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Chief Meehan, Thursday night, at Northside hills murder forum--winning hearts and minds.
Ted Friedman
Chief Meehan, Thursday night, at Northside hills murder forum--winning hearts and minds.


Updated: The Deal's Gone Down [maybe]: Oakland's Angstadt Reported to be Berkeley's New Planning Director

By Becky O'Malley
Monday March 12, 2012 - 03:41:00 PM

UPDATE at 7: Well, not so fast. When we raised the question in the public comment period that preceded today's special 5:30 Berkeley City Council meeting, councilmembers roundly denied that Oakland's Eric Angstadt already had a lock on the city's director of planning job.  

"I've only seen him once, for two minutes!" said Mayor Bates. Some councilmembers, not clear which ones, said they'd not heard anything about the choice. The consensus seemed to be that the candidate would merely be introduced at tonight's meeting, and the decision would be made at a subsequent meeting.  

But in all fairness to our colleagues at Berkeleyside, their story might be substantially accurate nevertheless. It's highly probable that the rumored appointee will get the spot, since he seems to be well and truly backed by the development industry, which contributed generously to the Mayor, several of the councilmembers and to Measure R (the excuse for the almost-sealed Downtown Plan).  

Original story (4 p.m.): 

It has been announced (no source indicated) on berkeleyside.com (whose proprietor has requested that the Planet not call it a blog) that "Eric Angstadt, currently deputy director of planning and zoning for the City of Oakland, is expected to be confirmed tonight as Berkeley’s new director of planning and development. The City Council will make the appointment in closed session tonight, and the official announcement is scheduled for tomorrow."

Councilmember Kriss Worthington told the Planet that he has yet to be informed of this decision, and he said that under previous city managers the planning director nomination was reported to the City Council in the closed session and then voted on by the council in subsequent open public meetings.

If the appointment is made in closed session, it will be a departure from previous practice. If the city's announcement of the name is made after the appointment has already taken place, the public has no opportunity to comment on the decision. And it appears that in this case the deal has already gone down, so the public is firmly out of the loop. 

The Berkeleyside announcement featured no Berkeley quotes, but enthusiastic endorsements of the Angstadt appointment from Joel Ramos of Hayward, a major regional smart growth proponent, and John Protopappas of Oakland, one of Oakland's biggest developers: 


“Eric is a very creative, visionary person who takes a very pragmatic approach to his vision,” said Joél Ramos, a member of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board and leader of the Great Communities Collaborative for TransForm. “He’s very talented at working with people. We’re confident that if there’s a way to get something done on a project, Eric will find the way.”  

Ramos cites three major projects in Oakland where he believes Angstadt’s contribution was crucial: the Upper Broadway corridor plan, the International Boulevard transit-oriented development, and the commercial corridor zoning update. 

John Protopappas, president and CEO of Madison Park Financial, one of Oakland’s largest developers, echoes Ramos. 'Oakland's loss is Berkeley's gain'." 



Statements from City Manager and Police Chief

Saturday March 10, 2012 - 11:42:00 PM

Editor's note: These statements were published on the berkeleyside.com blog at 2:30 on Saturday afternoon. After I wrote to the city manager at 5.58 p.m. asking why they were never sent to the Planet, we received a copy at about 6:15. While city staff is brushing up on media etiquette, someone might take the time to compile a press list through which they can release information to all media outlets at the same time. 

Statement from Interim City Manager Christine Daniel

I take this situation very seriously. We understand and appreciate the depth of response to this incident. The value of the free press in our society is fundamental to who we are as a people. Our organization deeply values our relationship with the media, and individual reporters, and we know that our community depends on the media for information about important events in Berkeley. 

The Police Chief has apologized directly to the reporter involved and expressed his sincere regret for his actions on Thursday night. There was no justification for contacting the reporter in this way and the Chief understands that the more appropriate response to his concerns about inaccurate statements in the article should have been to wait until the following day and make contact by phone or email. The Chief has acknowledged his lapse in judgment and assured me that nothing like this will happen again. 

The Berkeley Police Department looks forward to focusing its efforts moving forward on restoring the trust of the press and ensuring that the media has more timely and accurate information about events in Berkeley. To facilitate that, the Chief is planning an independent review of the Department’s policies and practices regarding timely releases of information. When that review is completed, a report will be provided to the City Council and the community. 

Statement from Police Chief Michael K. Meehan

I sincerely apologize for my actions on Thursday night. The Berkeley Police Department has a good, productive working relationship with the Oakland Tribune and its reporters. I have apologized to the reporter personally and I take full responsibility for this error in judgment. I was frustrated with the Department’s ability to get out timely information, but that is no excuse. My actions do not reflect the values of the Berkeley Police Department. I deeply appreciate the importance of an independent and thoroughly informed media, and how they assist us in making our community aware of important events and information. I am committed to ensuring that the Police Department continues to have a trusting and professional working relationship with the press and to make sure that happens, I am planning for an independent review of the Department’s policies and practices regarding release of information to the media. 




Berkeley Hills Murder Update: Raucous North Side Mob Charmed by Berkeley Police

By Ted Friedman
Friday March 09, 2012 - 04:26:00 PM
Chief Meehan, to right, 3rd, taking the heat Thursday night at community meeting on Hills murder. Officer White, left; Dispatch supervisor Lauborough, middle
Ted Friedman
Chief Meehan, to right, 3rd, taking the heat Thursday night at community meeting on Hills murder. Officer White, left; Dispatch supervisor Lauborough, middle
Media vans at Thursday major media event at Northbrae Community Church.
Ted Friedman
Media vans at Thursday major media event at Northbrae Community Church.
Chief Meehan, Thursday night, at Northside hills murder forum--winning hearts and minds.
Ted Friedman
Chief Meehan, Thursday night, at Northside hills murder forum--winning hearts and minds.

Berkeley police representatives charmed an initially raucous mob assembled at Northbrae Community Church Thursday night to discuss last month's murder in the hills. 

Three hundred angry, frightened Berkeley residents, mostly from District 6, assembled on the Northside Thursday night seeking reassurance that they would not be murdered like Peter Cukor, who was killed Feb.19 outside his mansion in the exclusive Tilden Park Hills neighborhood. 

After angry outbursts from spectators threatened to disrupt the meeting, Chief Michael K. Meehan began working the crowd. 

"How many of you have read that we blame Occupy Oakland for causing us to hold back officers, or that we failed to respond quickly enough? Hands went up. 

"We didn't say it," the chief said. 

Media said it. 

"But the blame [for misunderstandings] rests with me," said the chief. "I just couldn't keep up with all the media calls. We were too slow to release" pertinent information. "Tonight, we hope to clear up" those misunderstandings. 

"We're just men and woman. We've talked to other agencies to see what they are doing that we are not." 

"I live in this community and my wife and kids live here," the chief said. "I care about this community, and want it be safe." 

The chief denied that the department had blamed Occupy Oakland, as widely reported, for diverting police, or that mistakes were made in dispatching because protestors arrived in Berkeley at 10:10 p.m. the night of the murder. 

"I am particularly proud" of our handling of the protest, Meehan said. Police had monitored the march with one squad car, near, but not in view of, the marchers, and all ended peacefully, according to the chief. 

An officer on Shattuck had reportedly been diverted from Cukor's call by a dispatcher because police were "monitoring" Occupy. According to Meehan, Cukor's prowler call came in at 8:47 p.m. At 8:59 an officer on Shattuck offered to go to the crime scene, but was, reportedly, diverted. 

But not because of Occupy, according to the chief, who throughout the meeting maintained that police had followed standard procedures of priorities. Throughout the evening, the chief would return to the necessity—in policing—of priorities. 

"I want to make it clear that I don't blame Occupy. It was not their fault," the chief insisted. 

To questions about whether the victim could have done anything differently, Meehan responded that he didn't want to blame the victim, either. 

At 9:01 Cukor's wife reported her husband was being attacked by the prowler. "A sizable number of officers was dispatched," according to the chief, at 9:02, and arrived at 9:12. 

"It can take ten minutes for cars to get up there," he said.  

In Q&A, Meehan said, "we had reports that Oakland's F---- the police march planned to "take over" the university police station. That's why we held-over twelve officers going off shift. This gave us thirty-six officers. One squad in roll-call, and another in briefing for Occupy, and the third, on the streets. 

The department has 176 officers, with 12 vacancies, Meehan said, but patrol sizes have remained the same for twenty years. "When we have to make cuts, we cut something like bike patrols." 

Meehan was accompanied by Alan Lauborough, one of four police-dispatch supervisors, who addressed concerns that dispatchers had botched the police response to the victim's prowler report, and by Officer Byron White, a beat coordinator of four beats, one of which was beat 1, the crime scene, who also answered police-response questions. 

Do calls, like Cukor's first call to the non-emergency number cause delayed response, and what should citizens do about prowlers and trespassers, many asked. 

The chief reiterated throughout the evening that the difference between so-called emergency calls and so-called non-emergency amounted to "zero." Your calls will be evaluated, and responded to," he said. 

The idea, misreported in the press, according to the chief, that Cukor's call on the non-emergency line had caused delayed response was untrue.  

"Should Cukor have sounded frantic to get attention?  

Labourough replied that dispatchers are less interested in emotion than they are in getting the details of the complaint. 

Should the victim have stayed inside the house? "Possibly," Labourough said, but "we don't advise on that. It's your choice. There are situations where barricading yourself in a back room might be effective," but in other situations going to a neighbor's might be a better idea. 

Labourough said Berkeley gets 1,000 "suspicious persons report each year. If we didn't prioritize those, we would have to divert police service from possibly more dangerous situations. 

Berkeley police post instructions for dealing with most potentially dangerous situations on their website. 

But, according to Labourough, if you're not sure whether your situation is dangerous enough to use 9-1-1, call 9-1-1. "It may be an emergency, and it may not. Could be a middle area. We'll figure it out. 

Berkeley police post instructions for dealing with many potentially dangerous situations on their website. 

Pressed for more information about the killer, Meehan would only say that he told them he had walked from Oakland. Asked about motive, the chief replied that "we have no idea what was on his mind." 

I asked him later about the imaginary fiance, Zoey, or Zooey, which was reported in press accounts, and he replied that the suspect was not saying much to police, and that, besides, the investigation was on-going. More on this here

Meehan made numerous references to his department's achievements, going back to August Vollman, and drew applause. By meeting's end, the once-angry crowd was applauding frequently. 

__________________________________________________________________ Ted Friedman usually reports from the dangerous South side, which has not yet had a murder this year. The year is young. 



















Watch Out for Whales in the Bay

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday March 09, 2012 - 04:24:00 PM

At least one gray whale was spotted in San Francisco Bay near Alcatraz Island again today, and the U.S. Coast Guard is alerting boaters of the location of whales so that mariners can steer clear, a Coast Guard officer said.

There have been several whale sightings in the Bay over the last several days, including a mother and a young calf, as whales are migrating from breeding areas near Mexico to feeding areas near Alaska, officials from the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary said.

This morning at least one gray whale has been seen near Blossom Rock, a submerged rock near Yerba Buena Island. 

"Our vessel trafficking service has issued an active broadcast warning mariners to keep a close eye out for the whales in certain locations," including Blossom Rock, Coast Guard Officer Mark Leahey said. 

According to federal law, boaters must stay 50 yards or more away from whales, as collisions could be disastrous for both the whales and the boats, officials said. 

While the Coast Guard is not actively following whales to enforce this, if they receive reports of harassment or boats getting too close to the whales, they would respond to enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Leahey said. 

Boaters approaching or bothering whales could be arrested and subject to criminal penalties of up to $20,000, Leahey said. 

In the most recent sightings, however, this has not yet been necessary. 

"As of now we have not gotten any reports of any abuse or harassment," Leahey said. 

Bay Area residents may see more whales throughout the spring, as San Francisco Bay and some of the more shallow surrounding waters are a frequent resting point for whales making the long 6,000 mile migration from Mexico to Alaska, marine sanctuary spokeswoman Mary Jane Schramm said. 

While not much of a whale is usually visible on the surface, whales can be spotted by their blow, which looks like a puff of smoke about 10 to 15 feet high. Whales will blow several times before diving for three to six minutes, Schramm said. 

She said that mothers with young calves can be particularly vulnerable to boaters, because if the mother and calf are separated, the calf would starve. 

Schramm recommended that anyone who wants a close encounter with a whale go on a whale-watching trip with a captain who knows how to navigate near whales and a naturalist to explain whale behavior. 

In addition, anyone looking to learn more about whales and marine life could also visit the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, which began Thursday night and will last through Sunday. 

The festival is being held at the Bay Theater on Pier 39, next to the Aquarium of the Bay, and includes films on sharks, surfing, ocean exploration and ocean sports like sailing. 

A schedule of films and events can be found at www.oceanfilmfest.org.



Downtown Berkeley To Be Re-Jiggered for the Benefit of Some

By Becky O'Malley
Friday March 09, 2012 - 08:19:00 AM

Don’t know why I keep doing this, but I did it again—watched the Berkeley City Council meeting online—and friends, the news is not good. The councilmembers, with a couple of semi-exceptions, continue their inexorable march toward re-shaping downtown Berkeley in the image of Manhattan.

The putative excuse is Measure R. About two-thirds of the Berkeley residents who showed up at the polls a couple of years ago were suckered into voting for Measure R with no real understanding of what it entailed. The slick professional campaign to rezone downtown Berkeley was funded by, among others, the biggest downtown apartment owner, Equity Residential, which is owned by the notorious Sam Zell, now reputed to be back in the real estate market after his disastrous fling with being a media mogul, which left the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times in ruins. To its eternal embarrassment, the too-often-fooled Sierra Club lent its good name to the Zell enterprise for a glossy mailer which probably tipped the scales, tricking infrequent voters who weren’t aware of who was actually behind the measure.

The new Downtown Plan is billed as the implementation of Measure R. 

How did we get here? It’s a tangled trail, but longtime Mayor Tom Bates has his footprints all over it. The proposed plan is cleverly designed to benefit big property owners (and campaign contributors) and the University of California—two powerful constituencies whose interests are often aligned. And of course, in the best contemporary style, it’s heavily green-washed to conceal this architecture. 

If you have about 20 minutes to spare, you can see a few vigilant citizens lay it all out for you in the public comment section of the video of the meeting: 

Get Microsoft Silverlight  


  • former Planning Commission Chair (and occasional Planet contributor) Zelda Bronstein on UC Berkeley’s hidden hand in shaping the city’s planning process;
  • Tom Hunt on the pernicious impact of the expansion of the “Downtown Area” into abutting residential neighborhoods;
  • Steve Finacom, another Planet contributor and also the Vice-President of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, on the threat the new plan poses to historic buildings;
  • Dave Blake on the way internal contradictions in Measure R’s language have been interpreted in this plan to favor big property interests;
  • current Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman on the way passage of the plan is being fast-tracked without proper analysis and deliberation and several others of note.

And if you want a snapshot look at who’s behind the plan, check out the comments of Mr. and Mrs. Rhoades, Marc and Erin. He’s a former City of Berkeley planning director, who’s passed through the revolving door to emerge as a major developer. She runs the biggest entity lobbying for such developers, ironically called “Livable Berkeley”, whose main role is promoting the kind of development her husband’s firm does. Cozy. 

Another constituency supporting the plan is represented by a little parade of pathetic young folk who wish aloud that they could live in San Francisco but don’t want to move. They earnestly hope that Berkeley will become more like the cities of their dreams, just a lot cheaper. (For a hilarious, possibly satiric look at a clever scheme to exploit this group’s naïveté, see this Berkeleyside interview with promoter Patrick Kennedy.) 

Another thread running through the discussion on Tuesday was Startup Fever—the data-free Cargo Cult-like belief that the key to the city of Berkeley’s ultimate financial triumph will be zoning changes to facilitate building high-rises downtown for new enterprises and their worker bees. This is often linked with the parallel push to build same in West Berkeley—in both cases completely unsupported by market-based evidence, but vigorously supported by property owners and builders who hope to benefit from the construction process. 

What was most depressing about watching the city council discussion on Tuesday was the relative apathy of the very large majority of Berkeley citizens toward what will be major changes to the city’s face. As usual, the big divide is between the Above-It-Alls and the Trampled-Upons. That would be, in Berkeley geography, dwellers in the hills versus those in the flats. 

Berkeley has lately made the news as the city with the biggest wealth gap between the affluent and the rest of the residents. The power structure here is comparable to medieval towns, where the nobility lived in castles on hills surrounded by common folk below. Comfortably ensconced hillside residents have no reason to care if flatlanders have backyard tomato plants shaded by looming office blocks next door, and (with some admirable exceptions) they don’t care. They have no reason to be concerned about how many more residents will be crowded into downtown neighborhoods which they can easily avoid. 

In Berkeley, “Not In My Back Yard” these days often means “What, Me Worry?” Increased traffic and congestion downtown has little or no effect on the majority of voters, those who look down on our city from comfortable and increasingly pricey uphill enclaves and who can afford to shop elsewhere. The only councilmembers who have spoken up to defend those who will be afflicted by the proposed downtown plan are those who live in the area: Worthington, Arreguin and Anderson. 

About that fast-track: at Tuesday’s meeting the mayor announced a special meeting of the city council for next Tuesday, March 13, location TBD, so that councilmembers could add their rubberstamp to the new Downtown Plan in a timely way. The public hearing was closed last Tuesday, but in his ineffable style the mayor also referred to some sort of “hearing” at the special meeting—though procedural details hardly matter, since it’s clear that the deal has already gone down. The council majority won’t be hearing much at the “hearing” if there is one. 

The goal seems to be to conclude matters once and for all by April 3. Knowledgeable observers suggest that the reason for this is to spike a threatened citizen referendum on the plan, or at least to force it onto the November presidential election ballot, which traditionally attracts the largest number of poorly-informed infrequent voters who are easily swayed by expensive glossy mailers. There’s no reason to expect that the people now running Berkeley from behind the scenes won’t have it their way once again, but you could always come to the special meeting next Tuesday (if you can find it) and register your opinion, for all the good it will do. 



The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley Police Story Goes Viral

Sunday March 11, 2012 - 10:31:00 AM

The ruckus about the midnight visit that reporter Doug Oakley received from the Berkeley police's public information officer has been widely discussed. Here it is on ABC TV: 




And on KTVU:

Berkeley Police Chief Sends Sergeant (Armed) to Reporter's Home at Midnight to Complain about a Story

By Becky O'Malley
Saturday March 10, 2012 - 08:45:00 AM

Now here's one that's truly unbelievable, but it seems to have happened. It appears that Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan ordered Sergeant Mary Kusmiss to go to Bay Area News Group reporter Doug Oakley's house at 12:45 a.m. to complain about errors in a story he'd just filed about Meehan's appearance at the North Berkeley forum which discussed the recent hills murder. Here's the story:


To his home? After midnight? What could the chief have been thinking? And what was Mary Kusmiss thinking? Couldn't she have talked him out of it? She works Monday through Thursday, and technically this incident was early Friday morning, when she too should have been home in bed.  

And it's not like Doug Oakley is some dangerous radical. He's an excellent, serious reporter of the old school, and we in Berkeley are lucky to have him on our beat. Frankly, police chiefs are a dime a dozen, but good reporters are mighty hard to find. We don't need our police bullying them if they make minor errors in coverage. 

This is an incident of a serious temperamental lapse in judgement comparable to the time Tom Bates threw a bunch of Daily Cals in a trash can because they endorsed his opponent, but of course it's much worse. Presumably Bates didn't take time to think before he lost it, but Meehan and Kusmiss had a fairly long chance to reconsider and they blew it. Also, they carry guns, not what we want to have in the hands of people who can't control hostile impulses.  

The sad thing about all this is that the general word around Berkeley is that Meehan's been doing a pretty good job overall. Most observers have concluded that the police handled the hills murder situation as well as could have been expected, given the circumstances. We'll see next week how the acting city manager and the city council deal with the situation. There's already a closed council meeting to discuss personnel issues scheduled for Monday, so they should add this serious problem to the agenda.

Updated: Berkeley Council Will Meet in Closed Session on Monday to Consider New Planning Director, Labor Negotiations

Friday March 09, 2012 - 04:49:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council will meet in a special closed session on Monday, March 12, at 5:30 P.M. in the Cypress Room at City Hall, 2180 Milvia Street, 1st Floor to consider two topics, hiring a new director of planning and ongoing labor negotiations. The Brown Act, the state law about open government, permits these topics to be considered in closed session because they are personnel matters, exempt from the usual open meeting rules. However, the public may comment before the session on these topics.

First, the council will consider and possibly act on filling the key position of Director of Planning for the City of Berkeley. As of Friday afternoon, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, even council members had not been informed about who the choice might be, if indeed a choice has been made by the Acting City Manager. A public comment period will precede the meeting, but since the name or names of the candidate or candidates has not been revealed, the public might find it difficult to provided meaningful input into the council's decision process.

Saturday morning update: The chosen candidate is now rumored to be Eric Angstadt, currently listed on the city of Oakland website as Deputy Director of Community & Economic Development in Oakland's Community & Economic Development Agency.. Oakland readers, what do you know about him?

The second topic might engender even more public comment, since it is scheduled to involve participation of Police Chief Michael Meehan, now under heavy criticism because he sent an officer to a reporter's home after midnight early Friday morning in an effort to get a story changed.

It's billed as a conference with labor negotiators Christine Daniel, Interim City Manager, David W. Hodgkins, Director of Human Resources, Teresa Berkeley-Simmons, Budget Manager, Margarita Zamora, Senior Human Resources Analyst, Michael Meehan, Chief of Police, Mark Zembsch, Deputy City Attorney, Margaret Edwards, Associate Human Resources Analyst. and employee organizations IBEW Local 1245; Public Employees Union, Local One; and SEIU Local 1021, Community Services and Part-Time Recreation Leaders Association, Unrepresented Employees, Berkeley Police Association.

Citizens who have opinions on what should be done on either front are encouraged to come at 5:30 and speak their minds.


Odd Bodkins: Rhat Cat is Dead (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday March 09, 2012 - 04:18:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: 'lectric Footprint (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Friday March 09, 2012 - 04:22:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

Downtown for the 1%?

By Stewart Jones
Friday March 09, 2012 - 01:12:00 PM

We are poised to be an international center for the development of new environmental technologies… That opportunity grew with the award of a $500 million biofuels research center to UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab two weeks ago.

—Mayor Tom Bates, February 2007

Mr. Li, a humanitarian leader and visionary, acts upon the values that emanate from his own life.

—UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, October 2011

Of course you have noticed Berkeley’s two new high tech research laboratories looming over Oxford Street, at Hearst Avenue — one on the UC Campus and one in the Downtown. Even though they are big buildings they remain mostly a mystery to everyone. 

First: Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences 

On the east side of Oxford Street stands UC’s Li Ka-Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, designed to fit into any high-tech research park. It replaces Warren Hall and an idyllic spot where old oaks once snaked above worn footpaths at the West Campus entrance. Its massive façade of stainless steel, expanses of blank concrete and green glass rises 5 stories (yet over 100 ft in height to accommodate electrical connectors, pipes, and air ducts in the labs on each floor), with one underground level (for animal testing), spreading out over an area of 200,000 sq. ft. 

Opened in January, its vast interior spaces are planned to accommodate innovative undergraduate coursework and training, as well as to accommodate scientists from around the world undertaking new biomedical research methods, particularly in the use of cultured stem cells. Such science is expected to advance the University’s ongoing alliance with corporations investing in and developing patents for both private and public interests. 

It is fascinating to learn that the major donor Li Ka-shing is China’s richest citizen and ranked number 11 on Forbes The Richest People on the Planet. Currently a resident of Hong Kong, Mr. Li built his fortune on supplying the world with plastic flowers (i.e. the largest manufacturer and exporter of plastics in Hong Kong). Today his fortune includes a majority holding in Husky Energy, the Canadian oil mining and exploration company that has entered into a multi-billion dollar joint venture with BP called the Sunrise Oil Sands Project (a major proponent of the Keystone Pipeline) in Alberta, Canada. 

Second: Helios Energy Research Facility 

Across Oxford Street, within the Downtown, stands the nearly finished Helios Energy Research Facility, another massive state-of-the-art research laboratory. This 63,600 sq. ft. building, again featuring an exterior of high tech glass and wall panels, is five stories, but rises 110 ft. to equal 8 stories. It is being constructed to accommodate the University’s precedent setting $500 million research agreement with the BP corporation — Mr. Li’s partner in the Tar Sands venture. 

The UC-BP agreement was negotiated in 2007, without informed public debate, by Steven Chu the Director of LBNL, now Secretary of the Department of Energy. The agreement launched a new paradigm for academic and scientific research at the University. It established that in exchange for corporate investments the University would entitle corporations to use facilities, infrastructure, and personnel to subsidize private for-profit business. Specifically, the UC-BP agreement funds the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) which will be centered at the Helios building, entitling BP to specify research priorities and to manage and control research collaboration that might lead to significant discoveries (patents). It can be assumed that EBI intends to use genetic engineering to develop and patent genetically modified biofuels grown on cheap land in developing countries (Africa and Latin America) and new types of genetically engineered microbes designed for multiple uses, including microbes to be used for extracting oil locked in the tar sands of Alberta. 

Are the Li Ka-Shing Biomedical Center and Helios Energy Research Facility the prototype for Berkeley’s future? 

As a matter of fact, a new new Downtown Plan will be on the Council’s agenda this spring. It is almost certain that it will be guided by the secret City (Mayor Bates)/UC Settlement of 2005 which mandated a new Downtown Plan designed to accommodates the University’s needs and anticipated oversized buildings, such as the Biomedical Center and Helios building. (It is worth noting that the Settlement could be nullified and voided at anytime if there were five votes on the City Council to do so.) 

Furthermore, the Biomedical Center and Helios buildings not only radically change the direction of the Downtown, but they also deplete the City’s resources. Because the University pays no property taxes and because the University barely compensates the City for its use of services and infrastructure, UC’s impacts weigh unfairly on Berkeley’s tax-payers. The City infrastructure is already compromised and its budget is increasingly a mystery, including a looming 310 million dollars in unfunded liabilities. How can the City Council and its Planning Department in good conscience support the expansion of a global scientific research park in our City on the behalf of the 1% for free?!

Next Downtown Plan Hearing Will Be March 13

By Martha Nicoloff, former Planning Commissioner
Friday March 09, 2012 - 03:01:00 PM

Tuesday’s hearing on the down town area plan at the City Council was continued until March 13 because of public interest. The following statement was presented to Council members : 

1. Berkeley’s population has increased by ten thousand since the year 2000. 

2. High density in the downtown will strain an already decrepit and inadequate sanitary sewer system. The city is already $500 million dollars behind in improving our deteriorating infrastructure. 

3. High rises will overwhelm both historic buildings and sites of historic significance;and. 

4. Block existing views of bay and hills; and 

5. Create wind tunnels when streets are canyonized by dense high rise development and 

6. Add to traffic congestion and worsening of air quality through increases in vehicle use by inhabitants of taller buildings; and 

7. Increase traffic congestion, adding to the hazards confronting pedestrians, cyclists and disabled when attempting to use crowded and unusually broad streets. 

8. The development will be densely occupied, thus increasing the likelihood of casualties resulting from a seismic event, and further overburden Berkeley’s emergency services. 

9. After a seismic event many high rise buildings will be unusable because of failures of the elevators, water, power and sewer systems. 

10. Some years ago the United States Geologic Survery forecast a 70% chance for a 6.7 quake on the Hayward fault. The recent 4.0 quake of a few days ago should be a reminder that the city must consider the safety of future residents.


FIRST DRAFT: Contraception: The New American Soap Opera

By Ruth Rosen
Friday March 09, 2012 - 01:30:00 PM

For weeks, bewildered Americans have witnessed politicians debate whether or not contraception should be covered by President’s Obama’s new health care plan. On March 1, after some of the most bizarre theatrical antics remembered in this nation’s political history, the U.S. Senate finally interrupted this surreal soap opera with a cliff hanger. By only two votes, they defeated an amendment that would have allowed religious employers to refuse to pay for the contraception of their employees.  

The pilot episode of the drama began on February 16, when President Obama announced that all the employers of all institutions, regardless of their religious affiliation, would have to pay for contraception. When the Catholic Church and right-wing fringe went ballistic, he compromised and said that if an institution felt it was violating its religious beliefs, then the insurance company would have to pay. 

But even that compromise was insufficient. In the weeks that followed, the Republicans launched a war on contraception. They told women that the appropriate birth control pill was an aspirin held by tightly-grasped knees; they created a religious “hearing” on contraception made up of all men; and right-wing radio pundit Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student, who had defended contraception, a “slut” and a “prostitute.” “No drama Obama” only intensified the plot when he personally called the student and thanked her for supporting his health plan. 

Every day brought new and unbelievable episodes in this weird melodrama. In Virginia, the legislature passed a bill that would require a pregnant woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina so she would really know she was carrying a human being. The Governor at first agreed, but then, attacked for humiliating pregnant women, dithered about what kind of bill he would sign. Some opponents, of course, genuinely believe that contraception is the same thing as abortion—the murder of a human being. Some may even realize that less contraception results in more abortions and more government expenditures for unwanted children. The Republicans certainly know that the vast majority of Americans, including Catholics, support birth control, but they just couldn’t stop themselves. They thought they had found a way to defeat the President. 

But they were wrong. 

Women and independents tend to support birth control. In fact, by March 1, 63% of those polled supported the President’s compromise. Liberal groups mobilised all across the country, noting that the right-wing wants an unobtrusive government unless it involves inserting a probe into a woman’s body for an ultrasound. Senator Barbara Boxer launched “one million Strong for Women,” to make women’s voice heard. Democrats, realising that the Republicans had truly overreached, became positively giddy at how much they had to gain if they could keep the debate simmering. 

So, part of this soap opera was simply politics as the loopy, right-wing fringe Republicans became intoxicated with the possibility of electing one of two candidates, both of whom oppose contraception and abortion. (Although former Governor Mitt Romney flip-flopped when he backed away from his support of contraception and joined the Republican opposition a few hours later). 

So what’s really going on? 

The Republican party, for its part, framed the fight as one of religious freedom and freedom of speech, protected by the first amendment to the constitution. Democrats and women’s rights advocates responded that it was exclusively about women’s health care. 

The media, with all its stenographic sophistry, uncritically quoted the language of both sides. The New York Times, for example, said that “ the furor over President Obama’s birth control mandate has swiftly entered a new plane, with supporters and opponents alike calling the subject a potent weapon for the November elections and taking it to the public in campaigns to shape the issue---is it about religious liberty or women’s health?” 

Actually everyone has missed the real story. 

What neither side wants to say is that this is a counter-reformation, an attempt to return women to the early 1960s, before birth control pill existed and the Supreme Court, in Griswold v.Connecticut (1965), established the right of contraception in the United States. In short, it was a nostalgic effort to return to a time when a middle class man could support a family, women knew their place, Georgetown University law students were mostly men, and African Americans could not vote, let alone become President. It was a time of male and racial supremacy, before the civil rights and women’s movements changed the political culture of this country and economic changes made a two-income family necessary. 

At stake in 2012 is the right of a woman to control her own fertility, her own reproductive choices and therefore, to lead an independent life. This is a battle that has raged since the late 19th century. After abortion became legal in 1973, the Republican party inserted an anti-abortion plank into its 1980 platform and ever since, every Republican candidate has had to pass a litmus test of opposing abortion in order to run for president. 

For most of human history, sexuality and reproduction have been intricately yoked together. Birth control, particularly the Pill, ruptured that link and gave women the right to enjoy sex without the goal of reproduction. When the Supreme Court formally ratified that rupture by making abortion legal in Roe v. Wade, (1973), many people in this country trembled at the possible changes women’s sexual independence might bring. By then, the women’s movement had challenged and changed laws and customs that governed the daily lives of women in both the work place and at home. The idea of women’s sexual freedom polarised the nation, with both men and women advocating for different choices. 

In short, the war over contraception during the last bizarre month was never about religious freedom or women’s health care. It was about controlling women’s right to control their own bodies and to make their own sexual and reproductive choices. 

Hardly anyone feels free to say this. Opponents of women’s sexual freedom talk about free speech or religious freedom when what they really want to do is to repeal everything the women’s movement’s changed. Supporters of women’s right to make their own sexual and reproductive choices know they must emphasise women’s health care. Even though contraception and abortion are a central part of that health care, they know they must remain mum about women’s sexual freedom. 

This soap opera is hardly over. In fact, we are now seeing re-reruns of this never-ending drama. Some of us remember that in 1969, a feminist group called Redstockings disrupted a New York State hearing on whether abortion should be legal. The panel included a dozen men and one nun. The women’s effort to be heard was thwarted when the hearing was moved. 

Today, contraception and abortion are legal, but state by state, laws are chipping away at women’s access to both contraception and abortion. The truth is, this is the last gasp of a patriarchal counter-reformation that is still alive, mobilized and, most importantly, well-funded. Stay tuned, as they say. The soap opera is far from over. © 2012 Open Democracy 

Ruth Rosen, a journalist and historian, is professor emerita of history at the University of California, Davis and a visiting professor of public policy and history at UC Berkeley. For 11 years, she wrote op-ed columns for the Los Angeles Times, and from 2000-2004 she worked full-time as a political columnist and editorial page writer at the San Francisco Chronicle.

THE PUBLIC EYE: Four Lies About America’s Energy “Crisis”

By Bob Burnett
Friday March 09, 2012 - 01:06:00 PM

Oil prices are escalating and Americans soon may pay $5 for a gallon of gasoline. This grim fact has not escaped the notice of politicians. America’s latest energy crisis has prompted heated rhetoric from Republicans and Democrats. Here are four lies that have been bandied about. 

1. The gas crisis is President Obama’s fault. In the 2012 presidential campaign, Republicans planned to run on the economy, but it’s been improving. They turned to cultural issues such as contraception, but gained no traction. Now some GOP candidates are seeing rising gas prices as their opportunity. Recently, The chair of the Republican National Committee wrote, “Thanks to the president, America is running on empty”. 

Most Americans don’t hold President Obama responsible for rising gas prices. A new Washington Post poll spread the blame around: 18 percent of respondents blamed President Obama, 14 percent the oil companies, 11 percent “Iran/Middle East,” a whopping 38 percent cited other reasons, and 24 percent didn’t know who to blame for rising prices. 

The United States doesn’t lack energy, in general, but we don’t have enough oil. That’s the economic “elephant” in the room, the genesis of our gas woes. The worlds’ largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has reserves of 260B barrels and produces 10M each year; 2M barrels go to the US. The world’s most desperate energy consumer, China, has oil reserves of 20B barrels, produces 4M each year, and consumes 8M. The United States has oil reserves of 19B barrels [1.4 percent of the world total], produces 9M each year, and consumes 19M barrels. 

There are many theories about why gas prices have risen, but the most logical explanation was voiced by Washington post columnist Ezra Klein: Americans are caught in an economic vise between the world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, which holds exports steady to keep the price up, and the world’s most desperate consumer, China, which has no choice but to buy oil at whatever the price is. China’s demand is driving world gasoline prices up and the US is suffering. 

2. President Obama hasn’t done anything to increase America’s energy supply. Republicans claim the President has no energy policy and that’s the reason for the gas crisis. 

On March 7th President Obama spoke about his energy strategy: 

” If we are going to control our energy future, then we’ve got to have an all-of-the-above strategy. We’ve got to develop every source of American energy -- not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power, nuclear power, biofuels. We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, in our buildings, in our factories. That’s the only solution to the challenge. Because as we start using less, that lowers the demand, prices come down… Since I took office, America’s dependence on foreign oil has gone down every single year. In fact, in 2010, it went under 50 percent for the first time in 13 years.
Bloomberg News recently reported, “The U.S. is the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self-sufficiency… Domestic oil output is the highest in eight years…” Republicans refuse to acknowledge the truth: America has energy, in general, but not enough oil. 

3. The President hasn’t done enough to bring new petroleum resources on line: Republicans chant “Drill, baby, drill.” Recently, Mitt Romney said. “Obama should do more to open up domestic sites for drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.” None of these suggestions would remedy soaring gasoline prices. For example, if the decision was made to drill in ANWR it would take 10 years before this oil reached our pumps and then it would only slightly diminish our need to import oil. Republicans refuse to acknowledge the obvious: America doesn’t have enough oil and must turn to alternatives. 

Many believe the solution is to increase our use of natural gas. America has humongous natural gas deposits that lie within shale. The largest is the Marcellus shale deposit running from West Virginia to upstate New York; it’s thought to hold a one-hundred-year-supply of natural gas. The technique used to access the natural gas is hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking”): a deep hole is drilled, an explosion is set off, special solvents are injected, and the embedded gas is liberated and floats into holding containers. (While this process has produced large amounts of natural gas it has disturbing environmental consequences. Fracking has damaged communities, polluting their drinking water and their streams and rivers. “On New Year’s Eve a 4.0 magnitude earthquake in Youngstown, Ohio, was blamed on the injection of high-pressure fracking water along a seismic fault.”) 

4. The President has exaggerated the environmental consequences of an all-of-the-above energy strategy. Republicans claim President Obama doesn’t have an effective energy strategy because he’s beholden to environmentalists 

The reality is that Republicans have no energy strategy because they are beholden to the Oil and Gas industry. Since 1990Oil and Gas companies have contributed $238.7 million to candidates and parties and 75 percent has gone to Republicans – a higher percentage this year. It’s not “drill, baby, drill,” it’s “money, baby, money.” 

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



By Joe Eaton
Friday March 09, 2012 - 02:23:00 PM
Does the northern spotted owl face extinction by assimilation? Credit:
US Fish and Wildlife Service (via Wikimedia Commons.)
Does the northern spotted owl face extinction by assimilation? Credit:

Last week I wrote about a new proposal by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to study the impact of the barred owl on the endangered northern spotted owl by experimentally removing, lethally or otherwise, barred owls from selected sites where the two species overlap. The barred owl, a common and widespread Eastern species, has invaded the range of its close relative and appears to be displacing it in some areas. The two owls are interbreeding, raising concerns that the spotted owl may be genetically swamped by the larger, more fecund, and more adaptable barred owl. 

A few environmental groups have weighed in on the removal experiment. Steve Holmer of the American Bird Conservancy noted that FWS is also pushing additional timber-thinning projects, ostensibly for fire prevention, in spotted owl habitat. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a very carefully thought-out experiment to see whether removing hundreds of barred owls will benefit spotted owls,” said Holmer. “We’d like to see the same determined effort to assess the effect of forest thinning on owl populations, but the agency’s current recommended plan of action doesn’t include that.” 

The response from Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society was equivocal: “At some point, conservationists may have to debate whether, or how, to manage the barred owl to maintain the vitality of the spotted owl. In the immediate future, conservationists probably can work together to support funding for ecological studies of barred owls accompanied by removal experiments.” 

Portland Audubon, noting that feedback from members overwhelming opposed lethal control of barred owls, struck a cautious position: “Portland Audubon's position is that the highest priority must be placed on preventing the extinction of species even to the degree that this entails lethal control of other protected species. To that degree we support moving forward with the EIS, but will not take a final position on lethal control until we are able to fully evaluate the different options presented. We must see that the fundamental cause of spotted owl populations declines, loss of critical habitat, is being adequately addressed, that lethal control of barred owls, in addition to habitat protection and restoration, is a necessary condition for spotted owls to recover, and that such an approach is practicable and will substantially improve the spotted owl's chances for survival.” 

I’m sure other precincts will be heard from. 

The idea of culling one species to protect another does raise some thorny philosophical questions. To begin with, both birds are native North American species. We’re not talking about furriners like Asian carp or feral swine. We’re not even talking about North American species artificially introduced to another part of the continent, like eastern red foxes, wild turkeys, or bullfrogs in California. 

The brown-headed cowbird may provide a near analogy. This cuckoo-like brood parasite, originally native to the prairies, followed agricultural clearances into new territory where it found naïve hosts that had never evolved defenses against it; notable examples being the least Bell’s vireo in southern California. Cowbird eradication is a standard, and relatively noncontroversial, management practice for this and other endangered species. Likewise the selective culling of California gulls that prey on least terns and snowy plovers. 

But the dynamics are a little different in the owl case. It would be more straightforward if this was just a matter of predation. But, as FWS biologist Kent Livezey pointed out in a Northwestern Naturalist article, “control rarely is used to address competition and is never used to address hybridization.” 

For example, mallards have been generously sharing their genes with several related species: the American black duck, the mottled duck, and the Hawai’ian duck or koloa. No one is attempting lethal control of mallards beyond what happens, in an unsystematic fashion, during the duck season. Several other cases of genetic assimilation—the golden-winged warbler by the blue-winged warbler, the northwestern crow by the American crow—are being allowed to proceed without government intervention. 

Scientists are beginning to realize that hybridization among birds can sometimes give rise to new species, cases in point being the Italian sparrow and our own familiar Audubon’s warbler. You might well ask why we should interfere with the potential genesis of the sparred owl—or whether the two owls are distinct species, given that their populations are not reproductively isolated. 

The case for lethal control might be more convincing if the barred owl’s westward progress had clearly been assisted by anthropogenic changes to the landscape--by, for example, fire suppression in boreal forests or the planting of shelterbelts in the Northern Plains—which might create a presumption of human responsibility to deal with the results. As far as I know, this connection remains speculative. 

It might be reasonable, then, to err on the side of caution in any decision to choose sides in the owl wars. Stewart Brand, paraphrasing the British anthropologist Edmund Leach, launched his Whole Earth Catalogs with the pronouncement: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” That was 44 years ago, and there’s still room for improvement. 

ECLECTIC RANT: The Privacy Implications of Facial Recognition Technology

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday March 09, 2012 - 08:19:00 AM

By using facial recognition software, a law enforcement agency can use its video surveillance system to pull an image of an individual, run that image through the database to find a match, and identify the person. It can pick someone's face out of a crowd, extract the face from the rest of the scene and compare it to a database of stored images. 

According to How Facial Recognition Systems Work by Kevin Bonsor and Ryan Johnson— in a nutshell—it is based on the ability to recognize a face and then measure the various features of the face. Every face has numerous, distinguishable facial features, such as the distance between the eyes; width of the nose; depth of the eye sockets; the shape of the cheekbones; and the length of the jaw line. These features create a numerical code, called a two-dimensional faceprint, representing the face in the database. A newly-emerging trend in facial recognition technology uses a three-dimensional model. 

Law enforcement agencies have been using this technology for years. However, as the technology became less expensive, banks and airports now use this system. 

Facial recognition software is freely available online, and the technology is fast making its way into mobile phones. It is increasingly used in a variety of ways such as photo tagging on social networking sites, targeting advertisements in stores or public places, and for security and authentication. 

"Photo tagging" is when photos are uploaded, tags or words are added that allow searchers to find uploaded photos. Once a photo has been tagged, only the uploader can remove the tag. 

Someday, you may walk past a sandwich shop and a voice will call your name and invite you in for a sandwich and a cold drink. 

Unless facial recognition software is used with the permission or at least with the knowledge of the individual, then the use of such software raises privacy concerns. 

In U.S. v. Jones, decided January 23, 2012, the Supreme Court held that the use of a GPS device to monitor the defendant's car’s whereabouts was a “search” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment and required a warrant. However, Justice Sotomayer, in her concurring opinion, called into question the longstanding doctrine that individuals have no expectation of privacy over information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. She wrote, "This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers." This seems to be a call to revisit what it means to have privacy in public spaces. Maybe, in the case of facial detection and recognition, people should have rights over who can take and use their faceprints. 

Users on Facebook, for example, upload about 200 million photos every day. Facebook uses facial recognition software, matching images to identities. Facebook uses the technology to recognize faces in photos and suggests who should be tagged in them. 

Recently, in a case brought by the consumer organization Verbraucherzentrale Bundesver against Facebook, a German regional court judge ruled that the ownership of data uploaded to Facebook belongs to the user, and Facebook can only use this data with the consent of the user. And further, Facebook users should be better informed about what happens to their personal data. 

Previously, in November 2011, Facebook settled with the Federal Trade Commission on charges the social network failed to keep consumer information private. The settlement requires Facebook to warn users about privacy changes and to get their permission before sharing their information more broadly. Facebook has also agreed to 20 years of privacy audits,. 

In developing a policy on facial recognition that addresses privacy and security concerns, the U.S. might look to the European Union, which has for many years had a formalized system of privacy legislation, regarded as more rigorous than that found in many other areas of the world. The US-EU Safe Harbor is a streamlined process for U.S. companies to comply with the EU Directive on the protection of persoanl data. It is intended for organizations within the EU or U.S. that store customer data. The Safe Harbor Principles are designed to prevent accidental information disclosure or loss. U.S. companies can opt into the program as long as they adhere to the seven principles outlined in the Directive. The seven principles include:  

* Notice - Individuals must be informed that their data is being collected and about how it will be used. 

* Choice - Individuals must have the ability to opt out of the collection and forward transfer of the data to third parties. 

* Onward Transfer - Transfers of data to third parties may only occur to other organizations that follow adequate data protection principles. 

* Security - Reasonable efforts must be made to prevent loss of collected information. 

* Data Integrity - Data must be relevant and reliable for the purpose it was collected for. 

* Access - Individuals must be able to access information held about them, and correct or delete it if it is inaccurate. 

* Enforcement - There must be effective means of enforcing these rules. 

Under the Federal Trade Commission Act an organization's failure to abide by commitments to implement the Safe Harbor Privacy Principles might be considered deceptive and actionable by the FTC. 

On December 8, 2011, the FTC held a public workshop , "Face Facts: A Forum on Facial Recognition Technology," which "focused on the current and future commercial applications of facial detection and recognition technologies, and explored an array of current uses of these technologies, possible future uses and benefits, and potential privacy and security concerns." An archival webcast of the proceedings can be found here. The public was invited to submit comments by January 31, 2012. 

Some of the questions raised at the workshop and commented upon inclluded: 

* What are the current and future commercial uses of these technologies? 

* How can consumers benefit from the use of these technologies? 

* What are the privacy and security concerns surrounding the adoption of these technologies, and how do they vary depending on how the technologies are implemented? 

* Are there special considerations that should be given for the use of these technologies on or by populations that may be particularly vulnerable, such as children? 

* What are best practices for providing consumers with notice and choice regarding the use of these technologies? 

* Are there situations where notice and choice are not necessary? By contrast, are there contexts or places where these technologies should not be deployed, even with notice and choice? 

* Is notice and choice the best framework for dealing with the privacy concerns surrounding these technologies, or would other solutions be a better fit? If so, what are they? 

* What are best practices for developing and deploying these technologies in a way that protects consumer privacy? 

Clearly, facial recognition technology has raised privacy concerns that calls for a reexamination of the doctrine that individuals have no expectation of privacy over information voluntarily disclosed to third parties.

SENIOR POWER: The Little Red-Haired Girl

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 09, 2012 - 01:47:00 PM

(The Little Red-Haired Girl is an unseen character in the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, a symbol of his unrequited love.)  

Margaret Elliot Murdock (1894-1985) was a bell ringer, birder, caregiver, dutiful daughter and sibling, early enabler of University of California, Berkeley women students and the Women’s Faculty Club, Hawaii aficionado, housemate, musician, redhead, senior citizen, volunteer … 

I first met Margaret in 1968, when I was a resident at the UC, B Women’s Faculty Club (not to be confused with the men’s faculty club-- The Faculty Club.) She was semi-retired, serving as a sort of office manager, and still ringing changes in the Campanile at noontime. The campus was her adult life. There is relatively little in the literature by or about her. Not that she was shy or reticent.  

In 1985, Chronicle Books published Gifts of Age; Portraits and Essays of 32 Remarkable Women, with text by Charlotte Painter. The subjects were associated with California, some well known (e.g. Julia Child), all indeed remarkable. Among the less known was Margaret Murdock, whose photograph was accompanied by this brief essay, aptly-titled “Ringing Changes:”  

For nearly six decades the bells in the Campanile at the University of California, Berkeley campus were rung by a delicate, slender woman whose bright red hair slowly turned silvery white as she became what she calls ‘part of the public domain.’ In 1918 Margaret Murdock received a master’s degree in education on that campus, and throughout her working life and some years beyond, she remained a part of it. 

A native San Franciscan, with family roots in Oroville, California, Margaret took her first job in the office of the dean of women; then she worked in the president’s office, then as a credentials counselor in the education department. Her avocation as musician in the Campanile started in 1923. 

She drew the attention of Charles Kurault, who showed her at work on this television segment, ‘On the Road.’ She accompanied Garff Wilson’s recording of Dickens’s Christmas Carol on the bells. 

Her housemate for several decades was design professor Hope Gladding, who shared her philosophy that older people should not live alone, but should seek ways to be mutually supportive. Margaret continued as volunteer bell ringer after her retirement until she was 87.  

It appears that Margaret received no prestigious awards or honors for her considerable skills and contributions to the well-being of members of the city and campus communities. She did get into two Bancroft Library oral history documents. In 1976 she was interviewed about her father, printer Charles Albert Murdock (1841-1928), and early San Francisco and UC, B days. From her responses, I have gleaned herstory. Part 1 is mainly about her San Francisco childhood. Part 2 will take her to Berkeley and the University, and Part 3 to the Sather Tower chimes. 




Part 1  

Father was a member of the board [of education] about the time they were married. I know that it might have been having a teacher-wife that encouraged him to take the initiative to see that teachers could take leaves of absence and have sabbaticals without losing their positions.  


My mother taught me to read before I went to school. She probably couldn’t resist it. Since she died when I was very small, I was sent down to North Beach where she had taught, to be under the influence of some of her fine, fellow teachers. I was probably the only child who spoke English at home. It was called the Jean Parker School, on Broadway. 

At that time, the boys went to Washington Grammar, which is now a car barn, up where the cable cars are housed. Some of my grammar school days were at Grant, which is out near the Presidio, and had all the little army children brought up on buses. We had a very mixed population giving, sort of, a much more intellectual variety. 

They had their horse-drawn buses. And they were used to drum and bugle corps, so the school had an excellent sort of marching band and youngsters learned how to play drums 

and bugles and all, and I m sure that was the army influence that gave a little flavor to Grant School in the early days.  


I think both father and mother liked to sing. That’s why I learned some of the songs that they had learned from Camp Ha-Ha. Then, I think probably because of fondness for the family, Mr. Weber, who was an excellent piano teacher, offered me lessons when I was quite small shortly after my mother died. I never really kept up with piano or took singing lessons. But I think music has always meant a great deal to me. Probably that also was an inherited trait. 

I think she [my mother] liked singing and she may have studied some, because I have quite a few of her music books. So, that probably meant that she’d had a little training in it. But I just remember that she sang very well and had a musical voice. 

Mostly [father] used to go down and visit Horace Davis, who had a place in the Santa Cruz mountains. The outing I had with him was the one he took to the Hawaiian Islands. He didn’t do very much traveling. Perhaps he counted some of the trips back to New England for Unitarian meetings as outings in themselves. 


Milicent Shinn was one of our first women campus graduates and famous first Ph.D. She was a very good friend of May Cheney for whom I worked. I know that her claim to fame was that she was one of our university’s early higher degree people. Father knew Ina Coolbrith and some of the women who were literary lights in the early days. 

I do remember Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin [1856-1923]. Father published The Story of Patsy for the benefit of the Silver Street kindergarten, and The Bird Christmas Carol which was dedicated to little Lucy Stebbins and Horatio Stebbins. When I went east with Lucy Ward Stebbins and her mother, we went up to Maine, or down to Maine as they say. I think it was the year that Kate Douglas Wiggin had just died but her sister Nora was there. And we saw Quillcote, their home at Hollis. The character who was the wife of the stagecoach driver in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was their housekeeper and made baked beans and brown bread for lunch for us.  

[Lucy Stebbins] came back [to California] around 1914 or so. She graduated from Radcliffe and did social work in Boston, and then was appointed to be the assistant dean of women under Lucy Sprague, and shortly thereafter became dean of women. She was there for quite a few years before I graduated from college and got accepted as sort of the office assistant. 

[Father] was with me here, in Berkeley, at the time of the fire for a little while. And then moved over to Oakland around [19]24 I guess about four years with my brother. He used the Bancroft a lot. He was very appreciative of having the opportunity to go over material there in the Bancroft and glad to be one of their senior citizens working, as people always have at the Bancroft when they have time to delve into the past. 

I went to the normal school and taught choral music to the young. You get familiar with quite a bit of music if you have to teach it to children. But, I didn’t have any training on other instruments and didn’t really keep up the piano. So, for a good many years, the only instrument I really operated on was the bells. I sang in the U.C. chorus from the ‘30s on, for a long time, starting under Randall Thompson, who wrote the Peaceable Kingdom. I enjoyed University Chorus tremendously, lots of fun. I think we sang for Monteux, Jorda, Hertz, and Ozawa; so we had quite a period of singing with the San Francisco Symphony, including some Milhaud works with Milhaud there, in person. You get quite a repertoire of the classics when you are in a choral group like that. 

I think it was just expected that any of the young people in San Francisco, if they came to college in the early days, would come to the University of California. My brother came, and there wasn’t any thought of any other university. I commuted part of the time and then I lived on the campus, or in a sorority near the campus, or in a rooming house or something of that sort. I started working on the campus and really moved over to be nearer the campus. 

We lived out not too far from the Presidio. You had to take the California cable down to Market Street and then walk that last block with the commuters to San Francisco so numerous coming up as a horde from the Ferry Building that you ran along the gutter to the Ferry Building and then took your ferryboat which was always fun and the yellow, Key Route train and then walked up from University Avenue to the campus, although you could take the Southern Pacific and take the red train which landed you on Ellsworth, on the edge of the campus. But ferryboats were very pleasant in those days; you could have a bite of food, or play a game of cards or feed the gulls, do a little studying.  



Answers to last week’s herstory Senior Power column questions: 

(1) Clara Shortridge Foltz (1848-1934) 

(2) Charlotta Bass (1880-1969) 

(3) Lucy Ward Stebbins (1880-1955) 

(4) Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992) 

(5) Julia Morgan (1872-1957) 

(6) Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman (1860-1935) 

(7) Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils /“Annie Laurie” (1863 - 1936) 

(8) Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814-1904) 

(9) Della Haskett Rawson (1861-1949) 

(10) Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818-1891) 



MARK YOUR CALENDAR 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.  

Sunday, March 11. 1:30 – 4:30 P.M. Book Into Film. Central Berkeley Public Library, 

2090 Kittredge St.. Discussion group participants will read the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place at home and then to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants will discuss the book, the film and the adaptation process.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, this free Book Into Film program offers adult and teen patrons the opportunity to discuss. 510-981-6100. 

Sunday, March 11. 2:30-3:30 P.M. Concord Library, 3900 Savio St. The Concord Library Mystery Book Club meets on the second Sunday of each month. The book for March will be The Cold Dish (A Walt Longmire Mystery) by Craig Johnson. Free. 925-646-5455 

Monday, March 12. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: What Makes American English so Interesting? Dr. Gunnel Tottie, author of An Introduction to American English and Professor of English language and linguistics at the University of Zurich, will discuss American English in the context of American history while making comparisons with British English. Albany branch library, 1247 Marin Av. 510- 526-3720.

Monday, March 12. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. 

Berkeley Repertory Theatre discussion. A docent from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre will discuss the current production, Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself, the traditional story of a girl, who feigns illness to avoid an unwanted wedding. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, March 13. 1:30 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Douglas Borchert, J.D., SBC, underwriting counsel, columnist, will present “The America’s Cup: Racing the Wind.” Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506. This program is sponsored by the Mastick Senior Center Advisory Board. 


Tuesday, March 13. 6:30-7:30 P.M. Pleasant Hill Library, 1750 Oak Park Blvd. Book Pleasant Hill Library Book Club. Meet other readers for fun engaged discussions. We will be reading The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. 925-646-6434. 

Wednesday, March 14. 12:15-1 P.M. Free. Hertz Concert Hall. University Baroque Ensemble, Davitt Moroney, director. Music of Bach, Handel, Charpentier. 510-642-4864. 

Thursday, March 15. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. 

Sunday, March 18. 2 – 3:15 P.M. San Francisco Shakespeare presents Macbeth. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. The touring company presents a 55 minute production of the "Scottish play" with costumes, props, sets and recorded music. Stay for a Q&A session with the actors. 510-981-6100. 

Tuesday, March 20. 12:30 P.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers general meeting. “Let's Talk about Taxes: Tax the 1%!” Location: Fireside Room, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St. (at Geary). 415-552-8800. 


Wednesday, March 21. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Noon concert, UC, B. Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, director. Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Drew Gascon, soloist. Debussy: Nocturnes. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, March 21. 7:00- 8:00 P.M. Albany branch library, 1247 Marin Av. Adult 

Evening Book Group: Pat Barker's Regeneration. When poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon writes a letter critical of England's efforts in World War I, he is sent to a mental hospital where Dr. W. H. R. Rivers tries to help patients express their war memories as a means of healing their "nerves." Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720. 

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Saturday, March 24. Berkeley Public Library North Branch final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park. See April 7. 


Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Tuesday, March 27. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St.,  

Tea and Cookies at the Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, March 28. 1:30 - 2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720 

 Wednesday, March 28.  1:30 P.M.  Berkeley East Bay Gray Panthers.  North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK.  Free.  510-548-9696. GrayPanthersBerk@aol.com

Wednesday, March 28. 2-3 P.M. Moraga Library. 1500 St. Mary’s Road. Join a Berkeley Rep Theatre-trained docent to talk about the latest production, John Logan's Tony Award-winning two-character bio-drama about abstract impressionist, Mark Rothko, that's been called a "master class of questions and answers." Free. 925-376-6852. 925- 254-2184

Saturday, April 7. 1 – 5 P.M. Berkeley Public Library North Branch Grand Reopening Event. The final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park will be Saturday, March 24, 2012.  

Monday, April 9. 11:30 – 1:30 A.M. Older Adult Passover Seder. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, Berkeley Branch 1414 Walnut Street. Kosher meal will include chicken and matzo ball soup, gefilte fish with horseradish sauce, fresh green salad w/ hard boiled eggs, roasted chicken, matzoh kugel, and wine. The Seder will be led by Ron Feldman. $10 JCC East Bay Member. $13 Non-Member. RSVP by March 29. Contact: Front DeskPhone: 510-848-0237. Email: samy@jcceastbay.org 

Saturday, April 14. Berkeley Public Library Claremont Branch’s final open day for BranchVan Service at St. John’s Presbyterian Church.  

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Despair That Fuels Noncompliance

By Jack Bragen
Saturday March 10, 2012 - 08:29:00 AM

Even when ill with a physical disease, most people without a mental illness take for granted the normal functioning of their physical bodies and their comfortable presence in their environment. Most people have no concept of living in the misshapen world created by medication side effects. Antipsychotic medication creates a continuous suffering that I will try to describe for you.  

It is something like having a severe hangover and at the same time going snorkeling. You lose the immediacy of your physical environment and have a constant awful feeling at the same time. Perhaps someone who has had a stroke or has brain damage from an episode of oxygen deprivation may experience something akin to this. The other thing about medication side effects is that it takes years for them to go away. They don't really go away at all-they become the new norm to which a person's consciousness becomes accustomed. Having taken antipsychotic medication for thirty years, I still experience a small amount of suffering due to medication side effects, and it is not as bad as it was in the first few years. 

(Additionally, antipsychotic medication in general causes muscle stiffness, weight gain, diabetes, and makes it difficult, if not impossible for many people to concentrate well enough to read a book. Before becoming medicated, I read a couple of books every week; now I'm lucky if I can get all the way through a book.) 

With those things said, it could be no wonder that most people with schizophrenia would rather not take medication. I have not yet covered the "meaning" part of taking medication, however. 

If you must take medication to make your brain function properly, it "means something" about you. It means that part of your brain is "defective." This can be a difficult idea to swallow, especially if, in that person's past, they demonstrated high intelligence. It can take a lot of emotional work to come to terms with having a "defective" brain. The fact of having schizophrenia does not do anything to make a person oblivious to this quandary. You can't say that we're no better than animals and that we shouldn't care about having such a defect. Such a concept of mentally ill people is not accurate. 

What finally worked for me, to accept the need for medication, was the Buddhist idea of not identifying. Thus, on an ego level, I do not identify with the concept of my brain, and so my self concept can accommodate having a brain defect. This is an accomplishment that is beyond what most American adults are able to do. 

Above, I have described the painful circumstances brought about by taking psychiatric medication and the hard fought solutions I have arrived at, at age 47. It has taken a number of years to adapt to having schizophrenia. Beforehand, the thought of being medicated for the rest of my life brought me despair. When taking psychiatric medication, there is more than a bitter pill to swallow.

Arts & Events

Around & About Theater: CalShakes Dramaturge Phillipa Kelly at Commonwealth Club

Friday March 09, 2012 - 01:47:00 PM

Berkeley resident and CalShakes Dramaturge--and author of 'The King & I,' about her lifelong fascination with 'King Lear'--Philippa Kelly will speak next Tuesday, March 13 at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, 6-7 p. m., "Only Connect: Dramaturgy & Shakespeare's Living Theatre,' on theater and how "we pick up the fragments of our lives, make momentary sense of what has happened to us; how theater comforts us in grief and gives us merriment, as well as those moments of passion we use to define our lives." Actors Anna Bullard and Daniel Heath will read relevant lines from Shakespeare, and Cal Shakes artistic director Jonathan Moscone will converse with Philippa. 595 Market, San Francisco. $7-$20. commonwealthclub.org or 597-6000