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Where Are We Anyway?
Gar Smith
Where Are We Anyway?
 

News

Press Release:

Berkeley Public Library Launches
Community Survey for Improved Library Services

From Eve Franklin, Berkeley Public Library
Wednesday January 23, 2013 - 12:05:00 PM

One of the goals of the Berkeley Public Library Board-approved Library Strategic Plan: 2011-2013 is to cultivate a broader base of Berkeley residents into regular library users. One of the initiatives of this goal is the development of a Communications Plan. The San Francisco-based public relations firm BergDavis Public Affairs has been engaged to assist the library with gathering valuable feedback from the community and stakeholders through a detailed, user-oriented survey. 

Over the next few months the Library will use the survey results to develop a comprehensive public information and communications program to promote the use and support of the Library and increase public awareness of the Library’s services, programs, special events and facilities. The final plan will recommend communication strategies to increase awareness of what the Library does and offers the community. 

 

From January 23 through February 19, 2013 we will be seeking community input on how to improve Library services and communications. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Please fill out the short survey you will find online at http://tinyurl.com/BPLCOMM; www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org or; at all library locations in paper format. Your help is greatly appreciated! 


New: Berkeley Couple Found Dead in Shasta County

By Laura Dixon (BCN)
Sunday January 20, 2013 - 12:25:00 AM

A Berkeley woman and her boyfriend, who had been missing since Christmas Eve, were found dead in Shasta County on Friday, according to county sheriff's officials. 

After weeks of searching, Shasta County Sheriff's and Search and Rescue Team personnel located the bodies of Camille Rae Kober, 52 and 54-year-old Eric James Eide on a piece of property owned by PG&E in the unincorporated town of Manton, where Eide was from, according to a statement from the sheriff's office. 

According to sheriff's officials, Eide's mother reported the couple missing on Dec. 24.  

Investigators learned that the man was last seen at the North State Recycling Center in Redding on Dec. 20 and told employees he was returning to the PG&E property in Manton, located about 40 miles southeast of Redding, to retrieve more scrap metal for recycling. 

A PG&E worker reported seeing Eide and Kober the afternoon of Dec. 21 walking onto the the utility's property in Manton. 

More workers reported finding Eide's maroon 1992 Toyota truck parked near the entrance to the property the following day. Sheriff's deputies removed the truck on Dec. 23. 

Deputies searched the PG&E property as well as Eide's home in Manton but were unable to locate the couple. 

After the pair was reported missing, the sheriff's office, with assistance from PG&E and a California Highway Patrol helicopter searched the area for Kober and Eide but still did not find them. 

The search continued in the following weeks as family and friends reported that they had not heard from the couple. 

On Friday, a PG&E helicopter crew searching for the missing pair over spotted an orange piece of cloth or plastic among some dense foliage on the utility's property. 

Sheriff's personnel located the object, believed to belong to Eide and Kober, and organized a ground search in the area early Friday morning. 

The search team fanned out in the area where the orange object was found, and soon located other objects that appeared to be signs of and other evidence of the couple. 

Those signs ultimately led searchers to Eide and Kober, who had died. 

Sheriff's officials said that crews did not find any evidence of foul play at the scene. 

Investigators believe that the pair, who went missing during a heavy rain and snowstorm, became disoriented after darkness fell and temperatures dropped.  

The couple's cause of death has not yet been determined.


UC Berkeley President Leaving in August

By Bay City News Service
Friday January 18, 2013 - 10:28:00 PM

University of California President Mark Yudof today announced he is retiring in August after five years at the helm of the school system. 

Yudof, who cited health issues and the need for "fresh leadership" as reasons for his decision, said he was stepping down effective Aug. 31 and plans to teach law on the UC Berkeley campus. 

"The prior 18 months brought a spate of taxing health issues," Yudof said in a statement today. "Though these challenges have been largely overcome, I feel it is time to make a change in my professional lifestyle." 

When Yudof took his position as president in March 2008, the university and state were faced with a major budget crisis due to a declining economy. His tenure has been marked by staff and faculty furloughs, rising tuition and budget cuts. 

Yudof said that while the university is not entirely in the clear, it now appears to have "weathered the storm." 

Among other improvements, voters passed Proposition 30 last November, a temporary tax increase on higher earners to fund education. 

"It is important to note that we -- members of the entire UC community -- have made it through this rough passage with our fundamental attributes intact," Yudof said. 

Yudof, a Philadelphia native, previously served as chancellor of the University of Texas system and as president of the University of Minnesota system. Before that he was a faculty member and administrator at the University of Texas for 26 years. 

Yudof's departure drew criicism from at least one source -- state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo. 

"Unfortunately, under President Yudof's leadership, students and workers unfairly suffered while top executives got wealthier," Yee said in a statement. "To make matters worse, Yudof leaves the university with a $1 million pension that will be paid on the backs of students and taxpayers." 

Yee called for the university's Board of Regents to make a transparent search for the new UC president with the input of students, faculty and workers, and to find a candidate who wants to "give back to the people of California" rather than demand "an extravagant salary and retirement package." 

According to university officials, Yudof earns a base annual salary of $591,084. At the time of his appointment in 2008, his salary was below the midpoint salary set for the position by the Board of Regents and below the median salary for similar positions nationwide, officials said. 

Yudof has not had a salary increase since his appointment, university officials said.


The Planet Uncovers Another Dreamliner Malfunction

By Gar Smith
Friday January 18, 2013 - 01:20:00 PM
Where Are We Anyway?
Gar Smith
Where Are We Anyway?

I have to grant that the Dreamliner is a gorgeous plane. I recently returned to SFO aboard one of Boeing's new 787s. I certainly appreciated the fact that there was lots of legroom and headroom (you no longer need to stoop while waiting to leave your seat: you can stand fully erect without bumping your head on the overhead baggage area).

In addition, the lightweight carbon fiber construction makes the Dreamliner 20 percent more fuel-efficient 20 percent less polluting. The new design also improves air quality and removes toxic fuel contaminants from the air-conditioning system – producing the cleanest air, well … in the air.

But the Dreamliner has gotten off to a rickety start and is now grounded. In a single week in January, several of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliners caught fire, leaked fuel, experienced braking problems and suffered electrical malfunctions. What next? 

Well, on my recent United flight from Houston to San Francisco, I looked on with amazement as the aircraft's in-flight maps showed the plane headed for a landing in Tokyo by way of Seattle. (The map informs passengers to expect a total flying distance of 1,718 miles and a scheduled 10:30 AM arrival.) And that wasn't all. The map's on-screen language appeared to be Korean and Houston was inexplicably transplanted to somewhere east of Portland. (See photo.) 

Could it be that someone at Boeing handed the Dreamliner's in-flight visualization contact over to Apple Maps? Fortunately, the pilot knew where we were supposed to land. 

At the end of the flight I asked an attendant if, perhaps, the plane was scheduled to continue on to Tokyo's Narita Airport. She confirmed that SFO was the final stop. When I told her about the presentation on the in-flight map, she expressed surprise and could offer no explanation. 

In addition to the leaks, the fires, the brakes and the electrical fritzes and the other incidents that industry officials dismissed as "teething problems," there are a few other bugs to be ironed out. 

Here's one relatively small item I felt obliged to pass along to Boeing's engineers: While the reading light over my head was a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient LED bulb, it was aimed so that the light fell on the top of my head, not in my lap. Even with the seat flung back to its furthest position, the light only illuminated my chin. 

When I pointed this shortcoming out to a flight attendant and asked if the overhead lights could be adjusted, I was told this was not possible. (Note to Boeing: the specific dim-bulb problem was found above seat 25E aboard United flight 1153.) 


Two Men Ordered to Stand Trial for Berkeley Murder in 2010

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Thursday January 17, 2013 - 04:56:00 PM

A judge today ordered two men to stand trail on murder and attempted murder charges for a fatal shooting near a Berkeley barbershop in broad daylight in October 2010 that left one man dead and another seriously wounded.

At the end of a lengthy preliminary hearing that began in mid-December and met intermittently since then, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman ruled that prosecutors showed that there's probable cause to show that Brandon Wallace, 23, of Bay Point, and Coleon Lee Carroll, 23, of Berkeley, are responsible for a shooting in the 2900 block of Sacramento Street in Berkeley at 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2010, that left Gary Ferguson Jr., a 35-year-old Oakland man, dead and a second man seriously injured.

Berkeley police said at least a few dozen shots were fired in the incident.

Prosecutor Steve Dal Porto, who declined to disclose a motive for the shooting, said he believes that the shooting was carried out by Wallace and another man who is still at large and Carroll was the driver in the incident. 

He said that in an unusual twist in the case, the suspect who remains at large accidentally shot Wallace in the back of his leg as Wallace was backing away from the shooting scene. 

Dal Porto said Wallace then sought medical treatment at a local hospital but used a false name and claimed that he had been shot outside the Richmond BART station. 

Much of the evidence in the case was circumstantial but Dal Porto said a witness identified Wallace as one of the suspects who ran away from the shooting scene and Carroll's ex-girlfriend connected him to the crime. 

He said phone records and a GPS-tracking device also connected Wallace and Carroll to the shooting. 

Goodman also ordered Carroll to stand trial on robbery and assault with a deadly weapon charges for allegedly robbing and shooting at a man outside a store in Berkeley in June 2010. 

In addition, Dal Porto said he plans to file pimping and pandering charges against Carroll for allegedly ordering his ex-girlfriend to perform acts of prostitution and to give her proceeds to Carroll and his mother. 

Carroll's ex-girlfriend testified on Dec. 27 that she made between $50,000 and $65,000 doing prostitution while she was with him and she gave most of it to Carroll and his mother. 

She testified on Dec. 26 that she finally left Carroll because, "I was tired of being a slave." 

She said that after she had been with him for about a year she "disappeared" and "told him I would take a trip and never come back." 

Dal Porto said Wallace and Carroll both have prior robbery convictions. 

Wallace and Carroll are scheduled to return to court on Feb. 1 to be arraigned a second time and have a trial date set.


Press Release: U.C. Berkeley President Yudof to end his tenure in August

From the UC Press Office
Friday January 18, 2013 - 01:24:00 PM

University of California President Mark G. Yudof today (January 18, 2013) issued the following announcement:

I have decided to bring to a close my tenure as President of the University of California, effective August 31, 2013. While the decision is my own, the moment comes with a mixture of emotions. For a transplant from Texas, by way of Philadelphia and Minnesota, every day at the University of California has brought new wonders. 

UC remains the premier public university system in the world, and I was both honored and humbled to serve as its president for what has been nearly five years now. I will miss my daily interactions across the system with so many dedicated, capable, and intellectually stimulating people. 

Over the past few months, however, and after careful consultation with my family, it has become clear to me that the time has come for me to step away and return to the teaching of law on the Berkeley campus. The prior 18 months brought a spate of taxing health issues. Though these challenges have been largely overcome, I feel it is time to make a change in my professional lifestyle. 

Beyond personal considerations, this also appears to be an apt time for the University to bring in fresh leadership. When I arrived in 2008, the economy had begun to unravel and state coffers were tumbling deep into the red. With its budget slashed, the University was presented with one of the most severe challenges in its history. 

Now, it appears the storm has been weathered. We are not fully in the clear, but we are much closer than we were even a few months ago. I look forward to working closely in the months ahead with Governor Brown, Assembly Speaker Perez, Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg and other state leaders to ensure that the University is positioned to continue on this forward course, which ultimately will benefit all Californians. 

It is important to note that we – members of the entire UC community—have made it through this rough passage with our fundamental attributes intact. We have preserved excellence in our academics, research and health care. We have kept our doors open to all worthy students, regardless of family income levels, embracing the Blue and Gold financial aid program for low and middle income students and raising more than $671 million through the Project You Can scholarship program. 

Many, many people contributed to this remarkable achievement: employees, including tenured faculty, who accepted without complaint a furlough program that cut into their paychecks; students and their families, who endured rising tuition rates; administrators and staff, who worked with great vigor and creativity to carve out savings through improved efficiencies, and California voters, who finally agreed that the cuts needed to stop and brought relief last November by approving Proposition 30. I applaud and am thankful for all of these contributions. 

I also would be remiss not to express my gratitude to the Regents. Throughout, they have provided the leadership and unwavering support needed for the University to face down this crisis. I was privileged to serve under three gifted Board chairs: Richard Blum, Russell Gould, and Sherry Lansing. I will leave it to others to judge what difference my leadership made, if any, but I will say that I entered each day with a laser focus on preserving this great public treasure, not just in the present day, but for generations of Californians to come. And in the end, what matters most is what still remains: a vibrant public university system, the envy of the world, providing California with the beacon of hope and steady infusion of new thinking that are necessary for any society to flourish.


ECLECTIC RANT: Academy Members Shouldn't Shun Zero Dark Thirty

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 18, 2013 - 01:43:00 PM

Actor David Clennon, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, claims that the movie Zero Dark Thirty "promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America's so-called War on Terror." Mr. Clennon, along with actors Ed Asner and Michael Sheen, state they will not vote for the film in any category.

The film has been nominated for best picture, Jessica Chastain for best actress in a leading role, film editing, sound editing, and Mark Boal for writing (original screenplay).
It has been well established that the U.S. during the Bush Administration and even before engaged in torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called overseas black sites as shown in the film, and even taught enhanced interrogation techniques (a  

euphemism 

for torture) to Latin American military officers at the School of the Americas now called the  

Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.  

 

And extraordinary renditions  

apparently continue to this day.  

These are secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to overseas black sites like those shown in the film where torture is used.  

The criticism of the film seems to have started with a letter
that Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain wrote to Sony
Pictures Entertainment calling the movie "grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden." Senator Feinstein now wants the CIA to detail its contributions to the film Zero Dark Thirty, and even wants the filmmakers to include a disclaimer indicating the film is fiction, only based on a true story.
In my opinion, Zero Dark Thirty does not advocate or excuse torture although it does show a prisoner who had been waterboarded later tricked into revealing useful information. But the CIA and the Bush Administration accepted torture as a legitimate interrogation technique and the film does depict some of these torture techniques such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation in a realistic manner. Reading about waterboarding is not as unsettling as seeing it realistically depicted on the screen. Realistically portraying torture (or slavery, or the Holocaust, or mass murder) does not necessarily equate with advocating or excusing what was portrayed.
I agree with the Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal who countered Senator Feinstein's accusation that torture worked in the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, "The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes."
And remember, the filmmakers had the full cooperation of the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House in the making of the film. Given this country's use of torture in the past, I for one believe that the film's depiction of torture of prisoners is accurate. If a viewer needs the filmmaker to tell you that torture is illegal and immoral or add a disclaimer, then there is something wrong with the viewer, not the filmmaker.
Actors Clennon, Asner, and Sheen -- knowingly or not -- have become shills for a campaign to divert attention away from the bad old days of torture by discrediting the film -- a shoot-the-messenger tactic if you will. Hopefully, the rest of the Academy members will disregard these actors and fairly asses the film on its merits.


Opinion

Editorials

Sanctification of Sports Stars is Silly

By Becky O'Malley
Friday January 18, 2013 - 01:27:00 PM

The endless brouhaha over whether or not various athletic performers have used external substances to enhance their performance is ridiculous. It makes about as much sense as being shocked to discover that screen stars from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna have peroxided their hair.

Yes, sports fans, that body you see on your huge screen is very likely altered to improve the viewing experience. Lance Armstrong now admits he used testosterone.

That’s showbiz, kids. Get over it already.

Contrary to what many seem to believe, contemporary sporting events are not religious ceremonies, as the ancient Olympics sometimes were. They are entertainment, pure and simple, and, like other entertainers, athletes like Lance make many adjustments to their genetic endowment. 

All athletes, pro and amateur, exercise their bodies vigorously to optimize their abilities, just as both actors and housewives spend hours at the gym to perfect their figures, and no one complains about any of these groups trying to alter their bodies by physical effort. Arnold Schwarzenegger even parlayed body-building into the stardom which launched him on a successful political career. 

But when some athletes, professional performers on the most lucrative of stages, use natural or synthetic chemicals, whether rubbed on the body, injected or swallowed, to achieve the same goals, the press goes ballistic and public opinion follows. Presumably this opprobrium does not yet extend to consuming Ultra SlimFast or smoothies with added protein powder, but maybe it should. 

It has been said that using chemistry to build athletes’ bodies is bad because it has dangerous long-term health effects. How hypocritical is that, in the context of a sports industry which continues to subject football players and boxers to proven brain damage?  

In today’s godless culture, some say our sanctified sports stars should be held to a higher standard because they’re ‘role models’. Why should kids model themselves unrealistically on nature’s outliers? 

Checking Google News for the latest on the Armstrong soap opera, I clicked on a CNN piece about a Victoria’s Secret model who has taken on the task of telling other young women that her success is 99% good genes, that virtue and hard work had little to do with it. She worries, quite rightly, that teenaged girls are comparing themselves unfavorably to models that, through no fault of their own, they have no hope of imitating. Even though models diet and exercise and often take drugs and have surgery to make themselves into what sells in the marketplace, no amount of similar self improvement will turn most of their admirers into stars, she points out. 

Young aspiring athletes need the same kind of advice. The supposed “role models” in sports are naturally gifted, though they might improve on what Mother Nature provided through training and even, god forbid, chemistry. 

College sports, just like overtly commercial sports, are entertainment, not education. And the vast majority in the legions of boys who star on their high school teams will never be able to make a living even in the quasi-professional arena of college football, let alone in the big leagues.  

A not-very-beefy young man of my acquaintance, a valued player on the varsity football team in a local high school, is now struggling with junior college, for which he is ill-prepared academically, because he was led by his coach to believe that football was his future—but even steroids can’t make him big enough for the bigtime. There are endless dreary stories in circulation now about bad things that happen to some kids who do make those college teams, at Penn State and Notre Dame and even U.C. Berkeley. 

The most pathetic recent instance is the sad case of Notre Dame’s Manti T’eo. Sports writers desperate for copy fawned over his fabricated tale of a dying girlfriend without checking whether or not it was true. And why should they? Heroes don’t lie—or do they? 

And now young women are chasing the same chimeras. This week’s Science Times had a feature on athletes who believe that they have strategically improved themselves in a variety of ways. One woman has quit her job to spend all her time on triathlons—luckily she seems to have a partner who supports her financially. Another changed from figure skating to rowing in order to get a scholarship to Brown University—and what good will rowing do for either her or Brown by the time she’s 50? At least some figure skating is kind of artistic…. 

A quick study of recent published statistics from one high-status formerly-all-boys university seems to show that close to a third of those offered early admission this year were recruited as athletes for significant sports, which at this school are still the big male sports, though it’s now co-ed. Similar numbers coming from Yale were reported in U.S. News in 2010. But the girls get these breaks too—one female volleyball player of my acquaintance was offered early admission to an Ivy before she’d even applied there.  

Yes, exercise does improve overall health, and competition makes exercise more fun, but the way exercise as entertainment is viewed in our culture is much too sanctimonious. The recent spectacle of uptight sports writers refusing to “enshrine” a few professional baseball players in their Hall of Fame because they might or might not have used performance-enhancing substances just looks silly to those who don’t worship at that shrine. Existing enshrinees were guilty of many more transgressions, and worse ones, like tolerating exclusion of African-Americans from the big leagues for a half-century. 

For many readers ( the same people who are annoyed that their cable systems include obligatory sports channels which they must pay for but never watch) the heavy breathing about athletes using drugs which dominates the front page of their daily paper is just desperately boring. Who cares, really, if Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds used steroids, or for that matter how many nose jobs Michael Jackson had?  

At the end of the day, as they say in the trade, That’s Entertainment, isn’t it? 

 

 

 


Cartoons

Odd Bodkins: His Duty (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday January 19, 2013 - 05:47:00 PM

 

Dan O'Neill

 


Public Comment

New: Berkeley Should Not Make Concessions for Wareham Development

By Tree Fitzpatrick
Tuesday January 22, 2013 - 11:00:00 AM

As reported on Berkeleyside last week, Wareham Development has asked to build a new design at 740 Heinz Avenue. In 2009, according to the Berkeleyside story (I have no other source for any stated facts about Wareham & 740 Heinz Ave), Wareham agreed to retain two walls in the 740 Heinz Ave building, which has long been declared a historic landmark. The Zoning Adjustment board agreed to the changes, acting as if Wareham had some kind of 'rights' simply because they had a previous agreement to build, an agreement they did not perform. Since when does a prior agreement with the city grant special rights when seeking adjustments from the zoning board?!! Wareham says an earthquake retrofit makes the historic building too expensive to restore. Wareham, by the way, does not own the real estate, it merely seeks to build on it. 

I don't think earthquake retrofitting is the salient issue here. I think the real issue is the way city planning staff seems to prioritize real estate development priorities over the city's commons. To folks wondering what 'the commons' is, the commons is every space where human lives intersect, including the entire earth and all of its contents -- yes, including the oil we cheaply sell to private oil companies that privatize our commonly owned oil profits, and air, water, oil, coal, gas, and everything. The commons also includes streets, schools, libraries, parks and quality of life. And shared culture. Any new building changes the quality of life in our city, esp. to its nearest neighbors so all zoning adjustments affect the commons, which belongs to all of us. 

Typically a building developer, Wareham in this instance, is repped by former city planning staff, and they inappropriately use cozy collegial relationships to persuade current staff to kiss up to the developers as if development takes a priority over everything else. 

Our city employees should be closely scrutinized both conflicts of interests and the appearance of conflict of interest. Do city planning staff relatives score jobs with the developers who score valuable giveaways from city staff? I suspect they do. 

Look at the guy leading the chase for the proposed skyscraper that will deny Berkeley of Shattuck cinema. He used to run city planning or zoning and his wife heads a nonprofit dedicated to deceiving voters into voting for downtown plans that benefit developers. Winning such votes based on investing a lot of money is dumb policy. The reason rich folks should not be able to pump unlimited money into politics has nothing to do with 'free speech' and everything to do with market manipulation. 

I do not support the religion of free market capitalism but, for the most part, this whole country's public policy is infected with the myth that free market capitalism is good. If we are going to go on drowning in the myth that free market capitalism is a good thing, then let's have a truly free market. Let's ban private political spending, which is not free speech but is, instead, marketing propaganda. 

Let's make public policy decisions by insulating our public servants from the pressure of money, jobs for relatives, campaign donations. We could create such a system. And then step back and let a truly free market decide if tearing down an old, historically significant wall or two is acceptable. But the way we do things, the citizenry has no way to meaningful way to determine of public policy decisions, made by either elected politicians or well-connected city staffers with very plush incomes, benefits and pensions are acting free of any conflict of interest. 

And whatever happened to critical thinking skills? There seems to be a wide assumption that since these guys got permission to build a tall building if they preserved these historic walls and now, due to their own dawdling and procrastination, the economics have changed, well, what the heck, the irrational assumption appears to be, they already 'own' the right to build so who cares if they don't keep their promises that got them the building rights in the first place? But they don't own the right to build whatever they want because someone gave them permission to build something a few years ago. 

It matters when the city does not hold people to the agreements the city makes, on our behalf, and then gives more and more and more away. It is quite possible to write contracts with developers that build in clear financial consequences if they don't deliver. The Gaia building did not deliver what it promised to the city when it got a zoning variance. I doubt that developer ever intended to deliver on its promises to replace that theater. Developers know they can get freebies from the city, which include huge fee waivers, huge zoning exceptions and concessions and then know that after the building is built and the amenities never appear, there will be no consequences. It is possible to write such consequences into the contract. 

I am disgusted by public representatives, elected or city staff, who seem to make emotional, unreasoned, biased and un-clear analyses (critical thinking skills matter!!!). Hire good lawyers willing to write rigorous clauses into agreements that hold developers wholly liable both for their contractual commitments and draft tightly defined penalties if they abrogate their contracted commitments. 

This is done all the time, or it used to be. If a builder runs behind schedule, municipalities and other government entities used to require daily penalties, for example, if building ran behind. But not in Berkeley. Our public servants act like private corporations are a higher priority constituency and they seem to feel a much higher duty to the fantasy that corporations mean economic development for all. The city could insist on contracts with built-in specific consequences that were tightly written and impossible for courts to readily dismiss them. If a developer fails to provide a promised amenity to the commons, to the city, contracts could provide, in advance, explicit, aggressive financial penalties. The point is not to assess the penalties but to force developers to keep their promises. Too often, city staff give sweet deals based on unenforceable promises that developers don't deliver. The developers, with no incentive to perform the promised amenity, get the giveaway and, typically, sells to out of town real estate owners who do not really care about the quality of the commons in Berkeley. 

Here in Berkeley (and all over the country, it seems) we have allowed the conservative Reagan revolution to say that business and profit, res ipsa loquitur, matters more than the common good and we give away the common good for pathetically low prices and then we don't even hold these charlatans masked as business people, accounting for the low price penalties. 

I know Berkeley, and everywhere, needs economic development. But we have seen, for decades, that giving to the 1% does not provide much, if any, benefit to the commons; the rich skim the cream off our commons and don't give back. 

Look at what happens over and over and over in Berkeley: a 'local' developer with good local connects, like former city zoning directors, extract needless concessions from the city, the city gives away way too much, and then the developer stiffs us and they sell to out-of- towners. City staffers seem to think it is too hard, or expensive, to sue. As a lawyer not licensed in CA, I can tell you that tight contracts could be written that pre-set actual financial consequences when developers fail to deliver their promised amenities to the city. Perhaps our civil servants need more training or should hire better lawyers to represent the citizenry -- and yes, lawyers paid by the city actually do represent us, not the city planning staff!! I would like such lawyers to remember who they serve: the people. 

The system is immoral, dishonest, cynical and, I believe, so wrong that words can't express it. 

I am all for new office building in W. Berkeley but geez, engage in truly intelligent negotiation with the developer that places a very high priority on demanding contractual commitments to provide explicitly delineated benefits to the commons, to the citizenry. 

If this developer was required, when he first got approval to build, to include parking, what rationale did city staff use to decide "uh, gee, we don't need parking now?" Will these new office workers walk and bike to work? Of course not. So parking in the neighborhood will be overcrowded and the developer wouldn't have to pay the cost of the parking burden but someone pays the cost: the commons, the community, real humans. 

I make this promise to every Berkeley resident: if our public servants acted more aggressively to demand benefits to the commons (we the people are the commons and own the commons -- google it), developers would still want to build office buildings, condo buildings and rental apartments in Berkeley. The developers would still make money, Berkeley could grow, our economic base could grow but we could achieve these things without giving the bulk of the benefits to private developers: share the wealth of the commons (where humans intersect, that's the commons) and we can have a more and more awesome city. Of course would-be developers are going to give formulas that tell us 'they can't make money unless this or that is given to them' but a truly free market would wait for development that did not ask for special favors, use the influence of former city staffers, and manipulate the system. A truly free market would be wholly transparent and have, as its top priority, the wellbeing of the commons. Or the people, not the formulaic profit margin the developer tells city staffers is required. There is more to doing business than formulaic profit, isn't there? Maybe quality of life matters too? 

I am not really upset at the idea of tearing down those walls. Life moves forward. I don't think we have to save every old building that had significance in the past. But we do have to protect our shared commons. We should be approving buildings that will generate economic benefits to the city tax pool, the city culture through new residents and employees. We should approve growth, but negotiate with bias in favor of the commons instead of negotiating with stupid short term thinking. Negotiate without giving into pressure by slick lawyers and advocates and former city staffers turned development consultants who use their former connections to exploit our city. 

All change, lasting change, is incremental. We have much work to do to become a better city. We need objective, conflict-free zoning and planning staff. We need great negotiation in all development agreements that spell out great benefits to the commons and provide severe economic penalties if the developer stiffs us on amenities instead of slaps on the wrist. 

Every developer seeking to do biz in Berkeley knows they just have to 'say' they will do the right thing and then do whatever they want and not even get a slap on the wrist. 

Here's a story I'd like to know: what happened to the contractor who destroyed those trees at the library when the landscape contact spelled out that the contractor was supposed to protect the trees, then the contractor just plowed the roots -- the contract explicitly addressed that the landscape contractor would work slower and harder to save the trees and then he worked fast and cheap to make more money and destroyed very old trees and stole years and years of pleasure to this city's commons. Will that contractor a contractual penalty for their abrogation of what they agreed to do? Will that contractor ever be allowed to bid in Berkeley again? And why would city staff ever approve such a disreputable landscape contractor? That guy had a history of doing stuff like that: he won the bid by bidding too low and then he worked cheaper and cost our city irreplaceable value. We let that happen. Our public servants let that happen. What policy guidelines have been set in place to stop it from happening? 

We get the system we insist on. So far, 'we' allow a corrupt and highly corruptible system to flourish even though we know many developers, consultants and a few well connected wealthy investors benefit far more than the city. 

Let's have a truly free market capitalism, with true transparency, real integrity. I am laughing at myself because I know what I am calling for is a joke? Transparency, integrity by both public servants and private capitalists is a big fat joke. 

To illustrate my perspective: the city waived something like $600K in tax liens when Ken Sarachan bought his now-famous lot on Telegraph. We 'gave' him a $600K freebie in exchange for his promise to do something with that lot. About 20 years later, he has done nothing, the tax lien was not paid so the city could not use that money and he still wants to keep that freebie. Why do our public servants do this kind of lame-o stuff? We could have written a sunset clause into that $600K giveaway so that the buyer of that lot understood unequivocally that he was going to have to pay a price for dishonoring the city's good faith waiver of that giveaway. But he faces no consequences, not even a reasonable time limit. I wasn't around when he got that waiver of the tax lien but, geez, ten years sounds like a more than reasonable amount of time for the waiver. None. Real estate developers have more power in this city than the commons/citizenry/the-people. I know 'the people' is increasingly seen as a quaint old fashioned thing. Laugh at me. I do not believe, FYI, in Sarachan's claims that the city staff is to blame for his 20+ year empty lot. Oh, I can believe dealing with Berkeley's zoning and planning staff is time-consuming and could be streamlined but I do not believe the city has deliberately stonewalled a development on Sarachan's famous Telegraph lot for over 20 years. 

https://mail.google.com/mail/images/cleardot.gif 


Proposed Private Dorm Violates City's Plans and Zoning Policies

By Stephen Stine
Saturday January 19, 2013 - 10:39:00 AM

I'm submitting this public comment to the City of Berkeley's Zoning Adjustment Board regarding the proposed 2024 Durant/2025 Channing private student dorm project on behalf of the low-income seniors of the Stuart Pratt Manor senior residence next door, at 2020 Durant, and on behalf of residents of the protected R-4/R-3 southwest downtown area. We are deeply concerned that the city is trampling the rights of the low-income seniors and of the protected R-4/R-3 southwest downtown residential neighborhood by violating policies specifically designed to protect them, specifically Downtown Area Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1.

Goal LU-7 directs the city to maintain the existing scale and character of the residential neighborhood, and Policy LU-7.1 directs the city to downzone proprieties in the R-4 residential-only neighborhood to R-3 zoning.

In addition, approval of the proposed project would violate and negatively impact many other General Plan and Downtown Area Plan goals and policies to the detriment of the residential neighborhood and the downtown area, include goals and policies promoting affordable housing, the health of seniors, and bicycle transportation to and from downtown.

Our opposition to the proposed 2024 Durant/2025 Channing project focuses on three areas:

1) protecting the health and welfare of the senior residents at 2020 Durant

2) protecting the scale and character of the R-4/R-3 southwest downtown residential neighborhood

3) promoting fair and just governance in Berkeley

Summary of Arguments: 

1) All specific DAP policies order the city to protect the southwest downtown residential neighborhood and to downzone it from R-4 to R-3 zoning, with only exceptions for properties the north side of Dwight east of Shattuck 

2) The city correctly downzoned 2024 Durant to R-3 zoning in the draft Downtown Area Plan 

3) There are no compelling reasons to have upzoned 2024 Durant to C-DMU in violation of Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1 

4) The DAP is a compromise between increased height and density in the Core and Corridor and decreased height and density in the R-4/R-3 residential neighborhood at issue 

5) The city and the owners can achieve increased density at 2024 Durant under R-3 zoning, since there were no residents in the current church building; upzoning to C-DMU is not necessary to increase density 

6) Upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU from R-4/R-3 at the owner’s request, simply to build a taller building, is analogous to reclassifying an environmentally protected area as non-protected at the owner’s request, solely to increase oil drilling profits 

7) Case-by-case analysis—the 2024 Durant project presents a special case because of the low-income seniors next door, and the city must act to protect these vulnerable neighbors 

8) Solar access, shade, and low-income seniors—seniors tend to wake up earlier and are less mobile than younger people, and the 2024 Durant project will block the east-facing seniors' sunlight from dawn to 9AM, maybe up to 11AM, greatly diminishing their quality of life 

9) Traffic and parking—there is already a severe lack of parking in the neighborhood, and increased traffic will increase safety risks to the seniors as well as to bicyclists on the Channing bicycle avenue 

10) There are many residential neighborhood protection statements in the DAP and in staff reports that are violated by the upzoning of 2024 Durant 

11) There are several affordable housing protection statements in the DAP that are negatively impacted by the upzoning of 2024 Durant 

12) There are several senior protection statements in the DAP that are negatively impacted by the upzoning of 2024 Durant  

13) There is only one exception to Policy LU-7.1, for properties on the north side of Dwight east of Shattuck 

14) The city misapplied or ignored Goal LU-7, to “maintain the existing scale and character of residential-only neighborhoods” 

15) Upzoning 2024 Durant and 2025 Channing drastically changes the existing scale and character of the neighborhood in violation of Policy LU-7.1 and Goal LU-7 

16) The city published misleading information in Figure LU-1A and other parts of the DAP and omitted material information which caused the seniors and neighbors and others to forego their legal right to make public comments against and bring lawsuits against the R-4 to C-DMU upzonings  

17) Buffers and transitions--the Staples parking lot, already zoned as C-DMU, would be perfectly adequate buffer and provide adequate transitions between the Core and Corridor and the residential-only neighborhood--there is no need to upzone 2024 Durant 

18) CEQA Review--the project is not consistent with the General Plan and the Downtown Plan element, and such consistency is required by for a project to qualify for the infill exemption, so a full CEQA review is needed. What will the impacts of the projects be on the seniors and neighbors in terms of shadowing, traffic, parking, noise, etc? 

19) There is a pending Council of Neighborhood Associations lawsuit against the DAP's Environmental Impact Report—if the EIR is found inadequate, C-DMU zoning will be invalidated, because C-DMU zoning was created by the DAP--the city must wait until after the lawsuit is resolved to issue any C-DMU permits 

20) There is a potential church buyer for the church building, a church group which wants to use the church for its religious services—the city should facilitate a sale to the church group to preserve a religious and cultural institution in the neighborhood which would enrich the cultural and religious diversity of the downtown area 

21) The 2024 Durant project is of unprecedented or nearly unprecedented size for a residential-only neighborhood  

22) C-DMU zoning is flawed—it doesn't actually implement the DAP as it states it does, since it doesn't implement Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1; under California state law, it was invalid when passed because it is based on impermissible conflicts between Policy LU-7.1 and Figure LU-1A 

23) Analysis of General Plan Goals and Policies—the upzoning of 2024 Durant violates many of the General Plan goals and policies 

24) Analysis of C-DMU ordinance--the 2024 Durant project does not qualify for approval under C-DMU zoning for several reasons, including that the project is not compatible with the surrounding buildings and uses  

Arguments: 

All specific DAP policies order the city to protect the southwest downtown residential neighborhood and to downzone it from R-4 to R-3 zoning, with a single exception for properties on the north side of Dwight east of Shattuck 

The city initially correctly downzoned 2024 Durant to R-3 zoning in the draft Downtown Area Plan 

We shouldn't even be here. All applicable DAP policies call for protection of the southwest downtown residential neighborhood and the seniors. The city got it right the first time in the DAP draft; the city knew it had to follow Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1 and properly downzoned 2024 Durant to R-3 in the draft DAP. So the matter was settled; the city would follow and uphold all of the clear and specific DAP policies to protect the residential neighborhood and the low-income seniors of 2020 Durant. But one simple letter from the 2024 Durant property owner, with no analysis of the potential negative impacts on the neighborhood and no mention of Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, apparently was enough to convince the city to ignore and violate the specific policies protecting the seniors and the residential neighborhood. The city impermissibly applied the policies and goals that apply to the Core and Corridor areas to 2024 Durant, policies which do not apply to the residential neighborhood as they have goals of increasing density and building height. The point is, while increasing density is a goal in other parts of the downtown area, specifically in the residential R-4/R-3 neighborhood increasing height and density is an anti-policy, in fact, the clearly stated applicable goals and policies direct the opposite, to limit and decrease density and building heights by downzoning the area from R-4 to R-3 in the residential neighborhood. This is not ambiguous; it is clear, and the city should have followed these policies as it originally did in the DAP draft. 

As well as Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, the DAP states: 

"Residential Neighborhoods. Few opportunity sites exist in residential-only areas, but when development does occur, it will be subject to residential zoning. Many residents have expressed their desire to maintain the scale and character of these residential areas. To reduce development pressures that could result in inappropriate development, Plan policies call for downzoning the southwest portion of the Downtown Area from R-4 to R-3." 

We understand the need for increased heights density in certain areas, however, 2024 Durant, which was R-4, supposed to be downzoned to R-3, and right next door to a low-income senior home, is not the place for it. The Core and Corridor are the place for increased heights and density, and the Staples parking lot to the east of 2024 Durant was already designated as C-DMU in the draft DAP and was sufficient buffer between the Core and Corridor and the R-4/R-3 residential-only neighborhood. 

There are no compelling reasons to have upzoned 2024 Durant to C-DMU in violation of Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1 

There are no compelling arguments to ignore the specific policies to protect the seniors and residential neighborhood and instead upzone 2024 Durant to C-DMU. The Stuart Pratt senior home at 2020 Durant, itself six stories, was downzoned to R-3 zoning, in accordance with Policy LU-7.1 The "hole" argument offered by the 2024 property owner equally applies to 2020 Durant; if 2024 Durant builds a six-to-eight story building, and if the 2020 Durant owners ever sell their property or try to build a new building, they will be limited to three stories max, and thus could be stuck in a "hole" between two taller buildings, the exact potential situation the owners of 2024 Durant complained about. And any owner in the residential neighborhood can claim that building taller will meet DAP goals of increasing density; if that's the case, why doesn't the city just upzone all of the residential neighborhood in order to fulfill the policy of increasing density? The city doesn't because the DAP is a carefully crafted result of seven years of hard work and negotiating, balancing increased heights and density in the Core and Corridor areas with lower heights and density in the R-4/R-3 residential neighborhood. And the city, by upzoning 2024 Durant, is violating all of that hard work and negotiation and compromise, and is betraying the trust of the Berkeley residents who voted for the DAP. 

There are no compelling reasons for the upzoning of 2024 Durant and 2025 Channing and other R-4 properties, especially in light of the policies designed to protect the residential character and scale of the neighborhood; no reasons override those policies, there are no general welfare or public health reasons that the city should have ignored Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, and as such the upzonings were arbitrary, capricious, and the city applied the policies in an unequal and discriminatory manner. 

The DAP is a compromise between increased height and density in the Core and Corridor and decreased height and density in the R-4/R-3 residential neighborhood at issue 

At its heart, the DAP is a careful balance and compromise between competing forces of development expansion and contraction, of upzoning and downzoning, increasing height and density in the Core and Corridor areas and decreasing height and density in the R-4/R-3 residential neighborhood. The city breaks that careful balance by groundlessly giving in to a developers' request to upzone 2024 Durant when staff had already agreed to follow the specific policies protecting residential neighbors, including the seniors, by having 2024 Durant downzoned to R-3 in the draft DAP. 

The city and the owners can achieve increased density at 2024 Durant under R-3 zoning, since there were no residents in the current church building; upzoning to C-DMU is not necessary to increase density 

The 2024 Durant owner should not claim that it can only achieve the general DAP goal of increasing density by having 2024 Durant upzoned; properly downzoned to R-3 or otherwise limited to three stories, a three story building at 2024 Durant would increase the residential density far above the zero residents at the current 2024 Durant church building, and also comply with all of the specific DAP goals and policies protecting the seniors and the residential neighborhoods such as Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1. Properly downzoning 2024 Durant to R-3 and constructing a three story residential building thus would greatly fulfill the DAP policy of increasing density, since the church building had no residents, and complies perfectly with the DAP policies and protects the seniors and the residential neighborhood. 

Giving in to the owners' request to upzone the property, in violation of all of the specific DAP policies protecting the seniors and the residential neighborhood, is bad governance and policy. The balance of the DAP is like the balance between oil drillers and environmentally sensitive and protected areas. Oil drillers claim that drilling more oil will increase national security by facilitating energy independence and will improve the economy by creating jobs, which can be desirable outcomes. However, there are more specific protective policies which apply to environmentally sensitive areas; we want energy independence and job creation, but some areas are off limits to drilling because they are rare, environmentally sensitive areas. It is similar with the Core and Corridor areas of the Downtown Area and the R-4/R-3 residential neighborhood, where we the DAP has specific policies to protect the residential neighborhood from increased heights and increased density, and orders decreased heights via downzoning, and has specific policies to protect and encourage aid to seniors.  

Upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU from R-4/R-3 at the owner’s request, simply to build a taller building, is analogous to reclassifying an environmentally protected area as non-protected at the owner’s request, solely to increase oil drilling profits 

Upzoning 2024 Durant from R-4 to C-DMU at the owner's request is like if an oil driller owns some environmentally protected wetlands, and asks the state or federal government if they can have their status changed to oil drilling land, and the state or federal government changes the classification from protected to unprotected, all under the rationale that the oil driller can bring energy independence and create jobs if only it could drill on its protected wetlands, if only the government would reclassify it from protected to a drilling-allowed classification, and ignoring the specific policies protecting the environmentally sensitive area. This is exactly what the city did with 2024 Durant; it took a parcel that had been quiet, two stories, and residentially zoned, religiously-used, for 65 years, and at the request of the owner, with the rationale that the owner could increase density if the property is upzoned, the city gave in and reclassified the property from protected R-4 and R-3 residential zoning to unprotected, commercial-mixed use C-DMU zoning, in violation of all of the specific protective policies. Nothing has changed regarding the 2024 Durant property; it was the same as it always was, part of the R-4/R-3 residential neighborhood; there was no good reason for the upzoning that justified ignoring and violating the specific policies protecting the seniors and the R-4/R-3 neighborhood. 

 

 

Case-by-case analysis—the 2024 Durant project presents a special case because of the low-income seniors next door, and the city must act to protect these vulnerable neighbors 

The 2024 Durant/2025 Channing presents a special case due to the low-income seniors living directly to the west of this proposed construction. The Stuart Pratt Manor at 2020 Durant is a senior residence that has existed next to a quiet, two-story church building since 1969. The zoning needs to be more restrictive, especially at the 2024 Durant portion of the project, such as when the city originally followed policy and downzoned 2024 Durant to R-3 in the DAP draft. 

Solar access, shade, and low-income seniors—seniors tend to wake up earlier and are less mobile than younger people, and the 2024 Durant project will block the east-facing seniors' sunlight from dawn to 9AM, maybe up to 11AM, greatly diminishing their quality of life 

Seniors tend to wake up earlier than younger people, according to the NIH (www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/good-nights-sleep). However, the solar access studies provided by the developer reveal that the east side of Stuart Pratt will be heavily shadowed up to 9AM in the morning, and potentially up to 11AM in the morning. This deprives the east-facing senior residents of direct light from dawn until 9AM or 11AM; around 11AM and 12PM the sun will be directly overhead, so the east-facing seniors will get very little direct sunlight ever. The low-income seniors have less money to relocate and are less mobile, and have less money to hire lawyer or represent themselves than non-low income and non-senior people, so they cannot remedy this drastic reduction of solar access on their own; they are counting on the city's protective policies such as Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, and on the Zoning Adjustments Board to downzone 2024 Durant or otherwise limit the building height to three stories. The city should grant none of the height extension permits, nor any of the permits waiving or altering set back and step down requirements, as clearly all specific DAP policy is aimed at protecting the seniors and the residential neighbors from undue development pressures and from new buildings over three stories tall encroaching upon the residential neighborhood. 

Note that the DAP is concerned with minimizing shade to residential properties: 

"The Core Area is not near residential areas and tall buildings will not shade or crowd surrounding residential neighborhoods." (p. LU-3) 

Note that by upzoning 2024 Durant from R-4 to C-DMU, at the request of the property owner, the city has violated this principle of minimizing shade. This is especially egregious given that 2024 Durant was ordered to be downzoned to R-3 in the draft DAP for a maximum height of three stories. The six-to-eight story elevation currently under consideration will drastically interfere with the seniors' solar access. Note that 75% of the Stuart Pratt residents on the east-facing side of the building live in studio apartments where their only source of light and natural ventilation is an east-facing balcony window/door.  

The DAP considers availability of sunshine and quiet as factors in the livability of residents. Note that upzoning 2024 Durant will drastically reduce the amount of sunshine the seniors will receive in the vital dawn to afternoon hours, and the proposed dorm may be expected to increase noise via traffic to the dorm and student gatherings (many neighborhoods including the Clark Kerr neighbors have complained about noise from student parties and residences). 

“The livability of a district also depends on the general availability of sunshine and relative quiet, factors that can be maintained through regulation and mindful design.” (p.LU-1) 

2024 Durant's six-to-eight-story elevation for a private student dorm is not compatible with the low-income senior home next door, where the vast majority of the seniors facing 2024 Durant have only one window for natural light and ventilation; they will be in shadow from dawn to at least 9AM, potentially to 11AM, and will receive a sliver of direct sunlight for a slender portion of the day if at all; they'll likely keep their windows and curtains closed to maintain their privacy from the students next door and to keep out student noise, which will block their only source of natural lighting and ventilation. 

Traffic and parking—there is already a severe lack of parking in the neighborhood, and increased traffic will increase safety risks to the seniors as well as to bicyclists on the Channing bicycle avenue 

Parking in the neighborhood is already very, very difficult to find. An influx of 200 students, even with 35 parking spaces, will significantly impact parking in the neighborhood, as we anticipate much more parking demand in the neighborhood for friends, family, and food service deliverers visiting the students in the proposed dorm. Also, this will greatly increase the traffic, and increase double parking, and there will be cars going into the dorm’s parking garage at all hours, which will make it more dangerous for the seniors to walk around the neighborhood. Channing has parking only on one side of the street, as it is a bicycle avenue, so much of the increased traffic and double parking due to the 200 additional dorm residents will likely be on Durant, by people looking for more parking, right next door to the low-income senior home, and any increased traffic and double parking on Channing will make the street much more dangerous for bicyclists using the Channing bicycle avenue. The increased traffic and parking demand will also make it harder for friends and family to visit the seniors, or pick them up to take them to routine appointments (to the doctor, to go shopping, etc.), as the senior home does not have parking for visitors. 

Having 200 more dorm residents right next to the Channing bicycle avenue on one side and the low-income senior home on the other side poses a danger both to the bicyclists and the seniors due to increased traffic and double parking. This also violates the following bicycle-promoting goals of the DAP: 

GOAL AC-1: IMPROVE OPTIONS THAT INCREASE ACCESS TO DOWNTOWN ON FOOT, BY BICYCLE, AND VIA TRANSIT. MAKE LIVING, WORKING, AND VISITING DOWNTOWN AS CAR-FREE AS POSSIBLE. 

GOAL AC-5: MAINTAIN AND ENHANCE SAFE, ATTRACTIVE AND CONVENIENT BICYCLE
CIRCULATION WITHIN DOWNTOWN, AND TO AND FROM SURROUNDING AREAS, FOR PEOPLE OF ALL AGES AND ABILITIES. PROMOTE BICYCLING DOWNTOWN. 

The residential streets Durant and Channing are not adequate for the increased parking and traffic demands of 200 additional dorm residents, and the city needs to downzone 2024 Durant and 2025 Channing to keep the neighborhood safe, to protect the scale and character of the neighborhood, and to protect the neighborhood from development pressures in accordance with Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, which would also serve to protect bicyclists using the Channing bicycle avenue and preserve car-free bicycle access to downtown. 

There are many residential neighborhood protection statements in the DAP and in staff reports that are violated by the upzoning of 2024 Durant 

Note that the Downtown Area Plan in several areas states the need to protect the residential neighborhood, including the statements: 

"GOAL LU-7: MAINTAIN THE EXISTING SCALE AND CHARACTER OF RESIDENTIAL- ONLY AREAS. 

Policy LU-7.1: Neighborhood Protections. 

Seek to reduce development pressures in residential-only areas, to promote the preservation and rehabilitation of older structures – and to conserve the scale of their historic fabric (see 

Policy HD-1.5). 

a) Maintain the R-2A zoning designation and downzone R-4 areas to R-3 (as shown in Figure LU-1), except for the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue." 

"Residential Neighborhoods. Few opportunity sites exist in residential-only areas, but when development does occur, it will be subject to residential zoning. Many residents have expressed their desire to maintain the scale and character of these residential areas. To reduce development pressures that could result in inappropriate development, Plan policies call for downzoning the southwest portion of the Downtown Area from R-4 to R-3." 


Staff mention neighborhood protections based on Berkeley Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee discussions and Planning Commission process:

Downtown Area Plan (DAP) 2012 and Implementation Measures (March 6, 2012)

"Several Zoning Map changes are recommended (see Attachment 5 for the proposed changes and Attachment 9 for background), based on previous DAPAC discussions
and the recent Planning Commission process. Rezone from R-4 to R-3 the parcels located within the southwest corner of the DAP, generally bordered by MLK Jr. Way, Dwight Way, Allston Street and Milvia Street, with three half-blocks extending east of Milvia towards Shattuck. This rezone protects the medium density residential nature of the area, and allows
transition to the lower density area west of the downtown, consistent with policy goals outlined during the DAPAC and Commission review process."

http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Level_3_-_City_Council/2012/03Mar/2012-03-06%20Item%2014%20Downtown%20Area%20Plan(1).pdf 

There are several affordable housing protection statements in the DAP that are negatively impacted by the upzoning of 2024 Durant 

"GOAL LU-3: CULTIVATE DOWNTOWN AS AN ATTRACTIVE RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD WITH A RANGE OF HOUSING OPPORTUNITIES, AND AN EMPHASIS ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND FAMILY HOUSING.” 

“Policy LU-3.2: Housing Diversity & Affordability. 

Offer diverse housing opportunities for persons of different ages and incomes, households of varying size and the disabled, and give Downtown a significant role in meeting Berkeley’s continuing need for additional housing, especially affordable housing (see Housing and Community Health & Services chapter)." 

Note that Stuart Pratt at 2020 Durant is low-income, affordable senior housing, and the 2024 Durant project is not, it is for a private luxury dorm. The city shouldn't degrade the existing senior housing, and the city should push for 2024 Durant to be a more compatible use next to Stuart Pratt, such as a three-story senior home. 

There are several senior protection statements in the DAP that are negatively impacted by the upzoning of 2024 Durant  

The DAP includes “GOAL HC-5: DELIVER IN DOWNTOWN EFFECTIVE AND COMPASSIONATE SERVICES FOR SENIORS, PARENTS AND YOUTH, AND PERSONS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, INCLUDING INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE HOMELESS, HAVE PHYSICAL AND/OR MENTAL DISABILITIES,AND/OR SUFFER FROM SUBSTANCE ABUSE.”  

The city should be encouraging senior health and quality of life by appropriately downzoning 2024 Durant to R-3. 

“Policy HC-5.3: Senior Services. Serve seniors in Downtown, and encourage their health, safety and welfare.” 

Policy HC-5.3 directs the city to encourage the seniors’ health, safety and welfare, such as by appropriate downzoning 2024 Durant to R-3 as Policy LU-7.1 directs and as the city properly downzoned in the DAP draft, not harming their health, well-being, and quality of life by upzoning 2024 Durant to C-DMU. 

There is only one exception to Policy LU-7.1, for properties on the north side of Dwight east of Shattuck 

Note that the clear, plain language interpretation of Policy LU-7.1 is that there is only one exception to the policy's direction to downzone R-4 properties to R-3 zoning: "except for the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue." There are not additional exceptions based on what is pictured in Figure LU-1/Figure LU-1A, the land use map; otherwise, why would the city have included the language "except for the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue"? The city could have simply written, "Maintain the R-2A zoning designation and downzone R-4 areas to R-3 (as shown in Figure LU-1)" if the city intended for the downzonings to be dictated by what is shown in Figure LU-1. Note that this would not make for a good, workable policy, as the city would then be able to simply draw whatever arbitrary borders they would like in terms of choosing what R-4 properties to downzone or not; it would not be a workable policy statement and would violate California law dictating the contents of General Plans and their required elements for charter and general law cities. 

However, with the addition of the "except for the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue" language, it is clear in Policy LU-7.1 that Figure LU-1/Figure LU-1A is to show the effect of implementing Policy LU-7.1, the downzoning all of the R-4 properties to R-3 zoning, with the single exception for R-4 properties on "the north side of Dwight Way east of Shattuck Avenue."  

Also note that the exception does not refer to the "Maintain the R-2A zoning" language; the properties on the north side of Dwight east of Shattuck were zoned R-4, not R-2A. It's clear that the exception applies to R-4 properties. 

Also note that while the properties falling under the exception on Dwight are clearly labeled "R-4 to C-SA" in Figure LU-1/ LU-1A, the city did not similarly label the upzonings of 2024 Durant, 2025 Channing, and other R-4 properties as "R-4 to C-DMU." This is highly misleading and is a material omission as described further below. The upzonings are not contemplated or discussed anywhere in the entire DAP document, even though the R-4 to R-3 downzonings are mentioned numerous times. 

The city misapplied or ignored Goal LU-7, to “maintain the existing scale and character of residential-only neighborhoods” 

The city clearly misapplied or ignored Goal LU-7, which is to maintain the existing scale and character of the neighborhood. Goal LU-7 orders the city to: "MAINTAIN THE EXISTING SCALE AND CHARACTER OF RESIDENTIAL-ONLY AREAS" Note that Berkeley High and 2024 Durant, both having institutional uses, have traditionally been part of the residential-only R-4 neighborhood, and Berkeley High was downzoned to R-3 in the final DAP, and 2024 Durant was properly downzoned to R-3 in the draft DAP. 2024 Durant has for the last 65 years or so, or at least since 1967, been part of the R-5/R-4/R-3 residential-only neighborhood (it was R-5 in 1967). Note that they were part of the residential-only neighborhood even though part of the block had commercial properties; Goal LU-7 applies to the neighborhood, not just to entirely residential-only blocks.  

Goal LU-7 orders the city to maintain the EXISTING scale and character, that is, the scale and character before the DAP was put into effect. Goal LU-7 isn't ordering the city to look at the potential building heights before the DAP took effect; otherwise, every property owner in the R-4 neighborhood could claim that they were allowed to build to six stories, so the existing scale of the neighborhood is six stories. That's not the case; Goal LU-7 orders to look at the existing scale and character of actual structures in the neighborhood before the new DAP policies take effect. Note that Goal LU-7 doesn't apply to historic buildings, but to the neighborhood in general; there is a whole different DAP element for "Historic Preservation and Urban Design." Goal LU-7 applies to all of the neighborhood, whether the buildings are historic or not. 

Here is a breakdown of the scale and character of the surrounding buildings and the building at 2024 Durant before the DAP went into effect: 

2024 Durant scale and character, before the DAP, for Goal LU-7 purposes 

North of 2024 Durant: 

2025 Durant--scale: 4 stories 

2025 Durant--character: residential (R-4) 

 

East of 2024 Durant: 

2352 Shattuck (flat parking lot), scale: 0 stories 

2352 Shattuck (flat parking lot), character: commercial (C-SA) 

 

South of 2024 Durant: 

2025 Channing (vacant lot), scale: 0 stories 

2025 Channing (vacant lot), character: residential (R-4) 

 

 

West of 2024 Durant: 

2020 Durant, scale: 6 stories (equal to approximately five of the proposed 2024 Durant stories) 

2020 Durant, character: residential (R-4) 

 

2024 Durant lot: 

2024 Durant, scale: 2 stories 

2024 Durant, character: residential (R-4) 

Summary for 2024 Durant: 

 

Out of four surrounding lots, three (75%) were R-4 residentially zoned, only one was C-SA commercially zoned 

Out of the four surrounding lots, the average building height/existing scale is 10 stories/4 properties= 2.5 stories 

If you include 2024 Durant, out of five properties, four (80%) are R-4 residentially zoned, only one was C-SA commercially zoned 

If you include 2024 Durant, the average building height/existing scale is 12 stories/5 properties = 2.5 stories 

So the existing character around 2024 Durant is 75%-80% residentially zoned, and the existing scale is 2.4-2.5 stories. To follow Goal LU-7, clearly the city to maintain the existing scale and character of the neighborhood needs to properly downzone 2024 Durant to R-3 zoning, as the surrounding scale and character is overwhelmingly under three stories and residential, not six-to-eight stories and commercial-mixed use as under C-DMU. 

2025 Channing scale and character, before the DAP, for Goal LU-7 purposes 

North of 2025 Channing: 

2024 Durant, scale: 2 stories 

2024 Durant, character: residential (R-4) 

 

East of 2025 Channing: 

2029 Channing, scale: 5 stories 

2029 Channing, character: residential (R-4) 

 

South of 2025 Channing: 

2036 Channing, scale: 4 stories 

2036 Channing, character: residential (R-4) 

2020 Channing, scale: 1-to-2 stories 

2020 Channing, character: residential (R-4) 

 

West of 2025 Channing: 

2023 Channing, scale: 3 stories 

2023 Channing, character: residential (R-4) 

 

2025 Channing lot: 

2025 Channing scale: 0 stories 

2025 Channing character: residential (R-4) 

 

Summary for 2025 Channing 

Out of five surrounding lots, all five (100%) were R-4 residential 

Out of the five surrounding properties, the average building height/existing scale is 16 stories/5 properties = 3.2 stories 

Including 2025 Durant, all six (100%) properties were R-4 residential 

Including 2025 Durant, the average building height/existing scale is 16 stories/6 properties = 2.67 stories 

So the existing character around 2025 Channing is 100% residentially zoned, and the existing scale is 2.67-3.2 stories. To follow Goal LU-7, clearly the city to maintain the existing scale and character of the neighborhood needs to properly downzone 2024 Durant to R-3 zoning, as the surrounding scale and character is overwhelmingly three or under stories and entirely residential, not six-to-eight stories and commercial-mixed use as under C-DMU. 

Upzoning 2024 Durant and 2025 Channing drastically changes the existing scale and character of the neighborhood in violation of Policy LU-7.1 and Goal LU-7 

Upzoning 2024 Durant will clearly and drastically change the existing scale and character of the neighborhood. The small, quiet, one-to-two-story, residentially-zoned, religiously-used church building has been an integral part of the residential neighborhood since 1948, 65 years. 

The church building is low profile, tree-lined, peaceful, residential, not commercial. To go from two stories to six or eight and to go from residential zoning to commercial clearly violates Goal LU-7, to maintain the existing scale and character of the neighborhood. The church has always been a small, low-level, tranquil gateway to the residential neighborhood, and the city should not take such a tranquil entry to the neighborhood and upzone it to a six-to-eight story building. An eight story commercial-mixed use dorm drastically changes the character of the neighborhood, and brings the scale of the commercial Core and Corridor and development pressures impermissibly into the residential-only neighborhood. 

Furthermore, the 2024 Durant church building and the 2020 Durant senior home were designed functionally and aesthetically as a pair. The church was built in 1948, and the church sponsored the construction of the senior home in 1969. The church subdivided its land for the senior home, the architect was an agent of the church, the senior home was named after the acting pastor of the church Stuart S. Pratt, the church offered social activities to the senior members. The home was run by Satellite Homes, which was an organization affiliated with the church and the Council of Churches. The architect, an agent of the church, designed 2020 Durant knowing that the church sponsored 2020 Durant and was going to provide social services for the church. He designed 75% of the units facing the church as studio apartments with only one window, a balcony window facing the church. I submit that if he had known the church was going to allow a six-to-eight story building on the church lot, he would have designed the senior studios to have more natural lighting, such as a bathroom window looking into a courtyard or a ventilation shaft with a skylight.  

The existing scale and character of the neighborhood includes the church being a low, quiet building affiliated with the senior home, which was built around the scale of the church building (they literally fit together like puzzle pieces), for 43 years since the senior home has been built. Since the senior home, built around the residential scale of the 2024 Durant church building, has now been downzoned to R-3 and remains residential, so should 2024 Durant. The city got it right the first time by downzoning 2024 Durant to R-3 in the draft DAP.  

[For info on the social services and other relationships between the chruch and the senior home, see the attached images and also the Frederick News Post, November 19, 1968, p.19 http://newspaperarchive.com/frederick-news-post/1968-11-19/page-19] 

Furthermore, upzoning 2024 Durant, 2025 Channing, and some other R-4 properties changes these blocks from residential-only majority blocks to commercial-majority blocks, clearly changing the scale and character of the neighborhood in an impermissible way, in violation of Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1 

The city published misleading information in Figure LU-1A and other parts of the DAP and omitted material information which caused the seniors and neighbors and others to forego their legal right to make public comments against and bring lawsuits against the R-4 to C-DMU upzonings  

The seniors, other the residential neighbors, and I did not know that 2024 Durant had been upzoned, because of misleading information and material omissions in the DAP. Figure LU-1A clearly labels that an area has been changed from R-4 to C-SA; it clearly labels certain areas as “R-4 to R-3 (downzone),” and the DAP as a whole uses the terms “downzone," "downzoning," and "R-4 to R-3" numerous times, and discusses the downzonings and neighborhood protections numerous times. However, nowhere at all does the DAP use the terms “R-4 to C-DMU,” nowhere the DAP use the terms “upzone” or “upzoning” or mention upzoning or reclassification from R-4 to C-DMU, nowhere in the entire document, the only evidence of R-4 upzoning is a clearly labeled section of Figure LU-1A that shows the text “R-4 to C-SA.” If the DAP has the labels “R-4 to C-SA” and “R-4 to R-3 (downzone),” why did the city omit labels reading “R-4 to C-DMU (upzone)”? This is a very selective and misleading omission of material information. 

Any reasonable person reading the DAP would think that all R-4 properties in the southwest downtown areas were downzoned to R-3, and the C-DMU properties dispayed had always been commercial (while, quite the opposite, 2024 Durant, 2029 Durant, and 2025 Channing, among other properties, had previously been R-4). So the DAP trumpets the downzonings of R-4 to R-3 and includes that as the centerpiece of an explicit policy, Policy LU-7.1, and nowhere mentions any upzonings in the text. Figure LU-1A shows 2024 Durant as C-DMU as if it had always been commercial. Only later did I and the seniors look at an older zoning map and learn that in fact 2024 Durant had actually been R-4 previously and should have been downzoned also to R-3 like 2020 Durant. By this time however it was past the 90 days to sue the city regarding the downzoning. 

The city should not be able to publish misleading information and omit material facts which mislead the public, as a result of which they lose their ability to sue. The city policies still are in effect, and ZAB and the city need to apply the zoning policies and laws fairly and equally and downzone 2024 Durant and 2025 Channing to R-3 just as it downzoned 2020 Durant and the rest of the blocks to the west. It is still ZAB's responsibility to look at this on a case-by-case basis, and clearly all of the DAP's policies still dictate that 2024 Durant be downzoned or, at the very least, limited through the ZAB's zoning powers to three stories due to the drastic changes a six-to-eight story building will have on the residential neighborhood and on the seniors. Just as the city listened to the owner's arguments regarding 2024 Durant's zoning, we're asking the city to equally listen to the seniors' and the residential neighbors' arguments, especially since the city got it right the first time and downzoned 2024 Durant to R-3 in the draft DAP, and since all relevant policies specifically are designed to protect the residential neighborhood, not to transform the neighborhood into C-DMU zoning. 

Buffers and transitions--the Staples parking lot, already zoned as C-DMU, would be perfectly adequate buffer and provide adequate transitions between the Core and Corridor and the residential-only neighborhood--there is no need to upzone 2024 Durant 

In terms of buffer zones and transitions between the Core and Corridor and the residential neighborhood, the church property downzoned to R-3 and the parking lot as C-DMU were sufficient buffers for the rest of the neighborhood. Why do both the Staples parking lot to the east and 2024 Durant need to be buffer zone? A six story future building at the Staples parking lot to a three story building at 2024 Durant would be sufficient buffer and transition for the senior home and the residential neighborhood. Policy LU-7.1 does not have an exception allowing upzoning for buildings at the edge of commercial areas; in fact protections are intense at the edge of commercial areas, requiring step downs (see the Downtown Area Design Guidelines) and set backs where C-DMU buildings abut residential buildings. 

CEQA Review--the project is not consistent with the General Plan and the Downtown Plan element, and such consistency is required by for a project to qualify for the infill exemption, so a full CEQA review is needed. What will the impacts of the projects be on the seniors and neighbors in terms of shadowing, traffic, parking, noise, etc? 

2024 Durant needs full CEQA review. The infill exemption claimed by the city only applies if "the project is consistent with the applicable general plan designation and all applicable general plan policies as well as with applicable zoning designation and regulations." As I've mentioned, the DAP is an element of the General Plan, and the upzoning of 2024 Durant is clearly not consistent with Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, which order the city to maintain the existing scale and character of 2024 Durant and the R-4/R-3 residential neighborhood, and to downzone 2024 Durant and other R-4 properties to R-3 zoning. Since the upzoning is not consistent with the DAP, the project is not consistent with "the applicable general plan designation and all applicable general plan policies as well as with applicable zoning designation and regulations" and a full CEQA analysis is needed. 

 

The city needs to comply with CEQA by performing a full CEQA review and analyzing environmental impacts that the city has failed to discuss and analyze, such as the negative impacts on neighbors and the public from noise, increased traffic, increased parking demands, shade impacts and blockage of sunlight to the low-income senior neighbors, other neighbors, and the public/sidewalk, scenic view blockages for the low-income seniors, other neighbors, and the public (a six-to-eight story building will block a scenic view of the Berkeley hills for the low-income seniors, other neighbors, and the public), cumulative impacts on the neighborhood, potential mitigations, and alternatives. As described above, there will be obvious impacts and significant changes to the scale and character of the area and on the solar access of the neighbors, parking and traffic impacts, etc. The city needs to analyze all of these factors and more in a full CEQA review, as we have not been presented with adequate analysis of the effects of a six-to-eight story building in place of a quiet, two story church on the low-income senior home and the neighborhood. 

There is a pending Council of Neighborhood Associations lawsuit against the DAP's Environmental Impact Report—if the EIR is found inadequate, C-DMU zoning will be invalidated, because C-DMU zoning was created by the DAP--the city must wait until after the lawsuit is resolved to issue any C-DMU permits 

The Council of Neighborhood Associations has a lawsuit pending against the DAP’s Environmental Impact Report. C-DMU zoning was created by the DAP, so if the DAP’s EIR is found insufficient, the C-DMU zoning will be invalid. So the ZAB should not issue any C-DMU permits until after the CNA lawsuit is resolved. 

There is a potential church buyer for the church building, a church group which wants to use the church for its religious services—the city should facilitate a sale to the church group to preserve a religious and cultural institution in the neighborhood which would enrich the cultural and religious diversity of the downtown area 

Also, note that there is a church group which has expressed interest in buying the 2024 Durant church to use it for its religious services. Keeping a religious use for the 2024 Durant property would be beneficial to the community; ZAB should properly downzone 2024 Durant and encourage the property owner to sell the church to the another church group for their religious services. 

The 2024 Durant project is of unprecedented or nearly unprecedented size for a residential-only neighborhood  

The 2024 Durant portion of the proposed project is nearly unprecedented in size, six-to-eight stories (even the potential six stories of the 2024 Durant project really equal seven stories when compared with Stuart Pratt, as the ceilings are taller). A highrise building on Center street and the Gaia buildings are the only Berkeley buildings I know of which are effectively seven stories or taller, and those are not in residential neighborhoods, and they are not right next to a low-income senior home, a senior home that has existed next to a quiet church since 1969, as is the case with the 2024 Durant/2025 Channing project. 

 

C-DMU zoning is flawed—it doesn't actually implement the DAP as it states it does, since it doesn't implement Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1; under California state law, it was invalid when passed because it is based on impermissible conflicts between Policy LU-7.1 and Figure LU-1A 

Legally, the C-DMU ordinance is invalid because it states that its purpose is to implement the DAP, but it doesn't implement Goal LU-7 and Policy LU-7.1, since it upzones 2024 Durant to C-DMU. It doesn't actually implement the DAP and is inconsistent with the General Plan’s and the area plan’s policies. The city should follow the direction of the R-3 and C-DMU ordinance to implement the DAP by implementing Policy LU-7.1 properly and downzoning 2024 Durant. 

Furthermore, the DAP and C-DMU ordinance are invalid because the DAP is internally inconsistent, in violation of California state law which applies to charter cities--Land Use Figure LU-1A and Policy LU-7.1 are clearly inconsistent. If a developer, a citizen, or a city staffer were to look to Figure LU-1A for zoning guidance, they would think 2024 Durant, 2029 Durant, 2025 Channing, and some other properties were always commercial and were now reclassified from commercial to C-DMU. If they looked to Policy LU-7.1 for guidance, they would downzone 2024 Durant , 2029 Durant 2025 Channing, and some other properties to R-3. That is a clear internal inconsistency which makes the DAP and any ordinances based on the inconsistency, such as C-DMU invalid when passed (see the relevant case law, statutes, and state guidelines for General Plans, which apply to charter cities, which forbid such internal inconsistency). The seniors and neighbors and I would have sued the city regarding this internal inconsistency within 90 days if Figure LU-1A not been so misleadingly labeled, and if the city had not omitted any mention of the terms “upzone” or “upzoning” or “R-4 to C-DMU” in the DAP, whereas the DAP had plenty of mentions of the terms “downzone” “downzoning” and “R-4 to R-3.” The city should not be able to mislead its citizens and omit material information regarding the fact that some R-4 properties were upzoned to C-DMU and then bar its citizens from gaining redress; the city needs to properly downzone 2024 Durant, 2029 Durant, 2025 Channing, and several other properties to R-3 zoning. 

[see: Cal. Gov't Code § 65700 (West), 66 Cal. Jur. 3d Zoning And Other Land Controls § 255, Garat v. City of Riverside, 2 Cal. App. 4th 259, 285, 3 Cal. Rptr. 2d 504, 519 (1991), State of California General Plan Guidelines (http://opr.ca.gov/docs/General_Plan_Guidelines_2003.pdf), Curtin’s California Land-Use and Planning Law, 1998 edition, p. 18] 

Analysis of General Plan Goals and Policies—the upzoning of 2024 Durant violates many of the General Plan goals and policies 

General Plan: 

“Goal #1: Preserve Berkeley’s unique character and quality of life." 

[This includes protecting the seniors and the residential neighborhood, as directed by DAP Goal LU-7 and DAP Policy LU-7.1, to preserve the unique character and quality of life in the lower-density R-4/R-3 neighborhood, protecting it from the Core and Corridor development pressures] 

Policy LU-1 Community Character 

Maintain the character of Berkeley as a special, diverse, unique place to live and work. 

[Tearing down a church building, when another church group wants to buy it to use for religious services, decreases the diversity of Berkeley and unique religious and cultural options; upzoning 2024 Durant instead of downzoning it, which will negatively impact the low-income senior home at 2024 Durant, does not maintain the special character of Berkeley for those seniors, but rather degrades the character and their experience of living in Berkeley.] 

Policy LU-3 Infill Development 

Encourage infill development that is architecturally and environmentally sensitive, embodies principles of sustainable planning and construction, and is compatible with neighboring land uses and architectural design and scale. (Also see Urban Design and Preservation Policies UD-16 through UD-24.) 

[2024 Durant's six-, or potentially eight-story elevation for a private student dorm is not compatible with the low-income senior home next door, where the vast majority of the seniors facing 2024 Durant have only one window for natural light and ventilation; they will be in shadow from dawn to at least 9AM, potentially to 11AM, and will receive a sliver of direct sunlight for a slender portion of the day if at all; they'll likely keep their windows and curtains closed to maintain their privacy and keep out noise, which will block their only source of natural lighting and ventilation.] 

Policy LU-5 Citizen Involvement 

Assure the effective participation of Berkeley citizens and others in land use decisions. 

[The DAP was filled with misleading information and material omissions regarding Policy LU-7.1 and the R-4 upzonings, and the city should now listen to its citizens and remedy the upzonings. The neighbors and 2020 Durant were not consulted when 2024 Durant and 2025 Channing were upzoned, and the low-income seniors cannot be expected to keep up with all of the city’s zoning policies when the DAP itself is misleading.] 

Policy LU-6 Safe and Attractive Neighborhoods. 

Ensure that all residential areas are safe and attractive places to live. (Also see Disaster Preparedness and Safety Policies S-13 through S-16.) 

[Tearing down a quiet two-story church building and building a six-to-eight story megadorm decreases the attractiveness of the neighbhorhood; a three-story buiding, as directed by Policy LU-7.1, would be more attractive and compatible in the residential area.] 

Policy LU-7 Neighborhood Quality of Life 

Preserve and protect the quality of life in Berkeley’s residential areas through careful land use decisions. 

Actions: 

A. Require that new development be consistent with zoning standards and compatible with the scale, historic character, and surrounding uses in the area. 

B. Carefully evaluate and monitor new and existing uses to minimize or eliminate negative impacts on adjacent residential uses. 

C. Carefully review and regulate proposals for additional residential development in the Hill Fire Hazard Area and the tsunami, seismic and landslide hazard areas identified in the Disaster Preparedness and Safety Element. (Also see Disaster Preparedness and Safety Policies S-14 and S-16.) 

D. Strengthen Zoning Ordinance language to ensure greater protection of solar access to adjacent properties when new projects or additions are proposed. 

E. Acquire an analysis of the implications of revising R-1, R-1A, R-2, R-2A, MU-R, and C-N zoning to require a Use Permit and public hearings for projects that exceed 28 feet. 

[The city needs to downzone 2024 Durant to R-3, the upzoning to C-DMU is not compatible with the R-4/R-3 neighborhood and the senior home at 2020 Durant] 

Analysis of C-DMU ordinance--the 2024 Durant project does not qualify for approval under C-DMU zoning for several reasons, including that the project is not compatible with the surrounding buildings and uses  

23B.32.040 Findings for Issuance and Denial and Conditions 

A. The Board may approve an application for a Use Permit, either as submitted or as modified, only upon finding that the establishment, maintenance or operation of the use, or the construction of a building, structure or addition thereto, under the circumstances of the particular case existing at the time at which the application is granted, will not be detrimental to the health, safety, peace, morals, comfort or general welfare of persons residing or working in the area or neighborhood of such proposed use or be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements of the adjacent properties, the surrounding area or neighborhood or to the general welfare of the City. 

[In a case-by case analysis, the 2024 Durant dorm project, and 2024 Durant upzoned to C-DMU will be detrimental to to the health, safety, peace, morals, comfort or general welfare of persons residing or working in the area or neighborhood of such proposed use or be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements of the adjacent properties, the surrounding area or neighborhood, as described above, due to blocking the sunlight for the seniors, substantially increasing traffic to 200 student residents, etc.] 

23E.68.090 Findings 

A. In order to approve any Use Permit under this Chapter, the Zoning Officer or Board must make the findings required by Section 23B.32.040, as well as the findings required by the following paragraphs of this Section to the extent applicable. 

B. A proposed use or structure must: 

1. Be compatible with the purposes of the District; and 

2. Be compatible with the surrounding uses and buildings. 

F. In order to approve a Use Permit for modification of the setback requirements of 23E.68.070.C, the Board must find that the modified setbacks will not unreasonably limit solar access or create significant increases in wind experienced on the public sidewalk. 

[The 2024 Durant project is not compatible with the surrounding uses and buildings for reasons described above. The project will unreasonably limit solar access to the residents at 2020 Durant.] 

Other information 

Please note that this is just a condensed version of many of the arguments against the 2024 Durant project, I have submitted many other public comments on this matter to the city for ZAB via Leslie Mendez and Terry Blount. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The “740-Shuffle”: Bait and Switch, Berkeley Style

By Curtis V. Manning
Friday January 18, 2013 - 10:36:00 PM
740 Heinz
Gale Garcia
740 Heinz

Although the permit process in Berkeley is thought to proceed neutrally, according to proposal merits under existing zoning regulations, some proposals seem more equal than others. In the case of 740 Heinz Ave,, Wareham Development has been permitted to build to 74 ft after a complete demolition of the existing historical landmark -- this in a district in which the zoning regulations list 45 ft. as the standard maximum allowed height for new construction. Wareham’s proposed building has a floor area ratio (FAR) of four (a total floor area four times the lot area), in a district with a FAR limit of 2.0.  

How is it, we ask, that a building so out of scale with the neighborhood; so universally disliked by neighbors and local businesses, could get the approval of the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB)? Keep asking.  

This 740 Heinz proposal is trying to achieve what the City Council could not achieve by putting Measure T on the ballot -- the re-zoning of West Berkeley to essentially double the allowable building heights and massing. Not only does Council wish to give Wareham all that they ever wanted, they are taking from the quality of life for neighboring businesses and residents. Moreover, this project would provide the precedent with which a rash of such developments could be sanctioned. 

The Councilperson for the affected district, Darryl Moore, who favored Measure T, said that the Council put the measure on the ballot because they “want voters to be able to hear the issues and to be able to vote on the economic project that is the West Berkeley Project and have them weigh in." Well, now that we have weighed in, will the Council majority be chastened by the vote? Don’t bet on it. 

It should be noted that many think that synthetic biology is another bubble about to pop. Without Federal support, these industries would fade. For instance, even with large subsidies, Amyris has given up trying to upscale biofuel production and is shifting its energies in cosmetics. Cracks are beginning to show in their wall of the inevitability of the “green corridor”. A bubble that has pre-maturely popped. It’s a scam, a confidence game being run on the City of Berkeley. The question is, is Bates the chump, or is he the mastermind?  

Wareham’s proposal appears to be a prototype of what the City staff was developing to satisfy the University’s projected needs in West Berkeley. Wareham’s proposal was sculpted by the active participation of City staff. It was they who suggested retaining the facades of the Copra building to rationalize the height Wareham was asking for. Later Wareham didn’t want the facades, and staff explained that away by saying that preservation was not one of the reasons for the granting of the variance of 2009. The purpose the City saw in Wareham’s proposal was that it would provide a precedent for the change in zoning that they were trying to force through. It hasn’t worked that well since they lost on Measure T. But they still could have the precedent that the permit to build on 740 Heinz would provide. 

One problem for the City’s plan to force 740 Heinz through might be that the current proposal has a different number than the one for which the variance was granted; it is a different proposal! I am not sure what process exists for transferring variances from one permit to another, but I don’t think it was observed in this case – not in public any way. But these are things that can be clarified in court if the City chooses to try to bull on through. 

Fortunately, a group of local activists have appealed the use-permit that was granted to Wareham by the ZAB at their Sept. 27, 2012 meeting. To hear the Council act on this appeal, come to the Council Chambers on 2134 MLK Way on January 22, 2013, and see whether justice will be served. The item will be heard some time after 7:00 P.M.


Gun Regulation and Surveillance by the State

By Thomas Lord
Friday January 18, 2013 - 02:09:00 PM

In reaction to recent mass shootings, liberals and progressives across the nation are allegedly enthusiastic about beefing up federal gun regulation. The NRA is finally on the ropes, it is oddly presumed against all evidence. Now is the time for common sense regulation, of some sort, because of Australia and London "Bobbies" or something.

Common sense is a tricky bird. We really ought to step back and consider if these "common sense" measures will really improve public safety and what else these measures might do. 

One of the proposals is to expand the use of the federal database for background checks. Checks would be required even for private sales at gun shows. States would be pressured to more fully report people who are forbidden from buying because of certain kinds of encounter with the mental health system. 

There is some history here. Starting in 1993 the federal government used to broadly require states to supply certain mental health records to the FBI for open-ended purposes. They were entrusted to surveille people like this probably because of the FBI's decades long history of respecting privacy and never abusing its powers. The mental health part of the background check for gun purchases grew out of that reporting requirement. 

Alas, in 1997 the requirement that states report mental health records to the FBI was struck down by the court. Today, many states voluntarily participate barely or not at all in the program, though a few participate with seeming enthusiasm. 

Interestingly, even the NRA who generally resist gun regulation complain about the situation with mental health reporting. They have endorsed the idea of making mental health record reporting more complete. 

Will it work? What will it do? 

I'm not sure exactly what the effect on violent crime will be if the database is beefed up with greater mental health reporting and wider use. I'm skeptical that it will make a huge difference to public safety one way or another but none of us really know. 

There's only an uncertain gain from the proposal but there are some certain costs: 

a) The proposal is to expand unaccountable, universal, domestic surveillance by federal law enforcement. 

b) In particular, it proposes attempting to track everyone who is ever involuntarily committed or who are subject to certain kinds of court orders related to mental illness. (And it is a virtual certainty that such a list will include many people who would pose no special risk as gun buyers.) 

Surely this information can't be abused?

It is commonly believed that, at least on paper, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) can only be used for the very narrow purpose of regulating gun sales. Unfortunately, that's a bit misleading. 

It's true that the law itself specifies the creation of the NICS database, who can use it, and for which (narrow) purposes. The law explicitly specifies auditing policies aimed at preventing abuse. 

There is a big loophole in the law, though. The law specifies restrictions on how the NICS database itself may be used but it does not so narrowly limit what the FBI can do with records submitted for addition to the NICS. 

When the NICS staff get a record from a state they update the NICS database itself but they are also assigned the duty of updating other (less regulated) federal databases from those same records. 

In effect, the FBI may not (per law) directly use the NICS database for "general law enforcement" purposes but the FBI can in effect make a copy of all incoming records to the NICS, and keep those in less restricted databases. 

Here is a quote from Law Enforcement Records Management Systems (RMSs) as They Pertain to FBI Programs and Systems, a manual published by the FBI): 

"The NICS Section [the department that runs NICS] also is instrumental in effecting the update of applicable federal, state, and local automated criminal history databases to ensure the availability of current record information for future inquiries by law enforcement agencies." 

So is all this really -- as a practical matter, legislative intent aside -- really about "common sense" gun control?


For Neighborhood Organization against PG&E: A Rate-payer's Union

By Steve Martinot
Thursday January 17, 2013 - 10:46:00 PM

Back in 2010, right after the San Bruno explosion killed 8 people, PG&E threatened to make its California customers pay the cost of reparations and reconstruction. But that would make those customers accessories to manslaughter (the crime with which PG&E could have been charged). There are laws on the books in any state in the US which say that anyone who contributes money to an organization, some of whose actions constitute felonies, become accessories to those crimes after the fact.

Today, at the end of 2012, PG&E's threat has become a reality. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has agreed to allow PG&E to pass on 65% of the costs of the damage and compensation, that is, the costs of its criminal negligence, to its customers. In other words, the CPUC has approved our becoming accessories to PG&E's malfeasance, its "debt to society," as it were. It makes us victims as well as accesssories to that criminality. Nowhere else in this economy are customers required to pay for the crimes of those from whom they buy goods.

If we are to maintain our honor as law-abiding people, we must decline this opportunity to contribute to PG&E's transgressions. But that will require more than simply refusing to pay the toll for that corporation's destructions. It will require organizing to make any refusal feasible and effective. 

It is for that purpose that I propose the organization of "rate-payer's unions" by which customers could defend themselves against PG&E's threat. I use the term "union" in its traditional sense of an organization whose purpose is to fend off autocratic control, give people a voice in their own affairs and destiny, and democratize the social domain in which they find themselves. The essential effect of rate-payer's unions would be to democratize utility rates. And it will give neighborhoods as sense of their sovereignty, a sense of the political power people can have. 

Here is the problem with PG&E's economics. It is a privately held corporation with monopoly power over people as a "public" utility. As a private corporation, it has stockholders and investors. Those stockholders have been attracted to this corporation under the assurance that they will receive an 11% return on their investment. That's right! The CPUC acts not only to establish utility rates to meet PG&E's costs of production, which would be fair, but it also acts to guarantee that high level of return for the investors (at our expense), regardless of whether PG&E's operations are efficient or not, humane or not, criminal or not. 

To the extent the San Bruno explosion occurred because money's needed for testing and maintenance of equipment, for the renewal of obsolete or rotting delivery systems, were paid instead to the stockholders in fulfillment of that guarantee, it signifies that for PG&E, investor returns are more important than the safety of society. Because of that, 8 people are dead and some 34 houses were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. 

If PG&E's crimes are committed in the name of benefit to the investors, then it is the stockholders and other investors who should bear any compensatory responsibility. Simply by investing, the stockholders have tacitly agreed to accept the risks of loss of earnings or of capital in the event of market fluctuations or faulty management. Thus, it is the investors who should take responsibility in their misplaced confidence in that management. For the utility to extract a single penny for reconstruction or compensation purposes from people who have not agreed to accept that liability is to commit another wrong. It is to hold bystanders responsible for a contract that they never signed. 

So we, the people, need a means of defending ourselves not only against the criminality of PG&E (with the complicity of the CPUC), but also against our being used to bailout the investors through increased utility rates. For that, we will need to organize some form of customer's union. 

Here's how the rate-payer's union would work. 

People in a neighborhood, perhaps an area of 4 or 5 blocks, would simply have to meet, and discuss among themselves what they think would be a fair rate to pay for gas and electricity. These meetings would constitute Neighborhood Rate-payer's Assemblies (NPA) for those blocks. Each sector of a city, whether in small groups or contiguous neighborhoods, could form its own NPA, and meet to discuss the question of a fair rate to pay. And these discussions would accomplish, for their participants, a separation between utility rates and arbitrary charges for ancillary or nefarious purposes. 

As stated above, money paid to an organization that commits a felony renders the contributor an accessory. Such contributions have a different character from a standard utility bill. The bill is payment to the utility for electricity and gas delivered as a market transaction. Any money that a customer would give the utility above and beyond that market transaction, which includes the cost of production and administration, would be for stockholder earnings, or for bailout. 

The purpose of a NPA discussing the issue of a fair rate to pay would be to establish what rate people should pay if their transaction with the "public" utility were to be rendered totally honest. It would be the first step toward democratizing utility rates. 

Now, nothing in the concept of neighborhood assembly implies that they all have to come up with the same evaluation of utility costs, or what would constitute a "fair rate." One NPA might think it sufficient to go back to the rates prior to San Bruno. Another might think it legitimate to return to rates being paid before the 2001 "energy crisis," caused by Enron's finagling. Still another might do research into the actual costs of production of energy in California, and decide that the 1979 rate would be a "fair rate." The main thing would be that people get together and take the issue "by the horns" as it were. That is, pay that autonomously decided "fair rate" in concert. 

The question of legality arises. It is legal for people to meet and discuss anything they want, and make decisions. The real question is whether it would be legal to act on those decisions, the punishment for which (in this case) would be discontinuance of service. Legally, the only basis upon which a public utility can cut off service to a customer is for non-payment of a bill or tampering with equipment. The utility does not have the legal right or authority, under California law, to cut off power to a customer for partial payment of the bill. 

Now,realistically, what would a utility like PG&E do in the face of several dozen NPA's paying less than the amount billed, openly doing so in order not to pay for PG&E's crimes, nor be the source of bailout for PG&E's investors? Faced with such a mass uprising against the company's impunity, PG&E would have to negotiate. And that is the purpose of a union in the first place, to bring capital to the negotiating table. 

What would be practically assured would be media exposure. Because the democratization of utility rates is an entirely innovative concept, as soon as a number of neighborhoods organized for that purpose, it would become a media event. In the face of such meetings, other people would begin similar organizational moves in other areas. If a dozen or so NPA's coordinated their shift to democratized rates, simply on the basis of fairness, the idea would spread like wildfire. 

By democratizing utility rates, utility customers would be achieving three tremendous goals. They would be saving themselves money, they woud be saving themselves from becoming accessories to corporate crime, and they would be defending themselves against the corporation's using them to bail itself out with respect to its shareholders, who should be the ones holding it responsible for its malfeasance, or criminal activity. 


In Praise of Berkeley!

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Thursday January 17, 2013 - 10:57:00 PM

What on earth would I do without my wonderful Peet's Coffee at Telegraph and Dwight Way? I go there about 3 or 4 times a week.

Located just five blocks from my apartment, the exercise is exactly what I need. Finding a free table is sometimes difficult, but I usually manage. Ordering a café au lait and a maple sugar scone, I settle happily at my table watching the busy world go by on Telegraph. Occasionally I spot a local celebrity (i.e., Robert Hass, our Poet Laureate.) It's such a pleasure seeing the great racial diversity our city offers—beautiful Indian women in their flowing saris and African American in equally colorful attire.  

 

Truly, Berkeley is a fabulous city!


Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes

Selected by Harry Brill
Saturday January 19, 2013 - 09:29:00 AM

 

"I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls." 

 

King's American Dream: "A land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few." 

 

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." 

 

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." 

 

"Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerate or ignored economic justice." 

 

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." 

 

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice." 

 

"We need a radical reordering of our national priorities." 

 

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward." 

 

"There comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice." 

 

"The curse of poverty has no justification in our age." 

 

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which makes philanthropy necessary." 

 

"Any religion which professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a dry-as-dust- religion." 

"Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man." 

 

"We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered." 

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." 

 

"The time is always right to do the right thing." 

 

"Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase." 

 

"If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream". 

 

 

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." 

 

MLK quotes an elderly woman who took part in the year-long boycott of Montgomery's buses. "My feet is tired, but my soul is at rest'." 

 

"Laws only declare rights; they do not deliver them. The oppressed must take hold of laws and transform them into effective mandates." 

 

"Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless." 

 

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issues. It seeks to dramatize the issues so that it can no longer be ignored." 

 

"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals." 

 

"Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face. But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime." 

 

"The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and 

nonexistence" 

 

"The plea for unity is not a call for uniformity. There must always be a healthy debate." 

 

"Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation." 

 

"Life's most persistent and urgent questions is: what are you doing for others 

 

 

 


Columns

THE PUBLIC EYE: Top Ten Taxes

Friday January 18, 2013 - 01:31:00 PM

The US has a deficit problem. The Congressional Budget Office predicted that, if the US maintains the current tax code, we will only produce annual revenue of 18 percent of gross domestic product. Thus running annual budget deficits of $800 billion. The bipartisan 2010 Simpson-Bowles Commission recommended that we deal with this imbalance by raising additional revenue of $2.2 trillion over the next ten years. We must increase taxes. 

The Simpson-Bowles Commission argued that by increasing revenues to 20 percent of GDP we would achieve a balanced budget and stabilize the national debt. 

Conceptually, that’s not difficult. Changing individual marginal tax rates is now off the table, because the end-of-the-year “fiscal cliff” compromise locked in the Bush tax rates for all but those individuals making more than $400,000 per year – whose rates increased to 39.6 percent. Nonetheless, there are many other sources of potential revenue. Here are the top ten ranked in order of the total revenue generated over a decade. [This list draws from research conducted by the Congressional Budget Office and the Center for American Progress.] 

1. Tax Fossil Fuels ($1.179 trillion). A national carbon tax could be levied on all fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, and oil. In September, the Congressional Research Service evaluated this alternative and found that a minimal carbon tax of “$20 per metric ton of CO2 would generate approximately $88 billion in 2012, rising to $144 billion by 2020… this estimated revenue source would reduce the 10-year budget deficit by 50%.” (In August, Australia enacted a carbon tax.) A US carbon tax has the support of both environmentalists and business leaders (including Michael Bloomberg, New York Mayor, and Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO). It would be a rare political twofer that produces massive revenues while lowering emissions of CO2. 

2. Limit itemized deductions for the wealthy ($521 billion). One of the problems with the current tax code is that itemized deduction are biased towards the wealthy; for example, a $10,000 mortgage deduction is worth $3960 for a high-income taxpayer but only $2800 for a middle-income taxpayer. President Obama has proposed capping itemized deductions at a 28 percent rate. (During the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney proposed capping itemized deductions at $25,000 per household.) 

3. Close Tax Loopholes that incentivize moving jobs overseas ($168 billion). During the first presidential debate, Obama said, “I also want to close those loopholes that are giving incentives for companies that are shipping jobs overseas.” Romney replied, “Look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about.” Romney’s answer was misleading as current law “allows a company that closes its American plant and moves manufacturing operations overseas to deduct that moving expense.” There are similar proposed changes such as modifications to “transfer pricing” and “pooling of tax credits.” 

4. Eliminate corporate write-offs for meals and entertainment ($140 billion). Under current law if a businessperson takes someone out to dinner, and claims it for a business purpose, he or she can deduct half the cost of the meal. 

5. Eliminate tax breaks for inventory accounting ($70 billion). Under current law, corporations get to choose the most favorable method for valuing inventory and cost of goods sold. Obama’s proposed change would require all taxpayers to use the “first-in-first-out” method. 

6. End special oil, coal, and gas tax breaks ($25 billion). The Obama Administration proposes ending twelve tax breaks for fossil-fuel companies including expensing of intangible drilling costs, expensing of coal exploration and developments costs, and percentage depletion for oil and natural gas wells and hard mineral fossil fuels. 

7. Close the Mitt Romney loophole ($21 billion). The Romney loophole is the “carried interest” loophole that benefits private equity and hedge fund managers by allowing them to convert their income into capital gains that are taxed at a lower rate, 20 percent, than regular income, 39.6 percent. 

8. Eliminate the “S Corporation” loophole ($11 billion). the Obama administration proposes to close a loophole that lets wealthy individuals treat income as a shareholder distribution and thereby avoid paying the Medicare tax. 

9. Deny mortgage deduction for vacation homes and yachts ($10 billion). Incredibly, large boats qualify as second homes if they contain sleeping accommodations, bathrooms, and kitchens. What’s proposed is to deny the mortgage deduction for all second homes, whether on land or sea. 

10. Eliminate tax subsidies for Agribusiness ($10 billion). It’s been proposed to eliminate capital gains treatment for agricultural items and expensing for certain agricultural planting costs. 

These 10 actions generate $2.155 Trillion and meet the Simpson-Bowles Commission revenue target. Only the first, taxing fossil fuels, would affect the average American – and there are many ways to deal with this, such as giving rebates to rural Americans and those below a certain income level. The other nine actions apply either to corporations or wealthy individuals. 

If we’re serious about balancing the budget then we have to raise taxes in an equitable manner. 


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


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Mali & Chickens

By Conn Hallinan
Thursday January 17, 2013 - 04:53:00 PM

“It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts”

Charlie Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

The vision that Conrad’s character Marlow describes is of a French frigate firing broadsides into a vast African jungle, in essence, bombarding a continent. That image came to mind this week when French Mirages and helicopter gunships went into action against a motley army of Islamic insurgents in Mali.

That there is a surge of instability in that land-locked and largely desert country should hardly come as a surprise to the French: they and their allies are largely the cause.

And they were warned. 

A little history. On Mar. 17, 2011, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1973 to “protect civilians” in the Libyan civil war. Two days later, French Mirages began bombing runs on Mummar Gaddafi’s armored forces and airfields, thus igniting direct intervention by Britain, along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. 

Resolution 1973 did not authorize NATO and its allies to choose sides in the Libyan civil war, just to protect civilians, and many of those who signed on—including Russia and China—assumed that Security Council action would follow standard practice and begin by first exploring a political solution. But the only kind of “solution” that anti-Gaddafi alliance was interested in was the kind delivered by 500 lb. laser-guided bombs. 

The day after the French attack, the African Union (AU) held an emergency session in Mauritania in an effort to stop the fighting. The AU was deeply worried that, if Libya collapsed without a post-Gaddafi plan in place, it might destabilize other countries in the region. They were particularly concerned that Libya’s vast arms storehouse might end up fueling local wars in other parts of Africa. 

However, no one in Washington, Paris or London paid the AU any mind, and seven months after France launched its attacks, Libya imploded into its current status as a failed state. Within two months, Tuaregs—armed with Gaddafi’s weapons’ cache—rose up and drove the corrupt and ineffectual Malian Army out of Northern Mali. 

The Tuaregs are desert people, related to the Berbers that populate North Africa’s Atlas Mountain range. They have fought four wars with the Malian government since the country was freed from France in 1960, and many Tuaregs want to form their own country, “Azawed.” But the simmering discontent in northern Mali is not limited to the Tuaregs. Other ethnic groups are angered over the south’s studied neglect of all the people in the country’s north. 

The Tuaregs are also currently fighting the French over uranium mining in Niger. 

The Gaddafi government had long supported the Tuareg’s demands for greater self-rule, and many Tuareg’s served in the Libyan Army. Is anyone surprised that those Tuareg’s looted Libyan arms depots when the central government collapsed? And, once they had all that fancy fire power that they would put it to use in an effort to carve out a country of their own? 

The Tuareg’s are nomads and had little interest in holding on to towns like Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in northern Mali, and after smashing up the Mali Army, they went back into the desert. Into the vacuum created by the rout of the Malian Army flowed Islamic groups like Ansar-al-Din, al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It is these latter organizations that the French are bombing, although reports are that civilians are getting caught in the crossfire. 

The U.S. is also involved. According to Democracy Now, the Obama administration is moving French troops and equipment into the area, and deploying surveillance drones. And with the war spreading into Algeria, where almost two-dozen westerners, including several Americans, were kidnapped in retaliation for the French attacks in Mali, the U.S may end up with boots on the ground. 

Why are the French once again firing into a continent? 

First, France has major investments in Niger and Mali. At bottom, this is about Francs (or Euros, as it may be). Some 75 percent of France’s energy needs come from nuclear power, and a cheap source is its old colonial empire in the region (that besides Mali and Niger included Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Chad, Algeria, and the Central African Republic). Most of its nuclear fuel comes from Niger, but Al Jezeera reports that French uranium, oil and gold companies are lining up to develop northern Mali. Lest one think that this “development” is good for the locals, consider that, according to the UN’s Human Development Index, Niger is the third poorest country in the world. 

There are other issues as well. 

Like a Napoleon complex. 

“The French, like the Americans, judge presidents on their ability to make tough decisions, and there are few tougher ones than to send young men into battle,” writes New York Times reporter Steve Erlanger in a story on French President Francois Hollande’s decision to intervene in Mali. Titled. “Hollande, long seen as soft, shifts image with firm stance” (which makes it sound vaguely like a Viagra ad), the article quotes “defense expert” Francois Heisbourg praising Hollande for acting “decisively” and “demonstrating that he can decide on matters of war and peace.” 

Actually, back in 1812 that “war and peace” thing came out rather badly for the French, though today’s new model Grande Armee won’t face much in the way of snow and ice in Mali. But Mali is almost twice the size of France—478,839 vs. 211,209 square miles—which is a lot of ground for Mirages to cover. In fact, the French warplanes are not even based in Mali, but neighboring Chad, some 1,300 miles away from their targets. That is a very long way to go for fighter-bombers and gives them very little time over the battlefield. Apparently the U.S. is considering helping out with in-air refueling, but, by any measure, the French forces will face considerable logistical obstacles. And while Mali’s geography may not match the Russian steppes in winter, its fierce desert is daunting terrain. 

Lastly, Hollande would like to take some pressure off his domestic situation. There is nothing like a war to make people forget about a stagnant economy, high unemployment, restive workers, and yet another round of austerity cuts. 

But this war could get very nasty, and if you want the definition of a quagmire, try northern Mali. Instead of being intimidated by the French attacks, the insurgents successfully counterattacked and took the town of Diabaly in Central Mali. If Paris thought this was going to be a simple matter of scattering the wogs with a few bombing runs, one might suggest that Hollande revisit his country’s past counterinsurgency campaigns, starting with Vietnam. 

The Islamic groups appear to have little local support. Mali is a largely Islamic country, but not of the brand followed by the likes of Ansar al-Din or AQIM. But if you hand out lots of first-class fire power—which is exactly what the war to overthrow Gaddafi did—than you don’t need a lot of support to cause a great deal of trouble. 

The rebels are certainly not running into any opposition from the Mali Army, whose U.S.-trained leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, overthrew his country’s democratic government two months after the Tuaregs came storming out of the Sahara to take Timbuktu. Apparently a number of those U.S.-trained troops switched sides, taking their weapons and transport over to the insurgents. 

There is evidence that the Mali Army may have provoked the Tuaregs in the first place. It appears that, rather than using the millions of dollars handed out by the U.S. over the past four years to fight “terrorism” in the region, the Mali Army used it to beat up on the Tuaregs. That is until the latter got an infusion of superior firepower after the fall of Gaddafi. 

The French plan to put about 2,500 troops in Mali, but are relying on the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) to raise an army of 3,300. But the ECOWAS army will have to be transported to Mali and trained, and someone will have to foot the bill. That means that for the next several months it will be the French who hold down the fort, and that is going to cost a lot of Euros, of which France hardly has a sur. 

The people of northern Mali have long standing grievances, but the current crisis was set off by the military intervention in Libya. And if you think Libya created monsters, just think of what will happen if the Assad government in Syria falls without a political roadmap in place. Yes, the French are very involved in Syria right now, a civil war that is increasingly pitting Sunnis against Shites and has already spread into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Next to Syria’s weapons hoards, Libya’s firepower looks like a collection of muskets and bayonets. 

Dominique de Villepin, the former prime minister of France and a sharp critic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, recently wrote in the Journal du Dimanche “These wars [like Mali] have never built a solid and democratic state. On the contrary, they favor separatism, failed states and the iron law of armed militias.” 

So what do Mali and the French intervention have to do with chickens? 

They always come home to roost. 


Read Conn Hallinan at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Being Defined by the Illness, or Not

By Jack Bragen
Thursday January 17, 2013 - 10:51:00 PM

Being defined by a negative event is an unhappy thing. When major events take place, they seem to have a shaping influence on our lives, and this includes an effect on a person's day-to-day thoughts.


When receiving treatment in the mental health system, everything we do has the "mentally ill person" stamp on it. Our housing could be a unit set aside for a person with mental illness; our job could be a volunteer job or could be a "job" which has been provided by the mental health treatment system. The schedule we live on is filled with appointments connected to our mental illness; psychiatry and therapy appointments. We must continuously get our medications filled at the pharmacy. Thus, a person with mental illness often isn't allowed to forget for a moment that we are "a mental health consumer."  


When a person is concerned about how they are defined in life, it means that basic survival issues have probably been dealt with. If you are going hungry, or lack shelter or clothing, you probably don't have the time or the available space in your thinking to be concerned about what defines you. Being concerned with identity issues like this one is a luxury.  


Nonetheless, it can be depressing for a person with mental illness to have their whole existence built around the illness.  


I combated this situation in my twenties by getting employment in which I competed against "normal" people and didn't usually disclose my condition. I performed excellently in electronics training. And then I worked in television repair in several shops, and in most cases, the owners of the shops had no idea that I was fighting against a mental illness and was medicated. Prior to that, I worked at Janitor jobs as well, in which I didn't disclose my disability--and thus there was no accommodation. I had some success and some failure at both of these careers. I also worked at pizza delivery for close to a year.  


Mainstream employment, for me was a way to develop an identity other than that of "sick person who needs help."  


In my late twenties and thirties I also tried self-employment, partly on the premise that if I supervised myself I could create a less demanding work situation than in regular employment. Most of the time, these attempts weren't profitable. However, most small businesses fail, so this is also "normal." To have a profitable company, I would have needed to accept work situations that were more demanding. This is in retrospect.  


At thirty, I had more symptoms of the illness, and I had more difficulty getting and maintaining employment. My work stoppage could be categorized as "early retirement." Having done these jobs and having competed for a while in a "normal" arena is something that can't be taken away from me.  


When I reached forty, my writing career had begun. The norm for writing is that you don't make a lot of money, and you receive numerous rejections. This holds true for my experience. In writing, the playing field is fairly level, since most editors are only concerned with the quality of the work. I'm suited for this career since there is no immediate pressure, since I work from home at my own pace, and since I supervise myself. These are all things that suit my temperament.  


If suffering from a lack of identity due to being excessively institutionalized, it works to do some of the things "normal people" do. The predicament of being defined by mental illness or by some other negative event probably isn't solvable merely through changing one's thoughts.
 



Just to remind the reader that my books for sale can be found on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format. Hardcopies can also be found at a discount at lulu.com. I'm selling a compilation of the first year of this column, and secondly, a self-help manual which is brief, readable, and to the point.

Link to books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=jack+bragen 


SENIOR POWER: Waiting to Die

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday January 17, 2013 - 10:12:00 PM

One in four Israeli seniors cannot afford heating. Fuel bills for English elderly have doubled. Meanwhile, in Berkeley, California, senior power has become a trite phrase for numerous low-income renters who must resort to space heaters, heating pads, open oven-doors, and electric and emotional overloads. Old people who do not have families or whose primary language is not English are especially disadvantaged. Nighttime is the worst.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, sixty-two year old Dr. Rowan Williams, believes that society “can’t wait to get old people off our hands.” Last month he warned that the elderly could make a massive contribution, but many people are simply waiting for them to die. “[It is an] undoubted fact that we are becoming dangerously used to speaking and thinking of ‘an ageing population’ as a problem, a burden on public purse and private resources alike.”

In his final House of Lords speech, Williams said that too many older people are being tolerated rather than valued. The extremes of human life—childhood and old age—are sidelined because of an eccentric idea that only those in the so-called prime of life can contribute. Because families are becoming more scattered as people move to different areas, some young people are growing up with little contact with older people. The tendency to view older people as dependents or as problems is the root cause of neglect and abuse. Older people are routinely seen as passive and dependents instead of as assets. “We must recognize that it is assumptions about the basically passive character of the older population that foster attitudes of contempt and exasperation and ultimately create a climate in which abuse occurs.” He called for the Government to consider introducing a commissioner for older people, similar to the system in Wales.  

xxxxx 

Waiting for God was a BBC sitcom shown in America on PBS from 1990-1994. Presumably intended as a comedy, it was definitely unrelated to French philosopher-social activist Simone Weil’s earlier work of that title. I couldn’t see the humor of some well-off, old people residing in a refurbished 19th Century English mansion named Bayview Retirement Village and portrayed as mostly eccentric. 

Photography was at Oaken Holt, Oxfordshire, in the grounds of an estate formerly owned by a lord. Oaken Holt is indeed in the business. Visit the web, wherein management self-describes “a stunning country estate which has been tailored to meet the needs of the discerning retired and elderly; and is renowned as a care provider of distinction.”  

Waiting for God lasted for forty-seven episodes and won awards. From a typical critique: “When Tom Ballard moves to Bayview Retirement Village, he meets Diana Trent, a feisty old woman who complains about everything and wants nothing more than just to die...” Beep! Stop! Feisty… The women actors who have lines are portrayed as bitchy, alcoholic, lovelorn, quaint, outspoken or as little old [ladies] or spinsters. So much for age and gender equity!  

I perceived Diana as a gutsy, well-travelled, now-retired media reporter, a professional person whose health has betrayed her. Many old people in America, like Diana and Tom, have health problems that are sometimes, but not always, associated with aging. Standard assumptions about old people are that they have incomes and families, and, while they may not be in great shape, they are able to live in their own homes. 

Nursing home, retirement village, old folks home, senior retirement community, care provider, retirement home, and rest home are a few of the euphemistic terms associated with the business of housing hold people while they wait. Here and abroad, they may reside in assisted living, “board and care,” public housing, short and long term nursing establishments, subsidized projects, “villages,” etc. while they wonder how much longer must they wait. 

xxxxx 

NEWS 

California has fewer kids and more elderly, according to a report commissioned by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health. The number of children in California is on the decline, while the number of elderly is on the rise and fewer people are moving to the state. The report argues that the state will have to rely on fewer people to prop up its economy in the future.  

In the first Irish right-to-die case to be brought in Dublin's High Court, an Irish woman terminally ill with multiple sclerosis lost her battle for the lawful right to die. Marie Fleming, a 59-year-old former university lecturer who is completely paralyzed, made an impassioned plea in December to establish the right of her partner to help her die, an act that could currently see him jailed in mainly Roman Catholic Ireland. The Court seemingly relented when it referenced the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines, which set out that when third parties, including loved ones, would not face prosecution in relation to so-called 'mercy killings'. "The very fact that UK guidelines on assisted suicide now exist must surely inform any exercise of the Director (DPP) in this jurisdiction," said the court, adding that the list of factors compiled in the UK "provides a measure of comfort". [Reuters, January 10 and 11, 2013]  

Groups representing older people have protested strongly against Government cutbacks which halved funding for personal security alarms. Irish government grants for security alarms, intended to assist older people to live independently in greater safety, have dropped from €2.45 million last year to €1.15 million. The grants allow community groups to provide alarms under the Seniors Alert scheme. An average of 7,900 alarms annually have been supplied in the last three years.  

Geriatrics is one of the low-paying medical specialties, in part because virtually all its patients are on Medicare, which pays doctors less than commercial insurers. That the number of doctors enrolling in the nation’s fellowship programs to become geriatricians has dropped again, to 251 this year from 279 last year, particularly disappointing under the Affordable Care Act. The Institute of Medicine’s 2008 report, “Retooling for an Aging America,” documented inadequate geriatrics training for all kinds of health care providers and discussed the stereotypes that dog medical care for old people. Residents thinking about medical specialties often consider geriatrics depressing, even though surveys of practicing physicians show that geriatricians find their work very satisfying. [Paula Span, New York Times, January 9, 2013.] 

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) reports that Gwen D. Hughes, former Director of Nursing of Kern Valley Healthcare District’s nursing home, has been sentenced to three years in prison for drugging residents into submission with antipsychotic and anti-seizure drugs. Hughes was the last of four defendants, including the facility’s former pharmacist, acting medical director, and administrator, charged with various crimes related to the systematic forced drugging of residents in 2006. Three of the residents died from being overmedicated. In 2009, the California Attorney General brought charges against Hughes and her co-workers after an investigation revealed that 23 residents had been regularly drugged with powerful psychotropic drugs for staff convenience, some after being pinned down and given an injection. Many of the residents swiftly deteriorated after being chemically restrained, becoming lethargic, malnourished, and dehydrated. CANHR is a statewide nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to improving the choices, care and quality of life for California’s long term care consumers. To view the full State report on the systemic drugging of Kern Valley residents, visit http://www.canhr.org/newsroom/ 

 

 

 

 

 


Arts & Events

Amour: A Film to Die For
Opens at the Albany Twin Theater on January 18

By Gar Smith
Friday January 18, 2013 - 01:21:00 PM
Director Haneke and stars Riva and Trintignant
Director Haneke and stars Riva and Trintignant

Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, Austrian director Michael Haneke's Amour, features a trio of French acting royalty in a stunning, intimate portrayal of the grandeur (and drudgery) of devotion, when an aging couple is forced to square off with the demands of mortality. Jean Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert embody the close-knit and cultured octogenarian couple Georges, and Anne and their distant musician daughter. Trintignant (81) has acted in more than 100 films (including A Man and a Woman). Riva (85) has appeared in more than 40 movies (beginning with a starring role in Hiroshima Mon Amour). Huppert has more than 70 films to her credit. Together they represent nearly 150 years of cinematic chops. 

For all the films that have celebrated life-and-death challenges, there are only a few that have dared focus one of life's most significant events -- the long, slow process of dying. The truth is, no matter how we tend to avert our gaze and change the subject, the only thing more normal than life is death. 

Haneke brought his own personal experience to this film and anyone who has participated in caring for a loved one who has chosen to die at home will be on familiar grounds here. For everyone else, Amour offers essential life-lessons. 

The drama begins almost incidentally during a regular morning breakfast with small talk and boiled eggs. The conversation unrolls predictably until, strangely, Anne seems to skip a beat. The audience notices this before Georges. Initially mystified, then worried, Georges discovers Anne has suffered a stroke. 

Anne, who fears hospitals, initially rejects the diagnosis. When the operation fails to return things to "normal," Georges and Anne must deal with another normality -- the inevitability of physical and mental decline. 

Georges is a steadfast marvel of compassion and caring, except for one moment of reflexive frustration that comes as such a shock the director has to rush in and apply a visual Band-Aid –- a long, silent montage of serene, oil-painted landscapes that helps provide a soothing, reassuring balm. 

Trintignant is awesome in the role of the husband compelled to become a crutch, a nurse and a bed-changer. Riva is extraordinary as she tracks the decline of a once vivacious and self-reliant woman forced to suffer an increasing load of disabling indignities. Ultimately, a second stroke leaves Anne's body half-paralyzed and Riva's physicalization of Anne's increasingly diminished state -- and her labored attempts to maintain her dignity -- is astoundingly realized. This is acting for the ages. 

Amour is a slow and steady experience of lingering shots and ambient sound -- studied and measured. So the story's second act of violence comes as a surprise. But viewers will be tested -- was this an act of mortal frustration or a supreme act of love? 

The answer may be found in two marvelous scenes were Georges executes a spontaneous pas de deux with a resolutely intrusive pigeon that invades the sanctity of the apartment. The pigeon is in good hands with Georges. This is a man of consummate gentility. 

May Georges and Anne remain together, forever, in our hearts. 


AROUND & ABOUT THEATER: Altarena Playhouse's 75th Anniversary and 'God of Carnage, directed by Sue Trigg

Thursday January 17, 2013 - 10:10:00 PM

Altarena Playhouse turns 75 this year, and to mark the event, there will be a reception after Friday's opening of 'Good of Carnage' by Yasmina Reza ('Art') for their new multimedia theater library and company history room, including materials from their run of more than 400 productions dating back to 1938. 

Sue Trigg of Alameda directed 'God of Carnage,' and has directed three remarkable productions in recent years for Altarena: an extraordinary 'Death of a Salesman,' 'Morning's At Seven' for Altarena's 70th, and 'Streetcar Named Desire.' 

Fridays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 3, through February 17 at 1409 High street, Alameda. $21-$24. 523-1553; altarena.org


Best of the Berkeley Video & Film Festival (BVFF) 2012 This Friday-Saturday at East Bay Media Center's New Screening Room in Downtown Berkeley

By Ken Bullock
Thursday January 17, 2013 - 10:05:00 PM

The Berkeley Video & Film Festival, founded in 1990, will be screening its Best of 2012 program this Friday and Saturday nights at the East Bay Media Center's excellent new screening room in downtown Berkeley--and at a great price: $5 a night for a wide array of styles and subject matter from all over (including the vaunted University of Southern California's film program), including Andrea Heckman' and Rose Gordon's documentary about Bon, the pre-Buddh