flr., 1606 Bonita Ave. 931-7742. 

Yarn Wranglers Come knit and crochet at 6:30 p.m. at Nomad Cafe, 6500 Shattuck Ave. 595-5344.  

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 25 

“Adaptive Reuse: The Tipping Point” A panel discussion on the rehabilitation, adaptation and reuse of historical buildings at 5:30 p.m. at AIA East Bay, 1405 Clay St., Oakland. (12th St. BART). Tickets are $15-$25. 464-3600, www.aiaeb.org 

“Unions, Progressives and Gray Panthers: A Strategy to Push Obama from the Left” with Mike Whitty, visiting Gray Panther and professor from Detroit at 1:30 p.m. at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner of MLK. 548-9696. 

“The Beginning of the Blues” presented by Clifford Jeffery, Instructor from Pleasant Valley Adult School, at 2 p.m. at West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St., Oakland. RSVP to 238-7016. 

“Arusi Persian Wedding” A docmentary by Marjan Tehrani, reception at 6 p.m., film at 6:30 p.m. at Oakland Museum of California, 10th and Oak sts., Oakland. Cost is $5-$8. 238-2200. www.museumca.org 

“The Land Speaks Arabic” and “33 Days” two documentaries from the Middle East at 7:30 p.m. at Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Donation $5. www.Humanist Hall.org 

“Health and Stress: How to Manage Stress to Improve Health and Overcome Illness” with Dr. Jay Sordean, at 6:30 p.m. at Berkeley Public Library, Claremont Branch, 2940 Benvenue Ave. 981-6280. 

Walk Berkeley for Seniors meets every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Sea Breeze Market, just west of the I-80 overpass. Everyone is welcome, wear comfortable shoes and a warm hat. 548-9840. 

Theraputic Recreation at the Berkeley Warm Pool, Wed. at 3:30 p.m. and Sat. at 10 a.m. at the Berkeley Warm Pool, 2245 Milvia St. Cost is $4-$5. Bring a towel. 632-9369. 

Playreaders Program for Adults meets Wed. at noon in the 3rd flr community room, Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. To register call 981-6241. 

Berkeley Peace Walk and Vigil at the Berkeley BART Station, corner of Shattuck and Center. Sing for Peace at 6:30 p.m. followed by Peace Walk at 7 p.m. www.geocities.com/vigil4peace/vigil 

Teen Chess Club from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the North Branch Library, 1170 The Alameda at Hopkins. 981-6133. 

Berkeley CopWatch Drop-in office hours from 6 to 8 p.m. at 2022 Blake St. 548-0425. 

Stitch ‘n Bitch at 6:30 p.m. at Caffe Trieste, 2500 San Pablo Ave., at Dwight. 548-5198.  

THURSDAY, FEB. 26 

“The Obama Presidency and the Struggle Ahead” A Black History Month Forum and discussion with Eugene Puryear, Keith Shanklin and Patricia Johnson at 6:30 p.m. at Laney College, Building D, Room 200, 900 Fallon St. at 10th St., Oakland. Sponsored by ANSWER Coalition. 435-0844. 

Tilden Nature Area Docent Training from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fee. is $35. For an application or information call 544-3260. www.ebparks.org 

Birding by Ear Classes begin with four Thurs. eve. classes at 7 p.m. and four Sat. field trips, offered through the Albany Adult School. To register call 559-6580. 

“Earth, Wind and Fire: The Clean Tech Opportunity Today” A panel discussion at 7:30 p.m. at the Anderson Auditorium, Haas School of Business, 2220 Piedmont Ave. Reception at 6:30 p.m. Sponsored by the UC Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum and Lester Center. 642-4255. 

Josh Holland on the Economy at 7:30 p.m. at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland. Potluck and business meeting at 6 p.m. www.wellstoneclub.org 

Baby & Toddler Storytime at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m. at Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. 524-3043.  

Circle of Concern Vigil meets on West Lawn of UC campus across from Addison and Oxford, Thurs. at noon and Sun. at 1 p.m. to oppose UC weapons labs contracts. 848-8055. 

Free Meditation Classes Tues. and Thurs. at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarians, 2nd flr., 1606 Bonita Ave. 931-7742. 

Three Beats for Nothing South Mostly ancient part music for fun and practice meets every Thurs. at 10 a.m. at the South Berkeley Senior Center, Ellis at Ashby. 655-8863. asiecker@sbcglobal 

Fitness Class for 55+ at 9:15 a.m. at Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut St. 848-0237. 

Wheelchair Yoga Thurs. at noon, Family Yoga on Sat. at 10:30 a.m. at Niroga Center for Healing, 1808 University Ave. between MLK Way and Grant St. All classes by donation. 704-1330. www.niroga.org 

World of Plants Tours Thurs., Sat. and Sun. at 1:30 p.m. at the UC Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive. Cost is $5. 643-2755. http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu 

FRIDAY, FEB. 27 

City Commons Club Noon Luncheon with Gilbert Melese, PhD, Prof. of Nuclear Energy, UC-B (Retired) on “Effective New Energy Strategies.” Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. for $14.50, speech at 12:30 p.m., at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant St. For information and reservations call 524-7468. www.citycommonsclub.org 

“Just Water? Solving an Environmental Justice Crisis” the Fifth Annual Environmental Justice Symposium at Berkeley Law School from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hosted by the Environmental Law Society. Keynote speaker will be Dr. Beverly Wright, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. http://sites.google.com/site/ejsymposium 

“Solar Power for Your Home” Lecture by HionSolar, Regrid Power, and Energy Recommerce on solar system productivity, feasibility, project time frame and cost, including the most recent increase in federal rebates at 6:30 p.m. at Crestmont School Friendship Hall, 6226 Arlington Blvd, Richmond. Donation $15 per family. Proceeds to benefit Crestmont School. 529-1001. 

Black History Month Celebration Blues 'N' Greens Dance with music by by Love Light Blues Band and dinner, at 5 p.m. at West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline Street, Oakland. Tickets are $15. 238-7016. 

“Building Compassion, Creating Well-Being” A seminar lead by UCB prof. Dacher Keltner from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at International House, 2299 Piedmont Ave. 866-992-9399. www.ceuregistration.com 

“Wine for a Cause” Wine tasting and silent auction to benefit HomeBase, a Bay Area non-profit advancing solutions to end homelessness at 6 p.m. at a home in the Oakland Hills. Tickets are $30. 415-788-7961, ext. 323. info@homebaseccc.org 

Jewish Wisdom on Finding Hope and Help in Hard Times at 6:15 p.m. at Jewish Gateways, 409 Liberty St., El Cerrito. RSVP required. 559-8140. 

Berkeley Women in Black weekly vigil from noon to 1 p.m. at Bancroft and Telegraph. Our focus is human rights in Palestine. 548-6310. 

Three Beats for Nothing Mostly ancient part music for fun and practice meets every Fri. at 10 a.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Hearst at MLK. 655-8863. asiecker@sbcglobal 

Berkeley Chess Club meets every Fri. at 7 p.m. at the Hillside School, 1581 Le Roy Ave. 843-0150. 

SATURDAY, FEB. 28 

African American Quilters of Oakland A demonstration and workshop from noon to 4 p.m. at the West Oakland Branch Library, 1801 Adeline St. All supplies provided and all ages welcome. 238-7352. www.oaklandlibrary.org 

“Afghanistan: The Next Quagmire” with Conn Hallinan, of Foreign Policy In Focus, at 12:30 p.m. at Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St., at Bonita. Co-sponsored by BFUU Social Justice Committee and Grandmothers Against the War. 

“A Critical View of Obama’s Recovery Plan” with economist and author Jack Rasmus, at 7 p.m. at the Alameda Free Library, Conference Rooms A&B, 1550 Oak St. at Lincoln, Alameda. Suggested donation $5; no one is turned away. www.alamedaforum.org 

“Project Peace East Bay’s 6th Quarterly Day of Peace” from 9 a.m. to noon. Choose between two East Bay community-service opportunities: Help clean and beautify Claremont Middle School, 5750 College Ave., Oakland, supervised children of all ages welcome, or help sort and package foodstuffs at the Alameda County Community Food Bank, 7900 Edgewater Dr., Oakland, no children under 10 permitted. Snacks will be provided. Please RSVP at www.projectpeaceeastbay.org 

Mini-Farmers in Tilden A farm exploration program, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. for ages 4-6 years, accompanied by an adult. We will explore the Little Farm, care for animals, do crafts and farm chores. Wear boots and dress to get dirty! Fee is $6-$8. Registration required. 1-888-EBPARKS. 

“Annual Albany Celebration” with a casino, auctions, cocktails, bistro dining, and live music at 7 p.m. at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave., Albany. Tickets are $35. 558-1534.. http://AlbanyCaRotary.org/party 

Vegetarian Cooking Class: The Joy of Vegan Baking Learn to make GInger Muffins, Blueberry Orange Bundt Cake, Chocolate Bread Pudding and more from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at First Unitarian Church of Oakland, 685 14th St. at Castro. Cost is $55, plus $5 food and material fee. Advance registration required. 531-COOK. www.compassionatecooks.com 

Black History Celebration with Praise dancers and authors Janet Marie Walker, Thomas Tramble & Wilma Tramble, Edwain Edbeir and Paulette Harper from 1 to 4 p.m. at Faith Temple Church of God In Christ, 12411 San Pablo Ave., Richmond. 

Wildlife Career Day for Teens Learn about wildlife and environmental careers from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Oakland Zoo. Desigend for ages 13-19. Cost is $20. 632-9525, ext. 201. 

Oakland Military Institute College Preparatory Academy Open House, with tours and information sessions for prospective students their families, at 10 a.m. at 3877 Lusk St., Oakland. 594-3900. www.omiacademy.org 

Group Healing Session with Master Gu at 7 p.m. at International House, 2299 Piedmont Ave. Cost is $20. 619-757-7387. 

East Bay Chapter of the Assoc. of Women in Science Workshop with Peggy Klaus from 9 a.m. to noon at Rothwell Center Dining Room, Mills College, 5000 MAcArthur Blvd., Oakland. Cost is $25-$45. RSVP required. www.ebawis.org 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden Sat. and Sun. at 2 pm. Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Tilden Park. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Around the World Tour of Plants at 1:30 p.m., Thurs., Sat. and Sun. at UC Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive. 643-2755. http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu 

The Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club provides free instruction every Wed. and Sat. at 10:30 a.m. at 2270 Acton St. 841-2174.  

Oakland Artisans Marketplace Sat. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sun. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Jack London Square. 238-4948. 

Car Wash Benefit for Options Recovery Services of Berkeley, held every Sat. from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lutheran Church, 1744 University Ave. 666-9552. 

SUNDAY, MARCH 1 

Berkeley Hiking Club goes to Tennessee Valley & Rodeo Beach. Meet at Shattuck Ave & Berkeley Way at 8:30 a.m. Various trails making a loop to Rodeo Beach and back. Moderate Pace. Approx. 7-8 miles. 528-9821. 

“Bridging the Achievement Gap: 20-20 Vision How is It Working?” with BUSD directors Karen Hemphill and John Selawsky and Santiago Casal from United in Action, from 3 to 5 p.m. at North Berkeley Senior Center, MLK at Hearst. Sponsored by BCA. 549-0816. 

“Haiti: Five Years After the Coup” with Nia Imara on her recent trip to Haiti and political analysis by Pierre Labossière at 7 p.m. at La Pena, 3105 Shattuck Ave. Donation $10-$25, no one turned away. www.haitisolidarity.net 

“Music that Woke the World” a sing-along concert of 60s activist sonegs with Rev. Heng Sure, Betsy Rose, Alan Senauke and Melanie DeMore at 7 p.m. at Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, 2384 McKinely St. Donation $15-$20. 525-7082. 

Berkeley Rep Family Series “Art Sampler” from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Nevo Education Center, 2071 Addison St. Free, but bring a book to donate to a school library. 647-2973. 

“The Philosophy of ‘Absolute Idea as New Beginning’: Revolutionary Paths Out of Capitalist Economy” at 6:30 p.m. at Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 658-1448. 

Square One Yoga Collective Open House from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 4336-A San Pablo Ave., Emeryville. 547-9700. 

Personal Theology Seminars with Alex Pappas on “The Philosophy, Meaning, Origin and Fundamental Principals of Theosophy” at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Rd., Kensington. 525-0302, ext. 306. 

Free Garden Tours at Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Tilden Park Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. Call to confirm. 841-8732. www.nativeplants.org 

Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace Peace walk around the lake every Sun. Meet at 3 p.m. at the colonnade at the NE end of the lake. 763-8712. lmno4p.org 

CITY MEETINGS 

Design Review Committee meets Thurs., Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center. 981-7415.  

Rent Stabilization Board meets Thurs., Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers. 981-7368.  

Transportation Commission meets Thurs., Feb. 19, at 7 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center. 981-7061.  

West Berkeley Project Area Committee meetsThurs., Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. at the James Kenney Recreation Center, 1720 8th St., 2nd flr. 981-7418. 

City Council meets Tues., Feb. 24, at 7 p.m in City Council Chambers. 981-6900. www.ci. 

berkeley.ca.us/citycouncil 

Civic Arts Commission meets Wed., Feb. 25, at 6:30 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center. 981-7533.  

Energy Commission meets Wed., Feb. 25, at 6:30 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center. 981-5434.  

Planning Commission meets Wed., Feb. 25, at 7 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center. 981-7416. 

Mental Health Commission meets Thurs., Feb. 26 , at 5 p.m. at 2640 MLK Jr. Way, at Derby. 981-5217. 

ONGOING 

Help Low-wage Families with Their Taxes United Way’s Earn it! Keep It! Save It! needs Bay Area volunteers for its 7th annual free tax program. No previous experience necessary. Sign up at www.earnitkeepitsaveit.org


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