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Fire Hits Great China Restaurant in Downtown Berkeley

By Scott Morris (BCN) and Planet
Thursday January 26, 2012 - 04:06:00 PM
Foster Goldstrom
Foster Goldstrom

A fire badly damaged a Chinese food restaurant on Kittredge near Oxford in downtown Berkeley on Wednesday night, Berkeley fire officials said. 

The fire started shortly after 9 p.m. in the Great China restaurant at 2115 Kittredge St., which shares a building with Razan's Organic Kitchen next door.  

The business is owned by the Yu family. Michael Yu was the founder, and the second generation, son James Yu, now participates in managing the business.  

According to Foster Goldstrom, a restaurant patron and family friend who visited the site this afternoon, James is a noted collector of West Coast wines, but his fine collection, which was stored in the building, was severely damaged by the fire. Goldstrom said the family estimated that rebuilding would take 6 months. Construction has already begun.  

Assistant Fire Capt. Jon Fitch, who was called in to investigate after the blaze was extinguished, said a cooking fire started in the kitchen of the Chinese restaurant and quickly spread. Fitch said Great China sustained $500,000 in damage to the building, and $200,000 in damage to its contents. 

"It definitely is shutting down based on the fire," Fitch said. 

Despite sharing a building with Great China, Razan's was not damaged by the flames, Fitch said. 

"There was no fire damage that I can see, I think they'll be able to open pretty quick," Fitch said. 

Both restaurants were evacuated during the fire, although there were not many customers in either at that hour. No one was injured. 

Press Release: Alameda County Bans Bags, Mandates Recycling

From Jeff Becerra, Stopwaste.org
Thursday January 26, 2012 - 10:20:00 AM

Yesterday the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA) adopted two ordinances that will help the county achieve its long-term waste reduction goals. The first ordinance requires recycling of high market-value materials from larger businesses and multi-family properties. The second ordinance prohibits free distribution of single-use bags at check out in stores that sell packaged food. The initiatives are designed to reduce waste and litter, stimulate the local economy and create jobs. 

"Alameda County buries $100 million of resources every year," said Gary Wolff, P.E., Ph.D., StopWaste.Org's Executive Director. "Increased recycling can contribute greatly to the local economy by tapping into what would otherwise be sent to landfills." USEPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently touted the multiple benefits of high recycling levels, calling the practice a simple, low-tech approach to a cleaner environment, and a homegrown jobs program that would employ millions of Americans. Up to 1,500 local jobs are expected to be created as a result of the Alameda County mandatory recycling ordinance. 

In addition to its economic benefits, recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly, which is why the State has adopted a mandatory recycling law to help implement its landmark climate change initiative (AB 32). The State law requires larger businesses (four cubic yards of garbage service per week and above) and multi-family properties of five units or more to obtain recycling service. The mandatory recycling ordinance adopted for Alameda County builds on the State's requirements by specifying which materials need to be recycled and by requiring that an adequate level of recycling service be obtained. 

The single-use bag ordinance will help reduce the number of bags going to landfill and decrease the problems caused by plastic bags at recycling processing centers and landfills. The ordinance bans single-use bags at check out at retailers selling packaged food countywide. Recycled content paper or reusable bags may be provided but only if the retailer charges a minimum price of $0.10 per bag. 

Setting restrictions on single-use bag distribution will help local jurisdictions meet their storm water permit and litter control requirements at lower costs and reduce environmentally harmful trash in storm drains and creeks. Despite voluntary efforts to promote reusable bags countywide for several years, plastic bags comprised 9.6 percent of litter collected during coastal cleanup days (based on 2008 data) in Alameda County. 

Both ordinances were identified as long-term waste reduction strategies in StopWaste.Org's 2010 Strategic Plan, which included a goal that by 2020 less than 10 percent of solid wastes landfilled should be materials that are easily recycled or composted. 

The ordinances are designed to capture the benefits of working together on a large scale while also preserving local control. Individual jurisdictions within the county are able to opt out of either ordinance by resolution of their governing board by March 2, 2012. 

FAQ's with detailed information on each of the proposed ordinances is available at www.stopwaste.org/news.

New: The Tea Party, Planning and Democracy(Part One)

By Zelda Bronstein
Wednesday January 25, 2012 - 10:08:00 AM

[Editor's Note: This is the first part of a two-part news analysis which explores some unexpected synergies between Tea Party protesters and progressive opponents of planning policies which are perceived as anti-democratic. Part 2 will appear on Friday.]

Most people regard meetings about regional planning, if they regard them at all, as soporific, PowerPointed affairs frequented by policy wonks. But on January 11, I attended a regional planning workshop in Dublin that was anything but dull. That’s because protesters from the East Bay Area Tea Party showed up along with some “fellow travelers” and nearly took the evening over. Their appearance was no surprise. 

For over a year, members of the Tea Party have descended on planning events around the country. The Dublin event, sponsored by the lead regional planning agencies in the Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), was the Alameda County installament of the second round of county-based Plan Bay Area public meetings [http://www.onebayarea.org/spotlight_12-11.htm] about the forthcoming Sustainable Communities Strategy/Regional Transportation Plan (SCS/RTP) mandated by the 2008 legislation, SB 375. The Tea Party also weighed in at the first round, held last May, as well as at all of the second round workshops that have been held so far. 

SB 375, signed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger, requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. To that end, each of the state’s eighteen metropolitan planning organizations—in our case, ABAG plus MTC—must prepare a long-range plan that integrates its region’s transportation, housing and land use in ways that get people to drive less. In the Bay Area, as elsewhere in the country, this is called planning for “smart” growth and “sustainable” development. 

The Tea Party and its allies contend that such planning intends to force Americans out of their cars and their single-family homes with yards and garages and into mass transit and high-density housing, and to pursue a social justice agenda that discriminates against property rights and the middle class. 

They trace the origins of this campaign to an obscure 1992 United Nations document called Agenda 21. One of the two dozen or so dissidents milling in the big plaza outside the Dublin Civic Center handed me a leaflet with the headline: “Sounds like science fiction…or some conspiracy theory…but it isn’t” [ellipses in original]. Written by Santa Rosa resident and certified real estate appraiser Rosa Koire, the leaflet claims that “all the General Plans of [American] cities and counties” are permeated by Agenda 21 policies advocating government “control of all land use” and the disfranchisement of private property owners; “round[ing] up people off the land” and moving them into “islands of human habitation, close to employment centers and transportation”; and “a redistribution of wealth” that will lower Americans’ standard of living “so that people in poorer countries will have more.” On Wednesday evening, these claims were echoed by slogans called out through a bullhorn by founder of the East Bay Tea Party, Heather Gass, an Alamo realtor: “We don’t want race-based engineering here!” “They’re coming for your cars!” “We want equal justice, not social justice!” 

But what offends Tea Partiers isn’t only planners’ alleged goals; it’s also the way those goals are pursued—according to these critics, via an authoritarian process that treats ordinary citizens with contempt. “Politburo Planning,” read the big hand-lettered sign held by Pleasanton resident and registered nurse Tom Bacon as he stood in the Civic Center parking lot next to his American flag-bedecked, 1987 Ford three-quarter ton tow truck. A few yards away, the demonstrators in the plaza displayed smaller signs that said “ABAG/MTC don’t speak for me,” “This is a rigged meeting” and “We’re being railroaded.” 

The protesters at the Dublin meeting asserted that the workshops were packed with employees of public agencies and their non-profit “partners” such as Greenbelt Alliance, Urban Habitat and TransForm. As evidence of such favoritism, they pointed to the online registration procedure, starting with the registration form, which asks prospective attendees to choose among the following affiliations: Advocate: Business Interests; Advocate: Environmental Interests; Advocate: Public Health Interests; Advocate: Social Justice Interests; Concerned Individual; Elected Official; Public Sector Staff (government agency staff); Other; and Advocate: Reduced Role in Government. Noting that the Plan Bay Area website says that the workshops are filled, but that you can still register and be placed on a waitlist, they argued that when places open up, people who identify themselves as advocates for a reduced role in government are passed over. In Dublin, one of the dissenters told me that at the May workshop she attended, she “was the only citizen at the table.” The others, she said, were all “stakeholders from CalTrans, Greenbelt Alliance, MTC, and they were voting.” 

Confronted by unremitting shout-outs during the opening plenary, the attending officials—Alameda County Supervisor and MTC member Scott Haggerty, Union City Mayor and ABAG President Mark Green, MTC Planning Director Doug Kemsey and ABAG Planning Director Ken Kirkey—decided to hear comments of three minutes apiece from everyone who wished to speak. Most of the dissidents took advantage of that invitation. 

A few days later, I spoke with one of protesters, Castro Valley resident and Internet executive Mimi Steel. Steel, a property rights advocate, said she isn’t a member of the Tea Party but works with the organization, as well as with Koire’s Democrats Against UN Agenda 21. I asked her why she and her fellow dissenters didn’t go to the breakout sessions, where participants had an opportunity to indicate their top priorities for transportation investments and “complete communities.” 

“Because it didn’t matter,” she replied. “They’re going to do whatever they’re going to do, regardless of the public input.” Steel pointed out that SB 375 requires the regional agencies to do outreach. In her view, the way they do it—posing ambiguous questions and providing scant information about complicated issues—renders the public’s response meaningless. At the workshops last spring, she said, people were asked “how important is open space to you? What does that mean?” she said. “In relation to what? How much does it cost to procure open space?” 

The protesters also objected to arrogant facilitators who, they claim, quash politically incorrect participants. “Their objective,” Steel told me, “is to get the answer they want.” At best, she said, they use diversionary tactics, such as telling dissenters to write down their opinions or saying that they will deal with off-agenda issues later; at worst, they resort to humiliation. 

Steel referred me to a video filmed at one of the May workshops in which a participant opines that environmental mandates are driving businesses out of California and then politely but persistently asks if anything in the plan looks at planning’s impacts on businesses and jobs in the state. Instead of answering his question, the presiding facilitator compares him to her five-year-old daughter with whom she does time-outs. At her behest, the workshop attendees vote to move on. 

I didn’t see any such putdowns in Dublin (granted, I couldn’t be in all three workshop venues at once). If anything, officials’ willingness to let people in and hear people out fostered an atmosphere of receptiveness. Everyone who wanted to attend was admitted. According to ABAG staffer JoAnna Bullock, 146 people, including those placed on a waitlist, had registered for the workshop. Fifty-eight of those registered were no-shows; an unknown number of participants refused to sign in; and 45 others signed in as walk-ups. 

Despite the open door policy, the police presence inside and outside the Civic Center was disconcerting; the protesters were angry and loud, but they didn’t seem dangerous. Before the meeting, Dublin Police Lieutenant Steve Brown told the demonstrators who were occupying a small portion of the complex’s very spacious entry plaza to move over. On of them asked, “Is there inadequate room for anyone to pass?” Brown didn’t reply. 

That said, the evening ended on a note of conciliation, largely due to the poise, not to say the charm, with which Supervisor Haggerty moderated the comments session. After listening to two and a half hours of vociferous criticism, Haggerty said that what he’d “heard the most tonight” was “frustration,” but that if people wanted to be effective, they “need[ed] to drop the anger,” “not interrupt” and get organized. He urged the dissidents to send emails, attend MTC meetings and contact their local and state representatives. They responded with applause and thanks, saying that this was the first time in the Plan Bay Area process that they’d been allowed to voice their opinions, and that elected officials had actually listened to what they’d said. 

This video briefly depicts the protest outside the Dublin Civic Center before the beginning of the January 12 Plan Bay Area workshop and then records the entire public comment session in the council chamber. Thanks to Mimi Steel for providing the film. The video runs almost two and a half hours. People cited in the Planet story speak at the following moments:

1:26:07 Mimi Steel
1:39:13 Doug Buckwald
1:45:16 Heather Gass
1:47:58 Steve Finacom
2:18:35 Scott Haggerty

New: Two Arrested as Suspects in December Berkeley Shooting

By HannahAlbarazi/JeffShuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday January 25, 2012 - 10:31:00 AM

Police arrested two teens suspected of injuring two people in a daytime shooting in Berkeley last month, police said. 

Berkeley police detectives arrested Tyrone Anthony Terrell, 18, of Berkeley and a 16-year-old male suspect in connection with the shooting, police said. 

On Dec. 23, 2011, two men were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after a shooting near the intersection of Sacramento and Woolsey streets at around 12:40 p.m., according to police. 

Berkeley police Lt. Andrew Greenwood said police received several calls at about 12:41 p.m. from residents in that area reporting that shots had been fired. 

When police arrived at the scene three minutes later they didn't find any victims or suspects, Greenwood said. 

A local hospital notified police a short time later that two male victims had been dropped off there suffering from gunshot wounds, he said. None of their wounds were considered life threatening and both victims were released from the hospital. 

Witnesses at the scene said the suspect or suspects fled up Woolsey Street so police did a house-by-house search of a two-block area but didn't find anyone, Greenwood said. 

Homicide detectives took over the investigation and identified the two suspects. Detectives sent a wanted bulletin within the Berkeley Police Department and neighboring agencies for both suspects, police said. 

On Jan. 13, a patrol officer spotted Terrell at the same intersection where the shooting had occurred in December.  

The patrol officer detained Terrell and booked him into the Berkeley Police Department jail, police said.  

Officers arrested the 16-year-old suspect the same day, police said. 

Police said this was not a random shooting, but that no motive has been established.

Press Release: Study Shows Restored Wetlands Rarely Equal Condition of Original Wetlands

By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations
Wednesday January 25, 2012 - 10:45:00 AM

Wetland restoration is a billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States that aims to create ecosystems similar to those that disappeared over the past century. But a new analysis of restoration projects shows that restored wetlands seldom reach the quality of a natural wetland. 

“Once you degrade a wetland, it doesn’t recover its normal assemblage of plants or its rich stores of organic soil carbon, which both affect natural cycles of water and nutrients, for many years,” said David Moreno-Mateos, a University of California, Berkeley, postdoctoral fellow. “Even after 100 years, the restored wetland is still different from what was there before, and it may never recover.” 

Moreno-Mateos’s analysis calls into question a common mitigation strategy exploited by land developers: create a new wetland to replace a wetland that will be destroyed and the land put to other uses. At a time of accelerated climate change caused by increased carbon entering the atmosphere, carbon storage in wetlands is increasingly important, he said. 

“Wetlands accumulate a lot of carbon, so when you dry up a wetland for agricultural use or to build houses, you are just pouring this carbon into the atmosphere,” he said. “If we keep degrading or destroying wetlands, for example through the use of mitigation banks, it is going to take centuries to recover the carbon we are losing.” 

The study showed that wetlands tend to recover most slowly if they are in cold regions, if they are small – less than 100 contiguous hectares, or 250 acres, in area – or if they are disconnected from the ebb and flood of tides or river flows. 

“These context dependencies aren’t necessarily surprising, but this paper quantifies them in ways that could guide decisions about restoration, or about whether to damage wetlands in the first place,” said coauthor Mary Power, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. 

Moreno-Mateos, Power and their colleagues will publish their analysis in the Jan. 24 issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology. 

Wetlands provide many societal benefits, Moreno-Mateos noted, such as biodiversity conservation, fish production, water purification, erosion control and carbon storage. 

He found, however, that restored wetlands contained about 23 percent less carbon than untouched wetlands, while the variety of native plants was 26 percent lower, on average, after 50 to 100 years of restoration. While restored wetlands may look superficially similar – and the animal and insect populations may be similar, too – the plants take much longer to return to normal and establish the carbon resources in the soil that make for a healthy ecosystem. 

Moreno-Mateos noted that numerous studies have shown that specific wetlands recover slowly, but his meta-analysis “might be a proof that this is happening in most wetlands.” 

“To prevent this, preserve the wetland, don’t degrade the wetland,” he said. 

Moreno-Mateos, who obtained his Ph.D. while studying wetland restoration in Spain, conducted a meta-analysis of 124 wetland studies monitoring work at 621 wetlands around the world and comparing them with natural wetlands. Nearly 80 percent were in the United States and some were restored more than 100 years ago, reflecting of a long-standing American interest in restoration and a common belief that it’s possible to essentially recreate destroyed wetlands. Half of all wetlands in North America, Europe, China and Australia were lost during the 20th century, he said. S 

Though Moreno-Mateos found that, on average, restored wetlands are 25 percent less productive than natural wetlands, there was much variation. For example, wetlands in boreal and cold temperate forests tend to recover more slowly than do warm wetlands. One review of wetland restoration projects in New York state, for example, found that “after 55 years, barely 50 percent of the organic matter had accumulated on average in all these wetlands” compared to what was there before, he said. 

“Current thinking holds that many ecosystems just reach an alternative state that is different, and you never will recover the original,” he said. 

In future studies, he will explore whether the slower carbon accumulation is due to a slow recovery of the native plant community or invasion by non-native plants. 

Coauthors with Moreno-Mateos and Power are Francisco A. Comin of the Department of Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Zaragoza, Spain; and Roxana Yockteng of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. Moreno-Mateos recently accepted a position as the restoration fellow at Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. 

The work was supported by the Spanish Ministry for Innovation and Science, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology and the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics of the U.S. National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center. 

Related information: 

New: Ghosts of the Past: Blake's Re-opening on Telegraph Avenue as Pappy's--a Happy, If Haunted, Reminder of Berkeley's Past

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday January 25, 2012 - 09:54:00 AM
Sleek new lookout at Pappy's, Saturday, retains Blake's view of the Avenue, but not from tables.
Ted Friedman
Sleek new lookout at Pappy's, Saturday, retains Blake's view of the Avenue, but not from tables.

Ghosts of Berkeley's Blake's past happily haunt us on Telegraph Avenue.

Don't expect a chronology here, but ever since I can remember, Larry Blake's on upper Teley, has been closing and re-opening. Re-opened once more as Pappy's Bar and Grill, Saturday, it is more Blake's than ever, thanks to "smart" Alex Popov, who runs Smart Alec's next door. 

I visited Blake's rathskeller in 1963, and, except for the absence of fraternity and sorority paddles and wooden booths, Pappy's downstairs den reminds me of 60s Blake's. Removal of the mezzanine upstairs is another throw-back, since the balcony was only around a few decades. 

If you thought Smart Alec's, next door, was intelligent, wait till you see Pappy's. Popov's smart half- block at Telegraph and Durant has made the whole neighborhood intellectual. 

Popov tells me he has dreamed of owning a sports bar and grill since 1997, when he tried to buy Kip's, another Berkeley nearby institution. Popov's dream-come-true, may enhance our own dreams. 

John Lineweaver, past president of Teley property owners, and owner of the Pappy's building is no chump either. Stepping in to stem noise, and other neighborhood complaints--when Blake's had morphed into a south of market noise machine--Lineweaver put strict noise controls on Pappy's. 

At the Pappy's pre-opening, Saturday, I asked Lineweaver if he was bothered by the music not emanating from the "rathskeller" downstairs. I had just emerged from the new downstairs den, where someone had requested by cell phone a "song," which re-iterated "chick-baby" so annoyingly--I just had to ask Lineweaver about it. 

"As long as I can't hear it upstairs [where he sat], I 'm happy," Lineweaver, a soft-spoken man, replied. 

These guys are smart. 

To say, I had anticipated Pappy's opening would be an understatement. But the re-opening was stalled by fire inspectors, according to Popov, and finally moved forward to Super Bowl weekend, a deadline it beat. I began snooping the site several weeks ago, even sneaking into the gated alley behind the building to peek in. 

My last visit to Blake's shortly before it closed, included blaring music from the mezzanine, and stale beer. When I heard the mezzanine would be gone at the new Blake's, and loud was out, I was cheered. 

Now for that beer. One sip of my "hefeweizen" pint threatened to rain on my parade. What to do? Sparingly sip the battery-acid brew, or take a chance. Elbowing my way over hunched shoulders at the bar to reach the bartender, I asked "Can I swap this out? I promise to not ask for another replacement." The next choice, Racer5, IPO Ale, was a winner, and free. I paid $5 for the replaced pint, a dollar less than Kip's. Beer problem solved. 

Pappy's solves a lot of problems. It restores pub life on the avenue, after the Sequoia fire took out Raleigh's, and it gives Berkeley yet another take on Blake's. It avoids drawing punks, and it might be a shot in the arm for the whole dispirited neighborhood. 

In my last visit to Raleigh's, I had been asked to leave the football game I was watching, if I didn't order beer or food. I left without getting my free Coke refill, vowing to not return, although I worried how I would survive without the onion rings. I understood the bartender's point, just disliked her manner. 

Based on my experiences, Saturday, and Sunday for the Niners game, I give Pappy's a ton of stars for good vibes. Everyone, from smart Alex to the bartender to the manager, Jessie Jones, to my favorite waitress,Tempest, were good folk. 

Wondering about the food? Here Popov faced a dilemma. What had made Smart Alec's food intelligent was precisely that it was not saturated-fat bar food. He had to bite the fat for Pappy's. 

While he was biting the fat, he brought three new food items to the avenue: tri-tip roast, and smoked-in-house turkey and chicken. Beef burgers, and pulled-pork patties (another first) are grilled over red oak chips--a first. Which one of these will kill you first? 

Pulled pork is the fattiest item, the tri-tip moderately fat. If you're worried about your health, you step next door for allegedly "healthy" foods. Popov covers your stomach. 

If you're unfulfilled by Smart Alec's salad, move to Pappy's for a heap of greens topped off with smoked meat or fowl. Looked worth drooling over. 

Best-of department: Pappy's has the best fries in town, based on my research. I'd tell you how it's done, but you can't do it at home anyway. 

Tempest, the gracious waitress, is handling on-line publicity, and plans are afoot to restore the former rathskeller to a fraternity-sorority hub, as it was in Blake's early years, according to her. 

Capacity seating (300 plus) was topped Saturday, just from word of mouth, according to Tempest, and on Sunday for the Niners game Pappy's was jammed. The 205 inch big screen projection TV, in the main room is another avenue first. 

Pappy's offered free food for its pre-opening, where the free tri-tip "sold" out. 

Popov is still putting the finishing touches on the sleek digs, such as tinting the windows for better viewing of the cyclopean screen. He might bring in more Cal memorabilia, but, as he told me, the Pappy's motif is not what Pappy's is all about. 

Perhaps Pappy's is about having a good-provider.

Berkeley's Out as UC Chooses Richmond Site for LBNL

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday January 23, 2012 - 12:33:00 PM

The University of California announced today that it has chosen a site in Richmond as the preferred home for a second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which the university manages. 

The Richmond Field Station, which is owned by the university, beat out five other East Bay locations that had been vying to house the second campus, which is expected to create jobs and bring in local revenue. 

The site is located on Seaver Avenue, off of Meade Street, near Interstate Highway 580.  

Most of the Berkeley Lab's 4,200 employees work at the lab's main facility in the Berkeley hills, but about 20 percent of them work at leased facilities scattered around the East Bay. Lab officials have said a second campus would save money by consolidating those facilities. 

More than 20 cities and developers proposed locations for the second campus, and university officials narrowed the proposals down to six finalists last year. 

The finalists were the Richmond site; Alameda Point in Alameda; Aquatic Park West in Berkeley; Brooklyn Basin in Oakland; properties in Emeryville and West Berkeley that are currently occupied by the lab; and Golden Gate Fields. 

University officials say construction of the second campus will take about four years, and that they hope to move researchers into the new site by mid-2016. 

Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos said in a statement, "Each city, community, and their developer partners presented extremely thoughtful and well-formulated proposals for us to consider, for which we are deeply grateful." 

Alivisatos said, "While we can only pick one site, we hope that the new relationships we've made will continue to help us foster excitement in science. The enthusiasm is wonderful affirmation of the desire of the entire East Bay to be part of developing scientific solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our society." 

Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay called the announcement a "great bit of news." 

He released a statement thanking the Richmond City Council, city employees, and the Richmond community for "providing the warm welcome mat that was undoubtedly a major factor in their decision." 

Congressman George Miller, D-Martinez, said in a statement this morning he is "thrilled" by the lab's decision. 

"This is the decision we were hoping for, and it is the right decision for the Lab, for Richmond, and for the East Bay," Miller said. 

He said, "The Berkeley Lab's announcement that its second campus will be built in Richmond means new jobs for our community now and in the long term, new educational opportunities for our students, and more innovations and new discoveries for our country."

Flash: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Chooses Richmond!

Monday January 23, 2012 - 09:42:00 AM
Proposed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Design for Richmond Field Station Site
Proposed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Design for Richmond Field Station Site

The Planet received this email this morning, forwarded by Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt:

I received a call this morning from Paul Alivasatos, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, informing me that they have decided to make the Richmond Field Station and the City of Richmond the home for their second campus.

I would like to thank the Richmond City Council for their enthusiastic support for this important economic development project, the many City of Richmond staff members who worked to provide technical support in the decision-making process, and the Richmond community for providing the warm welcome mat that was undoubtedly a major factor in their decision.

I will provide more details as they become available. In the meantime, please enjoy this great bit of news and let's look forward to continued success.

Bill Lindsay

[Richmond] City Manager

Further details will be available later today.

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Press Release: LBNL Announces Choice of Richmond Field Station for Expansion Site

From Jon Wiener, LBNL
Monday January 23, 2012 - 09:50:00 AM

The University of California announced today that it has identified the Richmond Field Station as its preferred site for the proposed consolidation of its biosciences programs of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The University of California-owned site presents the best opportunity to solve the Lab’s pressing space problems while allowing for long term growth and maintaining the 80 year tradition of close cooperation with the UC Berkeley Campus. 

With this identification of a preferred site, the University will now move ahead with developing environmental impact studies and with the process of seeking final approval from the US Department of Energy for the project. 

“Each city, community, and their developer partners presented extremely thoughtful and well-formulated proposals for us to consider, for which we are deeply grateful,” says Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos. ”The communities of Albany, Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Richmond have been true partners in this process. While we can only pick one site, we hope that the new relationships we’ve made will continue to help us foster excitement in science. The enthusiasm is wonderful affirmation of the desire of the entire East Bay to be part of developing scientific solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our society.” 

The University of California received more than 20 responses when a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) was released earlier this year. The number of sites under review was narrowed in May to: 

Alameda Point, in the city of Alameda; 

Berkeley Aquatic Park West, located in West Berkeley; 

Brooklyn Basin, located in Oakland; 

Emeryville/Berkeley, (includes properties currently occupied by the Lab in Emeryville and West Berkeley); 

Golden Gate Fields, spanning the cities of Berkeley and Albany; 

Richmond Field Station, a site currently owned by the University of California. 

# # #

Occupy Cal is Back

By Steven Finacom
Thursday January 19, 2012 - 09:17:00 PM

As rain moved into the Bay Area for the first time since—when, November of last year?—Occupy Cal did in fact re-emerge on the UC Berkeley campus.

January 18, 2012, the second day of classes for the Spring semester, saw two illicit banners hung from campus buildings. The most prominent, a long, colorful streamer apparently painted on plastic and bolstered with wood at top and bottom, hung down the west face of the Sather Campanile. 

It read “Time UC Us Occupy”, but after tangling up in the clock hands and wind, only the top and bottom letters remained readable. University Police soon removed it, but probably not before thousands of pictures were snapped from cell phones as students walked through their mid-day class changes. 

The second banner was hung from the upper arcade of Eshleman Hall, facing north, over Lower Sproul Plaza and overlapping the office windows of the Daily Californian, which quickly and duly reported its message, “F—k You Birgeneau”, a perplexing sentiment if the Occupy movement hopes for conciliation, not confrontation, with the UC Berkeley Chancellor this semester. 

The next day, Thursday the 19th, campus buildings were peppered with flyers advertising a noontime rally and “General Assembly”, as well as a “study-in” at the Anthropology Library where staff and schedule cuts have taken place. 

The rally didn’t draw crowds. I walked past about halfway through the lunch hour. There were signs and speakers, but probably no more than about 50 people participating. About 30 individuals, by my count, sat down for the General Assembly. The few minutes I listened to were fairly brisk and businesslike; announcements about websites, gatherings, planning activities, and what other local protest groups were doing. 

At 3:00 PM demonstrators moved to the Anthropology Library in Kroeber Hall. Various news reports posted on-line indicate about 40 people stayed inside past the scheduled 5:00 p.m. closing. 

On this page are photographs of the January 18 and January 19 events.

New: Richmond Leads in Transportation Choices - Circular Shuttle and Easy Go Richmond

By Councilman Tom Butt, Richmond
Sunday January 22, 2012 - 11:04:00 AM

Two pioneering and largely free transportation programs providing shuttles, electric car rentals, bicycle sharing, van sharing, kid’s cab service and 40% off transit passes are now up and running in Richmond, dramatically increasing access to transportation and transportation choices to persons previously transportation challenged.

The FREE Richmond Circular Shuttle began operation through its service provider- TransMetro, Inc. on July 1, 2011. The service is funded through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and can be accessed within a five mile radius to multiple health facilities and clinics, pharmacies, businesses, recreation, residential communities, and employment centers for those traveling to and from the El Cerrito Del Norte and Richmond Intermodal BART stations. 


In an effort to provide the highest level of quality, dependability, reliability, customer service and a convenient schedule, riders can hop aboard the free “Richmond Circular Shuttle" at any of its 11 stops. Buses will arrive every 15-20 minutes during commute hours from 7:00am - 7:00pm (excluding weekends and holidays). 


The objectives of the service is to ensure mobility and access and to link key regional destinations through reliable public transportation services including bus, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Amtrak for all of Richmond residents to travel to and from San Francisco and other Bay Area destinations. The service uncommon efficiency to meet evolving transportation needs promotes quality service and reliability. 


Click here for Circular Shuttle schedules and maps. 


Stop I: Richmond BART station: 1700 Nevin Avenue, Richmond CA. 

Stop A: Richmond Civic Center/City Hall, 450 Civic Center Plaza 

Stop B: Transit Stop: W. Macdonald at Garrard Blvd 

(Connection to AC Transit 72M, 607, 673, 681) 

Stop C: Contra Costa County Health Offices, 3rd Street at Chesley Ave. 

Stop D: Local Community Stop: Rumrill Blvd at Sutter Avenue 

Stop E: Contra Costa College/Shopping Ctr., El Portal Dr at Mission Bell Dr 

Stop F: Doctor’s Medical Center, 2000 Vale Road 

Stop G: San Pablo Lytton Casino, 13255 San Pablo Avenue 

Stop H: Retail Center: San Pablo Avenue at Macdonald 

(Service Frequency: 15-20 minutes) 


The City of Richmond held a Ribbon Cutting ceremony on January 10, 2012, to launch its new Greenprint Transportation project, “Easy Go Richmond”. The ceremony unveiled the “Easy Go Richmond” program, along with its electric and hybrid vehicles, charging stations and bicycle sharing.

“Easy Go” is Richmond’s groundbreaking shift towards greener transportation initiatives. Services include a “Kid’s Cab” shuttle service that supports transporting elementary school-aged children to and from after-school activities; carsharing that allows drivers to rent electric and hybrid vehicles and to offer their own vehicles for use; bikesharing, a healthy and convenient service that provides bicycles for use; van services for weekend recreational use; and transit access passes, supplying public transportation users with great deals and benefits. 


The Easy Go program includes five easy transportation options: 

1. KIDS CAB, Online Ridematching/Bike-Buddy >>REGISTER>> 

Kids Cab for eligible participants will pick/drop kids to school and after school activities. We also offer online ridematching and bike-buddy group lists. For reservation and eligibility, please see your on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines or call us to schedule a visit. We are located inside Resident Management Office or give us a call. 

2. Deviated Route Transportation for Grocery runs, Shopping trips, community events and recreation activities >>REGISTER>> 

For reservation, please see your on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines or call us to schedule a visit. We are located inside Resident Management Office. 

3. Transit Assistance Program 

For your free transit access, please see our on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines. 

4. Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Carsharing Program 

For training and reservation, please see our on-site transportation coordinators at Richmond Village and Monterey Pines. Vehicles can be reserved through our partner www.getaround.com staring mid-January for as little as $3 per hour. Insurance, voltage, and vehicle rental all included in the hourly fee of as little as $3 per hour. 

5. Bikesharing Program 

For bicycle rental and reservation, please see your on-site transportation coordinators. 

For Easy Go Richmond Information: Richmond Village, 700 South 26th Street, Richmond CA, 94804, Call: (510) 830-5144, Email: info@easygorichmond.com

Press Release: AC Transit Chooses New Bus Rapid Transit Director

From Clarence Johnson AC Transit Media Affairs Manager
Monday January 23, 2012 - 09:50:00 AM

AC Transit today announced the hiring of a veteran transit engineering expert to head the agency’s Bus Rapid Transit Program. Arul Edwin, who has successfully managed similar transportation projects from Boston to Seattle, is now the Program Director for a BRT plan that will modernize and improve East Bay bus service.  

“As director, Arul Edwin brings strong credentials and a wealth of experience to our BRT program at a critical time in its development,” said Interim General Manager Mary King. “His leadership skills in public transit-- including mitigating community concerns as well as traffic and environmental issues-- will shepherd the project’s design, engineering, and construction activities, creating much-needed jobs and stimulating local businesses and economic development.”  

Once completed, the BRT system promises to reduce travel times, traffic congestion and ozone emissions, and generally benefit the environment overall. 

Among other things, Edwin served as Area Traffic Manager for the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston for the Massachusetts Highway Department. His duties included performing construction staging, Intelligent Transportation System design and implementation, and traffic management during construction for the downtown area. 

In addition, Edwin has been the Project Manager for the I-405 Design Build/ Bus Rapid Transit Project in Seattle, WA; has served as Project Manager for the Santa Clara County Measure A Program-- preparing a Strategic Plan and Capital Project planning; and, as the Design Manager, has prepared environmental documents, and final bid documents for freeway widening and interchange implementation. 

Edwin has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and three master’s degrees, including one from UC Berkeley, specializing in transportation engineering.  

Edwin’s strong 25-year background with large scale transit projects, and his years of local experience and training, makes him “the perfect fit” for AC Transit’s BRT program, King said. 

“I am pleased to have the opportunity to join this program at this critical stage in development,” Edwin said. “It is one of highest rated and most beneficial transit developments in the region and it will soon be ready to put people to work.” 

Construction of the BRT project will create local construction jobs and contribute to the economy by generating additional jobs that will support construction. Construction is expected to begin in 2014, and be fully implemented in 2016. 


About Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) 

AC Transit’s vision is to provide a truly world-class transit service that is convenient, reliable and safe; one that increases mobility, enhances the quality of life, and improves the health of the environment throughout the communities it serves. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will link one of the busiest traffic corridors in the country with a fast, economical and environmentally-friendly means of transportation. BRT will be a high-capacity rapid transit system that reduces passenger travel times. With dedicated lanes and signal priority, and prominent stations with convenient boarding of buses, BRT will offer residents a viable alternative to driving on congested city streets. It will reduce traffic levels, significantly cutting emissions and pollutants. BRT is essentially light rail without the tracks. It combines the express service and capacity of light rail with the convenience and affordability of riding the bus. It can be planned and built at much less expense, and more quickly, than traditional light rail systems. 


Press Release: Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life to Open in Downtown Berkeley

By Kathleen Maclay,UCB Media Relations
Friday January 20, 2012 - 12:51:00 PM

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, the latest addition to the city’s burgeoning downtown arts and culture district, is opening to the public on Sunday, Jan. 22. 

The grand opening, which runs from noon to 4 p.m. and is free, will take place at the collection’s new, 25,000-square-foot facility at 2121 Allston Way, near campus and Downtown Berkeley BART. The celebration will feature music, food and exhibitions of contemporary artists’ projects and highlights from the Magnes permanent collection of precious art, rare books and objects that represent the culture of Jews in the global Diaspora and the American West. 

The new Magnes offers unprecedented on-site access to most of the nearly 15,000-item collection in its new conference and research rooms, auditorium and galleries. In addition, the Magnes’ Western Jewish Americana archives, the world’s largest collection of letters, diaries, photographs and documents relating to the Jewish settlement of the West, are now available at UC Berkeley at The Bancroft Library’s Heller Reading Room. 

The building is a former printing plant that was updated for the Magnes by Peter Pfau (Pfau Long Architecture, San Francisco) and Oblio Jenkins (Pacassa Studio, Oakland) with a blend of vintage and modern design.. The interior glass walls and inventive open storage display provide an intimate and powerful connection to objects from around the world. 

The new facility emerged from a groundbreaking partnership between one of the first Jewish museums in the country – the former Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley, Bancroft and several generous donors. Staff and supporters said the partnership gives critically needed new life to the collections, while enhancing Bancroft’s research holdings, elevating Jewish scholarship on campus, making The Magnes collections more accessible to scholars and the community, and providing a new gathering place for cultural and academic events. 

Alla Efimova, who is the Jacques and Esther Reutlinger Director of The Magnes, said the opening marks the transition to a radically new model for identity-based museums and collections. 

“We are no longer required to tell one story,” said Efimova. “Thanks to the partnership with UC Berkeley and Bancroft, we are becoming a ‘library of objects’ serving the next generation of students, researchers, and visitors who can write their own stories based on the treasure trove of resources we are making accessible to them.” 

“The Magnes Collection of Jewish Life and Art is the most varied and comprehensive documentation of a single California community to have joined to the Bancroft family of collections since Hubert Howe Bancroft first assembled his remarkable collection on California and the American West in the 19th century,” said Elaine Tennant, Bancroft director. 

“In the same way that the original Bancroft Collection aimed from the outset at recording the full experience of California and the West in wide-ranging formats and genres, the Magnes Collection is the rich record of Jews in the West and in the global diaspora as told through objects, documents, and images of all kinds,” said Tennant. 

Greeting visitors to The Magnes is a colorful tile mosaic proclaiming: “In remembrance is the secret of redemption.” The mosaic is a fragment of a Holocaust memorial built over a 15-year period by children at the former Camp Swig Jewish summer camp in Saratoga, California. 

Regional Jewish history, a special component of The Magnes, is evident in the facility’s portrait-lined wall that includes such Bay Area Jewish leaders as financier and philanthropist Isaac Glazier (1829-1906); Florence Prag Kahn (1866-1948), the first Jewish woman to serve in the U.S. Congress; and Boris Deutsch (1892-1978), a Lithuanian-born painter and set designer for Hollywood films. 

Special exhibitions will include selections from the permanent collection and site-specific artist projects such as: 

“Dissolving Localities: Berkeley Jerusalem,” an evolving multimedia project by composer and artist Emmanuel Witzthum, a resident fellow at UC Berkeley’s Townsend Center for the Humanities and a visiting artist in the Department of Music. “The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collecting” in the Charles Michael Gallery. It traces The Magnes’ 50-year legacy with art, artifacts and rare books. “Case Study No. 1: Shaken, Not Stirred” in the Warren Hellman Gallery. This exhibit highlights art and artifacts rediscovered by Magnes staff during the move to the new facility, including an 18th century Shofar, a horn used for religious purposes, a 19thcentury wedding dress from Rhodes, Turkey, and a bronze statuette by 20th century sculptor Chana Orloff. “The Spill,” a digital film created for The Magnes launch by Berkeley artist GaleAntokal. It will be projected on the wall of the Koret Foundation/Tad Taube Lobby. 

Throughout the year, The Magnes’ educational and public programs will include tours, lectures, artist talks and scholarly symposia, as well as collaborations with local cultural and performing arts institutions. 

“The Magnes is a wonderful new teaching and research resource to have available to the campus and local communities. Indeed the first UC Berkeley class (on music in Israel) to be taught in Magnes started this week,” said Tennant. “It’s a great beginning.” 


Squeaky Wheels on Telegraph Bring Down the Heat

By Ted Friedman
Thursday January 19, 2012 - 09:02:00 PM
Urban Strider can't wait to eat the store, now that's he's won a month's pig-out in a drawing.
Ted Friedman
Urban Strider can't wait to eat the store, now that's he's won a month's pig-out in a drawing.
"You mean you're not going to sign a letter congratulating the university for cutting down trees in People's Park?" Running Wolf--sworn to protect trees in the park--and Craig Becker, sworn to protect the Med from undesirables, many of whom hang out in the Med.
Ted Friedman
"You mean you're not going to sign a letter congratulating the university for cutting down trees in People's Park?" Running Wolf--sworn to protect trees in the park--and Craig Becker, sworn to protect the Med from undesirables, many of whom hang out in the Med.
Al Geyer, outside his store, Annapurna, 2416 telegraph. "I can put up with a lot from the street, but not when it 'chumps' my store."
Ted Friedman
Al Geyer, outside his store, Annapurna, 2416 telegraph. "I can put up with a lot from the street, but not when it 'chumps' my store."
Clear view from apartment building at West end of People's Park, after university cleared vines and tall bushes that had blocked the view. Good surveillance of drug deals? Selling point renting apartments?
Ted Friedman
Clear view from apartment building at West end of People's Park, after university cleared vines and tall bushes that had blocked the view. Good surveillance of drug deals? Selling point renting apartments?

On the way back from a photo shoot, Friday, at Pepe's pig-out , an all-you-can-eat near campus, I stumbled into a civic meet-on-the-street. The street was Telegraph Avenue, known throughout the world for riots and weird. 

The shoot had been a hoot, and I was in a pretty good mood. Urban Strider, had "commissioned" the shoot to document his winning a month's worth of pig-outs. Perhaps Strider will be able to pay the rent, now that he's eating free. 

I thought I recognized the Berkeley police chief, and a representative from the city manager's office. I could hardly believe my eyes that the chief was in civvies. 

But there he was all right, at 9 p.m. 

Later, I learned the meet was private, even if held so openly. I made a quick decision to joke around with everyone, and get the story later. 

But when Craig Becker, owner of Telegraph's notorious Caffe Mediterraneum, later lobbied the chief outside the Med, I went out to eavesdrop. 

Becker and the Chief eyeballed me warily, so I kept my distance, but I did hear the chief say that the force had to observe the rights of everyone on the street. I had heard this philosophy from various cops. 

Becker has been having his usual problems with street tramps outside his doors. 

Becker, who presides over an association of Telegraph Ave. property owners, thinks he's on a roll after the university trimmed People's Park in ways the owners had requested in a letter to Ed Denton, a Cal vice-chancellor who oversees the park. 

The letter was mainly authored by Becker. 

Two squad cars of BPD—four officers—next evening, conducted their own street meet with a gaggle of self-described street tramps. 

Was this Becker on a roll? Or was it Becker in a hole. 

Perhaps Medheads enjoyed being blinded by a squad car searchlight glaring them down from the curb. Customers at the Dustin Hoffman window-seat table got the brunt of the blinding stare, and the adjoining table was annoyed. 

Asked if this was bad for business, Becker wouldn't comment, because he said he hadn't seen it. 

"I hope you're not one of those "sophomoric solipsists, who believe only what happens to them," I said. 


Joking with the Man at the Street Meet 

At the Friday street-meet, I talked to the chief about my last cops piece, which he had read. The piece was about a beef I got into with university cops in People's Park. "It was a real howler," I said of the piece. The chief agreed that the piece was funny, then gave me the point of view of the cops. 

I think he said the cops were just "gun-shy." The fact that I was talking to a videographer from Copwatch may have gone against me, as well. The chief knew the Copwatcher by name. Who's watching whom? 

We agreed that Berkeley wasn't always gracious with university police, even though the present generation of university cops was too young to remember the war between the people of Berkeley and the university in 1969. 

Recently, I asked a university cop, how old he was in 1969, and he said he was reading comic books at the time of the park riots. 

A policeman who took part in the bloody struggles of 1969 would be sixty-five or seventy—retired. 

The representative of the city manager's office cautioned me to not take too much of the chief's time, because the chief needed to go home to his wife and kids. 

What had been so important to bring him out, I wondered. 

I had walked through an encampment of kids sitting, and sprawling on the walk, the kids not realizing the chief was watching. It's illegal to lie on the walks in Berkeley. 

By this time the meet was breaking up, but Becker seemed not to notice that the chief wanted to go home already. 


Telegraph Head Shop Owner Tells All, Sort Of 

Al Geyer has owned and operated one of the oldest head shops in the world—1969. To walk into his store on Teley is to walk into the bygone era of novelty shops, but with its own light-show, and radio station, an eclectic mix of opera to country, Bartok to Beetles and—what else?—bongs 

I sought him out in his store to get the story of the street-meet. Geyer had written a letter to call the street-meet, sort of. 

He had written the letter to the city manager, and someone in the manager's office had invited the chief. 

"Must have been a helluva letter." I said. 

Geyer would not divulge the letter's contents, but is quite the talker, and talk tells the story. 

Taking photos in the shop is forbidden, because Geyer would rather not give away any secrets of running a novelty-head shop, rather than just-another-pipes store. 

I hope I don't give away his secrets. 

It soon became clear that Geyer had uncorked on the city. The week before, Geyer had taken me on a disgruntled tour of lower Teley, in which he missed no depressing sign of the decline of Telegraph. 

In a contest of show-and-tells, I showed him a possible new surveillance perch for People's Park drug cops to use in their war on drugs in the park. 

The Sequoia Apartments fire, "a death-blow to Teley," was just the tip of the iceberg, Geyer said. Business on the famous street has spiraled downward for years. 

Geyer has told me he can survive lean times, but he doesn't like his store to be "chumped." Chumped turns out to be pissed on. Somehow that was too much. 

I promised to keep my own pissing away from his doorway. Is this the story: that Geyer was pissed on, then pisses on Berkeley? 


Google Ted Friedman, as Steed Dropout, to read his blogs—The Lurid Stories Behind the Lurid Stories. His followup to this story will compare the Haight-Ashbury to Telegraph Avenue.

My Palm Springs Adventure (First Person)

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Friday January 20, 2012 - 03:45:00 PM

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the wonderful, vibrant Bay Area tend to dismiss, indeed look down on other towns and cities in our Golden State. This is a totally incorrect perception, as I hope to prove in the account of my trip to Palm Springs last week. On January 9th, along with 27 members of the Emeryville Senior Center, we met in the parking lot of the old City Hall, and boarded a bus, with driver Greg and a very efficient tour director, Mary Soo-Hoo. Our destination was Palm Springs -- a ten hour trip given rest stops along the way and lunch in Fresno. Driving through the Mojave Desert we arrived at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on North Canyon Drive, too weary for dinner. Ah, but the next morning we woke to brilliant sunshine and had our first glimpse of this beautiful city with its Spanish Colonial architecture and massive Mount San Jacinto mountains in the background, to say nothing of row after row of soaring palm trees. 

On our first full day we boarded the bus and headed to Indian Canyon Trading Post for an hour-long hike. We then had lunch at the Mizell Senior Center -- a bit fancier than our North Berkeley Senior Center. Lunch was a mere $4.00 and quite tasty. We next boarded the bus where a step on guide took us on a Celebrity Tour of Palm Springs. We were surprised to learn that Sonny Bono was once mayor; there's a life-sized statute of him in the center of town. Another very large house is that of Ann Miller, and Liberace had quite a mansion also. We had to peer through gates to see these residences. Frank Sinatra practically put this city on the map with his generous donations to charitable causes. His house contains seven bathrooms since he didn't want guests to wait! 

One of our more exciting trips was that to the Living Desert, a wildlife adventure through the deserts of the world, which we viewed at close range on an open tram. Here we saw African and North American Gardens, a Village Watutu, giraffes, camels and a Petting Kraai, the latter a great thrill for children. 

Perhaps the most entertaining event of our trip was the famous "Fabulous Palm Spring Follies", a show of gorgeous costumes, great legs, and, believe it or not, ravishing dancers in their 70's and 80's. Following that show we had a hosted dinner at Lulu California Bistro. 

Our final day was a rather exhausting one, driving what seemed like hours through the Coachella Valley where we were rewarded with a superb steak dinner at the famous Harris Ranch Restaurant, where most of us got pleasantly stoned. 

As all good things come to an end, the Sierra Pacific Bus headed back to Emeryville with everyone agreeing that the Palm Springs Adventure had been a huge success.

Johnny Otis, Raised in Berkeley, Dies at 90

Friday January 20, 2012 - 04:35:00 PM

Berkeley's own Johnny Otis died yesterday at the age of 90. His Greek-American family ran a corner grocery store in an African-American Oceanview neighborhood, and young Johnny fell in love with Black culture, especially music, and joined up for the duration. Here's a good obit: from the Chronicle.  

From YouTube: "Johnny Otis performs his monster hit "Willie and the Hand Jive" on his TV show. Late fifties? with Marie Adams, the Three Tons of Joy, and Lionel Hampton." 



Would a Fourth Term for Mayor Bates Make Berkeley "The Best It Can Be?"

By Becky O'Malley
Friday January 20, 2012 - 10:57:00 AM

This week I was sorting through the voluminous boxes of paper that came home when we closed the office a couple of years ago and I ran across a handsome glossy brochure headed “MAKING BERKELEY THE BEST IT CAN BE” with subhead “To Do List”. It featured 5 sincerely charming photos of Tom Bates, whose signed statement on the outside describes the document as “my ‘to do’ list for making Berkeley a healthy, vibrant, and green city.”

In fact, it was Bates’ 2008 campaign mailer, sent to every voter in Berkeley, a majority of whom bought his Kool-Aid and re-elected him to a third term.
Since today’s rumor mill reports that Mayor Bates, now almost 73, has decided to run again, in tandem with his wife Loni Hancock’s decision to seek another state senate term, it might be a good time to evaluate his performance using his own checklist. He’s been in office close to a decade now, so he’s had his chance to accomplish something if he’s ever going to. .
Here are his goals (in italics) followed by grades: 

Make Berkeley America's Greenest City. [in extra-large type, on a bright green background.] 

Redouble our environmental efforts with cutting edge policy, expanded parks and playing fields, and a thriving green economy. Lead efforts for local green power, solar-intensive green building requirements, and improved transit. Following the passage of Measure G, launch a community-wide initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Well, everything that’s happened everywhere in the last four years, including in Berkeley, has been furiously green-washed, but we still don’t exactly have “a thriving green economy”. In particular, the mayor’s much-touted Berkeley First program, which induced homeowners to borrow against their home equity to install solar technology, was a dismal failure and has been cancelled. And transit, far from being improved, has gotten steadily worse. Let’s give this one a D. 


Work to revitalize Berkeley's downtown. Continue the resurgence of downtown Berkeley by supporting development of a world-class hotel, museum, arts and entertainment center and public plaza at Center Street.  

The hotel has vanished, the museum has been much scaled down and still not built, the public plaza is nowhere to be seen, nor is the arts and entertainment center in evidence four years later. This would have to be an F


Provide universal quality after school programs. Berkeley was named the "teen healthiest city" in California. Expand efforts to provide all Berkeley children access to after-school and pre-school programs as well as health and social services in schools.  

The after-school and pre-school programs that I’m familiar with have experienced drastic program cuts. This is not exactly Bates’ fault, but then again it was never exactly a function of city government in the first place. Maybe a C? 


Hold Cal accountable. Ensure the University of California lives up to the historic partnership agreement signed in 2005 and stop the University's plan to build a massive new garage and sports training facility on Gayley Road. 

Well, here we have a clear F. U.C. Berkeley is still the two-ton elephant which sleeps anywhere it wants, and the Mayor’s been its best ally. The city refused to join the citizen lawsuit to prevent the building of the massive bunker which is now taking shape on Gayley Road around the remains of U.C.’s steroid-enhanced Memorial Stadium. Providing services to U.C. is still costing the city much more than it receives as reimbursement under the toothless so-called “ historic partnership agreement.” 


Reduce homelessness. Work regionally to develop housing with supportive services for the homeless. .Expand street outreach, mental health, and substance abuse programs. Develop clear and enforceable rules about appropriate street behavior.  

Anyone who still goes downtown in Berkeley can judge how well this one has gone. My guess is that most people would give it a D. Many of these problems, of course, are not soluble at the city level, so it was wrong in the first place to promise that any mayor could fix them. 


Strengthen neighborhood shopping districts by cutting red tape so new businesses ·can open quickly. Fully implement my Telegraph Avenue revitalization plan.  

Restaurant quotas on Solano, for example, were removed, but it hasn’t made a dent in the vacancies on the street—possibly because deregulation encourages landlords to raise their rents. Every week brings more news of Berkeley business closures. Is closing the Andronico’s store part of that Telegraph revitalization plan? If not, what’s the plan, man? Another F. 


Protect neighborhoods from inappropriate development by restricting large buildings to major transit corridors and ensuring great design. Direct staff and the Planning Commission to work with the community to craft "neighborhood conservation zones" that protect the unique character of our low-density residential neighborhoods. 

Huh? What “neighborhood conservation zones” has he “crafted”? Ask the neighbors of the big and ugly Parker Place development, approved by the city council this week with Bates leading the cheers, whether they think that the “unique character” of their “low-density residential neighborhood” has been protected. Again, F


Pass a strong Sunshine Ordinance that ensures an open and accountable government from top to bottom.  

Does passing an ordinance that’s weak as water count as a plus or a minus? No strong Sunshine Ordinance has been proposed or passed, just a pale imitation of one, which is why a citizen initiative has put another one on the ballot instead. Maybe D minus? 


Build new sports fields. Construct five new sports fields on Gilman Street near 1-80. Work with the school district and neighbors to build the "curvy Derby" plan for a baseball field at Derby and martin Luther King without closing the street. Locate and build a new warm water pool.  

Well, the former Cal football player finally scored on this one. Not only did he get his sports fields near the freeway, he got them named after himself. Way to go, Tom! “Curvy Derby” and the warm water pool, however, are still verses in my favorite protest song: “There’ll be Pie in the Sky By and By.” Another D.  


Expand the arts, crafts, and environmental business in West Berkeley by supporting new efforts to provide permanent arts space and create a hub for innovative and environmental businesses.  

What’s happened instead is that the zoning protections for local industrial businesses and arts and crafts spaces in West Berkeley have been weakened, and opportunities for big multinationals and UC spinoffs have increased. Since the ultimate outcome is still unknown, we’ll let this one squeeze by with a D+. 


All in all, judging by the Bates’ organization’s own criteria as presented here in their 2008 campaign brochure, Tom Bates seems to have done a poor job in the last four years. It’s almost impossible to defeat an incumbent, but does he really deserve four more years? 

He’ll be 77 by the time the next term ends—and as someone who’s almost as old as he is, and who frequently watches his inept council performances, I’m not sure that’s a plus. Of course, he could follow the custom established by the local political pros—he could pull a Loni and quit before his term ends in favor of a hand-picked unelected successor. 

Is there no one out there who really wants to “make Berkeley the best it can be” and is able to deliver on these promises? 

Councilmembers Worthington, Anderson and Arreguin are conscientious, intelligent and hard-working—could any of them be drafted? How about City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan, an elected official respected by citizens with all points of view on city finances? 

If we can’t quite make Berkeley the best it can be, surely we can at least do better. We could start by actually trying to implement Bates' 2008 campaign promises. 

The Editor's Back Fence

THIS JUST IN! New Lab to Be Build on UC Berkeley's Richmond Property!

Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 11:31:00 AM

The giant whoop-de-doo over Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's decision to expand its bioscience research to U.C. Berkeley's Richmond Field Station is mind-boggling. Front page headline in the metro daily! Dog Bites Man--Read It Here!

What's mysterious is why such a fuss was made in the first place with purported consideration of other sites, given that the university already owned this obviously perfect site. The only explanation that makes sense is that it's The Planners' Full Employment Stimulus Program, given that hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended on fancy video-enhanced bids that, rightfully, should never have had a chance.

What if—just what if—the powers that be at the two UC-related players had simply announced that "we own a lovely site down by the bay, and we're putting our new labs there"? Period.

Who could cavil? Just sayin'.

Want to Run for Mayor of Berkeley? MoveOn Wants You!

Monday January 23, 2012 - 12:20:00 PM

Yes, yes, I know the email from MoveOn reprinted below is just a fill-in-the-blanks template, and not a comment on the state of the city here in Berkeley, but it makes you think, doesn't it? Anyone up for the challenge? Just click on the links below and see what happens!

The part about making "sure city employees don't lose their pensions" might not resonate the same way with all of us, of course.....

From Kat Barr, MoveOn.org Political Action
If you were mayor of Berkeley, what would be the first thing you'd do? Make sure city employees don't lose their pensions? Support green business startups? Or maybe fight back against cuts to crucial local services?

This isn't just a hypothetical scenario—it's exactly what more than 4,000 MoveOn members just like you have been thinking about since taking the first step to run for elective office. And they're not just running for mayor. They're exploring running for offices including school board, town council, and state legislature in cities and towns across the country.

If you've ever thought, "I've got some ideas for doing things differently in Berkeley," or seen a local politician and thought, "If that were me, things would be different," then it's time to join thousands of other progressives across the country and run for office.  

And if you decide to run, you won't be alone. You'll be part of a nationwide progressive strategy to take back local offices in 2012 and beyond. To help give you the resources you need to run a competitive campaign, we've partnered with the New Organizing Institute to provide you with online training and strategic advice. Trust me—running for office is easier than you think. So what do you say? 

Yes, I'd consider running for office. 

Back in 2010, tea party candidates, backed by national tea party groups, were elected to hundreds of local offices. That's exactly what we're going to do in 2012—but with a wave of candidates who will stand up for the 99% in communities across the country.  

If you decide to run, you'll gain access to the New Organizing Institute's great online training programs. And to help progressive candidates in 2012, they've created a comprehensive set of candidate guides. Here are some examples of what you'll have access to: 


  • Expert online courses on how to run your own campaign and how to get started
  • Help finding the elected position that's right for you
  • An online community so that you can ask questions and share advice with other progressive candidates around the nation
  • A database of time-tested strategic campaign tips, and more
So if you've ever wanted to change things in California, or imagined yourself running for office in Berkeley, now's the time. 


What do you think? Are you in? 

Yes, I'd consider running for office.  

Thanks for all you do. 

–Kat, Elena, Tate, Garlin, and the rest of the team

Public Comment

New: Self Immolations and Tibet

By Tenzin Dorjee
Thursday January 26, 2012 - 09:17:00 AM

The Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012 has spawned hundreds of books, films, plays and satires. Although the public fascination with apocalyptic stories does not necessarily translate into real belief, I admit to secretly subscribing to an alternative vision of a 2012 apocalypse—one where the world is cleansed of tyranny, colonialism, and totalitarianism.  

If the watershed events of the past year were any indication, we have reason to believe that in 2012 dictatorships everywhere will have a harder time withstanding the wave of resistance that is brewing in the streets, on the web, in the tea houses, and in people's minds.  

Barely three weeks into the year, we're seeing groundbreaking change in Burma, where hundreds of political prisoners have been released and Aung San Suu Kyi has gone from being a prisoner of the state to the nation's most esteemed stateswoman. As the structures of oppression fall—whether in neighboring Burma or in distant Tunisia— the democratic pressure on China intensifies.  

Tibetans are at the forefront of this revolutionary wave. In the last 11 months, 16 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in protest of Chinese rule, laying bare the colossal failure of China's colonial project in Tibet. The self-immolations—as overwhelming as they are underreported—are a flashpoint for the growing resistance movement in Tibet. Beijing is quickly learning that it can imprison Tibetans, but not their ideas, their words, or their dreams.  

In spite of China's pitch-black oppression, Tibetans are charging forward, armed with their nonviolent weaponry of political protest, economic noncooperation, civil disobedience, cultural renaissance and social innovation. And while we have been devastated by each incident of self-immolation, we have also been inspired by the unparalleled courage and sacrifice that motivated these acts. 

It was with a similar courage that a hundred years ago, on March 26, 1912, Tibetans formally declared war against Imperial China, effectively ending the Manchu invasion of Tibet. In 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama formally declared Tibetan independence.  

2012 marks a century since the collapse of the Manchu empire. My vision of apocalyptic change in China does not seem out of place at a time when people across the Chinese empire are restless for freedom from corruption, inequality, pollution, poverty and repression. The message from Tibet is clear: there is no turning back. I believe Tibetans will once again be ready to seize the moment and restore Tibet's independence, taking our rightful place in the global community of sovereign nations.  

My belief in this future is reaffirmed every day, not only by the tectonic political shifts that are changing the world beneath our feet, but also by my personal interactions with friends and strangers - sometimes at the most unexpected moments.  

A few days ago at the Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya, India, I saw a middle-aged woman with a familiar face walking past me. I caught her attention with a respectful nod and asked, "Achala, have we met before?"  

She smiled and replied in impeccable Lhasa dialect, "Not sure... but where are you from?" Answering that I was from New York but previously from Dharamsala, I asked where she was from.  

"Well, I'm from Lhasa," she replied courteously. With a Lhasa accent that strong, I thought to myself, it was almost unnecessary to name the place.  

"Oh, really?" I couldn't conceal my excitement at meeting someone from Tibet. "I must have seen you in Lhasa then; I was there in 2007 for a few days. I must have seen you in Bharkor Square."  

"Ah, that explains it," her eyes twinkled. I could tell that she felt extremely fortunate to be one of the few thousand Tibetans to cut through China's nightmarish political restrictions to attend the Kalachakra in India. As we parted, she held my hand tightly in a way older Tibetans do when saying farewell to close relatives. With a calm yet intense gaze, she said:  

"We will meet again. I think we will all meet again, very soon, back home."  

We both knew what she meant. I said, yes, we absolutely will.  

Tenzin Dorjee is the Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, a global grassroots network of students and activists working for Tibetan freedom. 

He and the group’s former Executive Director, Lhadon Tethong, along with Jigme Ugen, President of Minnesota Tibetan Youth Congress, will be speaking about the recent spate of self-immolations in Tibet at the following event: "TIBET BURNING : Resistance and Repression in Tibet Today" 

When: Friday, Jan 27 from 7PM
Where: UC Berkeley
(Evans Hall, Room # 60)

New: Jerusalem Concert by Children's Orchestra Cancelled by Israeli Government Action

By Samia Nasir Khoury
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 09:20:00 AM

Friends and family who know me well know how I would love to hibernate in winter. I am just not a winter person, and I would never contemplate stepping out of the house on a rainy day, especially these days when my falls have become unpredictable. Last Sunday seemed to be a nice sunny day, but by noon it turned to be a very rainy and wet day. The Jerusalem children’s orchestra of the Edward Said National Conservatory was scheduled to perform at the Cultural Palace in Ramallah, and the next day at the National Theatre in Ramallah. I already made up my mind to go the next day to Jerusalem and avoid the drive through Kalandia where the road ends up more like a river when the heavy rains fall. But alas the last minute the concert in Jerusalem was cancelled because the children from the West Bank were not granted permits. 

For the love of my granddaughter Rand (11) who plays the cello with the orchestra, I was not going to hibernate on that dreadful Sunday afternoon. The children had spent the last three days at the music camp site in Birzeit training for that concert, and they did a marvelous job. As I listened to a lovely variety—Chopin, Sousa, Gershwin, Vivaldi and others—I could not but wonder, why would the Israeli authority prevent children ages 11-16 to get into Jerusalem. Are their violins, cellos , bassoons, or trumpets any threat to the security of Israel? Or is it one more harassing measure to deprive the children and the community from a little bit of pleasure? They grudge us even that much while they claim they are the centre of enlightenment and culture. 

Samia Nasir Khoury retired in 2003 after serving for 17 years as president of Rawdat El-Zuhur, a coeducational elementary school for the lower income community in East Jerusalem. She continues to serve as treasurer of the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem and on the board of trustees of Birzeit University in Birzeit, Palestine. 

Samia was deeply involved with the YWCA, including serving as the national president of the YWCA of Jordan for two terms (as the Palestinian West Bank had been annexed to Jordan in 1950). When Jordan severed its ties with the West Bank in 1988, the YWCA of Palestine was reestablished, and she was its first president from 1991-96. Her breadth of international experience has also included addressing two UN NGO Forums: in New York in 1996, and in Athens in 2000.

Welcome Back Streicher!- The Alabama-Arizona Immigration Laws Recall 1935 Germany

By Jean Damu
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 09:21:00 AM

Is Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, he who roams the nation promoting vicious anti-immigration laws and ordinances a latter day Julius Streicher? 

Oddly and bizarrely the old TV sitcom Welcome Back Kotter brings to mind similarities of Germany’s old Nuremburg laws, and the Kobach inspired new immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona. 

If television were reality (check that, television is reality) Kobach’s disturbing career would be scheduled as a remake of “Welcome back Kotter,” wherein Kotter returned to his high school alma mater as a teacher and took under his wing a motley assemblage of wayward students and mentored them toward near adulthood. 

In the reality version Kris Kobach has returned to his native Kansas after a stellar academic career at Harvard, Oxford and Yale Law. He has taken under his wing a motley assemblage of Nativist racists, often mistaken for Tea Party evangelicals, is mentoring them in formulating Nazi-reminiscent anti-immigration laws and therein resembles not at all the fuzzy, warm-hearted Kotter but rather the jack-booted, brown shirted Julius Streicher, “Jew baiter number one;” promulgator of the fascist Nuremburg Laws of 1935 and among the very few non-military Nazis executed for crimes against humanity by military tribunals at Nuremburg at the close of World War II. 

From 1923 until the fall of the Third Reich in 1945 Streicher was editor of the German tabloid Der Sturmer, (the Atttacker,) possibly the most racist tabloid ever to see the light of day during the 20th Century. The focus of Der Sturmers’ attacks were of course, the Jews. 

From his earliest adult days Streicher was a Hitler groupie. The same year he founded his racist rag Streicher acted as one of Hitler’s bodyguards during the failed Beer Hall putsch after which Hitler was imprisoned. 

Throughout the ensuing years Streicher’s role as editor of Der Sturmer, which often featured racist cartoons of baboonish portrayed Jewish men engaged in sex acts with Aryan looking women, his paper gave him the platform to advocate for greater Nazi bureaucratic efficiency in the legal crackdown on Jewish participation in everyday life. 

While the original Nuremburg Laws, announced at the Nazi Party rally in Nuremburg, served to criminalize sexual relations and contacts between Aryans and Jews, later additions to them, primarily by Joseph Goebbels addressed economic and everyday social relations. For instance, entering into a contract with a Jew became illegal. Renting to a Jew was illegal. Providing social services to Jews became illegal. Jews were relegated to their own schools Ultimately it became illegal for Jews to have money. The intent of all this naturally was to get Jews to leave Germany. 

True to his fascistic nature, for Streicher none of this was enough to get to the root of the so-called “Jew problem.” 

On September 16, 1936 the New York Times reported Streicher’s explicit remarks to newspapermen. The article sub-headlined “The Way to Solve the Problem Is to Exterminate Them,” reported, “The Nuremburg high-priest of Anti-Semitism (Streicher)…announced that in the last analysis, extermination is the only real solution to the Jewish problem. Mr. Streicher made it clear in his address that he was not discussing the question in regard to Germany alone…but of a world problem.” 

Streicher’s final solution policy was not adopted by the Nazi government until several years later, but intermediate steps adopted by Streicher and his followers included organizing brigades of trucks and wagons to gather up Jews and their belongings and dump them on the Czechoslovakia and Germany border in an attempt to cleanse Germany of Jews. 

Though the Nuremburg Laws were, we would like to think, far more extensive, invasive and racist than anything that could possibly be accepted anywhere in America in 2012, there is a disturbing overlap of key provisions of the laws; and the intent, to get the Jews in Germany and undocumented immigrants here, to “deport themselves”, is the same. 

Below are some key provisions of Alabama’s new immigration law. In parentheses we’ve added the word “Jew” to underline the commonality of Alabama and Nuremburg. 

  • One of the most controversial aspects of Alabama’s new immigration law is a requirement that public schools run checks on the immigration (citizenship) status of students in order to collect and track data (similar to the role IBM played in Germany collecting and tracking data on Jews.) However the law does not bar undocumented workers or their children (Jews) from attending schools.
  • prohibitions against most contracts entered into by most undocumented immigrants (Jews);
  • bars on undocumented immigrants (Jews) "business transactions" with the state;
  • criminalizing undocumented immigrants' (Jews) failure to carry registration documents (currently blocked by court challenge).
  • prohibitions against most contracts entered into by unauthorized immigrants (Jews);
  • One key, and controversial, aspect of Alabama's new immigration laws is a requirement that law enforcement officers make an attempt to determine the immigration status of individuals subject to arrest, detention or a traffic stop whenever "reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”
Backers of these laws claim the laws do not promote racial profiling but that makes no sense. The only reason an officer might suspect someone of being undocumented is that they looked Latino or Indian. There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented white people in the US but they rarely get stopped and carded because they are assumed to be US citizens. Racial profiling in reverse, if you will. 

But the real connection between the Nuremburg laws and the Alabama-Arizona laws are the sponsors themselves. We’ve already noted Streicher’s motivations in cleansing Germany of Jews. Alabama State Senator Scott Beason and Representative Micky Hammon were both quoted in a Syracuse University Law School blog as saying, “the goal of the new law is to force illegal immigrants out of the state of Alabama 

Also the US Department of Justice has filed a brief with the 11th circuit court of appeals saying the Alabama law not only is unconstitutional but is nothing more than an attempt to get undocumented workers “to deport themselves,” much as Streicher tried to do with his promotion of the Nuremburg Laws. 

Kobach’s role in all of this has been ample. In his role as chief legal consultant for the far-right FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) Kobach engineered the formulation of the Alabama and Arizona immigration laws and has worked diligently to try to make those laws appeal proof. 

The Alabama-Arizona laws are the bookmark achievements of Kobach’s career to date but, he’s launched other attacks elsewhere with mixed results. 

On behalf of FAIR Kobach sued the state of Kansas for granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. That suit was dismissed for lack of evidence. He was more successful in California where his suit origninally prevailed but was later overturned by the California Supreme Court. 

Kobach also served as the lead attorney defending the city of Valley Park, Mo. in a federal case that challenged an ordinance sanctioning employers who hire the undocumented. After several appeals the ordinance was held to be legal. 

In Farmers Ranch, Texas,. Kobach led the city’s defense of its ordinances that prevented property owners from renting to undocumented workers. Those laws were also struck down. 

In appearance and intellect Kobach is no Striecher. He’s intellectual, talented and worldly. His studies at Oxford resulted in a treatise on the development of capitalism in South Africa. However, just as David Duke attempted to wrap the Ku Klux Klan within a buttoned downed, brief case carrying-pin stripped image a generation ago, Kobach is doing the same today for the far right with Nazi inspired immigration legislations. 

Supporters of Julius Streicher (yes, they still exist) argue he got a raw deal at the tribunals that had him hanged. Had he lived in the US, they say, he would have been protected by freedom of speech laws. They could be right and apparently a lot of people in Alabama and Arizona agree. 

Jean Damu is a member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. He can be reached at jdamu2@yahoo.com 








One Person, One Vote (Except in Berkeley)

By the Occasional Curmudgeon*
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 08:32:00 AM

The Curmudgeon Light was shining on the side of the Campanile the other night, my signal from Planet Editor Becky O’Malley that she wanted me to check in after she’d gotten copies of some emails I’d sent to councilmembers.

“Write something satirical, Curmudge,” Becky ordered, referring to the stultifying subject of voter redistricting, the process of redrawing election districts that follows every decennial census. But how can you be funny about something like redistricting?  

It’s one of those wonkified inside-baseball subjects that few people understand, and so they either nod out or walk away, and before they know it, instead of Dennis Kucinich representing them, they’ve got a rabid Republican who’s proposing to take their Social Security and invest it in Enron…or worse, Pacific Gas & Explosions. This is underway right now in Cleveland, where the Repugs are controlling redistricting in such a way that liberal Democrat Kucinich may not only lose his seat in the House of Representatives but wind up residing in an entirely different district—represented by a Republican—without relocating. In their scorched-earth campaign to take ‘Merica back to the nineteenth century, the Repugs have adopted the tactic that if ya’ can’t beat ‘em, eliminate ‘em. 

Well, not here in good ol’ Berzerkeley, this island of fairness, compassion, and gentility, right? Certainly not among our esteemed city council, composed as it is of allegedly moderate and progressive members, right? Oh. Dowwww, wrong! [Homer-slap to Curmudge forehead.] 

It seems that a majority on the Council has seized on Berkeley’s mandatory reorganization of City Council districts to not only temporarily disenfranchise thousands of residents from voting in the 2012 Council election but as a means of possibly squeezing out the governing body’s two most liberal—and thus, “troublesome”—members, Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin. For the full story on this, the Curmudge commends readers to Editor O’Malley’s report on last Tuesday night’s Council meeting and accompanying editorial in the January 17 Planet. (If you choose to read the editorial aloud, you may want to send the children out of the room, as our editor is, shall we say, a bit steamed about the Council’s behavior these days….) 

Briefly, as the 2010 census revealed an imbalance of residents among the growing population of the City’s eight Council districts, the City Charter requires the districts to be redrawn to ensure equal representation, that is, to meet the Charter requirement of “one person, one vote.” To achieve this, each district must be adjusted to accommodate 14,073 residents, and right now, four districts are short by a total of 4,295 residents, meaning that 4,295 voters must be allocated to different districts than the ones they’re currently living in.  

According to Worthington, six workable plans “on where to draw the lines” to equalize the districts before the 2013 elections were submitted to the Council. However District 8 Councilman Gordon Wozniak “has repeatedly proposed to delay redistricting because there is a [seventh] proposal submitted to create two 80-percent ‘student supermajority’ districts.” Worthington claims it would be “illegal” for the Council to adopt such a proposal because “it conflicts with the City Charter by not coming close to the 1986 boundaries,” not to mention that it would result in ejecting both him and Arreguin from their districts and, of course, the Council. 

Now, this proposal could have been placed on the ballot as an amendment to the Charter for voters to decide, but at the January 17 Council meeting, a majority of our revered solons chose to postpone redistricting until the Council could draft and pass its own Charter amendment accommodating the U.C. student population. And as we all know, the gears of government doth grind slowly, like maybe a couple of years in this case, meaning that more than 4,000 residents—including a couple thousand students—won’t have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming Council election. 

It so happens that the Curmudgeon Cave is located in Councilman Wozniak’s district, coincidentally exactly across the street from Worthington’s. When I learned of the possibility that even one Berkeley resident would be prevented from voting in the next Council election, I got angry and fired off those e-mails to every council member and Mayor Tom Bates. 

“So what comes next?” I fumed. “A poll tax? Means testing? Are we now the Deep South in the nineteenth century? This is ridiculous and un-American—not to mention, ‘un-Berkeley-like.’” 

Hard on the heels of my rant, I received Wozniak’s e-mail quoted verbatim in Becky’s January 17 Council report, presumably dispatched to all District 8 residents. Because Council elections are “staggered,” he explained, half of the seats come up for election every two years, i.e. four this year and the other four in 2014, “a routine process” that Wozniak termed “election deferral.” But what jumped out at me was his statement that this routine process “only affects voting for City Council for a small fraction of people.” 

Once again ignoring my better angels’ whispered advice never to respond in anger, I fired off an e-mail to Wozniak saying, among other things, “Why shouldn’t every legal resident of Berkeley have the right to vote in a council election, even one that’s staggered? I think an argument could be made that decisions of the City Council have a greater immediate impact on the lives of residents than those of any other level of government.” Wozniak responded, essentially reiterating his original boilerplate e-mail—a feeble attempt to educate silly me about the necessary machinations of government—and so it went until the matter was put to rest last Tuesday night with the Council’s majority decision to lay redistricting aside until the City Charter was amended.  

Redistricting was intended to ensure fairness in the election process; instead, political power brokers all over America have turned it into a blunt object to bludgeon their opponents. Wozniak has continued to protest that barring “a small fraction” of voters from weighing in on the 2012 Council election is not disenfranchisement. Sorry Councilman, but I just can’t wrap my little brain around that; it must have something to do with how I was raised by Depression- and WWII-sobered parents. Then there were those history and civics classes in public schools in a gritty Pennsylvania steel town in which we learned about the sacrifices that American colonists made, going to war against the most powerful monarchy on the planet just so they could choose their own leaders. 

But that was then, and this is now. Things change. Back then, we were fighting for democracy; today, apparently, it’s at the altar of oligarchy we worship. 

* The Occasional Curmudgeon is Berkeley writer David Esler.

There's More to Tobacco Story

By Carol Denney
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 12:03:00 PM

Thank you for Gar Smith’s excellent and detailed review of Addiction Incorporated (Addiction Incorporated: The Other Insider 1-17-2012 ) at the Shattuck Cinemas.

The tobacco industry’s manipulation of the public, cigarette additives, and the scientific community is still going on, and this movie does a great job of telling whistleblower Victor DeNoble’s insider story of doing research at Philip Morris like the great suspense thriller it is.

But the film leaves out a big part of the tobacco story – the dogged, dedicated citizens, parents, public health professionals, policymakers, teachers, casino workers, truck drivers, musicians and others who continue to fight ordinance by ordinance, city council by city council, for clean air despite the billions the tobacco industry spends to try to thwart common sense public health policy. 

The film does a great job of covering Congressman Henry A. Waxman’s congressional hearings in the early 1990s where tobacco industry CEOs famously insisted that they did not think nicotine was an addictive substance, perjury soundly emphasized by insider documents revealing that they not only knew nicotine was addictive, but actively suppressed the findings. 

But the film curiously notes that public smoking rates began to reduce at that point, as though they tapered off naturally, or as though there was a magical turning point to addiction. 

Someday I hope the inspired and life-saving work of the school kids, the tenant groups, the ordinary citizens who patiently educated their peers and representatives is given its due, so that the larger story, the story of the quietest, most out-gunned, but most powerful grassroots movement on earth can also be told.

Happy New Year, Berkeley--The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

By Jim Fousekis, Berkeley Budget SOS
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 08:35:00 AM

For the last several years, Berkeley Budget SOS has attempted to focus our City government on the realities of Berkeley’s financial crisis; unfortunately, our pleas for fiscal reality and transparency have fallen on deaf ears. During 2011, most Berkeley City leaders appear to have remained deluded by the comments of Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who proclaimed “We are in better fiscal shape than virtually any other jurisdiction in the Bay Area and I would suggest even California”. The fallacy of that comment was repeatedly evident last year. The chickens have indeed come home to roost. 

Auditor Hogan’s Employee Benefits Report  

In late 2010 City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan issued her “Employee Benefits: Tough Decisions Ahead” Report. Among other things, the report revealed that on an actuarial basis, the City owes more than $250 million in pension and benefits liabilities, mostly to CalPERS which administers our City employee pensions. Calling for increased transparency and communication of costs and liabilities to the public, the Report had a “report back” date of September of 2011 and full compliance by September of this 2012. Our City Manager specifically agreed with the Report and its prescribed timeline. Unfortunately, as far as the public knows, there has been no compliance with the Report. 

The City Stalls Its Response  

Last September, when a response to the Report was due, our citizens were told no response was forthcoming, presumably because of ongoing labor negotiations with the Police and Fire Unions, whose members benefit from some of the egregious practices criticized in Hogan’s Report, which she recommended should be eliminated or changed. Obviously, the Unions are in no rush to make any changes to the generous benefits given them by our City leaders. 

City Manager Kamlarz Retires With an Enormous Sick Leave Payout 

One of the significant items discussed in Auditor Hogan’s “Employee Benefits” Report was the City’s practice of allowing employees to accumulate sick leave, and upon retirement to obtain a large portion of that leave as a termination payment, usually at 50% for long term employees, and payable at the final salary rate rather than the salary rate at which it was accrued. In the private sector, generally, no such practice exists; sick leave is essentially meant to protect an employee when she or he is actually sick. The State of California also provides no such payout. Auditor Hogan recommended that the practice be eliminated or vastly reduced. Her overall concern was that “Benefit costs are expected to increase sharply over the next five years. This means that [even} if the City reduced salaries, costs could still rise. Benefit costs are less predictable, less controllable.”. So what do we learn one year after Auditor Hogan’s Report? City Manager Kamlarz retires with a $93,298 cash payment for sick leave, $42,382 for accrued vacation pay, $4,070 for longevity pay, and $ 7,687 in regular pay at retirement, a total last day check of $147,439. Added to this will be his monthly retirement payment of $20,785, or nearly $250,000 per year to start, and this amount will increase annually because of built-in “cost of living” increases. Mayor Bates frequently talks about the reduced employee count for Berkeley; but elimination of the sick leave benefit for the City Manager would have theoretically saved or created two entry level job, jobs badly needed by Berkeley residents and services badly needed by our community. Most important however is the bad example that this enormous sick payout sets for other employees while negotiations are ongoing with our Unions. Action should have been taken a year ago to eliminate sick leave payouts for all managerial employees in line with the Auditor’s recommendations and the City Manager especially should have set a good example. Recently, former Obama aide Rahm Emanuel took over as Mayor of Chicago. Facing a $600 million budget deficit, he is taking extraordinary steps to reduce that deficit. As he told Fortune Magazine, one of his key tenets is: “I’m not asking anybody down the line to do something we haven’t done upstairs.” In other words, “Lead by Example” is desperately wanted in Berkeley. 

Auditor Hogan’s Infrastructure Report  

In mid-November 2011, Auditor Hogan issued her “Failing Streets” Report, another nail in the coffin of financial stability for Berkeley. Noting the “economic struggles” our City faces, Auditor Hogan demonstrated how our failure to repair streets leads to a looming financial catastrophe: “Reconstruction of a failed street can be 32 times the cost of timely maintenance”, concluding that Berkeley streets have reached the point where “less costly maintenance is no longer effective”. 

The Lights Come on at the December 6 Workshop Featuring Our City’s Actuary 

The usual upbeat and rosy atmosphere at our City Council meetings was absent at the December 6 Workshop, “Pension Costs and Liabilities”, the last of a series of Workshops the Council held at year end. First, and most importantly, our outside Actuary cautioned that CalPERS was considering the reduction of its rate of return on its investments from the current assumed rate of return of 7.75%. Given that the S&P index was just above flat this last year, that many mutual funds barely had a 2-4% rate of return, and that even ace investor Warren Buffet had only a 6% return, it is very possible that the CalPERS assumed rate of return will be lowered, and, if so “it will have a considerable effect on the City’s rates because those rates will have to be increased”. Auditor Hogan told us in her November 2010 “Employee Benefits” Report that the City would be paying $41 million to CalPERS in 2016 and another $4 million to other retirement accounts, amounting to 12-15% of City revenue. If CalPERS reduces its assumed rate of return from 7.75%, the portion of our City’s revenues going towards pensions and benefits could be in the 15-20% range. Second, using the actual actuarial asset value of the CalPERS assets to estimate the future liabilities of the City, the City’s unfunded pension liabilities are well over $400 million. This is staggering number, threatening the financial future of Berkeley, as the Council mood reflected on December 6. 

The Forthcoming Budget Update, and the Need for Leadership. 

Next month a mid-year budget update will be provided to our City Council and Berkeley citizens by the new City Manager and it will certainly not be a pretty picture. For the future of our City, we need bold action and leadership, just like Rahm Emanuel is taking in Chicago. For me, the hour is late, very late. 





OAKLANDERS BEWARE: Mini-lot Development Coming to Neighbor's Yard or Vacant Lot Next to You

By Bob Brokl
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:30:00 PM

Our MacCall St. neighbors group lost the $1400 appeal over a mini-lot subdivision, a vacant lot at 5919 MacCall where formerly there was a single family home. Two 1,452 sq. ft., two story buildings on the substandard 4,140 sq. ft. lot where 5,000 sq. ft. would be required were approved at the Residential Appeal Committee Jan. 11. Two of the 3 commissions, Jonelyn Whales, a City of Richmond planner recently appointed by Quan, and Blake Huntsman, a SEIU rep and Dellums appointee, heard the appeal. Both followed the staff recommendation, made no modifications, and peremptorily voted us down. (We're assuming the proposed project at 4812 Lawton in Temescal—check out http://www.savelawton.org/ is also a mini-lot development.) 

In a nutshell, the zoning we thought we had achieved during the recent rezoning is simply non-existent if a developer wants to build the maximum number of structures on a vacant lot, back, front or side yard. Conditional use permits (c.u.p.s) and variances are being routinely granted for these mini-lot projects. In our case, variances were awarded the developer, the Market Hall Wilson clan, for the violation of setback requirements. Testimony by the Wilsons, the Dogtown developer completing another mini-lot subdivision project at 721-723 60th St., the commissioners, and Zoning Manager Scott Miller himself all indicated condo financing is hard to come by for developers, and mini-lot, multi-unit structures on substandard parcels, packaged as "in-fill," is the way to go in a difficult development climate. Miller repeatedly cited the "flexibility" these mini-lot developments afford developers. He also mentioned "marketability" as a factor for approving such projects. It should be noted here that planning staff are paid primarily through developer fees and permits. 

We actively participated in the multi-million dollar, years in the making citywide rezoning process, attending most of the meetings. "Mini-lot developments," which pre-empt zoning, was never even put on the table. The old bait-and-switch game—a "loophole" big enough to drive a truck through. 

Nine different households contributed toward the astronomical appeal fee, and we had support from more, including elderly and ill neighbors who will be most impacted and who didn't attend the hearing. But Huntsman went so far as to use the dismissive and condescending term "nimby" to describe us. Huntsman is perhaps best known for his sincere observation during the condomania speculative bubble (most of the projects he voted for were never built) that the large number of condos coming on the market would drive down prices. That's what happened, of course, just not in the way he expected...And speaking of condomania, the strategy of resorting to a mini-lot development exemption is eerily similar to the "CEQA in-fill exemption" which was used to justify the high-rise condominium behemoths, where variances were used as necessary, usually plentifully. 

As evidence the House always wins and the cards are stacked against you: the project was basically pre-approved before the neighbors even found out about it. According to the staff report, the developers were meeting with city staff to present and revise their plans beginning on Feb. 28, 2011; the neighbors were given notice on June 10, 2011 for the project the city had already signed off on. No wonder the planner assigned to the project never returned phone calls—he was just being honest. 

The City of Oakland's "Guide to Mini-Lot Developments" (Chapter 17.102.320) states: "Mini-lot Development is defined by Section 17.09 of the Oakland Planning Code as 'a comprehensively designed development containing lots which do not meet the minimum size of other requirements applying to individual lots in the zone where it is located'." According to the staff report, the MacCall St. project neatly avoided all the normal requirements for setbacks and minimum square footage provided for under the zoning. Miller said that the state allowances for in-law and secondary units were specifically excluded on this project, but could we take that to the bank, since state law trumps local rules? Two units become four! 

Mini-lot developments are allowed in all but a few areas of the hills—ranchettes along Skyline Blvd., where the minimum lot size is 4 acres. Rockridge, Temescal, and North Oakland are especially rich targets for such shoehorned projects, because of keen developer interest in areas that are weathering the Great Recession better, and because the relatively restrictive RM-1 and RM-2 zoning we thought protected us is about as safe as 50 year old condoms. 

Get used to the newest neighbors in your neighbors' back, side, or front yard. Or—Is there a lawyer in the house? 


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: The U.S., Indonesia & The Times

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 10:59:00 AM

Why is the New York Times concealing the key role that the United States played in the 1965 coup in Indonesia that ended up killing somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people? In a story Jan. 19—“Indonesia Chips Away At the Enforced Silence Around a Dark History”—the Times writes that the coup was “one of the darkest periods in modern Indonesian history, and the least discussed, until now.” 

Indeed it is, but the Times is not only continuing to ignore U.S. involvement in planning and carrying out the coup, but apparently doesn’t even bother to read its own clip files from that time that reported the Johnson administration’s “delight with the news from Indonesia.” The newspaper also reported a cable by Secretary of State Dean Rusk supporting the “campaign against the communists” and assuring the leader of the coup, General Suharto, that the “U.S. government [is] generally sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing.” 

What the Indonesian Army was doing was raping and beheading communists, leftists, and trade unionists. Many people were savagely tortured to death by the military and its right-wing Muslim allies in the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah. A number of those butchered were fingered by U.S. intelligence. 

According to a three-part series in the July 1999 Sydney Morning Herald, interviews with Indonesian political prisoners, and examinations of U.S. and Australian documents, “Western powers urged the Indonesian military commanders to seize upon the false claims of a coup attempt instigated bu the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), in order to carry out one of the greatest civilian massacres of the 20th century and establish a military dictatorship.” 

General Suharto claimed that the PKI was behind the assassination of six leading generals on the night of July 30, 1965, the incident that ignited the coup. But the Herald series included interviews with two of the men involved in the so-called July 30 putsch, both of who claim the PKI had nothing to do with the uprising. At the time, the PKI was part of a coalition government, had foresworn violence, and had an official policy of a “peaceful transition” to socialism. In fact, the organization made no attempt to mobilize its three million members to resist the coup. 

The U.S. made sure that very few of those communists—as well as the leaders of peasant, women, union, and youth organizations— survived the holocaust. According to U.S. National Security Archives published by George Washington University, U.S. intelligence agents fingered many of those people. Then U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Marshall Green, said that an Embassy list of top Communist leaders “is being used by the Indonesian security authorities that seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership at the time…” 

The U.S. was well aware of the scale of the killings. In an April 15, 1966 telegram to Washington, the Embassy wrote, “We frankly do not know whether the real figure [of PKI killed] is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000, but believe it wiser to err on the side of the lower estimates, especially when questioned by the press.” 

Besides helping the military track down and murder any leftists, the U.S. also supplied the right-wing Kap-Gestapu movement with money. Writing in a memo to then Assistant Secretary of State McGeorge Bundy, Green wrote “The chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support in this instance are as minimal as any black bag operation can be.” 

States News Service reporter Kathy Kadane interviewed several former diplomats and intelligence agents and found that the list turned over to the Indonesian security forces had around 5,000 names on it. “It was really a big help to the Army,” former embassy political officer Robert J. Martens told Kadane. “They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that is not all bad. There is a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.” 

At the time, Washington was beginning a major escalation of the Vietnam War, and the Johnson administration was fixated on its mythical domino theory that communists were about to take over Asia. The U.S. considered Indonesia to be a strategically important country, not only because it controlled important sea passages, but also because it was rich in raw materials in which U.S. corporations were heavily invested. These included Richfield and Mobil oil companies, Uniroyal, Union carbide, Eastern Airlines, Singer Sewing Machines, National Cash Register, and the Freeport McMorRan gold and copper mining company. 

At the time, Indonesian President Sukarno was one of the leaders of the “third force” movement, an alliance of nations that tried to keep itself aloof from the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The 1955 Bangdung Conference drew countries from throughout Asia and Africa to Indonesia to create an anti-colonialist, non-aligned movement. It also drew the ire of the U.S, which refused to send a representative to Bangdung. 

In the polarized world of the Cold War, non-alignment was not acceptable to Washington, and the U.S. began using a combination of diplomacy, military force and outright subversion to undermine countries like Indonesia and to bring them into alliances with the U.S. and its allies. The CIA encouraged separatist movements in the oil-rich provinces of Sumatra and Sulawesi. The British and the Australians were also up to their elbows in the 1965 coup, and France increased its trade with Indonesia following the massacre. 

The relations between Jakarta and Washington are long and sordid. The U.S. gave Indonesia the green light to invade and occupy East Timor, an act that resulted in the death of over 200,000 people, or one-third of the Timorese population, a kill ratio greater than Pol Pot’s genocidal mania in Cambodia. Washington is also supportive of Indonesia’s seizure of Irian Jaya (West Papua) and, rather than condemning the brutality of the occupation, has blamed much of the violence on the local natives. 

The Cold War is over, but not U.S. interests in Asia. The Obama administration is pouring military forces into the region and has made it clear that it intends to contest China’s growing influence in Asia and Southeast Asia. Here Indonesia is key. Some 80 percent of China’s energy supplies pass through Indonesian-controlled waters, and Indonesia is still a gold mine—literally in the case of Freeport McMoRan on Irian Jaya—of valuable resources. 

So once again, the U.S. is turning a blind eye to the brutal and repressive Indonesian military that doesn’t fight wars but is devilishly good at suppressing its own people and cornering many of those resources for itself. The recent decision by the White House to begin working with Kopassus—Indonesia’s equivalent of the Nazi SS—is a case in point. Kopassus has been implicated in torture and murder in Irian Jaya and played in key role in the 1999 sacking of East Timor that destroyed 70 percent of that country’s infrastructure following Timor’s independence vote. Over 1500 Timorese were killed and 250,000 kidnapped to Indonesian West Timor. 

It appears that Indonesians are beginning to speak up about the horrors of the 1965 coup. Books like Geoffrey Robinson’s “The Dark Side of Paradise” and Robert Lemelson’s documentary film, “40 Years of Silence: an Indonesian Tragedy,” are slowly wearing away at the history manufactured by the military dictatorship. 

But the U.S. has yet to come clean on its role in the 1965 horror, and the New York Times has apparently decided to continue that silence, perhaps because once again Indonesia is pivotal to Washington’s plans for Asia? 

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


New: WILD NEIGHBORS; The Short but Intense Life of the Tidewater Goby

By Joe Eaton
Wednesday January 25, 2012 - 09:47:00 AM
The endangered and California-endemic tidewater goby.
Josh Hull, US Fish & Wildlife Service (via Wikimedia Commons)
The endangered and California-endemic tidewater goby.

Watching a predator eat an endangered species is always awkward. Should you intervene? Yell, wave your arms, throw things? I went through that train of thought a couple of years ago as a great blue heron and a great egret ate their way through the California red-legged frog population of a small stock pond at Point Reyes. 

It happened again last month at Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands, again with a great blue heron and great egret that were noshing on small fish. I couldn’t get a good look at the prey as they went down the birds’ throats; they could have been threespine sticklebacks or prickly sculpins, both of which occur there. Odds are, though, they were tidewater gobies, federally listed as endangered in 1994. When biologists sampled the lagoon in 2005, 99 per cent of all the fish they caught were tidewater gobies. 

The total catch, if you’re wondering, was 9314 fish of all species, which would work out to 9220 tidewater gobies. That sounds like a healthy population for an endangered creature—but not if you consider the goby’s life history. It’s an annual creature; each generation of gobies hatches, feeds, mates, and dies within a year. 2005 happened to have been a boom year, ironically because algal blooms in the lagoon reduced dissolved oxygen to levels that other fish could not survive. 

These are eccentric little guys with an unconventional reproductive strategy. Among sexually dimorphic fish species, males are typically larger, more brightly colored, and more aggressive than females. This syndrome is reversed in the tidewater goby, where females wear the bright colors and compete for access to males. Female-female combat often involves “fin displays, tail-beating, charging, biting, jaw locking, and wrestling,” according to ichthyologist R. O. Swenson. 

Males dig spawning burrows in territories they defend from other males. Females defend the territory around their chosen male from other females. I can’t resist quoting Peter Moyle’s account in Inland Fishes of California: “A female tests the readiness of a male to mate by trying to enter the burrow or sticking her head into his mouth. One response is for the male to retreat into the burrow and plug the entrance with sand. Another is to let the female enter. Once a pair is in a burrow together, the male usually plugs the entrance with sand and the pair remains in the burrow together for 1-3 days.” Like a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the hotel room door, or, for those of us who were there then, a necktie on the doorknob of the dorm room. 

After the honeymoon, the female goby digs her way out, leaving behind fertilized eggs attached to the burrow wall. The male replugs the entrance and spends the next ten or so days fanning and rubbing the eggs until the fry hatch. When they do, they swim away to, as Moyle puts it, “join the plankton.” This is something many of us have done or at least considered at some point in our lives. 

Brackish stream-fed coastal lagoons from Del Norte County to San Diego are the tidewater gobies’ habitat of choice. Their numbers build up in summer while a sandbar separates their home lagoon from the ocean and drop in winter when the barrier is breached. The goby population in Santa Ynez Lagoon (Santa Barbara County) went from a peak of 11 million to a nadir of 11,000 in a single year. 

The fatal flaw in this adaptive strategy is that each lagoon’s population is on its own. Between a quarter and a half of the species’ known populations have been lost in the past century as a result of the diking and draining of estuarine wetlands, sediment buildup in lagoons, or permanent tidal breaching through jetty construction. Predators (including gobies of exotic Asian species) and pollutants also take a toll. By the most recent estimate, only 41 historic locations still have gobies. As local populations wink out, the likelihood of recolonizing vacant lagoons diminishes. Isolated populations diverge from each other genetically, fragmenting the species’ gene pool. 

Since 1994, environmentalists, lawyers, and bureaucrats have been wrangling over the extent of the protection to be given this small obscure fish. The most recent round went to the goby and its advocates last October, when the US Fish and Wildlife Service expanded the amount of protected habitat by 20 percent. This includes ten currently unoccupied lagoons, some in Marin and San Mateo counties. 

I’ve heard from folks like historical ecologist Robin Grossinger that there’s potential for restoring this species in parts of the East Bay as well. It would be good to have them back. The tidewater gobies isn’t charismatic or economically important, but it’s a fascinating product of evolution—a solution to the problem of being a fish in a marginal, unstable environment. “Life is good, whether stubbornly long or suddenly a mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains,” wrote Robinson Jeffers.

MY COMMONPLACE BOOK: (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comment added by the reader.)

By Dorothy Bryant
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 11:26:00 AM

“ . . . how much easier it is to let the mind, rather than the body, do the traveling. No tickets or schedules, no borders, no passports. Thought is the one thing that remains free no matter what changes outside the head.”
Not Now Voyager (2009), Lynne Sharon Schwartz, (contemporary writer) 

What a relief, reading and laughing my way through this anti-travel book—after years of being the most stay-at-home one of my friends—hating the routine of arranging tickets, rearranging accommodations, and all the rest of it. Probably I started my travels under-funded, and too late (over 30) for mishaps to feel like adventures. Somewhat insomniac in my own bed at home, I’d go through a whole trip with bleary eyes, a rumbling stomach, and a sense of being assaulted, rather than stimulated, by most new sights and impressions, (not to mention depressed by the conditions I saw in places highly recommended as “colorful” by friends.) 

Schwartz—who, I admit, had done quite a bit of traveling before she wrote this anti-travel book—legitimizes my staying put now, living out the old saying by that famous, richly-traveled stay-at-home, Emily Dickinson: “There is no frigate like a book.” 








(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book) 


ECLECTIC RANT: Precedent-Setting Human Trafficking Case

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 20, 2012 - 03:38:00 PM

When most people think of human trafficking, they envision victims trafficked into the international sex trade. But consider the complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the class action case of Mairi Nunag-Tañedo, et al. v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, et al. , filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), 18 U.S.C. §1589, et seq.

The Plaintiffs in this case are 350 Filipino teachers who were recruited by Universal Placement International, Inc. located in Los Angeles and PARS International Placement Agency located in Quezon City, Philippines, to work in Louisiana public schools.

From 2006 to the filing of the lawsuit in 2010, the defendants recruited experienced Filipino teachers to work in Louisiana public schools under the H-1B guestworker visa program. Most of the teachers had to borrow money to pay the recruiting fees, which ranged from $5,000 to $5,500. This is about one and half times the average annual income in the Philippines. The teachers were not told until after the first fee had been paid that they would be required to pay the first three months of their projected salary before they could leave for the United States. The first two months was collected in advance. The third month's salary was to be collected after the first year of employment. If the teachers resisted paying the third month's salary, they were threatened with being sent back to the Philippines and losing the thousands they had already paid.  

Thus, initially the Plaintiffs believed they would have to pay only an upfront fee of $5,000 to $5,500. But once that was paid, they were then told that they had to pay another amount equal to three months projected salary, and had to pay their airfare. They paid upward of $16,000 for their teaching positions.  

Most of the teachers had to borrow the money to pay the recruiting fees. The recruiters referred the teachers to private lenders who charged 3 to 5 percent per month. At this point, the teachers had no choice but to pay these exorbitant fees as they had already paid a substantial amount that would not be returned. The recruiters kept their visas and passports until all the money was paid. 

In May 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford set a historic precedent by granting class action status to a human trafficking lawsuit involving these 350 Filipino teachers In reaching his decision, the Court concluded that it is sufficient that a defendant’s misconduct has created a situation where ceasing labor would cause a plaintiff serious harm. Further, human trafficking also involves violations of other laws, including labor and immigration codes and laws against kidnaping, slavery, false imprisonment, assault, battery, pandering, fraud, and extortion. In other words, the TVPA not only protects victims from the most heinous human trafficking crimes, but also various additional types of fraud and extortion leading to forced labor. And in this case, the complaint alleges that psychological coercion such as seizing immigrants’ passports to restrict their ability to flee, threats to fire Plaintiffs, sue them, allow their visas to expire, or deport them over various issues that generally concerned complaints about living conditions and pay.  

The trial is set to begin in July 2012.

THE PUBLIC EYE: America’s Mobility Problem

By Bob Burnett
Friday January 20, 2012 - 12:38:00 PM

2012’s dominant political will be jobs and income inequality. Recent studies suggest that we add social mobility to the list: an American born into poverty is increasingly unlikely to be able to move up and out. 

In his classic essay, “The Lost Art of Democratic Narrative,” Robert Reich examined four core American myths. One concerned mobility: the “Triumphant Individual …who works hard, takes risks, believes in himself, and eventually gains wealth, fame, and honor.” “The story is epitomized in the life of Abe Lincoln, born in a log cabin, who believed that ‘the value of life is to improve one's condition.’ The theme was captured in Horatio Alger's hundred or so novellas, whose heroes all rise promptly and predictably from rags to riches” “The moral: With enough effort and courage, anyone can make it in the United States.” 

The Triumphant Individual myth feeds the notion of the US as a land of unbounded opportunity; a country where anyone, no matter how impoverished his or her initial surroundings, can carve out a decent life by hard work. That promise motivated my great grandfather to come to Pennsylvania from Scotland. The same belief caused his children to move to Southern California. And that bright promise motivated me to work in the Silicon Valley. My family believed that hard work would bring success. But for millions of Americans that dream has evaporated. 

A recent New York Times article reported, “Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe.” The explanation is the circumstances of your family of origin – if you are born into poverty you tend to stay there whereas if you are born into affluence you tend to continue to live in affluence. “About 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths… Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.” 

While income inequality and lack of social mobility has long been intellectual fodder for the left, the “mobility deficit” has only recently come to the attention of the right. Conservative stalwarts, such as Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum, have observed that mobility in the US is less than it is in Canada and Europe. Conservatives don’t link lack of mobility to economic inequality, but they recognize there is a problem. 

It’s not a big mystery why poor kids don’t have a chance to move up and out. Many of them are raised by single moms in struggling households and don’t get attention, in general, let alone help with their homework or encouragement to achieve. The perplexing question is why a nation that has long cherished the myth of the triumphant individual doesn’t link this to the golden rule. Before he became President, Barack Obama observed, “It's that fundamental belief — I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper — that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.” Why don’t more of us believe it is our mutual responsibility to ensure there is a level playing field where everyone has a decent chance of success? 

The truth is we’ve become a nation of narcissists. For many Americans – particularly Republicans – the core value is not “E pluribus unum” but rather, “What’s in it for me.” As a consequence, we’ve shredded the safety net. Poor kids aren’t as likely to get small class sizes, pre- and after-school care, food, healthcare, and decent housing. And we pay our blue-collar workers less than they do in Canada and Europe. 

If the mobility deficit makes it onto the list of issues discussed in the Presidential debates it will be interesting to hear what Candidates Obama and Romney have to say. Obama is an example of the Triumphant Individual: abandoned by his father, raised by his grandparents and a working mom, working his way into Harvard Law School, becoming head of the Law Review… In contrast, Romney was raised in privilege – his father, George, was an automobile executive who resigned his CEO position to run for governor of Michigan. 

Romney will likely pattern his response to the mobility deficit as he’s dealt with global climate change: there’s a problem; we don’t know what causes it; here are a set of policy proposals that will benefit the 1 percent. “Let’s fight for the America we love.” Romney will toe the conservative line; he will push for lower taxes for the one percent on the grounds that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” 

America’s lack of social mobility is a national disgrace. President Obama would do well to directly address it during the presidential campaign. In 2008 he promised to bring hope but now many citizens are discouraged. It’s still possible to rebuild the American promise, to make the myth of the Triumphant Individual a reality for millions of impoverished Americans. But some politician has to carry the torch. Why not Barack Obama? 

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

WILD NEIGHBORS: Careful, the Snake Might Hear You

By Joe Eaton
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:00:00 PM
A little cello music for the ball python?
Holger Krisp, via Wikimedia Commons
A little cello music for the ball python?

I’ve lived with a ball python named Shep for something like eight years, and all that time I’ve assumed he was effectively deaf, as snakes were supposed to be. He has never seemed to respond to music, even to bass lines (in contrast to Matt the cat, who leaves the room when fiddle music is in progress.) We all know that the Indian snake-charmer routine works because the cobra responds to the flute-player’s movements, not the sound of the flute. 

This is apparently not quite the case. A Danish biologist named Christian Christensen has demonstrated that ball pythons, at least, can detect airborne sounds. The ball python is not native to Denmark; Christensen probably chose to work with them because they’re small (for constrictors), easy-going, and available in the pet trade. 

“You can’t train snakes to respond to sounds with certain behaviors, like you might be able to do with mice,” Christensen told a reporter. In fact, it’s hard to train a snake to do anything. He and his colleagues attached electrodes to the pythons’ heads to monitor neurons that connected their inner ears with their brains. 

(Yes, pythons have inner ears, although they’re rudimentary compared with ours; instead of the human malleus, incus, and stapes, they have only one inner-ear bone, the columella auris.) 

The snakes were exposed to sound from a speaker suspended above their cage, eliminating the possibility that they would pick up groundborne vibrations. They made no overt response to the sounds, but the nerves fired at some frequencies. The strongest pulses occurred at frequencies between 80 and 160 hertz, comparable to the lowest notes of a cello. The biologists then attached tiny sensors—vibrometers--to the pythons’ skulls and found that the airborne sounds made the bone vibrate. 

Ball pythons rarely encounter cellos in their native West African savannas. It’s not clear how the snakes benefit from their limited hearing ability, or whether the cranial reception of sound waves is more than a vestigial function. It’s also undetermined whether other snakes have similar abilities, although some, including rattlesnakes, pick up sonic vibrations through their jawbones. 

Snakes are highly specialized lizards, in the same sense that butterflies are highly specialized moths. And many lizards, particularly geckos, are highly vocal. They call to attract mates and warn off rivals. One South African gecko species performs in choruses, like a frog. Although some lizards, such as the North American earless lizard, lack external ear openings, they’re still be able to detect sounds. 

So what happened to the ancestral snakes’ ears? Some herpetologists argue that snakes went through a burrowing phase during which their limbs, eyes, and ears degenerated. (Others support an aquatic ancestry; I believe the jury is still out on that one. It’s true that a number of sand-burrowing lizards have reduced or lost their limbs.) The idea is that sound travels well enough through sandy soil that fully functional ears became an evolutionary luxury. Mutant protosnakes with reduced hearing were able to survive and reproduce as well as their predecessors. 

An interesting sidebar: when ancient snakes lost their eyes, they apparently had to re-evolve them from scratch when they returned to the surface and needed a better way to detect prey or predators. Ivan Schwab, the UC Davis ophthalmologist who won the first (and I believe only) IgNobel prize in ornithology for his study on why woodpeckers don’t get headaches, points out that the eye of a typical snake is more like that of a fish in structure than that of a lizard, alligator, or turtle. Snake optical specializations include a large spherical lens, fused eyelids, and blood vessels that feed nutrients and oxygen to the inner retina. (Schwab’s new book, Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved, is a wonderful exploration of the many ways of making an eye—a good follow-up if you’ve read Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable.) 

Yes, I’ve found myself lowering my voice around the python. But I haven’t played any cello concertos for him yet.

SENIOR POWER: Food as metaphor

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:13:00 PM

When my parents separated in 1931, my mother moved to a suburban apartment. Some of the furniture and I accompanied her. Shanin the landlord was busy with his principal business— collecting and shipping boatloads of scrap metal to Japan. On the first of each month, his agent, an amiable woman with a withered arm, knocked on his buildings’ apartment doors to collect the rents and to chat. 

Most of the tenants were newly-wed couples who moved on after the first baby. From them, I learned go schlofin. Mrs. Berman kept a kosher kitchen in the next-door apartment. Mr. B was the Fuller Brush man. Whenever I was sick, she would ask my mother for a bowl in which she’d share some of her chicken soup. But later on, Mrs. B. and my mother got into loud fights. One had something to do with her putting Marvin and his tricycle out into the first floor hall to play. 

Respite months in the city hospital provided me with memorable experiences of security and consistency having to do with people and food. I was encouraged to eat, and most of the food was novel. At first I hadn’t wanted to eat. A blue-and-white sat by the bed and coaxed me to eat food from a child’s dish heated with hot water inside. Later, in the ward, I ate from regular dishes, sitting up. I was familiar with hot cereal but not yellow cornmeal. It was probably donated, Depression Era stuff. With the cereal, hot cocoa was likely. And toast with margarine already on it. Occasional bacon, even scrambled eggs. (I still prefer scrambled eggs made with powdered-eggs.) Mid-morning juice was accompanied by a small glass of fish oil. Dinner was mid-day, Sunday especially special included mashed potatoes and a scoop of ice cream. A glass of milk with everything. Following visiting hours, temperature-taking and a snack, early supper was milk-toast –- warm milk over pieces of toasted, thrifty stale bread. Or macaroni and cheese. And fruit. I no longer needed coaxing or help to eat. 

My mother still had her high school cooking class notebook, and there were several dishes that I especially liked and asked for, but they were infrequent: smoked pork butt cooked in pea soup, baked scalloped potatoes, custard with nutmeg on top, beef stew with gravy. She could make tasty foods and meals, but they became fewer and fewer. She was angry and depressed. If the apartment “we” were renting at the time had a refrigerator, I knew not to open it. She listened to the radio and followed Doctor Gaylord Hauser’s vegetable soup recipe. Not a physician, he was said to be Greta Garbo’s latest swain. And there were grimacing exercises advocated by cosmetician Rose Laird to deal with middle-age chins. 

The five K-6 grade schools fed into an old building down town where a creaky second floor housed all of grade seven. Junior high school was our introduction to men teachers, individual subjects taught separately, and smelly toilets. Miss Vivian Wells, an acknowledged absolute darling, introduced eighth grade girls to cooking. Our class was the last period in the afternoon, and we had time to eat what we made — including cream of tomato soup and chocolate pudding made from scratchwhile the boys got mechanical drawing. (Later, after December 1941, they were taught to rivet aluminum in industrial arts classes and were able to get summer jobs building Navy planes.) 

It was my good fortune to have Miss Mabel Skinner for three years of high school Spanish and a year of homeroom. She was middle-aged, and some students took advantage of her slight hearing problem. One Saturday she took two other students and me to Manhattan to the Spanish movie theater, the Belmont, near Times Square. Admission 30 cents until noon. She wore a black Persian lamb coat and her Mexican silver jewelry. We saw Un Ave Sin Nido -– A Bird Without a Nest — a weepy black and white film from Mexico. When we returned and got off the train, she invited us to have dinner with her at an eatery near the station. We failed to realize that she was lonely and not eager to return to her apartment. She ordered steaks and ice cream sundaes for everyone and ate slowly. I’d never had condiments, dressings or seasoned foods. The steak came with French fries and pickled beets and was my introduction to these delectables. 


“Personal Health: Lifelines for People with Hearing Loss” by Jane E. Brody. New York Times, January 17, 2012. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. pen136@dslextreme.com.  

Fridays, Jan. 20, 27, Feb. 3 and 10. 10 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Folk Dancing with Maureen Atkins, Instructor. No experience or partner necessary. $16 per person for four sessions. 510-747-7510. 


Saturday, Jan. 21. 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Monoprint Processes. Join Heidi Guibord, volunteer instructor. A beginner’s look at Monoprint with the opportunity to make cards and decorations. Bring items with interesting textures (e.g., leaves, ribbons) to class. $10 supplies fee. 510-747-7510. 


Sunday, Jan. 22. 1:30 P.M. Book into Film: Romeo and Juliet. Discussion group participants read the play at home and then gather at Berkeley’s Central Library, 2090 Kittredge Street to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants discuss the play, the film and the adaptation process. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Free. Participation is limited and registration is required. 510-981-6236. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 10:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Learn to Create a You Tube Video. Jeff Cambra, Alameda Currents producer, will share the basics of shooting a good video and how to get it uploaded to You Tube. No equipment or experience is needed. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 12:30 P.M. YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch. Speaker’s Forum: Fariba Nawa’s Opium Nation. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720 

Monday, Jan. 23. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. 61 Arlington Av. Free. Book group meetings are usually held on the fourth Monday of every month in the library at 7:00 p.m. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. 510-524-3043. 

Tuesday, Jan. 24. 1 P.M. Doggie Communication 101. Does your dog pull you down the street? Growl or snap? Bark too much? Other annoying or worrisome behaviors? Bring your questions and join dog trainer Ruth Smiler. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesdays, beginning January 25. 9:30 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. San Francisco History and Highlights. Join Eric Hill, Volunteer Instructor for San Francisco History and Highlights. Free. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Goldberg, guitar: Noon Concert Series. 

UCB Hertz Concert Hall. Sponsor: Department of Music Faculty recital.
Luis de Narvaez: Three Fantasias. Turina: Sevillana Bach: Suite in E Major (BWV 1006a). Ponce: Sonatina Meridional. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1-2 P.M. Israeli Chamber Project Concert. Jewish Community Center. Berkeley Branch, 1414 Walnut St. Free. RSVP online. 510-848-0237 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group. Gogol's The Overcoat. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. The Occupiers: Why We Demonstrate. Pamela Drake of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Ruth Maguire of the Gray Panthers, and activist photographer Anna Graves will tell about their experiences with the Occupations of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, and why this movement is so important in changing today's political dialogue. 

Thursday, Jan. 26. 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class at Central Berkeley Public Library. . Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Monday, Jan. 30. 7 P.M. Ellis Island Old World Folk Band Performance. 

Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Old World and New World repertoire emphasizing the transition that took place when Jews came to America at the beginning of the last century. Tunes from the Yiddish theater and radio featuring vocals made popular by the Barry Sisters, queens of 1940s Yiddish Swing. This award-winning band has pioneered the revival of klezmer, lively and soulful Eastern European Jewish music. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, Jan. 31. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

John Jacobs, Vice President of Bank of Alameda, will provide an Insurance Primer. Learn what the current FDIC Insurance limits are and whether you are investing your money properly. Free. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. The AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course is specifically designed for motorists age 50+. Taught in one-day. To qualify, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration essential. $12 per person fee for AARP members (AARP membership number required); $14 per person fee for non-AARP members. Registration fee payable by check only, to AARP. 510-747-7510 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12 Noon. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 8, 15, 22 and 29. 

Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Nathan Noh, solo piano: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. Beethoven: Sonata in A-flat major, op. 110
Ravel: two movements from Miroirs Balakirev: Islamey. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 9, 16 and 23, and March 1. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Fred Setterberg will discuss his book, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a true-life novel about growing up in blue-collar suburbia in 1950s and 60s East Bay. Albany Library, 1247 Martin Avenue. Free. 510-526-3720. This is a program in the Alameda County Library’s Older Adults Services series; for dates and branches throughout the county, call 510-745-1491. 

Thursday, Feb. 2. 7 P.M. Behind the Music of Bustan & Ben Goldberg. Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut, Berkeley. Come hear two of the movers and shakers behind the world-class music to be heard at this year’s Jewish Music Festival. Free. 510-848-0237. Also March 22.  

Monday, Feb. 6. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 13 and 27. 

Wednesday, Feb. 8. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Tan, cello; Miles Graber, piano. Andrea Wu, solo piano. Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. 

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise Faure: Après un rêve Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, mvts. 2 and 4 Schumann: Sonata, op. 22 Prokofiev: Toccata, op. 11. 510-642-4864 

Thursday, Feb. 9. 6 PM. Lawyers in the Library. South branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell. 981-6100. 

Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, songs and poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler immigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and throughout the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 12:15-1 P.M. Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. Recital: Jeffrey Syles, piano, with Axel Strauss, violin, and Jean-Michel Fontenau, cello. Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in C Minor Piazzola: two movements from Grand Tango. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 15. 7-8 P.M. Adult evening book group: E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 

Thursday, Feb. 16. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. West branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University. 510-981-6270. 

Tuesday, February 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. Members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn 

Levy. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz All-stars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 

Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. www.usoac.org 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043. 


Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 


My Commonplace Book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)

By Dorothy Bryant
Friday January 20, 2012 - 01:06:00 PM

Spiritualists believe in personal immortality as far as any mortal can believe in such an unimaginable horror.

— George Bernard Shaw(probably from the preface to Back to Methuselah or another of his late, long, never-performed plays) 

There was a time (before “My Fair Lady” and other sugar-coated variants diluted his sharp messages) when some theater company in every major town—and most college drama departments—were sure to be doing one of Shaw’s plays, challenging common beliefs of the comfortable classes while making them laugh. And doing it all with words, no special effects, no sexy innuendos, no sentimental happily-ever-after, just social, political, and philosophical reality dropped into the laps of audiences for them to face and deal with. 

This line shows Shaw at his best, asking us to look steadily at the accepted cliché that we would all want to be ourselves, in this life, forever. He invites us to seriously consider such a reality, and, if you are neither a monster nor an idiot, experience a sense of dread and horror creeping over you, perhaps worse than the instinctive fear of death. 

Now Shaw is out of fashion—“too talky, too cerebral, too reform-minded, too political”—too everything that sees the fun in witty jousting with eternally important ideas.  

I miss him. 

(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)

Arts & Events

New: AROUND & ABOUT MUSIC: Berkeley Symphony This Thursday: Debussy, Dutilleux, Shostakovich

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 12:03:00 PM

Berkeley Symphony, directed by Joana Carneiro, will perform another engaging program of modern orchestral music, featuring works of Debussy, Henry Dutilleux and Shostakovich, this Thursday at 8, preceded by a talk at 7:10, at Zellerbach Hall on the UC campus, near Bancroft and Telegraph. 

Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune by Debussy premiered in 1894, based on Mallarme's great poem, and is considered a symphonic poem. Pierre Boulez has referred to it as a turning point for modern orchestral music.  

Dutilleux's The Shadows of Time, premiered by the Boston Symphony in 1997, will feature soloists from Pacific Boychoir Academy. 

Shostokovich's Fifth Symphony was composed under extreme duress in the late-30s, after his critical derision over the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk for its open modernism, and the downfall of one of his most powerful patrons. Withdrawing his Fourth Symphony during rehearsal, he substituted the Fifth, which condenses his style with maximum ambiguity, accommodating socialist realism interpretations as well as modernistic ones, generalizing his own struggle to one of every person of his time. "There are far more openings for new Shakespeares in today's world," he would say, 30 years later. The music quotes a song of his from a Pushkin poem and a personally significant passage from Bizet's Carmen. 

Carneiro has called Debussy's piece one of "dreaming and seduction" and mentioned Shostakovich as a favorite of hers. 

Last month's concert, excellently led by guest conductor Jayce Ogren, featured Lei Liang's Verge and a wonderful, dense rendering of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, bookending Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill's extraordinary interpretation of the late Bay Area composer Lou Harrison's too-seldom played Piano Concerto, using one of Harrison's own octave blocks in that vigorous piece, backed by an orchestra that sounds finer with every concert. 

$20-$60. 841-2800; berkeleysymphony.org


By Ken Bullock
Wednesday January 25, 2012 - 05:22:00 PM

Tom Stoppard's 'Arcadia' at Actors Ensemble; John O'Keefe at Theatre of Yugen, free, on Sunday Only; Ragged Wing Ensemble performs 'A Fool's Errand'  

Actors Ensemble of Berkeley appears to have a hit on its hands with the ambitious production of Tom Stoppard's 'Arcadia,' a cast of 30 directed by Robert Estes, which opened last weekend to enthusiastic crowds. Friday and Saturday nights at 8--with a Sunday matinee at 2 on February 12--through February 18, Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman). #12-$15. aeofberkeley.org 

John O'Keefe at Theatre of Yugen, free, on Sunday Only 

Playwright and performing artist John O'Keefe, co-founder of Berkeley's famed troupe the Blake Street Hawkeyes, will perform a collaborative piece O'Keefe is developing with Yuriko Doi, founder of Theatre of Yugen, which employs creation myths from both Japan and the Iroquois Nation. (I saw an earlier workshop of this piece, with Noh musicians and a Noh actor accompanying or paralleling O'Keefe performing part of his text, one of the most exciting things I've seen onstage the past few years.)
The show is free, on Sunday only--8 p. m. It will be part of the San Francisco Arts Festival later this year.
Theatre of Yugen, NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa near Harrison, Project Artaud, San Francisco's Mission-Potrero District.
Ragged Wing Ensemble performs 'A Fool's Errand'
Spunky Ragged Wing Ensemble, the East Bay's physical theater company, will perform 'A Fool's Errand,' directed by David Stein, chapter one of their ensemble collaborative tetralogy, The Fortune Project, for three shows only this weekend--Friday and Saturday at 8, Sunday at 5, at Envision Academy, the lovely old Julia Morgan-designed YWCA building at 1515 Webster, between 15th and 17th, in Downtown Oakland. $15-$30, sliding scale. brownpapertickets.com/event/219999

Don't Miss This

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday January 24, 2012 - 11:31:00 AM

Hooray and Hallelujah! The New York Times recently rated Oakland as one of the world's top tourist destinations in 2012 because of its stellar restaurants and bars. We knew that. For a year Bay Area Photographers have been documenting First Friday's diverse and eclectic audiences in a show, "Portraits from Oakland." This show can be seen through Feb. 18 at PHOTO, 473 25th Street, Oakland. (510) 847-2416. 

There are any number of excellent programs getting the New Year off to a promising start, such as those listed below. We might begin with the announcement of the handsome new Magnes Museum at 2121 Allston Way in Berkeley, now presenting a program on Jewish Art and Life. (510) 643-2526. 

The Oakland Symphony, under the direction of Michael Morgan, will perform "Carmina Burana" on Friday, January 27th at 8 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre. Don't miss this monumental choral work, one of the most popular pieces of music ever written. (1) 800-745-3000. 

"The Light on the Piazza" opens January 30th at the Willows Main Stage, 1975 Diamond Blvd., Concord. (925) 798-1300. "Mama Mia", the smash hit musical is playing at the Orpheum Theatre, Feb. 21 - March 4th. (1 - 888-746-1799. Jackie Evancho, eleven-year old soprano, will sing March 26, 7:30 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall (415) 392-42000. 

For opera lovers, "Moby Dick" will be performed Sept. 7 - July 7 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco (415) 864-3330. 

"2012 S.F. Sketchfest is playing now through February 4th at the Eureka and Castro Theatres. Sketchfest has evolved into one of the biggest comedy events in S.F. www.sketchfest.com. 

Brian Copeland in "The Waiting Period: Laughter in the Darkness", Jan. 27 and 28, 8:15 p.m. Walnut Creek. (925) 943-7469. 

Lunar New Year Celebration, "The Year of the Dragon," Jan. 29th, l2 - 4:30 p.m. Oakland Museum of California 1000 Oak Street museumca.org. 

East Bay Express Briefs, erotic short film competition, Feb. 16, Grand Lake Theatre, Oakland. 

Kitka and Svetlana Spajic, "To the Singers of Tales," Premiere Performances Jan. 27-29 at 8 p.m., at CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission Street, S.F. Kitka has earned international recognition for its unique and haunting sound. For tickets: 1-800-350-8850. 

East Bay Express "Progressive Opportunities Conference, Feb. 26, 10 a. m. - 6 p.m. "Building a Just and Sustainable Local Economy," David Brower Center, 250 Allston, Berkeley. (510) 870-3702. 

"Humor Abuse", Pickle Family. 90 minutes of nonstop hilarity. Through Feb. 5th. American Conservatory Theatre, S.F. (415) 749-2228. For you alcoholics, there's East Bay Brew Fest, Pyramid Ale House, 90l Gilman, Berkeley. $20 a ticket. "The Gondoliers, " Gilbert & Sullivan, Jan. 27-29, Walnut Creek (925) 943-7469. 

Hopefully the above events will get your 2012 off to a great start. 





Stagebridge Mounts New Play by Joan Holden at Berkeley's Ashby Stage, Opening Feb. 3

By John A. McMullen III
Friday January 20, 2012 - 05:10:00 PM

The year Reagan was elected, I saw my first SF Mime Troupe show, which was written by Joan Holden:Americans, or Last Tango In Huahuatenango, a musical comedy of tropical and topical intrigue. Little did we know what evil would lurk in the next 8 years in Central America.

A decade later—though I saw many more by Joan Holden in between—I saw Back To Normal, in which a mother does not cheer when her son comes home from the two week bombing raid we called the Gulf War. In retrospect that work augured more war evil to come in the decade to follow.

Whether or not she has a touch of the Sybil or can just read the writing on the wall a decade in advance, Joan Holden, whose latest play opens in Berkeley at the Ashby Stage on February 3, has been a force in the theater and, as principal playwright, was a significant reason why the Mime Troupe garnered a Tony for Best Regional Theater. 

Lately, Ms. Holden has focused on domestic injustice and the world of work. 

She adapted a play called “Nickel and Dimed,” based on Barbara Ehrenrich’s book about the wage-slavery of the working class, which played to exceptional reviews. 

Now Holden takes up another book, “Counter Culture” by Candacy Taylor, and makes it personal with a story about a diner waitress of retirement age. 

A significant hook in this new play, titled COUNTER ATTACK, is that it is being produced by Stagebridge, the Oakland-based theater and training ground for senior actors and artists. 

The second hook of COUNTER ATTACK is that Holden joins with lifelong colleagues now in their seniority to shout out against societal ills in a most amusing and convincing theatrical way. 

Sharon Lockwood directs, Joan Mankin plays the lead, Arthur Holden plays a supporting role, and Dan Chumley does the sets. All these veteran professionals were part of the early SF Mime Troupe for whom Joan Holden wrote and who seem to be extended family, e. g., Joan Holden was married to Arthur Holden who is now married to Sharon Lockwood, etc. 

The acting troupe and students at Stagebridge provide the rest of the 12-member ensemble playing over 50 unique characters and customers. 

COUNTER ATTACK will be performed at the Ashby Stage theater, where Shotgun also plays, right across from Ashby BART, Feb 3-Mar 4. Scrumbly Koldewyn has composed a musical underscore for the piece. 

Holden recalled the beginnings of her play writing career with the Mime Troupe:“I was a troupe groupie. Ronnie Davis was hiring writers to adapt classics for a Commedia, and Arthur said, ‘Joan can write,’ so I wrote a take-off on a Goldoni piece that had Peter Coyote in the lead. The first time I saw people doing a scene I had written, and other people laughing, I was hooked and I knew what I wanted to be.” 

She’s a Berkeley local who was born at Alta Bates and went to Berkeley High. She’s had some real-life local waitress experience. “I worked at a café at 5th & Folsom in the early 60’s and was a banquet waitress at the Claremont Hotel. I could call up a lot of nightmare waitress scenes in my memory. And I’ve met some really great waitresses.” 

Holden has been has been honored with awards from the Bay Area Critics' Circle, Dramalogue, and Los Angeles Critics' Circle; playwriting grants from the Rockefeller and Gerbode Foundations; the San Francisco Working Women's Festival Working Woman of the Year award, and, with the Troupe, the San Francisco Media Alliance Golden Gadfly Award. 

In an interview with Holden, we learned that though the Taylor book is a series of monologue-like interviews in the format of “Working” by Studs Terkel; she saw it as a full-on theatrical piece. 

“The characters seemed to me to be all one woman…It takes a certain personality to be a diner waitress. So I made it about two waitresses in conflict. The new one wants to work the counter where there are more tips because of the quick turnover and the older waitress has her regulars.” 

She was in contact with the book’s author through the creation process: “When I was writing the play, it leapt into my mind that it required our heroine play a trick on the rival so I asked Candacy about it and she came up with the trick.” 

From the “artist’s statement” on the Stagebridge website: “ ‘Why another waitress play?’ my waitress daughter asked. If I hadn’t gotten my chance as a writer I would have stayed a waitress myself, and Candacy Taylor’s book shows why. 

“Barbara Ehrenreich honors the women slaving in chain restaurants, whose lives no one would envy; Candacy shows the other side of waitressing. She celebrates the stars of mom-and- pop diners, the waitresses whose blandishments and wisecracks customers line up for, women who love their work and make good money at it. Her book challenges the middle-class assumption that mental work is better work…It shows a blue-collar job that takes more brains and offers more fulfillment, more chance to use one’s whole self, than many higher-status occupations. This play would show why some women, even some with college degrees, would rather run 8 miles around a restaurant floor than sit for 8 hours in a cubicle, or trade slings and arrows with cooks and managers than file reports to Management on a computer. I would hope to influence a few career choices. 

“Finally, this is a chance to write about and for my age group: 65-plus and not dead yet.” 

Read the “artist’s statement” it in its entirety

Counter Attack, by Joan Holden 

Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave, Berkeley 

February 3rd-March 4th (dark on February 15) 

www.stagebridge.org / (510) 444-4755 x114