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Victim Robbed Near UC Berkeley by Trio with Guns

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Thursday June 13, 2013 - 02:42:00 PM

A male victim was robbed at gunpoint while walking near the University of California at Berkeley campus Monday night, UC police said. 

The victim was walking in the 2700 block of Channing Way around 10:50 p.m. when three males approached him, police said. 

The suspects pointed handguns at the victim and took his cellphone, police said. 

The trio then ran east on Channing Way and then turned onto Piedmont Avenue. 

The victim was not injured in the incident. 

Officers from both the UC and Berkeley police departments searched the area but did not locate the suspects. 

The first suspect was described as a white man in his 20s, standing 5 feet 8 inches, with a thin build wearing a gray beanie, a jacket and black handgun. 

The second man was Asian, in his 20s, between 5 feet 5 inches and 5 feet 9 inches tall with a large build and also holding a black gun. 

A description of the third suspect was not available, police said. 

Anyone with information about the armed robbery is asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5900.

Berkeley Police Seek Man Who Assaulted Child at Marina

By Bay City News
Tuesday June 11, 2013 - 04:32:00 PM

Police are searching for a man who sexually assaulted a child in a restroom at the Berkeley Marina this afternoon, Berkeley police said. 

The assault was reported at 1:37 p.m. when a caller told police that a man had sexually assaulted the child in a public restroom. 

Police contained the marina and checked all cars leaving the area for the suspect from posts on University Avenue and Marina Boulevard. 

Meanwhile, East Bay Regional Parks police searched the area from a helicopter while Berkeley police searched on foot, motorcycles, bicycles, dirt bikes and in patrol cars with assistance from the parks police and the Department of Fish and Game. 

As of tonight the suspect had not been found and police are continuing their search, according to Berkeley police.

Flash: Quick Response Limited Damage in Berkeley Hotel Fire

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday June 11, 2013 - 04:30:00 PM

A three-alarm fire at a residential hotel in downtown Berkeley this morning forced a dramatic evacuation and caused several minor injuries, but a quick response by firefighters minimized the damage, a fire official said. 

The fire was reported at 7:41 a.m. at the Nash Hotel at 2045 University Ave., near Shattuck Avenue. It was controlled by 8:25 a.m. 

Some of the residents of the three-story hotel, which has about 40 units, were "hanging out windows calling for help" but they were able to get out safely by using a fire escape and an aerial ladder set up by firefighters, Berkeley acting Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said.  

Avery called the evacuation process "intense" because most residents needed assistance due to the heavy smoke.  

He said there was "a huge life hazard" because the blaze could have spread to the adjacent University Hotel at 2057 University Ave. 

University Hotel residents were also evacuated as a precaution but have since been allowed to return to their rooms, Webb said. 

Three or four people were evaluated at the scene by paramedics but no one had to be hospitalized, Webb said. 

The cause of the fire hasn't yet been determined, he said. 

The flames were mostly contained to a single unit on the second floor of the Nash Hotel but there was also fire damage to the second floor hallway and there could be smoke and water damage to other parts of the hotel, Webb said. 

Ed Silva of the Red Cross of Alameda County said his agency is picking up displaced residents to feed them and find housing for them until their rooms are ready. 

Silva said he believes the Red Cross only needs to help about 15 residents, as many of the hotel's units appear to have been empty. 

Webb said he thinks most of the hotel's residents could be allowed to return to their rooms soon, depending on the condition of the building's utilities. 

Hotel resident Scott Prosterman said he was sitting on his bed in his second floor room meditating when he heard a smoke alarm and yelling in the hallway and called 911. 

He said the fire was in Room 214, which is next to the hotel's central elevator. 

Prosterman said hotel officials told him "get out now" and that he was the first person to leave via the building's fire escape. 

Allan Ild, who has lived at the hotel for about two years, said the hotel's proprietor knocked on the door of his third-floor room and told him to get ready to evacuate. 

Ild, who uses a walker, said he dressed quickly and then firefighters helped him go down an aerial ladder. 

He said he has been told that he won't be able to return to his room until Wednesday.

Press Release: Southern California's Malfunctioning Nuclear Power Plant to Close Permanently--Closure Protects Whales, Sea Turtles, People

From Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, Bill Walker, Friends of the Earth
Friday June 07, 2013 - 03:48:00 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: The first story I ever wrote for publication was an SF Bay Guardian piece about the environmental hazards which the proposed San Onofre nuclear power plant threatened. I'm happy to see, only about 40 years too late, that my analysis has finally been acknowledged. 

SAN FRANCISCO— The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station will close permanently, Southern California Edison announced today. The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups have opposed restarting the leaking plant. 

“The San Onofre nuclear plant blighted the California coast, and closing it down is the best solution for the troubled, leaking facility,” said Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The plant’s coastal neighbors and marine ecosystems have something to celebrate today. Closing the station will push California toward safer, smarter energy options.” 

The plant had experienced leaks in recent years, causing its temporary shutdown, which today was made permanent. Situated directly on the coast, the nuclear plant also killed marine life by sucking millions of gallons of ocean water through its “once-through” cooling system. 

Conservationists were also concerned about Southern California Edison’s proposal to conduct a high-energy seismic survey to detect earthquake risks around the plant: The blasting airguns used for the survey would have harassed whales, dolphins, and porpoises as many as 20,000 times. The Center and Friends of the Earth opposed the survey, suggesting that the best way to protect against earthquake-related dangers was to shut the plant down. This is what finally happened today. 

“This is very good news for the people of Southern California,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate, and now Edison has agreed. The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with the safe and clean energy provided by the sun and the wind.” 

The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan brought to light the enormous risk of operating coastal nuclear power plants. In addition to the human cost of such an accident, researchers are investigating effects on wildlife. Since the disaster, scientists tested California’s catches of Pacific bluefin tuna and found trace amounts of radioactive elements from the disaster. Pacific bluefin tuna — a top ocean predator that is at historically low levels due to overfishing — migrate to the U.S. and Mexico’s west coast from Japanese waters where they are born. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

New: Local Author Returns to Berkeley for Readings of Highly Praised Novel: The Rescuer's Path by Paula Friedman

By Gar Smith
Wednesday June 12, 2013 - 09:23:00 AM

I encountered The Rescuer's Path on a Caribbean vacation. Looking for something to read while a Trinidad rainstorm rambled in over the treetops, I reached into my backpack and dug out a copy of Paula Friedman's 200-page book. Within minutes, I was hooked. While my body was slung in a hammock slowly rocked by warm, tropical breezes, my mind was a thousand miles away — transported back to the year 1971 and tangled in the underbrush in Washington DC's Rock Creek Park, a stone's throw from the US Capitol. 

This book, by former Berkeley resident Paula Friedman, begins with an improbable encounter between a young girl on horseback and a man she finds sprawled near death sprawled on a the banks of a muddy creek in the depths of Rock Creek Park. Malca Bernovski, is the teenaged daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Gavin Hareen is a fugitive antiwar activist — gravely wounded and the subject of a massive manhunt -- the key suspect in a deadly truck-bombing attack. 

While "Malki" and her family are singed by the legacy of the Nazis, Gavin is a contemporary soul -- a man consumed by the arithmetic of morality. Is it acceptable, Gavin ponders, to sacrifice one life if that death can halt a war and save thousands? 

Marvelously structured, The Rescuer's Path proceeds in alternating chapters as the voices of Malki and Gavin forge a bond that will take them to a fateful night in the wilds of Colorado. 

Initially wary of the battered, bloodied stranger, the young girl's concern for his survival slowly deepens into affection. Malki's budding sense of physical attraction is presented in wonderfully palpable tendrils of prose. 

The writing — which unfurls with the strut and pace of lyrical poetry — begs to be read aloud. Savor, if you will, the first sentence: "It was coming into the full moon, that early summer evening — blistering heat after too cold a winter, antiwar protests downtown near the White House, rumors of another murder in Bethesda — when young Malca Bernovski turned the stallion for the first time toward a red-clay gully at the northern edge of Rock Creek Park." 

If reading a book could be compared to walking along a beach, caught between the solid reality of the shore and the churning symbolism of the restless sea, this book invites the reader to stumble across verbal marvels that burst forth like brilliant bits of polished agate found shinning in the sand. 

The writing is spellbinding and it draws you forward, enticing as a fragrance. 

"The gully again grew somnolent and still, and she found herself caught in the serious gaze of this black-eyed man people said might be a terrorist and murderer." 

"The bouncing light made ripples on the wood grain. An ant on the table would get lost but never fall off." 

Nights are filled with pink light and "the mold-dark hopelessness of the bone-crowded grave." (That's damn near Shakespearean.) 

"We are people holding hands, like those in that blue-lit New York morning, clasping while we tumble down—and this is all. Seeking to protect, whether by holding close or by letting go." 

Halfway through the book, the story takes an unexpected and jarring turn. It's almost anti-novelistic. Suddenly, this most unlikely two-person romantic adventure from the 70s is propelled 30 years into the present where it turns into a sprawling multigenerational saga of lost souls and survivors of parallel families, of children lost and regained.  

Owing to the risks Friedman takes with the plot, there is a narrative hole in the middle of The Rescuer's Path – a gnawing absence of three defining decades. Many readers will yearn to know how lives evolved, how painful decisions were made and what consequences followed. Perhaps these missing, bridging years will form the basis of a follow-up novel. If so, there will be a fan base waiting. 

Currently a resident of Parkdale, Oregon, Friedman spent much of her life in Berkeley where she participated in many historic campaigns for peace and justice and enlisted as a reporter for the Berkeley Barb, Berkeley Tribe, and Grassroots. Many long-time Berkeleyans will remember her as the former public relations director for Berkeley’s Judah Magnes Museum. Friedman was also founder of The Open Cell, a Berkeley-based literary collective/magazine. Her writings have won acclaim from the Pushcart Prize, New Millennium Writings, and the Oregon State Poetry Association, among others. She is the recipient of the 2006 Columbia River Fellowship for Peace and, in May of this year, won first place in LinkedIn's Science Fiction Microstory Contest. 

Praise for The Rescuer’s Path: 

“Exciting, physically vivid, and romantic”—Ursula K. LeGuin 

“From the first page, Friedman illuminates a world. Deft strokes and elegant leaps propel the story forward. The writing is lyrical, the characters vivid, the story captivating.”Small Press Review 

“The book you can’t put down, the people you will remember, the vibrant story we shareCarol Denney, Berkeley singer-writer-activist 

“I could not stop reading this novel”—Carole L. Glickfeld, Flannery O’Connor Award winner 

Local Bay Area Book Readings 

June 12, 6-7:30 pm -- University Press Books (Bancroft below Telegraph Ave.), Berkeley 

June 13, 7-9:30 pm -- Aquarian Minyan Author Series, St. John's Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave., Berkeley 

June 14, 12:15-1:15 pm -- Berkeley City College (in the Atrium), 2050 Center St., Berkeley 

The readings include discussion time and book signings; the June 13 reading includes light refreshments. The readings are free, except the Aquarian Minyan reading June 13 is a benefit for the Minyan (a small donation is requested but NOT required). 

Paula Friedman's website is www.paula-friedman.com and her blogsite is www.authorpaulafriedman.wordpress.com

New: Visiting A Troubled Berkeley Neighborhood: A Smart Growth Solution

By Steven Finacom
Thursday June 06, 2013 - 01:02:00 PM

(This is the second in a series of periodic articles about issues related to Telegraph Avenue.)

Recently I walked through what clearly struck me as a troubled Berkeley neighborhood shopping district. Although it is well positioned to take advantage of commerical opportunities—it's along a famous avenue, lying close to both Downtown and UC Berkeley, near BART, and on major transit lines—it exhibited many problems that call for concerted City action.

One of the first things you see along as you enter the neighborhood along the main avenue from the south is a large vacant lot—vacant since the building there burned down in a big, 1980s fire. There has been no apparent effort to rebuilt, even though the fire was a quarter century or more ago. Another prominent property nearby recently suffered a major fire. 

Nearby is a large storefront that once housed a nationally famous bookstore. It’s been vacant and unrented for years and years since the lamented loss of the bookstore. On the same block there’s a whole commercial building boarded up and vacant. Both would seem to be indicators of bad economic conditions on the avenue. 

As I walked past the various businesses I imagined some of them were clearly in trouble; I saw few shoppers inside, although others were crowded. Some of the businesses seem to hark back to the days of the 1960s/70s, rather than serving current demographics. How long can they survive and appeal to Berkeley's younger, more affluent, shoppers who weren't even born in the 1960s? And the avenue seems increasingly heavy with fast food take out joints, cafes and restaurants, rather than a more healthy mix of businesses selling a variety of different goods and services. 

Along the main stretch it’s hard to walk a block without encountering a panhandler. Young people in groups brazenly camp out for hours at a time on the street right beneath signs saying it violates a City ordinance to sit there. In front of one prominent café a dog lunged at me, barking. The young woman it belonging to pulled it back, but offered no apology and avoided eye contact as she slouched on the sidewalk. 

Along that block, and others, denizens of the district crowd the sidewalk so closely with overflowing carts and animals that it’s a challenge to get past. Many of the locals stare at or push past newcomers as if they are interlopers. A lot of the people were poorly dressed and wandering around with apparently nothing to do except hang out on the street in the middle of the day. One wondered if they had jobs? 

And although the avenue is very close to the UC campus and thousands of Cal students live nearby, you don't see many of them shopping there; instead, they're presumably driven away by the visible street conditions and going out of town or on-line to shop. 

On the side streets there’s a mix of 1950s and 1960s apartment buildings and older houses, many of the latter broken up into smaller rental units. Not a few buildings look rundown, a tell-tale sign of disinvestment by owners. 

All in all, this neighborhood struck me as a candidate for the sort of business revitalization that current City leadership calls for: 

A new emphasis on “branding” the neighborhood and bringing in new businesses; New, large, stores of the sort that people seem to want today, rather than the hodgepodge of small, sometimes difficult to rent, spaces that make up much of the existing commercial street frontage. Intense Smart Growth—a major commercial street bisects the district, with good bus service, and close to BART. Vigorous infill development encouraged and enabled by the City—blocks of old, one-story, commercial structures could be profitably cleared and replaced with new multi-story buildings providing housing and “eyes on the street” above large new retail establishments. Relaxed zoning to allow commercial property owners to bring in new types of tenants and take full advantage of the financial and development potential of their properties. A big crackdown by the police on people sitting on the street and other undesirables frequenting the neighborhood. Tearing down the old houses and building new apartments and condos on the side streets. 

If all this could take place then, well, the neighborhood could be fully revitalized, with five or six story new buildings, brand-new businesses lining the commercial blocks, and a improved sort of clientele and street life. Of course, the current residents, businesses, and shoppers of the Gourmet Ghetto would be totally up in arms if that happened. 

Oh, dear. You thought I was talking about Telegraph Avenue, didn’t you? 

I was actually describing north Shattuck Avenue. 

And everything I said was factual. North Shattuck has a big vacant lot from a 1980s fire—the old Virginia Cleaners site—where nothing has been built. The site of an old bookstore—Black Oak Books in this case, not Cody’s—has been unrented for years. Hordes of people sitting on the street median and sidewalk, many of them eating their Cheeseboard pizza. The neighborhood is saturated with take-out food places and restaurants—upscale, yes, but still quick food. 

Lots of dogs and overloaded carts (usually baby carriages) congest the sidewalk, making it difficult for pedestrians. The lunging dog incident actually did happen to me on my visit—but the indifferent young woman sitting on the sidewalk holding its leash was not a scruffy street kid, but well dressed and consulting her I-phone. 

The Gourmet Ghetto and Telegraph Avenue have, in fact, a lot in common when it comes to initial first impressions. But despite the superficial similarities, the response of City staff and local elected officials to these two districts is entirely different. No one in the City government is mobilizing police to make sweeps of North Shattuck or cite people sitting on the sidewalk. No one is proposing that one or two story commercial buildings—think the Cheese Board, Chez Panisse, Walnut Square, etc.—be torn down and replaced with mid-rise Smart Growth infill to bring more “vitality” and residents to the neighborhood. And no one, apparently, is cognitating in Economic Development or on the Council whether the Gourmet Ghetto commercial mix—which does indeed include funky old collectives and restaurants dating back to the 60s and 70s—needs to be revamped in favor of a new economic strategy for tomorrow's shoppers. I've heard no one fulminating from the dais at City Council meetings that there are vacant lots or boarded up storefronts in the North Shattuck Area that have been that way for years—even decades—and the City must DO SOMETHING IMMEDIATELY to bring about development on those sites, whatever the cost. And no one is calling for a new mix of Gourmet Ghetto businesses, bringing in larger stores as a City-encouraged commercial strategy, and prioritizing new businesses over old. 

Now of course there are differences between the two neighborhoods. But the differences are not so stark as to make both facetious and serious comparisons invalid. 

The fact is that shopping districts in upscale parts of Berkeley—North Shattuck / Gourmet Ghetto, the Elmwood, Solano Avenue, Fourth Street—get a pass when it comes to the economic strategies that City staff and Councilmembers routinely propose and promote for Telegraph, Downtown, San Pablo, and other less affluent districts. 

And this is the case even when there is clearly documented economic decline in the “good” neighborhoods—think of all the vacant storefronts and the shuttered Oaks Theatre on Solano in recent years. In the discussion over Solano I didn't once hear a City Councilmember or Commissioner or local development activist call for re-making that street with infill and more intense development as a solution to its obvious economic problems. 

The civic thrust, instead, is how can we get more businesses into those vacant storefronts while keeping the neighborhood as it is. It's not how should we entirely remake the neighborhood. It would be refreshing if a little bit of that ethos of "try to intelligenty try to fix what's there" rather than "replace everything" would seep over into municipal discussions of Telegraph. 

My point is not that those districts should get Smart Growthed or “redeveloped” by large scale development and dislocation, as is proposed for Downtown or Telegraph. It is the opposite point—that the “revitalization” strategies pointed like artillery at Telegraph and Downtown may not be the right, or necessary, solutions. 

There is also the issue of the terminology we use to describe the same issue in different locations. For example, City officials and some journalists are wont to refer to people who frequent Telegraph Avenue as "denizens"--defining them at a scary, perhaps even sub-human, level. But to be fair, shouldn't that term be used as well for people who go have breakfast at Bette's Oceanview Diner on Fourth Street day after day, or can be seen every morning hanging out for a couple of hours in front of the original Peet's Coffee at Walnut and Vine? 

And why is it that street kids sitting on Telegraph--who, in my daily experience, almost never actually block the pedestrian lanes--are any more annoying than the hordes of customers of places like Ici in the Elmwood or the Cheese Board on North Shattuck, who regularly block the sidewalk while lining up for, or consuming, their daily food fix? On my visit to North Shattuck I watched as a middle aged woman pushing an elderly man in a wheelchair. She almost gave up trying to navigate through a crowd of chattering, upscale, foodies. Her pleas to make a pathway for the wheelchair went almost unheard. 

All things to think about. 

(An explanatory note. When I shared an earlier draft of this article with some friends, one of the reactions was worry that members of the City Council wouldn't understand satire and would actually take seriously the idea of tearing down existing North Shattuck and replacing it with "Smart Growth" development. So, just to be clear, that is not my suggestion. It is my observation, however, that if local "Smart" Growthers want to avoid being hypocrites, they should be advocating similar solutions for similiarly situated parts of the City.)

Flash: Revelopment Agency Shutdown May Cost Berkeley $1.3M

By Thomas Lord
Tuesday June 04, 2013 - 03:14:00 PM

The shut-down of Berkeley's redevelopment agency may wind up costing the city more than $1.3 million dollars, including $750,000 dollars gone missing from the Retiree Medical Trust Fund. Oddities in how how the now defunct redevelopment agency was financed have left it with outstanding debts which the state is declining to repay.

In an effort to avoid this loss the city is taking the state to court, a topic that will be discussed at tonight's closed session before the regular council meeting. 

Berkeley caught with its pants down

In February 2012 all redevelopment agencies in the state were shut down. Redevelopment agencies were first established in the 1920s. They allowed municipalities to claim a portion of property taxes to be used to help finance private developers for purposes such as fighting blight or building affordable housing. Facing a financial crisis, the state legislature passed a law that all but eliminated redevelopment agencies. Subsequently, the state supreme court ruled that the agencies had to be eliminated entirely. 

Redevelopment agencies were replaced, temporarily, with "successor agencies" whose purpose was to wind down the debts and dispose of the assets of the redevelopment agency. 

Berkeley's successor agency inherited two large debts to the city itself: one an outstanding debt of $550,000 dollars related to a 1997 transfer from the city's general fund to the redevelopment agency; the other an outstanding debt of $750,000 arising from a $600,000 transfer from the city's Retiree Medical Trust Fund to the redevelopment agency. 

Had the redevelopment agency continued to exist these debts would have been repaid from the agency's tax and other revenues, or simply refinanced. When the state legislature shut down the redevelopment agencies, it agreed to honor debts to third parties but not, in general, debts of a city to itself. The state has declined to further pay back the money transferred from the Retiree Medical Trust Fund and has warned that it is likely to decline paying back the funds transferred from the General Fund in 1997. 

Berkeley disputes the state's rulings about these obligations and is apparently taking the state to court over the matter. 

Additionally, the state objected to how the city classified certain operating expenses of the successor agency. As a result, the state has rejected repayment of an additional $64,000 in operating expense. 

The strange Savo Island loan that wasn't

In 2002 the Savo Island affordable housing project needed financing help for repairs and maintenance. They talked with the city about borrowing $600,000 via the redevelopment agency. 

The city tentatively agreed and proactively transferred $600,000 from the Retiree Medical Trust Fund to the redevelopment agency. 

Subsequently, loan negotiations with Savo Island stalled. Savo Island found financing elsewhere. The redevelopment agency was left with an unallocated, borrowed $600,000. The Retiree Medical Trust Fund was left with a corresponding shortfall. 

Rather than return that money to the Retiree Medical Trust Fund and avoid debt service, the redevelopment agency first spent $275,000 of it on the Jubilee Senior Apartments project, and then transferred the remaining $325,000 to the city's Housing Trust Fund. 

Dizzy yet? 

The redevelopment agency itself remained on the hook for that $600,000 loan and planned to repay it from its tax revenues, largely derived from the Savo Island project. 

The 1997 bond issue that wasn't

In 1997, sitting on a large enough surplus, the City transferred a cool $1M to the redevelopment agency. In return, the agency issued bonds to the city itself with the understanding that, upon demand, the city could require the agency to sell the bonds on the market to third parties. 

Somehow that bond sale never happened and the $1M debt remained strictly between the city's redevelopment agency and the city's general fund: exactly the sort of self-dealing "debt" that the state declines to pay. 

Then City Manager Phil Kamlraz saw the problem coming in 2011. In September of that year he successfully urged council to scramble to opt-in to a program that would let the redevelopment agency continue to exist in exchange for the city paying $410,000 the first year and $97,000 each subsequent year to the county. Otherwise, Kamlraz wrote: "Upon dissolution of the Agency, all agreements between the Agency and the City would be considered null and void which could jeopardize the existing loan agreements, including the $1 million 1997 housing loan from the General Fund." 

In October of 2011 the state's supreme court declared that opt-in provision unconstitutional. The redevelopment agency would be dissolved in February of 2012 and there was nothing Berkeley could do about it. Kamlraz's proposed last minute save couldn't work. 

Next steps

The agenda for tonight's closed session includes discussion of the city's attempts to take the state to court to reverse these funding denials. 

Scheduled for 6:45 is a public report about that closed session. 

Hey, it's only $1.3M, right?

UC Berkeley Students Attacked on Grizzly Peak

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Monday June 03, 2013 - 09:22:00 PM

Two University of California at Berkeley students were attacked early Sunday morning while at a lookout point on Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Berkeley Hills, UC police said.  

A 21-year-old man and his two friends had parked at a lookout signpost around 12:30 a.m. where a group of about eight to 10 men and women in their 20s were also parked in two different cars, police said. 

One of the men in the group walked up to the 21-year-old victim and punched him in the face. The man fell to the ground and the suspect continued to punch and kick him, police said. 

Others in the group, both men and women, began kicking and punching the victim. When one of the victim's friends tried to intervene, members of the group also started kicking and punching him, police said. 

The 21-year-old managed to get up and run away from the group toward his car. As he was running he was hit in the face by an unknown object believed to be a bottle or large rock, police said. 

The victims drove off and took the injured victim to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley where he was treated for multiple facial injuries, according to police. 

Police searched the area for the suspects but did not find them. 

One of the suspects in the group was described as a white man standing about 6 feet tall with long, blond curly hair. He was wearing a white shirt and hat, police said. 

The other suspects were only described as white men and women in their 20s. 

The two cars they were in were described as Hondas or similar cars, one red and one white. 

Anyone with information is asked to call (510) 642-0472 or (510) 642-6760.

The Next American Revolution Has Already Begun
Gar Smith Interviews Gar Alperovitz

By Gar Smith
Monday June 03, 2013 - 02:52:00 PM
Gar Alperovitz
Gar Smith
Gar Alperovitz

Gar Alperovitz, currently a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, has been writing books about wealth, democracy and national security for 48 years. In addition to serving in several government posts (including Special Assistant in the US State Department), Alperovitz is a founding principle of The Democracy Collaborative and a boardmember at the New Economics Institute.

What Then Must We Do? (his latst book and his twelfth since 1965) is a breezy, conversational read filled with somber forecasts, hopeful alternative economic strategies and lots of surprising facts and stats (Some examples: If the nation's personal wealth were divided evenly, a family of four would receive $200,000 a year. The hourly US minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is now $2 less than it was in 1968. The US is such a large country "You can tuck Germany into Montana!")

What Then Must We Do? (the title is borrowed from Tolstoy) explores a challenging premise: "The coming painful decades may be the prehistory of the next American revolution – and an evolutionary process that transforms the American system, making it both morally meaningful and ecologically sustainable."

Daniel Ellsberg calls this book possibly "the most important movement-building book of the new century" and Juliet Schor, author of True Wealth, hails it as "the most compelling account yet of how we can move beyond the piecemeal, project–by–project transformation of our political economy to truly systemic change."

Alperovitz recently took time from his busy schedule to discuss the arguments in his new book and explore the ramifications of social and economic change in an era of pending systemic collapse. 

Gar S: You point out that 400 plutocrats in the US now own more wealth than 180 million other Americans. A scale of inequality that ranks as “medieval.” Shortly before his assassination, Dr. King noted America's problems could not be solved without “undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.” 

Gar A: The concentration of wealth in this country is astonishing. 400 individuals—you could seat them all on a single airplane—own as much wealth as 60 percent of the rest of the country taken together. I was describing this distribution as “medieval” until a medieval historian set me straight: wealth was far more evenly distributed in the Middle Ages. When you ask where power lies in our system, you are asking who owns the productive assets. And that's the top 1 percent—in fact, the top 1 percent of the 1 percent. It is a feudalistic structure of extreme power. It is anathema to a democracy to have that kind of concentration of wealth. More and more people are beginning to realize the extent and reach of corporate power and the power of those who own the corporations. The Koch brothers get a lot of publicity, but it’s a much wider phenomenon. 

You mentioned Martin Luther King, citing some of the quotes I included in the book. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and we will be doubtless be hearing a lot about that and Dr. King’s leadership on racial equality and civil rights. I worked with him on neighborhood ownership questions we were looking at in the Senate at the time; and then again, a few years later, when he came out against the Vietnam War. He was also questioning the distribution of wealth, citing the “triple evils” of racism, economic exploitation and militarism. At the end, right before he was assassinated, he even began to talk about changing the economic power structure, even occasionally, using the words “democratic socialism.” In this era of difficulty we would do well to remember Dr. King as a visionary who was beginning to step out beyond the cramped consensus to ask far deeper questions about the nature of America and the possibilities for a different future for this country. That is our challenge today. 


Gar S: You argue that it was not politics but circumstance (the Great Depression, followed by WW II) that precipitated the New Deal's progressive change and the country’s post-war economic prosperity. I was surprised by your assessment that an economic collapse on the scale of the Great Depression is no longer likely. Could you explain? 

Gar A: Despite the systemic problems a crisis collapse of the scope and scale of the Great Depression is not likely. Here are a few reasons. First, the size of ongoing government spending stabilizing the economy is much, much larger than it was at the time of the Great Depression. Government spending—the floor under the private economy, if you like—was at 11 percent in 1929, now it is roughly 30 to 35 percent of the economy (depending on the year, and whether we are in recession.) The economy may decline rapidly, but the floor is three times higher than it was during the 1930s. Second, today we have built-in economic “stabilizers”—spending that kicks in to help offset the decline when recessions begin to get underway: unemployment insurance, food stamps, and so on. Then there is the sea change in politics. The American public now holds political leaders responsible for making sure the economy works—or at least does not totally fail. There is a heavy political price for any politician who fails to deal with truly massive economic pain. Perhaps most importantly, when push comes to shove, major corporate leaders also support action to counteract truly major economic contractions. You saw it in 2008 and 2009 when business leaders demanded action—including the stimulus plan. 

So massive and sustained economic collapse of the kind that opened the way for extremely unusual and far-reaching policy change in the Great Depression and New Deal era, though not impossible, is no longer likely. This is not to say great recessions, ongoing economic pain, and high unemployment may not occur for long periods of time. Indeed, that is what we face at present. 

Gar S: The new word for economic performance is no longer “growth” but “stagnation.” One percent of the country controls so much wealth but—unlike the middle class and working poor—the rich don't spend a significant part of their wealth. 

Gar A: This prospect of stagnation—or “punctuated stagnation,” as I write (there may be small intermittent upticks; plus oil and other commodity price explosions)—is very important to grasp. I believe (along with many observers) that we are entering an era of deepening stagnation and political stalemate. One problem is lack of demand in Keynesian terms, but I think it’s far deeper than that. We are returning to a pattern of stagnation that was common before the Depression collapse, on the one hand, and the extremely unusual conditions that prevailed during the postwar economic boom, on the other. 

A short form of the argument would be this: in the first quarter of the twentieth century, up to World War I, there was decay, decline, and indeed major recession and almost depression. We don’t know what would have happened; World War I intervened, bailing out the economy. Same story with the Great Depression: World War II, not the New Deal, solved the economic problem in the second quarter of the century. In the third quarter of the century the post-war economic boom—brought about partly by savings built up during the war, partly by military spending in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the big military budgets of the Cold War, and partly because US competitors (Germany, Japan, and many others) had been significantly destroyed—was an extremely unusual boom moment—the greatest sustained boom in our history. But thereafter the pattern of economic difficulty resumed in the final quarter of the century. Even though military budgets are high today in absolute terms, they are comparatively small as a share of GDP. And I think nuclear weapons now preclude an industrial-scale global war like World War I or World War II. We can have small horrible wars, but they don’t function economically in the way that larger wars did previously. 

Now these difficulties could be resolved if you had sufficient political power to mount a traditional Keynesian solution. But what is significant—and this is the heart of the matter—is that such a solution is no longer available, politically, for a number of reasons. I could go into a lot of them, but the principal one is the decline of organized labor. Labor union membership, the muscle behind progressive politics, was at its peak of around 35 percent just after the war, but is now down to the 11 percent range (and the 6 percent range in the private sector). Liberal reform now lacks an institutional basis. So that’s a picture of decay, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way out. 

Gar S: You argue that “evolutionary reconstruction” does not flow from reform or revolution but rather “from building institutions, workplaces and cultures concerned with democratizing wealth.” How significant are cooperative enterprises in today's economy. Could you describe the current state of America's cooperative economy? 

Gar A: Given that the economy is unlikely to truly collapse and provoke explosive change—for all the reasons I have indicated—and given that a “reform” solution like the New Deal is extremely difficult in the absence of a strong institutional power base for liberalism (e.g. labor unions), we face an extremely unusual political situation. I believe we are entering an extended period, a multi-decade period, in which the dominant reality is likely to be one of erratic growth, stagnation, periodic inflation, substantial political stalemate and decay. 

In such a context, the prospects for near-term change are obviously not great—especially when such change is conceived in traditional terms. On the other hand, for precisely such reasons, there is likely to be an intensified process of much deeper probing, much more serious political analysis, and much more fundamental institutional exploration and development. In fact, this is already well underway. Beneath the surface level of politics-as-usual, continuing political stalemate and the exhaustion of existing approaches have begun to open up some very interesting strategic possibilities. These are best understood as neither “reforms” (policies to modify and control, but not transcend, current corporate-dominated institutions) nor “revolution” (the overthrowing of current institutions), but rather a longer-term process of “evolutionary reconstruction”—that is, institutional transformation that unfolds over time. 

Like reform, evolutionary reconstruction involves step-by-step nonviolent change. But like revolution, evolutionary reconstruction changes the basic institutions of ownership of the economy, so that the broad public (rather than “the one percent”) increasingly comes to own more and more of the nation’s productive assets. As the old system decays, an evolutionary reconstruction would see the foundations of a new system gradually rising and replacing failing elements of the old. 

Though the press doesn’t much cover this, such processes are already observable in many parts of the current American system. Some numbers: There are now ten thousand worker-owned companies of one kind or another in the country. And they are expanding over time, and they’re becoming more democratic rather than less. There are 130 million people who are members of one or another form of cooperative. A quarter of American electricity is produced by either municipal ownership or cooperatives. Twenty-five percent of American electricity is, in other words, “socialized.” There are neighborhood corporations, land trusts, and other municipal and state strategies. One can observe such a dynamic developing in the central neighborhoods of some of the nation’s larger cities, places that have consistently suffered high levels of unemployment and poverty. In such neighborhoods, democratizing development has gone forward, paradoxically, precisely because traditional policies have been politically impossible. 

All this has been building in scale and sophistication to the point that growing numbers of people now talk about a “New Economy.” It doesn’t yet compare to the giants of Wall Street and the corporate economy, of course. But it is growing to the point where challenges are also becoming possible. Move Your Money campaigns have seen billions transferred out of Wall Street banks into credit unions and local and community banks. If you add up the credit unions they are the equivalent of one of the largest US banks, knocking Goldman Sachs out of the top five. 

I see this era as something akin to the decades before the New Deal, the time when experimentation and development in the state and local “laboratories of democracy” laid down the principles and programs that became the basis for much larger national policies when the right political moment occurred. 


Gar S: You clearly show that regulating Wall Street doesn’t work and breaking up large banks is unlikely to last. The conservative Chicago School of Economics, you point out, had a solution: essentially any business “too big to regulate”” should be nationalized. “Take them over; turn them into public utilities.” Could large banks really be taken over and transformed? 

Gar A: The old conservative economists were right: Regulation doesn’t work; they capture the regulators. Anti-trust doesn’t work; if you break them up, they re-group. Look at Standard Oil. Look at AT&T and the telephone companies. In fact, the major banks are even bigger now than they were in 2008 when they were deemed “too big to fail.” They imperil the entire economy. So ultimately the only answer, logically, is to take them over at some point. Milton Friedman’s revered teacher, H.C. Simons, the founder of the conservative Chicago School of economics, was one of the first to point out this logic. He argued that this was necessary because it was the only way to preserve a genuinely free economy. 

Can it be done? We just did it in one form: In response to the financial crisis the federal government essentially nationalized General Motors and A.I.G. and was in a position to do the same with Chrysler and several major banks because of the huge injections of public capital that were required to save them from bankruptcy. At one point, Obama frankly told the bankers that he was the only one standing between them and the pitchforks. What happens when the next financial crisis occurs (as most observers on left, right and center think inevitable)? Or the one after that? 

There are also already alternative models at hand. Most people don't realize this, but the federal government currently runs 140 different government banks. They aren’t always called banks, although sometimes they are, like the Export-Import Bank and the National Cooperative Bank. But sometimes they take the form of small business loans programs or agricultural programs. Then there is the Bank of North Dakota, a public bank that has been there for ninety years. It's a state-owned bank, very popular with small business but also labor. Twenty states have introduced legislation to create public banks of their own. States have huge tax flows, which could capitalize such banks. Once you start to look more carefully, beneath the surface of media attention, it may be that far more is possible much earlier and much faster than many now imagine. 

Gar S: If you don’t like corporate capitalism or state socialism, what’s left? Shouldn’t a fundamental goal be to prevent accumulations of great wealth. Once great wealth or power is attained, there is a tendency to fear the majority and seek to protect one’s fortune at all costs. 

Gar A: That is a fair question, and most people don’t face it squarely: “If you don’t like corporate capitalism, where the corporations dominate the political system, and you don’t like state socialism, where the state dominates the system by virtue of its ownership, what do you want?” I think the developments reported on in the book point towards something very American, something that might be called “a community sustaining system”—one in which national structures and regional structures and local structures are all oriented to producing healthy local community economies, and thereby healthy and ecologically sustainable democratic communities. 

We are at a very remarkable moment in American history: Even as we face massive economic, social and environmental challenges, more and more people are beginning to see that politics as usual doesn’t work, that the problems are fundamental to the system itself. These issues are on the table for the first time in many decades. So there needs to be an answer at some point, in terms of system design, to the question of what a system looks like that isn’t corporate capitalism and isn’t state socialism but begins with community and how we build it. 

The truly central question is who gets to own the nation’s wealth? Because it’s not only an economic question, it determines politics in large part. The corporate capitalist system lodges such power in the corporations and tiny elites. An alternative system must begin at the bottom and democratize ownership from the bottom up—all the way from small co-ops and neighborhood corporations on up through city and state institutions and even, when necessary, regionally and nationally. 

I think we can see the outlines of such a model already emerging in developments in the New Economy. It might be called a “Pluralist Commonwealth.” Plural forms of common wealth ownership. Worker ownership, co-ops, municipal utilities, neighborhood land trusts, state ownership of certain national firms. Plural forms. It’s not very sexy language, but it attempts to get to the idea that you must change ownership of wealth in many different ways in order to achieve democratic results and achieve cultural changes that allow us a democratic solution to the systemic problem. The key thing is that just below the surface of media attention a great deal is going on—many, many new developments that move in the direction of democratic ownership, starting at the very grass roots level, and moving up. 

All of this ultimately also puts “the system question” on the table. We need a serious and wide-ranging debate around a broader menu of institutional possibilities for America’s future than the stale choices commonly discussed on both left and right. 

Alperovitz's book, What Then Must We Do?, is published by Chelsea Green, a worker-owned company in Vermont. Gar Smith is the author of Nuclear Roulette, also published by Chelsea Green. Nuclear Roulette has recently been nominated for two national book awards.

Everest Properties Vandalizes Its Own City Landmark

By Daniella Thompson
Monday June 03, 2013 - 01:01:00 PM
The Brower House and David Brower Redwood, 2232 Haste Street, as they used to be.
Daniella Thompson
The Brower House and David Brower Redwood, 2232 Haste Street, as they used to be.
The Brower House, 2232 Haste Street, as it is now.
Daniella Thompson
The Brower House, 2232 Haste Street, as it is now.
The David Brower Redwood without its lower limbs.
Daniella Thompson
The David Brower Redwood without its lower limbs.

The two Brower Houses and the David Brower Redwood at 2232–34 Haste Street were jointly designated a City of Berkeley Landmark in 2008. The front house is a Queen Anne-Eastlake Victorian built in 1887 by notable builder, artist, and civic pioneer Alphonso Herman Broad. The rear house dates from 1904. The entire property was acquired in 1902 by the grandmother of David Brower, famed environmentalist, mountaineer, and long-time executive director of the Sierra Club. The present owner is the Lakireddy family’s Everest Properties. 

In the course of current construction work, Everest ripped out an original small double-hung window from the front fishscale-shingled gable of 2232 Haste Street and tore open a large gash in this gable without seeking a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The window and the gable are among the defining historic features of the house. 

The redwood tree was planted by David Brower in 1941. Earlier this year it was severely and inappropriately pruned, losing its lower canopy. Redwood trees never regrow lost lower limbs. 

The photos show the Brower House and the David Brower Redwood before and after they were disfigured.

Graffitirazzi: Urban Ore

By Gar Smith
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:52:00 AM
Urban Ore has got a little bit of everything. It's an urban jumbleland teaming with bins full of manikin limbs, stacks of lumber, heaps of appliances (many approaching historic status), vintage 33rpm vinyl records, and more ceramic toilets than you'd find in a six-floor flophouse. And, as a bonus, there's also graffiti!
              Next time you're at Urban Ore shopping for slate or marveling at slabs of marble, lift your eyes and check out the wall art peeping over the fence.
Gar Smith
Urban Ore has got a little bit of everything. It's an urban jumbleland teaming with bins full of manikin limbs, stacks of lumber, heaps of appliances (many approaching historic status), vintage 33rpm vinyl records, and more ceramic toilets than you'd find in a six-floor flophouse. And, as a bonus, there's also graffiti! Next time you're at Urban Ore shopping for slate or marveling at slabs of marble, lift your eyes and check out the wall art peeping over the fence.
Gar Smith
A quick trip across Murray Street gets you a better look.
Gar Smith
A quick trip across Murray Street gets you a better look.
Gar Smith
Gar Smith
The Rap Musick mural hosts a number of well-known local taggers.
Gar Smith
The Rap Musick mural hosts a number of well-known local taggers.
Returning to the Ore warehouse, check out the bathrooms. (Only the Men's chamber was explored by Graffitirazzi. We would welcome any female graffitirazzi to submit photos showing what – if anything – is on display on the walls of the Lady's Room.)
Gar Smith
Returning to the Ore warehouse, check out the bathrooms. (Only the Men's chamber was explored by Graffitirazzi. We would welcome any female graffitirazzi to submit photos showing what – if anything – is on display on the walls of the Lady's Room.)
Gar Smith
Gar Smith
                Look closer at the last snapshot and you'll discover some hidden messages, thanks to a sub-set of bathroom graffiti called "groutffiti" that pops up in the white adhesive grouting between bathroom tiles. Urban Ore's bathrooms are a classic grout grotto. 
               Reading between the tiles will unveil the following variations on the "grout" theme: The Grout Gatsby, Grout Expectations, The grout escape, Groutrageous!, The secret's grout, Grout at the devil, Will she put grout? There are many more variations to be found but that's it for this week's edition. I'm grouta here.
Gar Smith
Look closer at the last snapshot and you'll discover some hidden messages, thanks to a sub-set of bathroom graffiti called "groutffiti" that pops up in the white adhesive grouting between bathroom tiles. Urban Ore's bathrooms are a classic grout grotto. Reading between the tiles will unveil the following variations on the "grout" theme: The Grout Gatsby, Grout Expectations, The grout escape, Groutrageous!, The secret's grout, Grout at the devil, Will she put grout? There are many more variations to be found but that's it for this week's edition. I'm grouta here.


The Editor's Back Fence

Updated: Bear Up Updated

Monday June 10, 2013 - 02:16:00 PM

This is turning into a slow-release issue due to circumstances beyond the management's control. Readers and writers, please be patient. Everything will be posted in due time. No new editorial yet. And now further complications make it necessary to pass on the new issue I might have done today last Friday. I'll keep posting in this issue if and when I'm able to take the time to do so, but no promises re schedule. We've had some good submissions, so I hope I'll get them online eventually. Look for the "new" tag to find the new pieces. I'm now learning 'speed editing", so please excuse mistakes.

In Case You Missed the Memo, Larry Bensky's Letter Was Satire

From Jessica Berg, BergDavis Public Affairs
Friday May 31, 2013 - 12:39:00 PM

Editor's Note. It seems that some in Berkeley who are out of the loop didn't recognize that Larry Bensky was pulling our leg when he suggested that Tom Bates would exact public benefits from a big corporation like CVS. That's a joke, of course. We received this letter from a PR firm working for CVS: 

You ran a letter in your May 16 edition titled “Reopen Willard Pool” which claimed that CVS had made an agreement with Mayor Bates and planned to reopen the Willard Pool in exchange for approval to open the new CVS at Telegraph and Derby. Best we can tell this letter is a spoof and is a reprint from a letter in the East Bay Express. No such agreement has ever been discussed or contemplated. We are not asking for a correction at this time but would ask that you refrain from running any further pieces of this nature. If future claims arise or you have any questions about CVS in Berkeley please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Odd Bodkins: True Confessions (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Monday June 03, 2013 - 10:29:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: A Token of Affection (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Monday June 03, 2013 - 10:22:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Trees are the Symbol of Our Urban Commons - No clear cutting

By Yolanda Huang
Tuesday June 11, 2013 - 03:51:00 PM

I am an avowed tree hugger. Just yesterday, I walked by the most magnificent tree in my neighborhood, an elm, robust, thriving and huge, growing out of a narrow sidewalk on Telegraph Avenue, near the Oakland border. And as I walked by, I spontaneously leaned against it and hugged it. And the strangers walking by all smiled at me, broad, joyful smiles. 

This is the power of trees. And in reading both the NY Times commentary, (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/08/urban-trees-as-triggers-from-istanbul-to-oregon/?src=recg) quoting the Carl Pope’s piece in the Huffington Post, on trees and urban unrest across the globe, I acknowledge that trees are the symbol of our natural heritage, what we all share, the commons. And the natural, organic commons is so precious, and so limited, especially in urban settings. 

This is why the proposal by UC Berkeley, The East Bay Regional Parks, and the City of Oakland to clear cut 60,000 trees in the East Bay Hills, is provoking such outrage. And this also reflects my deep disappointment at the drivel which Norman LaForce published allegedly on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the Native Plant Society, which in minced words, supports the clear cut. The official silence from these 3 organizations has been deafening. Who are their major donors? 

We teach children in schools, that trees are the lungs of our planet. We learn that the temperature in Los Angeles dropped 15 degrees with the planting of the orange groves, and then rose again when the oranges were ripped out. We see the great horned owls nesting in the eucalyptus in Claremont Canyon. 

I love the words that one person stated at the FEMA hearing on the EIS. Amnesty and legalization for the undocumented immigrants! Eucalyptus are less of the intruder and illegal than most of us. Eucs have been here for 150 years. The animals have adopted eucs as their homes. Wise fire management is not the same as wholesale destruction and a scorched earth policy.  

Sign a petition, 


or write FEMA directly yourself:  


New: Wall Street Causes Crash, Then Rakes In the Dough … Who’s Behind the Rise in House Prices? It’s Your Favorite Friendly Wall Street Buyers (OR ­Baby, Who’s Your Landlord Now?)

By Carol Denney
Monday June 10, 2013 - 05:33:00 PM

It’s a hot, hot housing market. The same Wall Street that sent the world into global financial collapse and managed to avoid getting its style cramped by burdensome reforms is now raking its fingers through the empty properties left behind. 

Small buyers can’t compete with large investment firms with capital ready to buy not just the house you wanted, but the whole block. 

The wealthy buyer, of course, is not affected much. The Larry Ellisons of the world may huff and puff about having to outbid The Blackstone Group, but there’s always another island somewhere they can acquire if Lanai is no longer available. 

Keep this backdrop firmly in mind if you hear anyone nearby whining about not getting “market rate” from a rental property. There is no honest market when most of us are priced out of having a simple roof over our heads by Wall Street investment firms with no stake in the neighborhood schools, the parks, or the community. 

Berkeley’s empty storefronts are eloquent testimony to the indifference of corporate landlords who don’t mind leaving large holes in shopping areas as long as politicians allow them to write the property’s inflated rental costs off their taxes while the Berkeley City Council dithers about actually instituting a vacancy fee to someday reverse the emptiness incentive. 

If housing stopped being the new gold for a while, it’s back with a vengeance today, taking huge swaths of the empty properties that once housed thriving communities of now bankrupt people courted by banks into signing up for shaky loans dependent upon stable jobs and communities Wall Street couldn’t care less about. 

Market forces? Let’s demand some. Let’s demand a law that protects us from the rapacious investments schemes of the rich, and limits investments in housing to (let’s be generous) five actual houses, condominium units, or places to live. The rich can go on speculating in the racehorse market, the art market, the market for big diamonds and fancy boats, but not our housing, which is a human necessity. Trust that if the rich were no longer allowed to disrupt the housing markets of real people with real children who need to keep their shoes out of the rain, they’d still find some crazy way to compete with each other for the silly things that people like Larry Ellison, the sixth richest guy on earth, seem to need to feel good about themselves. 

Housing is too important to be the prize in a card game played by idiots.

New: Whatever You’re Smoking, Simply Step Outside

By Carol Denney
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:49:00 AM

If you thought the discussion about smoking regulations in multi-unit housing at the Berkeley City Council would naturally be about ways to make sure all tenants have the right to clean, breathable air, you would be wrong.

The current proposal “grandfathers” in all smokers forever, and offers tenants affected by secondhand smoke the right to sue their neighbor, a right they already have. But get this; you can’t sue per cigarette, or even per radiation treatment. Councilmembers such as Jesse Arreguin were eager to put a “cap” of $1,500 per year on a successful suit for exposure. Imagine how far that goes toward paying for your surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. And anyone who sues his or her neighbor lives in hell whatever the outcome.

The health department and the rent board representatives did a great job of illustrating how exhausted they are with the subject, how ready they are to sacrifice the public health goal of clean, healthy air for an endpoint of any kind, no matter how counter-productive. All it takes is one smoker per building to make 100% of the air toxic, but they're ready to call that "a balanced approach." 

At least three councilmembers mused about their personal difficulties quitting smoking. This is a very bad sign. No one has to quit smoking to live in smokefree housing. In fact, most smokers in Alameda County already do. 

But another several of the council scratched their heads over the obvious common sense step the city should take to take the burden off of low-income tenants, most of whom don’t have health coverage, can’t afford lawyers, and can’t afford to move – designate secondhand smoke as a nuisance, the same as a barking dog, as Councilmember Wozniak aptly pointed out, so that the city shares some of the burden. Secondhand smoke is more than a nuisance, of course, as a class A carcinogen, but an official designation of nuisance is an important way for the city to underscore to tenants, landlords, and perhaps someday even the rent board, that there is no safe dose of secondhand smoke. 

Only about 10% of Alameda County still smokes. And most of them live in smokefree housing voluntarily, electing to step outside for the obvious reasons: to avoid exposing their families and friends, to avoid having everything they own smell like an ashtray, and to help them smoke less. 

Those that still do smoke inside, whether it is marijuana or tobacco or both, have the option of walking outside to smoke, taking a lozenge, putting on a patch, chewing gum, and using edible products. They are not obligated by their addictions to foul the air, as the city council seems to think. Their neighbors have no choice but to breath whatever they introduce into the shared air of an apartment building, which circulates through walls, heating vents, common areas, and light fixtures. 

Call your council representative, if you want to help the poorest, lowest-income tenants, mostly people of color, finally rid their lives of involuntary exposure to disease-causing secondhand smoke. Remind them that every smokefree movie, every restaurant and supermarket in California is full of smokers – who simply step outside.

New: Can we rethink our priorites for all?

By Romila Khanna
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:41:00 AM

Gun control will not benefit gun lobbyists. It will not benefit gun manufacturers. But it will prevent many untimely deaths in our neighborhoods. Two days before Mother's Day my friend lost her nephew to gun violence. He was a high school student, just turned seventeen. We talk about the 2nd amendment right to bear guns. But do we remember the more primary right to life for all citizens? 

I fail to understand why lawmakers think they are elected to protect the few donors who helped them win office. Ground checks, control over gun shows, or control over people's record of violence did not receive enough votes. I doubt that public safety was primary in the minds of our wonderful lawmakers. What a tragedy that in such a developed nation as our own special care is not extended to the weaker section of society. Poor people lose their lives in unsafe neighborhoods, many due to gun violence, others from untreated medical ailments. 

Can we rethink our national and domestic priorities for all? It is good to spend billions making neighboring countries our allies. It is better to invest in safety and good health in each of our neighborhoods within the USA.

New: Herbicide Use, Replanting Inadequately Addressed in FEMA EIS for East Bay Hills Tree Removal

By Helen Wood
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:17:00 AM

I am concerned that the East Bay hills environmental impact statement (EIS) for the fire mitigation project in the works has eliminated from consideration the following practical solutions from an integrated plan, thus compromising the health of people and the environment.  

First. There no plans to replant with native species, which is a big gap in this plan that purports to care for native plant species. Additionally EBRPD plans to take out natives too, including coyote bush, coastal scrub, poison oak, as well as cutting down oaks and bays where they are considered “overly dense,” according to the EIS. 

Second. The EIS has eliminated outright any study of how to manage resprouts without herbicides, dismissing an integrated plan that would include these options (such as use opaque plastic or natural tar applied to stumps) which would help reduce the considerable load of herbicides that will be used (in the tens of thousands of gallons). The herbicides Garlon 4, Garlon 3A, Stalker2, and/or Roundup3 (glyphosate) will be used initially on eucalyptus stumps, and for follow-up treatments twice a year for 10 years, IN ADDITION, herbicide spray will be applied to resprouted foliage between 3 and 6 feet in height. Spray will also be used on seedlings, and “noxious weeds,” such as native poison oak, according to the EIS. 

Though Garlon and Roundup are in cancer classification group D and E, (not enough evidence to say one way or the other that they are human carcinogens), there may well be epidemiological evidence that associates these herbicides with higher cancer rates. A growing number of well-designed epidemiological studies provide substantial evidence that the pesticides used in agricultural, commercial, and home and garden applications are associated with excess cancer risk http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.21170/abstract

According to EPA, half-lives (the amount of time it takes for half to break down) of triclopyr varied from 10 to 100 days; half-lives were longer on forestry sites than on agricultural land, http://www.pesticide.org/get-the-facts/pesticide-factsheets/factsheets/triclopyr. Additionally, one of the breakdown products, TCP (3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridinol) is persistent in the environment, is mobile in water, and according to one EPA report, is just about as toxic as triclopyr, http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/2710red.pdf. What this means is that these products will persist in the environment, and, since they will reapplied every 6 months, these chemicals are going to be around for 10 years. For those of you out there who try to eat organic foods when possible and try to maintain a lifestyle that reduces the risk of cancer for your family, this plan will not increase your quality of life. 

The bottom line is this folks: the plan to use herbicides and not replant is the easier and less costly way out, but it is not the healthiest plan for humans and the environment. Funds could be allocated, through FEMA or the state, to create jobs, which are desperately needed, to maintain the fire mitigation sites in a way that would be healthiest for people and the environment. Let us collectively take action to do the Right thing, instead of taking the quick and dirty way out.  

New: Open Letter to the Berkeley City Council Regarding Second Hand Smoke in Rental Units

By Carol Denney
Tuesday June 04, 2013 - 03:19:00 PM

About half of Berkeley residents live in multi-unit housing. But only 15% of those units are covered by rent control. The low income tenants in my building get no help from the rent board, and cannot afford lawyers to assist with disputes. 

The Rent Board’s concerns about lease alterations are currently being used to avoid strong secondhand smoke protections for everyone, whether they fall under the rent board’s jurisdiction or not. 

I’m a three time cancer survivor who has been working for years to encourage the City of Berkeley to step into the forefront of public health by instituting secondhand smoke protections for the majority of people in multi-unit housing; nonsmokers, who are currently at the mercy of secondhand smoke and can’t afford to move or hire attorneys. 

Please help us. The current draft is so weak that it provides little or no public health advantage. While I salute wholeheartedly the campaign to educate and inform people about the effects of secondhand smoke, I remember well the signage and education which were supposed to accompany the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative’s smoking regulations, which were later minimized to the point where few can tell what regulations apply where. 

We need strong protections: the recognition that secondhand smoke is a nuisance, a sunset on grandfathering those who currently smoke indoors, disclosure requirements, and the city’s help with enforcement. It is silly to suggest that a police force willing to address barking dogs as a nuisance would be directed to pass on complaints about secondhand smoke, a Class A carcinogen, which does both immediate and long-term harm to our own and our families’ health. 

The city may in fact need complex constraints on secondhand smoke protections for rent controlled tenants, although it is difficult to believe any lease, under any circumstance, would be allowed to codify behavior which is immediately deadly to at-risk tenants. 

But if that is the case, please let the rest of us have a strong law modeled on Richmond’s shining example. There have been no evictions under Richmond’s law according to those who organized to write and institute it. 

Please remember; few people smoke in Alameda County (12%), and the enormous majority of them already smoke outside their homes and support smokefree regulations. They have already adjusted to the norm of avoiding exposing other people for all the obvious reasons. 

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

More Facts about the " big tree brouhaha"

By Mary McAllister
Monday June 03, 2013 - 03:13:00 PM

Becky O’Malley has done a nice job presenting both sides of the controversial project to destroy tens of thousands of non-native trees in the Berkeley-Oakland hills. Here are a few more facts that might help the Planet’s readers to evaluate these projects. 

UC Berkeley and the City of Oakland are planning to remove all non-native trees from 400 acres. Monterey pines and acacia will be destroyed, in addition to eucalyptus. Readers of the EIS can easily verify that 22,000 trees will be removed from Strawberry and Claremont Canyons and 38,000 from Frowning Ridge. Those numbers are a matter of public record. The number of trees that will be removed from 122 acres in Oakland can be estimated from those numbers to 25,000 additional dead trees.  

In addition to those tree removals, the East Bay Regional Park District is going to “thin” about 90% of the non-native trees---not just eucalyptus--on 600 of their park acres. 

Monarch butterflies migrate through California and hibernate in the eucalyptus in the winter. That they aren’t here at the moment is irrelevant since the trees aren’t going to be removed at the moment. Whenever the trees are removed, they won’t be available when the Monarchs pass through the East Bay again.  

People tend to focus on Roundup because it is so widely used and therefore people know more about it. Garlon is the herbicide that will be used to kill the roots of the trees. It is far more toxic than Roundup. If people knew as much about it, they would be more concerned about this project. Roundup and imazapyr will also be foliar sprayed on non-native shrubs. It’s not just trees that will be destroyed.  

Ms. O'Malley implies, but it needs to be said explicitly, that these projects do not intend to plant anything when all the non-native trees and shrubs are killed. They actually claim that natives will be “recruited” into the project area through 2 feet of wood chip mulch that will be spread on the ground. If anyone thinks that dead wood is less flammable than any living tree, they are kidding themselves. Sudden Oak Death is rapidly adding dead wood to this bleak picture of the future landscape. 

Even if you like native plants and hate eucalyptus, this project deserves a closer look.

Some Democrats Voted to Cut Food Stamps, Including Feinstein

By Harry Brill
Monday June 03, 2013 - 03:00:00 PM

A shocking and very painful event in the US Senate has just occurred— a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voted to support amendments to a farm bill that benefits corporate agriculture but cuts billions of dollars from the food stamp program for poor individuals and families!!! More than 47 million poor depend on food stamps to feed their hungry children and themselves. 

A progressive amendment was proposed to restore $4 billion dollars that the current farm bill cut and to offset funding for the food stamp program by limiting crop insurance reimbursements that benefit large farms at the expense of small farms. 

The Senate vote to defeat this amendment was overwhelming—26 to 70. Among the Senators who voted to retain cuts in food stamps while leaving the corporate welfare component untouched was Senator Feinstein. Senator Boxer voted to restore the funding for food stamps. 

Soon a vote will be taken on the entire farm bill. It is urgent that we do what we can to oppose this dangerous farm bill. Please call Senator Boxer to thank her, and to also tell her to vote against the bill if the amendment to cut food stamps is not dropped. Also contact Senator Feinstein to strongly express your disappointment. Senator Feinstein also must be told not to support this corporate favored farm bill at the expense of increasing poverty. Eventually this bill will come before President Obama, who should be told to exercise his veto unless funding for food stamps is restored. 

To reach: Your Congressional Rep & Senators Boxer & Feinstein you can make free calls to the Capitol Switchboard, then ask to be connected: 1-877-762-8762 or 1-800-826-3688. To reach President Obama: (202) 456-1414.

The View from West Berkeley: Council Re-districting Embraces Dormies, Shuns West Berkeley

By Curtis Manning
Monday June 03, 2013 - 02:30:00 PM

In this age of diminishing expectations, alienation and cultural malaise, the ambitions of students, when they appear, are often encouraged regardless of their merit. And so it was when the Department of External Affairs of the Associated Students of UC (ASUC) decided that it wanted a student Council district because they really needed representation on the Council. Their concerns include crime and lighting. So the ASUC contacted the City Council and asked them to float Measure R, which would allow new district boundaries and a possible student district. 

The passage of Measure R enabled another group, the Berkeley Neighborhood Council (BNC), to produce a map of their own. The driving principle behind the BNC map was to leave established neighborhood associations undivided by district boundaries. Although the BNC included a student district, they also included the unification of West Berkeley into a single Council district. The purpose of this was to allow West Berkeley residents to have a majority district in the Ocean View area, which is basically west of San Pablo Ave., and centered near University Ave. West Berkeley has for 27 years been divided into two districts at University Ave., leaving both minority parts of their respective districts. 

The ASUC map reveals its student district to be dominated by dormitories. Compared to the average student, dormitory dwellers know little about Berkeley as a town, and have little connection to it. They come and go on time-scales of a few years. Are these the students we want represented on the Council? 

Dormitories are gated, so only well-financed campaigns that are able to do district-wide mailings will be able to access the students where they live. This makes the student district an easy win for those connected to money and power. 

It is undeniable that students constitute a significant fraction of the population of Berkeley – at least during the school term. But does the proposed student district rise to the level of a community of interest? 

To the Council majority, it apparently does. Following the April 30 public hearing on re-districting, the Council majority, led by Gordon Wozniak, chose two identical maps to define the range of the Council’s interests in re-districting. The maps in question are the student proposal, a product of the Associated Students of UC (ASUC), and a map by Eric Panzer, an ex-student and operative of the “smart-growth” clique. Both maps are the same. A tidal wave of blind support swept the Council majority and minority; neither Kriss, Max, nor Jesse spoke up for West Berkeley. Droves of finger-snapping students with signs will apparently do that.  

In making a student district, the Council is choosing the population least interested in Berkeley as a city. Why should students get preference for representation over West Berkeley? The Council’s action proves again that West Berkeley needs a voice on the Council, since they are otherwise not heard.  

The Council has shown contempt for those who live in West Berkeley by ignoring the outpourings from three continued public hearings on the City’s misguided West Berkeley Project, and by putting Measure T on the ballot. In fact, the Council majority has been trying to up-zone West Berkeley for some years, seeking to spark speculative land inflation that will lay West Berkeley open to corporate take-overs of industrial land. This would result in a wall of big box buildings along the shore, and in the loss of Berkeley’s “incubator” style of business development. The Council majority is working for the corporations and for UC/BP, not for Berkeley’s citizens or for businesses. The Council recognizes political expediency, but not principle. 

The students say they are interested in issues of crime and lighting, yet I don’t see how that differs from the views of the current Councilpersons of student areas. Why go to all this trouble when students, like spoiled children, are bringing nothing to the table but their desire to have a seat on the Council?  

The current Council feels that it can pick and choose which criteria it applies for re-districting. It thinks that it owes nothing to the principles of fair representation that underlie district elections, or to the wishes of its long-term residents. The Council majority has gone rogue. The student map is just a political instrument in their hands, to be employed in the continuing effort to control Berkeley for the smart growthers and for the UC/BP conglomerate. It should be quashed. 


  1. In effect, the student district is a dormitory district. Dorms are populated by students unlikely to be interested in, or knowledgeable about, the city of Berkeley. As a transient community, the students do not rise to the level of a legitimate community of interest.
  2. West Berkeley, descended from the pioneer town of Ocean View (1853), is a proper community of interest. There is great need for a West Berkeley Council district, but it will take a miracle to get it established because the Council majority wants to continue to exploit West Berkeley to the detriment of its residents.
  3. We conclude that the Council majority is using the student district as a way to produce a form of “safe” Council seat that is easily controlled. With their disrespectful treatment of West Berkeley, a West Berkeley district would not likely be a safe seat for them.

Managing the East Bay Hills Wildland/Urban Interface to Preserve Native Habitat and Reduce the Risk of Catastrophic Fire
An Environmental Green Paper- March 27, 2009

Sent by Norman La Force, from the Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, Golden Gate Audubon Society
Monday June 03, 2013 - 03:16:00 PM

This paper has been prepared by the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club (Sierra Club), East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Golden Gate Audubon Society (Audubon) to document our point of view about how best to meet the twin goals of managing the urban wildland interface to enhance and preserve habitat for native plants and wildlife species while reducing the threat of catastrophic fire at the interface. 

This topic is of timely importance because of the pending release of the environmental review documents being prepared by the East Bay Regional Park District, FEMA grants for vegetation management, and other agency documents that are to follow. This paper contains the major guiding principles, which are further elaborated on in the attached background paper and appendix. 

It is important to note at the outset that we embrace an Integrated Fire Management (IFM) approach to this issue. An IFM approach addresses the total scope of fire hazard both from problems with the human infrastructure and those from wildland vegetation. 

We apply this theme at both the landscape level as well as at individual sites, whether they are homes at the interface or public parks and open space. While the human infrastructure including roads, water supply, defensible neighborhoods, etc., is expensive to maintain or improve, only well-planned infrastructure can assure safety from catastrophic fire. Without that fundamental understanding, vegetation management projects are doomed to fail in meeting the twin goals of fire safety and conservation of native habitat. 




We recognize that there is a frightening wildfire potential each fall for some residents living in the East Bay Hills. This potential exists because of the combination of extreme weather events (Diablo winds), the pattern of residential development in the hills, the proximity of flammable homes to fire-prone vegetation, and the lack of adequate preparation to the urban infrastructure, including defensible space. 

Natural wildfire in wildland areas can be viewed as an event without serious consequences to humans, but at the wildland/urban interface where man has altered natural conditions, it can lead to a disaster. There are natural cycles that are unavoidable that we must pay attention to, prepare for, and be ready to respond to appropriately and sometimes quickly. As an example, during the 21st century the East Bay Hills will not be lucky enough, even with exceptional fire fighting, to get by with zero uncontrollable wildfires and zero extremes in weather. Diablo winds in the fall months are the key environmental factor for extreme fire behavior, and it will be impossible to know the exact location, source, and timing of an ignition that will transform high winds into a raging wildfire. 

During some Diablo Wind wildfires there will not be enough firefighters, fire trucks, helicopters, or aircraft to save every house or even control the fire until the winds slow. Unlike “normal” fires that can be fought, to a certain extent on the ground, Diablo Wind fires prevent the placement of firefighters on steep slopes or other hazardous locations due to the speed of wind-driven fire. Under these circumstances, quick evacuation and homeowners insurance will be the only protection for residents who have lost property. 

Recent reports compiled by firefighters and researchers in “lessons learned” from other catastrophic wildland/urban interface fires in California have shown that the most important factor in preventing homes from burning in wildland fires is hardening of structures and the creation of defensible space. Conversely, unprepared residential areas will likely not be saved during a wind-driven wildfire and will contribute to the rapid spread of wildfire into adjacent residential areas as happened during the 1991 Oakland/Berkeley Tunnel Fire. 

The 1995 Hills Emergency Forum Plan did not receive full acceptance from the environmental community because it contained insufficient field collected data to support the designations of fuel characteristics of our local vegetation, did not take into account the importance of conserving native habitat, and did not include a legally required environmental document along with the Plan. 


The 1995 HEF Plan recommended that public agencies and large acreage landowners create and maintain two different types of areas managed for fuel reduction in the East Bay Hills. The first are the ridgetop fuelbreaks that were begun after the freeze of 1972 by removing freeze damaged eucalyptus to achieve a 300’ wide zone of managed vegetation where firefighters could attempt to stop a fire that started in wildland areas to the east, before it could race over the ridge into residential areas. The second type of management was created after the 1982 Blue Ribbon Report and the 1995 HEF Plan. The 1982 Report recommended fuelbreaks designed to provide a minimum of 100 feet of managed vegetation (including what the homeowner is required to do for defensible space) at the wildland/urban edge. The 1995 HEF Plan recommended fuelbreaks within a 500 foot study area, that in itself became controversial and confusing, designed to provide an area of managed vegetation with less than eight-foot flame lengths at the wildland/urban edge where firefighters could safely work to protect homes. 


The Sierra Club, CNPS, and Audubon have not been satisfied with the Park District’s approach for maintaining its fuel-managed areas. We know that fuelbreaks constitute a combined area of more than 20 miles and 500 acres, often covered by weedy species, mowed below 4” of height, or over-grazed by goats, with little concern about species or habitat values. Also several eucalyptus management, thinning, or conversion projects exist that need attention. We are concerned that the Park District’s consultants and its staff have yet to articulate a clear vision about how they intend to maintain these areas while favoring and increasing the percentage of native plants over weedy, fuel-rich non-natives. 

The debate about wildfire risks attributed to non-native eucalyptus trees has been a controversial topic for years. In our opinion, there is ample evidence to show that eucalyptus and pine trees in dense unmanaged groves are both a wildfire threat and an environmental dilemma that requires attention. Non-native eucalyptus and pine groves can exceed 120’ in height and can be prone to dramatic fire behavior. When wind- driven wildfire reaches tree crowns, flames above 150’ can be expected with burning embers blowing downwind well beyond one half mile. The capacity to spot new fires that overwhelm firefighting forces during Diablo Wind conditions means these species must receive high priority for treatment. Selected and representative quotes, articles, and reports that provide additional information and perspective about the fire hazards and the environmental dilemmas posed by eucalyptus and pine plantations in the East Bay Hills can be found in the Background to the Environmental Green Paper. 



Recommendations and Solutions 

In our opinion, decisions about how best to manage our east bay hill vegetation on the wildland side should be based on the twin goals of reducing the risk of catastrophic fire and maintaining the fragile native habitat found in the wildland/urban interface. To accomplish these goals, agencies should formulate well-conceived plans that integrate natural resource sciences and fire science. 

All plans to reduce vegetation on the wildland side must be site specific, taking into account a range of critical variables that result in an individual profile for each site. We do not endorse generic fuel prescriptions because they do not take into account the unique threats and values of each site. In order to accomplish the twin goals of reducing the risk of catastrophic fires and of maintaining sustainable native habitat, agencies must recognize that effective management of live fuels is a subset of sound land management (and not the other way around) primarily because of the high degree of variability of living landscapes. 

We urge the Hills Emergency Forum (HEF) and its member agencies to prepare updated mapping systems for the East Bay hills that identify wildland plant communities in site-specific detail as well as the type and density of vegetation intermixed with home landscapes. 

Native vegetation communities, including our native woodlands, are generally below 40’ in height, and are less prone to unmanageable fire behavior. These communities are comprised predominantly of plants that are native to the East Bay and form more than 80% of today’s wildland vegetation in the hills. The recommended strategy for protecting residential areas from wildfire coming from native vegetation is to establish an understanding of the ecology and fire-behavior of the fuels site-specific to each individual wildland/residential edge, and then manage these edges to provide safe access for firefighters defending structures that are able to resist burning embers and to hopefully stop fire before it enters residential areas. 

As each agency prepares their individual plans and environmental documents, they will be required to address the cumulative impacts of wildland fire hazard reduction projects by all agencies. This will require active cooperation and long range planning by HEF member agencies. We will reserve our final opinion about how each agency handles these matters as we review their plans and environmental documents. 

Enhancing and Preserving our Natural Environment 

While Reducing the Risk of Catastrophic Fire 

Background to the Environmental Green Paper 



This Background Paper has been prepared by the Sierra Club (Sierra Club), East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Golden Gate Audubon Society (Audubon) to document our positions on several of the issues that are important to us as we explore options for meeting the twin goals of enhancing and preserving native plants and wildlife while reducing the threat of catastrophic fire at the Wildland Urban Interface in the East Bay Hills.  


This topic is of timely importance because of the pending release of the environmental review documents being prepared by the East Bay Regional Park District, FEMA grants for vegetation management, and other agency documents that are to follow. 


We would have preferred working with and commenting on a single draft wildfire hazard reduction plan and environmental document for the East Bay Hills with a free exchange of ideas, concepts, and details presented to and discussed with experts and stakeholders who have been involved in these matters for the past 15-years. This would have provided for an Integrated Fire Management approach at all levels, both in content and process, and among all-important stakeholders. This was the type of process that we expected after the Park District’s Temescal workshops of 2000, and is consistent with our understanding of how the Park District Plan/EIR/EIS should have been developed. With that understanding, we supported Measure CC in 2004 including the $10 million for District projects and a joint fire hazard mitigation plan that was to involve Hills Emergency Forum (HEF) agencies. 


Thus, we were disappointed that the HEF decided three years ago that each agency should proceed with individual plans and environmental documents. The East Bay Municipal Utility District and the University of California had already completed their Land Use Master Plans, with Berkeley, Kensington, and El Cerrito not contemplating plans for their residential areas. The next to emerge will be the Park District’s Plan/EIR that has been under development during the past two years. The consultant’s draft Plan is currently being reviewed by Park District staff that will recommend several changes in the draft, followed by a public review document that is nearing completion. We also understand that Oakland intends to prepare its plan and environmental document following completion of the Park District Plan/EIR. 


In our opinion, staff and consultants have developed the Draft Park District Plan in relative isolation instead of taking more time to "get specific" with recognized experts and stakeholders. True, there were four informational meetings at the Trudeau Center with consultant and staff presentations, and time for public comment. However, the District’s Plan/EIR process to date, has offered little detail, so it’s anyone’s guess about what will be in the draft documents soon to be released for public review. We have seen very little in the way of detailed resource information, and have not been informed about which federal agency the District will use to obtain required biological opinions necessary to make its Plan/EIR complete. In the event the draft, which we have not seen, requires substantial changes or additions, we support the use of additional Measure CC funds, District funds, or use of grant funds to complete a Plan/EIR document that will be useful and supported by the environmental community and other stakeholders. 


In the meantime, the District has proceeded with fuels management based on very little oversight by its own stewardship department and with a FEMA EA that covered only federally listed plant and animal species. The result has been fuels management executed without the benefit of clearly derived policy. 


Meanwhile the actual vegetation management projects taking place in some areas have been fraught with controversy. We also are aware that three Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) competitive grants have been awarded to the University (Strawberry and Claremont Canyons), to the City of Oakland (Frowning Ridge), and to the Park District (East Bay Hills Area) for fire hazard reduction projects. These grants will require three different project level FEMA Environmental Assessments. As with EBRPD one of the consequences of this kind of haphazard approach has been the creation of de facto policy on the part of UC, the City of Oakland, and various stewardship groups in terms of on-the-ground management of vegetation. These policies have not had the benefit of public, scientific vetting and in some cases have now found their way into federal policy. Without proper vetting, these activities have resulted in mixed results. 


It is important to note at the outset that an Integrated Fire Management approach means that the total scope of fire hazard (both from human infrastructure and from vegetation) will be considered as a first step, both in the wide scope of the East Bay Hills Wildland Urban Interface and in individual sites that are identified for some form of action. While vegetation management is surely an important part of the total picture, it must not be the tail that wags the dog as it has been in the past, particularly after the ’91 fire. While the human infrastructure including roads, water supply, defensible neighborhoods, etc., is expensive to maintain or improve, only well-planned infrastructure can assure safety from catastrophic fire. The National Firewise Communities program has made that clear. By its very nature, the living landscape involves far more variability and therefore attempting to manage it means a certain lack of predictability. Without that fundamental understanding, vegetation management projects are doomed to fail in meeting the twin goals of fire safety and conservation of native habitat. 


It is clear to us that the approach taken by HEF agencies will result in duplication of effort as well as an understandable level of confusion as agencies work through fire hazard and resource management plans that address their unique situations. However, in the spirit of moving forward, we offer the following guiding principles for consideration by agencies and others interested in these issues. 




1. We recognize that there is a frightening wildfire potential each fall for some residents living in the East Bay Hills. Our local wildfire history suggests that there are different levels of risk faced by hill residents depending on their location. Of the approximately 30,000 homes in the hills, the actual number of homes that have been lost or families personally threatened by a wildfire has been relatively small. However, agencies and residents should not be apathetic because wildland/urban interface wildfires are becoming all to common during the past two decades, and global warming with its extremes of weather will make this century even more risky. 


a) Too many homes were lost during the Berkeley Fire of 1923, the Fish Ranch Road Fire of 1970, and the Oakland/Berkeley Tunnel Fire of 1991. These three Diablo Wind Fires destroyed homes, took lives, and caused substantial property and economic damage, and played a role in massive weed invasion of East Bay Hill native habitat. Seven other Diablo Wind Fires and many West Wind Fires have also occurred in the past along the 30-mile hill corridor without significant property loss, many before residential developments were fully extended into the hills. The above three Diablo Wind mega-fires destroyed a total of 3,600 homes during less than seven hours of rapid expansion for each fire. Wind driven fires can be impossible to control at the fire head, leaving firefighters to only work on a fires flanks until the winds slow. The 1991 fire destroyed 700 homes in one hour, a total of 3,000 homes in seven hours, and 26 lives were lost, mostly during the first hour of the fire. 


b) Predictions about what might happen in the way of wildfire, weather extremes, and climate change during the 21st century should be part of the public discussions leading to agency planning processes that will ensure appropriate preparation for wildfire and appropriate planning for wise management of natural resources. As an example, during this century the East Bay Hills will not be lucky enough to get by with zero mega-fires and zero extremes in weather. Diablo Winds in the fall months are the key environmental factor, and it will be impossible to know the exact location and timing of an ignition that will transform high winds into a frightening wildfire. The events of the 20th Century suggest that it would not be unreasonable to forecast something like three Diablo Wind mega-fires, seven “normal” Diablo Wind fires, possibly as many as 150 “normal” West Wind fires, four El Nino events, four extended freezes, and four drought cycles that will all impact wildland vegetation and residential areas during the 21st century. Agency and homeowner preparation or lack of preparation will be directly related to the amount and extent of damage that these events can cause. 


2. Natural wildfire in wildland areas can be viewed as an event without serious consequences to humans, but at the wildland/urban interface where man has altered natural conditions, it can lead to a disaster. When wildfire is in control, all involved vegetation and residential areas that lie in its path can be taken back to an earlier stage, to start all over again. Wildfires are different in scope and impact than controlled burns, but their potential for weed invasion can be the same. Given the level of weed invasion that is directly related to disturbance--whether it’s fire or vegetation removal--, it is unlikely that native vegetation will re-set to “an earlier stage.” Rather, we are likely to see an increase in weed invasion and a disruption of our East Bay Hill native habitat unless appropriate steps are taken to control invasive weeds. 


In the hills, wind driven wildfire will not distinguish between vegetation and unprepared residential structures. Virtually all development in the East Bay Hills occurred during a 100-year period when agencies and homeowners did not understand or respect the potential wildfire danger created by Diablo Winds. The patterns of residential development combined with the hills unique natural features have increased the potential for home loss during wind driven wildfire. 


a) Roads are on steep hillsides, narrow, and usually congested. 


b) Homes are in dense residential areas, mostly constructed of wood, and often surrounded by other potentially flammable homes and vegetation. 


c) Homes are on steep hillsides with limited access for fire fighters. 


d) Public agencies and large acreage landowners have allowed non-native vegetation to develop “unnaturally” with little maintenance, and with increasing levels of flammability. 


e) Above ground power lines are common in the hills and water supply for firefighting is less than desirable. 


These are all recognized aspects of unsophisticated residential development in the hills, in comparison with today’s standards. Public officials and fire safety activists, all to often, want to focus on fixing the “vegetation problem” without fixing the “residential problem”. Both need short and long term attention and fixing. 


3. During some Diablo Wind wildfires there will not be enough firefighters, fire trucks, helicopters, or aircraft to save every house or even control the fire until the winds slow. Unlike “normal” fires that can be fought, to a certain extent on the ground, Diablo Wind fires prevent the placement of firefighters on steep slopes or other hazardous locations due to the speed of wind-driven fire. Under these circumstances, quick evacuation and homeowners insurance will be the only protection for residents who have lost property. 


a) We believe that cities and area fire departments must develop more reliable fire-fighting strategies for combating Diablo Wind wildfire with more attention paid to identifying and expanding predetermined areas in both wildland and residential areas where wildfire might be stopped. 


b) Cities through their police departments must develop neighborhood evacuation plans, known to all residents and agencies, that recognize the potential for rapid spread of wildfire moving through hill residential areas with narrow and congested streets. 


c) Insurance is also necessary and critical for homeowners choosing to live in high-risk settings; however, having insurance should not be a reason for not appreciating and preparing for the actual risks being faced. 


It is surprising to hear some resident’s say they like the hills and their homes just the way they are, and that they accept the risk of wildfires. This sentiment is not usually shared by most, but remains one of the more important concerns if it threatens future stability of fire hazard reduction efforts. If true and persuasive, further efforts in wildland vegetation management may not be supported during tough economic times, and less substantial efforts will result in marginal wildfire risk reduction benefit. If the status quo condition for the hills were followed, future fire losses for both large and small wildfires would be a matter for insurance coverage if it can be obtained. 


Fortunately, residents have recently voted to support two significant measures that will improve their fire safety. Oakland’s Wildfire Prevention District and the Park District’s Measure CC have provided funding to address fire risks by two of the largest landowning public agencies in the hills. During these funding measures, the Sierra Club, CNPS and Audubon have supported strategic vegetation management programs in our neighborhoods, regional, and local parklands that reduce wildfire risks while conserving, recovering, and sustaining native habitats. 


4. Recent reports compiled by firefighters and researchers in “lessons learned” from other catastrophic wildland/urban interface fires in California have shown that the most important factor in preventing homes from burning in wildland fires is hardening of structures and the creation of defensible space. We concur that the best way to protect homes from wildfire is for cities to make sure that all homes and all structures have 100’ of defensible space, and that homes can resist burning embers. We strongly encourage and support programs by agencies and homeowners on local and private lands that will protect homes from wildfire. The recently revised State Standards for defensible space and home construction can be relatively easy to inspect and achieve in rural areas, but not so easy in our densely occupied hill residential areas. Cities should determine how best to apply these standards for both individual homes and groups of homes, especially at the wildland/urban interface where property ownership is complex. 


Too often, homes are permitted and constructed within 15’ or less of the property line without enough space to comply with the intent of state law that homeowners should create and maintain their own defensible space. Cities must continue to ramp up their inspections to get compliance and continue their inspections even in times of economic difficulty. 


Further, building codes must be updated to cover the construction and maintenance of fire safe structures that can resist burning embers. Waiting 50 years for remodels to bring new codes into force is unacceptable. Unprepared residential areas will likely not be saved during a wind-driven wildfire, and will contribute to the rapid spread of wildfire into adjacent residential areas. 


As a very important matter of public policy, cities and counties should make sure that homes and other structures are not built within an indefensible distance from public-park and open space without appropriate mitigation, nor from the open space borders of other public lands. Cities should also prioritize for inspection and compliance those structures already located within an indefensible distance from public parklands. Public agencies should not have to use their limited funds and staff resources to create and maintain defensible space for new homes constructed too close to park boundaries or other public lands. 


5. In our opinion, decisions about how best to manage our east bay hill vegetation should be based on the twin goals of reducing the risk of catastrophic fire and maintaining the fragile native habitat found in the wildland/urban interface. To accomplish these goals agencies should formulate well-conceived plans that integrate natural resource sciences and fire science. Very little of today’s East Bay Hill wildland vegetation is truly pristine because of the dramatic landscape changes that have occurred during the past 200 years. Returning to the vegetation of 1800 or 1900 is not realistic or even remotely possible with today’s population of 2.5 million east bay residents and the extensive hill residential areas that were developed during the past 100 years. 


Existing native plants and habitat are the result of the unique and complex history of plant species and habitat evolution in this geographical area. Most of today’s East Bay Hill public land vegetation (by counting numbers of species represented in that vegetation) is composed of “truly native” species. However, most of the plant communities, in their current locations and size, are relatively young and will continue to change. As change occurs, we believe that today’s natively-evolved local species and their tendencies to aggregate into recognized “native habitats” can persist very well if allowed and assisted by dedicated land managers. These persistent, recognized habitats will indeed not remain static, and will go through stages of succession, development and rebirth during the next 200 years. 


We know that “exotic” vegetation in the hills has experienced four major freezes that have killed or damaged eucalyptus trees, and that many fires have killed pine trees. Since the spread of both blue-gum eucalyptus and Monterey pines is assisted by fire, the presence of these trees pose a growing threat. We also know that global warming will result in further extremes in weather that will make the 21st century even more risky. The best we can say at this point is that we do not really know how native-like wildland plant communities will respond in detail to future climate change. However, we prefer to limit the possibilities to changes brought about by our natively evolved regional flora, and to not intermix or include species of distant exotic origins that will complicate the process and remain as potential fire hazards. 


6. Any and all fuels management plans must be site specific, not simply vegetation and fire risk specific. In order to accomplish the twin goals of reducing the risk of catastrophic fires and of maintaining sustainable native habitat, agencies must recognize that effective management of live fuels is a subset of sound land management (and not the other way around) primarily because of the high degree of variability of living landscapes. Each site is unique and is constantly undergoing multiple processes of change and evolution. Agency plans must be based on sound environmental concepts and not just the developing science of wildfire behavior in wildland/urban interface settings. This is the issue that caused us the most concern during the discussions following the 1995 HEF plan. We are not so sure about how much useful fire science there is that will really apply to our unique wildland/urban setting since to date very little science has been based on field collected data. Instead, there has been heavy reliance on modeling which is subject to error based on sometimes-incorrect assumptions. 


We suspect that the Plan will be based on a combination of relevant local and statewide experiences with wildland/urban fire, and with some adapted fire science. However, we doubt that it will take into account detailed field-collected data on the unique characteristics of our local vegetation types. The application of sound environmental concepts will be especially important for any vegetation management program undertaken by the Regional Park District where informed knowledge about the environment must guide what it can and should do to reduce fire risks. 


Since 1995 we have consistently urged the Park District to seek solutions that will be effective with minimum impacts on the park environment in managed areas that are designed to sustain native habitat. We have also urged that a comprehensive Resource Management and Fire Hazard Reduction Plan be prepared, along with its legally required environmental document. 


7. We urge the HEF and its member agencies to prepare updated mapping systems for the East Bay hills that identifies wildland plant communities as well as the type and density of vegetation intermixed with home landscapes. Since vegetation is a key factor in wildfire behavior, we should have accurate information about the type of vegetation that exists in both wildland and residential areas. We do not currently have a good mapping system with data on the fire-prone vegetation that is intermixed with home landscapes. If we are expected to reduce the risks associated with wildland vegetation, we should definitely be reducing the risks of vegetation to be found in residential areas. 


The 1995 HEF Plan is the only mapping system (other than the Park District vegetation maps of 2006 that only cover Regional Parks) available today that attempted to describe the type of wildland vegetation found throughout the 18,500 acres of undeveloped property in the Oakland/Berkeley hills (the 1995 acreage numbers do not include wildland vegetation in Kensington to Richmond residential areas or Wildcat Canyon Regional Park). The Behave computer wildfire modeling of the 18,500 acres of wildland vegetation predicted that 43% would burn with flame lengths of 8’ or less that could theoretically be fought and controlled by firefighters on the ground. The other 57% of wildland vegetation would burn with flame lengths between 9’ and 60’, with fire fighters unable to control wind driven wildfires in these areas until the winds abate. Polygons were developed for each plant community, and the summary acreage of each type of plant community is organized in this paper as follows: 


Acres Native-like Plant Communities (mostly natives by species count)  

4,100 Oak/Bay Forest- Mixed 

3,847 Grassland (mostly areas that are grazed) 

3,309 Dry North Coastal Shrubland 

1,418 Redwood Forest 

918 Successional Shrubland 

855 Oak/Bay Woodland- Mixed 

332 Wet North Coastal Shrubland 

79 Chaparral- Mixed 

71 Riparian Forest 

10 Oak Savannah 

14,940 Subtotal (81% of wildland vegetation) 


Acres Non-Native Plant Communities (dominated by trees with few species) 

1,379 Eucalyptus- 20-year old stump sprouts (now 30-years old) 

859 Pine Forest- Mature 

836 Eucalyptus Woodland- Mature 

233 Pine/Eucalyptus Mature, Mix 

222 Eucalyptus- 5-year old seedlings (now 15-years old) 

47 Pine Forest- Plantation 

6 Acacia 

6 Cypress 

1 Other 

3,590 Subtotal (19% of wildland vegetation) 


This initial attempt to map and classify vegetation in the East Bay Hills has proved to be inadequate for the task because it did not accurately describe our diverse local vegetation types in site-specific detail, as well as for their individual and community fuel characteristics. There are newer mapping and classification protocols developed by the 

State Vegetation Program of the California Native Plant Society and adopted by the National Park Service and other government agencies that can be utilized to map and describe the vegetation in these areas accurately. 


However, this is only one of several important factors to be taken into account when developing a management strategy for any given polygon. Location within a watershed, slope, aspect, wind mapping (under “normal” and Diablo conditions), live fuel moisture field sampling, description of understory (not only of woodlands but of shrublands as well), soil type, soil moisture, utilization by wildlife, type and degree of weed invasion, and proximity to structures. These are the important factors that go into understanding how best to manage a given area. 


We are aware that the Park District’s mapping project for Hill parks between Lake Chabot and Wildcat Canyon (and all Measure CC Parks) was finished in 2006, and that fire modeling has been completed for these parks. We will be particularly interested in reviewing the data, mapping results, assumptions used, and the fire attributes for park vegetation. We understand that the District’s 13,818 acres of hill park vegetation have been grouped into the following park plant communities, and we have organized these groups into two major classes as follows: 


Acres Native-like Plant Communities (mostly natives by species count)  

3,675 Oak/Bay Woodland 

2,439 Woodland Succession 

1,688 Grassland (mostly areas that are grazed) 

1,505 Shrubland 

1,022 Shrub Succession 

474 Redwood 

110 Willow 

30 Riparian/Wetland  

11,034 Subtotal (80% of park vegetation) 


Acres Non-Native Plant Communities (dominated by trees with few species) 

1,862 Eucalyptus 

363 Developed Park Areas and Turf 

341 Pine 

30 Mowed Annual Grass 

5 Acacia 

2,784 Subtotal (20% of park vegetation) 


It appears that the fuels management done by the HEF agencies and EBRPD to date has been conducted in accordance with the old Behave (flammap) fuel models that are untested at the wildland/urban interface. If so, it has driven management decisions in ways that cannot support the goals of either achieving safer fuel loads or maintaining native habitat. If the old classification of maintaining an 8-foot flame length in all vegetation is adhered to, very little but mowed or grazed annual grassland can qualify as “safe” to maintain. The empirical result of following that prescription has often meant that the type conversion of native shrublands, such as Baccharis-dominated north coastal scrub, has created their replacement with fuel-rich French broom and light flashy fuels such as thistle, which also have poor habitat value. 


On the other hand, field-collected data, including sampling for live fuel moisture, might indicate that, in some instances it’s wiser to leave vegetation in place rather than to remove it. One example would be to contemplate leaving Baccharis, which contains relatively high levels of moisture, in some sites where it acts as a green sponge, holding moisture within the plant as well as within the soil. 


It is critical that if fuel modeling is to be used, it contain accurate inputs from our local vegetation under differing conditions. We do not know what the current models are that are being used to inform the conclusions of the EIR or what information is being used as input to the models. 


8. The 1995 HEF Plan did not receive full acceptance from the environmental community because it contained insufficient field collected data to support the designations of fuel characteristics of our local vegetation, did not take into account the importance of conserving native habitat, and did not include an environmental impact report as required by state law. However, the 1995 HEF Plan identified the specific wildfire threats faced by homeowners in the hills, and recommended a mitigation program for agencies and private property owners based on the following concepts. 


a) The Plan recommended that homeowners fully comply with state law that currently requires a minimum of 100 feet of defensible space surrounding structures, and that all homes in high risk areas should be constructed or renovated and maintained to resist burning embers. 


b) The Plan recommended that public agencies continue maintenance of ridgetop fuelbreaks, and create a new type of managed area at the residential edge, that will involve both public and private lands. The width for residential edge buffer zones has been a topic of ongoing controversy for the past 15 years. Currently, most research suggest that a maintained zone of vegetation 100’ to 200’ from structures (including homeowner defensible space) is appropriate, depending on slope, type of vegetation, and site conditions. These maintained areas will not necessarily stop all wildfires, but will be essential for providing safe locations for firefighters defending homes at the wildland/urban interface. 


c) The Plan recommended that public agencies and large acreage land owners manage or convert their eucalyptus and pine groves to reduce the chance of burning embers being blown into residential areas. 


9. The 1995 HEF Plan recommended that public agencies and large acreage landowners create and maintain two different types of areas managed for fuel reduction in the East Bay Hills. The first are the ridgetop fuelbreaks that were begun after the freeze of 1972. These fuelbreaks were created along the west boundary of regional parks with some sections along Skyline and Grizzly Peak Boulevards on city or other agency lands. Ridgetop fuelbreaks were created by removing freeze damaged eucalyptus to achieve a 300’ wide zone of managed vegetation where firefighters could attempt to stop a fire that started in wildland areas to the east, before it could race over the ridge into residential areas. Public agencies that currently manage ridgetop breaks are now creating even wider resource management areas that are intended to look “natural on the ridge” without strict adherence to width criteria, usually with a roadway as the primary anchor line. 


The second type of management was created after the 1982 Blue Ribbon Report and the 1995 HEF Plan. The 1982 Report recommended fuelbreaks designed to provide a minimum of 100 feet of managed vegetation (including what the homeowner is required to do for defensible space) at the wildland/urban edge. The 1995 HEF Plan recommended fuelbreaks within a 500 foot study area, that in itself became controversial and confusing, designed to provide an area of managed vegetation with less than eight-foot flame lengths at the wildland/urban edge where firefighters could safely work to protect homes. 


While there is no mystery about the reason for reducing live fuels when residential areas are located at the edge of large public parks or other areas of dense natural-like vegetation, there is as yet no clear understanding of what management should be on specific sites since prescriptions have been generic or non-existing. Nonetheless, most park agencies are using some form of vegetation management on public lands at their residential edge to reduce the chance of wildfire moving from public lands into residential areas. 


10. The Sierra Club, CNPS, and Audubon have not been satisfied with the Park District’s approach for maintaining its fuel-managed areas. We know that fuelbreaks constitute a combined area of more than 20 miles and 500 acres, often covered by weedy species, mowed below 4” of height, or over-grazed by goats. Also several eucalyptus management, thinning, or conversion projects exist that need attention. We are concerned that the Park District’s consultants and its staff have yet to articulate a clear vision about how they intend to maintain this interface while favoring and increasing the percentage of native plants over weedy, fuel-rich non-natives. This topic will be a subject for further comment and focus by our members and experts during agency Plan/EIR processes. 


From the Park District’s perspective, focusing vegetation management efforts in the immediate area adjacent to homes means that larger areas of native-like park vegetation can remain unaffected. Most of the required District fuelbreaks are already in place with missing sections to be identified in the Plan/EIR. However, because very little attention has been paid to maintaining healthy native habitat, these sections will need to be reviewed for site-specific sustainable practices as part of the vegetation management plan. 


a) New fuelbreaks recommended for park grassland areas are either currently grazed or are on sites where brush succession has yet to occur. Continued grazing or mowing should be sufficient to maintain relatively narrow areas of grassland as fuelbreaks. Maintenance to reduce exotics and to increase native flora that will be sustainable should be the prime objective, so close attention must be paid when using goats or personnel unfamiliar with both exotic and native vegetation. 


b) Shrublands are another matter requiring intensive management of wider fuelbreak widths when shrub species are retained because of their potential flame heights and rate of spread. Prescriptions usually call for shrub “islands” with about 30% of shrub cover (with retained shrubs pruned at four feet in height and cleared of flammable wood debris), with 70% open areas that are usually mowed. An alternative option for existing shrubland areas is to convert to a narrower fuelbreak width of grassland with regular mowing in the spring and summer. 


c) Oak/bay woodlands are a relatively fire-safe plant community, with periodic clearing of ladder fuels being the only maintenance near homes. 


d) In areas of non-native vegetation, conversion to the adjacent native-like plant community can be the best solution with over seeding of local ecotypes of native grasses and associated flora when soils are disturbed or left bare during conversion. 


e) However, many of the District’s earlier fuelbreaks involved a more destructive conversion during logging of eucalyptus and pine groves in the 1970s, followed by 30-years of mowing or goat grazing resulting in weed problems and broom invasion. These areas will require a different approach to re-establish natives, and a maintenance program that will pay attention to the removal of weedy plants and to increase the overall percentage of natives. 


11. Non-native eucalyptus and pine groves can exceed 120’ in height and can be prone to dramatic fire behavior. When wind drive wildfire reaches their crown, flames above 150’ can be expected with burning embers blowing downwind well beyond one half mile. The capacity to spot new fires that overwhelm firefighting forces during Diablo Wind conditions means these species must receive high priority for treatment. Non-native plant communities in the hills are today’s remnants of the tree planting efforts of two Oakland businessmen who forested the hills for future residential development and for hardwood lumber production. Frank Havens and Borax Smith formed the Realty Syndicate in 1895 to sell lots and homes to new residents who would also buy tickets to ride their trains. They launched a massive tree-planting program to beautify their 13,000 acres of hill land, and a few years later Havens formed the Mahogany Eucalyptus and Land Company to plant gigantic plantations of blue gum eucalyptus on his privately owned water company lands to meet the state’s growing demand for hardwood lumber. Both enterprises could not be repeated today, but have created increasingly significant environmental impacts that residents and agencies must now address that will be increasingly expensive in the future. 


We have used “non-native” as the appropriate term for describing Havens bluegum (and redgum) eucalyptus trees from the Island of Tasmania Australia, and for describing pines and cypress from the coastal regions of central California. It is not only the “appropriate term” to use, but it carries broadly significant meaning in terms of the impacts these non-native species created and continue to present to the locally-evolved native biodiversity. It is not sufficient to consider these several non-native species as isolated occupants of the land. They each have large contextual, negative impacts that must be factored into any equation regarding protection and preservation of native resources in areas of locally diminished open space acreage. 


Non-native eucalyptus and pine are some of the most dense and flammable plant communities in the hills. Un-maintained eucalyptus groves can have 400 to 900 trees per acre with fuel ladders into the canopy and 30 to 100 tons of flammable fuel on the ground. Wind driven wildfire in these groves can be expected to produce flame lengths and ember throws that will quickly overcome firefighters and significantly reduce evacuation time for homeowners. 


Unmaintained pine groves are also extremely flammable with deep needle duff on the ground and dense pine seedling growth within and around the grove. The presence of Monterey pines intermixed with native coastal scrub also provides a source of tinder that contributes to crown fires since the needle duff can be ignited by embers and can burn off the live fuel moistures of species like Baccharis. 


The recommended strategy for eucalyptus and pine groves is to manage or remove trees and groves that are close to residential areas that could throw burning embers long distances (including over fuelbreaks, natural barriers, and manmade barriers) into residential areas. 


12. Native-like vegetation and our native woodlands are generally below 40’ in height, and are less prone to unmanageable fire behavior. Native-like plant communities form 81% of today’s wildland vegetation in the hills comprised of mostly plants that are truly native to the East Bay. The recommended strategy for protecting residential areas from wildfire coming from native-like vegetation is to establish an understanding of the ecology and fire-behavior of the live fuels site-specific to each individual wildland/residential edge, and then manage these edges to provide safe access for firefighters defending structures to hopefully stop fire before it enters residential areas. 


Most areas offer a range of small to large acreage (sometimes in a mosaic and sometimes as a single type community) of grassland, shrubland, oak/bay woodland, or redwood forest. These plant communities are rather young, achieving their current location, size, and form as a result of both human impacts and plant succession over the past 200-years. Photos at the turn of the 20th century show the hills dominated by grasslands (many of which were maintained by cattle grazing) with smaller areas of shrubs, oaks, redwoods, and riparian vegetation. 


Recent research involving the analysis of phytoliths concluded that the historic plant community for well over 1000 years was baccharis-dominated coastal scrub. Thus, the jury is still out in terms of extent and distribution of the true historical vegetation types. 


The density and distribution of today’s native-like plant communities in the hills are unique to the 20th century and provide excellent habitat for wildlife and other species that make up today’s diverse ecosystems. At many locations there are also endemic animals, birds, or plants that have legal standing. These listed species require individual monitoring, protection, and careful management. 


Each native-like plant community behaves differently in wind-driven fire. Grassland fires are flashy and move quickly, but are relatively controllable. However, they provide a faster means of ignition and spread of fire into other vegetation, particularly upslope. Shrubland fires can also move quickly and some shrubs can produce flame lengths above 30 feet and, once ignited, are more difficult to control. Unfortunately, there has been little research into the important factors that affect ignition in the unique and various East Bay Hill shrub communities and they are thus far poorly understood. Because of the lack of specific field-conducted studies that would help elucidate both the ecological and fuel-related behaviors of individual species and shrub communities, they have been collapsed into the generic category of “brush,” assigned fuel characteristics from other more fire-prone species, and been targeted for aggressive fuels management. Fire in native woodlands produces lower flame lengths but can also crown and produce burning embers under extreme conditions. 


13. The debate about wildfire risks attributed to non-native eucalyptus trees has been a controversial topic for years. In our opinion, there is ample evidence to show that eucalyptus and pine trees, in dense unmanaged groves, are both a wildfire threat and an environmental dilemma that requires attention. Individuals who love eucalyptus trees aggressively defend the tree, arguing that it has been naturalized to this area, it provides habitat for wildlife, and it is not an unusual fire threat. Narratives about both the threat and the environmental dilemma can be found in the statements, articles, papers and reports contained in Appendix A. 


14. We are most concerned with the process by which decisions will be made about the most flammable and potentially controversial plant communities in today’s parklands. We don't endorse generic options but favor site-specific analysis that is grounded in the best possible science. In practice, that means that any one given eucalyptus or pine grove will be managed for its unique characteristics to achieve fire safety, conversion to native plant habitat, or made safe for public use. However, the threat factor is now relatively clear and can’t be denied. 


15. The subject of eucalyptus and pine grove management remains controversial among people of good will. In the interim, the Sierra Club, CNPS, and Audubon offer the following statements for consideration when reviewing agency plans and environmental documents. 


a) Agencies and private landowners should focus their efforts on removing eucalyptus and pine groves on or near the high ridges and on leeward slopes (West facing) above homes to allow these spaces to convert to native-like vegetation that is less prone to spectacular wildfire behavior. 


b) Eucalyptus areas that were logged between 1972 and 1974 should be revisited to remove all 30-year old stump sprouts and seedlings that will not form good park woodlands, and to allow these areas to convert to native-like vegetation. 


c) Groves that are thinned to retain mature eucalyptus trees should keep 30 to 50 trees per acre with shrubs removed and ground fuel maintained at less than two tons per acre. However, everyone should understand that single-age stands do not usually make good permanent park forests because the stand will eventually reach its natural stage of decline and become a hazard that should be removed. At that time conversion to native-like vegetation should take place. 


d) When eucalyptus and pine trees are removed, the areas they occupy should be managed to convert without planting new trees and shrubs to a fire-safe native-like vegetation that blends with and expands adjacent plant communities. The type of replacement vegetation and any required maintenance depends on site conditions and the type of plant community desired. 


When a healthy understory of oaks, bays, and associated trees are present under the eucalyptus or pine canopy, they should be saved during logging and allowed (without additional tree planting) to become the replacement tree canopy. 


When an understory of native trees is not present (especially on ridge tops and dry slopes), grassland and shrubland plant communities should be allowed to re-establish and succeed by appropriately controlling broom, thistle, and other invasive, fuel-rich species. Native shrubland will sometimes reestablish after the eucalyptus canopy is gone if invasive weed species are held in check.  


When there is sufficient native grass cover and/or seedbank in areas to allow for establishment of good quality grasslands, these can be carefully restored and managed by grazing or mowing to prevent re-succession of shrublands. However, in the absence of a native grass seedbank, weeds will dominate the resulting “grassland”. In this case, re-succession by native shrubs can help restore quality habitat. 


e) Thinning young eucalyptus woodlands of suckers and sprouts to create a temporary managed grove is less desirable and may be untrustworthy on our steep and windy hillsides when the goal should be to convert to native vegetation. Thinning eucalyptus and waiting 30-years for native plant establishment under the canopy will allow ladder fuels to become established, and repeated costly logging projects will double environmental impacts. 


f) We support efforts to keep mature eucalyptus trees in groves that can be thinned and maintained as a mature tree canopy for existing and future recreational activities, or as a historic tree grove to be retained pursuant to a park’s adopted Land Use Plan. 


g) We will be particularly interested in the policies that guide when to thin and retain a grove, and when to achieve a conversion to native-like plant communities that are appropriate to the site. As an example, for a grove with 300 trees per acre, it might be short sighted to take out 250 trees per acre to keep a grove when conversion to native vegetation could achieve multiple goals. This would be especially true for areas in parks where native vegetation should the objective. 


h) In all cases, logged eucalyptus stumps must be treated and killed to prevent sucker growth. 


i) Control of weed species such as broom, euphorbia, and eucalyptus seedlings is essential during all maintenance and conversion projects. 


j) Non-native trees (such as eucalyptus and pine) that are small but will become large and are not part of the designed park landscape should be removed at the earliest time possible to keep costs low, minimize resource damage, and allow native-like vegetation to develop as soon as possible. 


k) Tree removals (logging) can be very controversial, and the immediate appearance of logged areas can be dramatic, triggering public protest from people who have not responded during the planning process but are motivated to speak out once logging begins. Often the public is unaware of the costs and tradeoffs of large-scale projects such as logging. As a result, tree-logging projects must be made to be very visible during the entire public process. Before logging projects are presented to the Board for approval to seek bids, staff should ensure that the tree project has specific Plan/EIR clearance with a notice posted in the park before the Board meeting and “left posted” until project completion. After the Board approves a contract, District managers and Board members must be ready to support the tree removal project through to the end. After the contract is awarded and the work begins (sometime months later), experience has shown there will always be a member of the public who sees what’s happening, pleads to save trees, and will lobby to stop all work. 


16. As each of the East Bay Hills Emergency Forum agencies prepares their individual plans and environmental documents, they will be required to address the cumulative impacts of wildland fire hazard reduction projects by all agencies. This will require active cooperation and long range planning by HEF member agencies. The HEF will need to provide sufficient coordination to make sure that potential cumulative impacts are clearly described, and that significant cumulative impacts can be avoided. We urge all agencies to consult with their legal advisors for guidance in developing plans that will address the cumulative impact issue. Of course, we will reserve our final opinion about how each agency handles these matters as we review their plans and environmental documents. 


a) Agencies should commit that cumulative impacts will be avoided while converting high-risk eucalyptus and pine groves to native vegetation, and that they will consider their projects to be self-mitigating projects that complete the work begun in 1973/74. Most of the involved public agency acreage was logged after the 1972 freeze. The removal of multiple stump sprouts and dense seedlings in already logged areas is ongoing work that needs to be completed. Sprouts and single age stands of seedlings are unsuitable for forming safe and healthy woodlands. 


b) Agencies should commit that cumulative impacts will be addressed and avoided by their projects, when considered separately or together, and that they will involve relatively small acreage dispersed along a 30-mile long wildland corridor that totals more than 18,500 acres of similar vegetation 


c) Agencies should commit that cumulative impacts will be avoided by their projects that are coordinated on lands separated by time and space from other agency projects. Coordination will be used to ensure that work will be scheduled over a reasonable period of time, and that there will be no cumulative impacts from overlapping work on the same or adjacent lands. 


d) Agencies should commit that cumulative impacts will be avoided when their projects are coordinated to have sufficient distance between projects by others in location and time, and ensure that there will not be significant cumulative unmitigated impacts on common resources such as wildlife and keystone habitat. 


e) Agencies should agree that they will not allow vegetation management projects to have a significant cumulative impact on sensitive species or habitat because of existing environmental regulations that will be followed, and because of the biological opinions and mitigations that will be required by state and federal resource agencies. 

Appendix A 


The following quotes, articles, and reports provide additional information and perspective about the fire hazards and the environmental dilemma posed by eucalyptus and pine plantations in the East Bay Hills. 


a) In March of 1973, H.H. Biswell, Professor of Forestry and Conservation at the University of California, Berkeley made this prophetic statement. “When eucalyptus waste catches fire, an updraft is created and strong winds may blow flaming bark for a great distance. I think the eucalyptus is the worst tree anywhere as far as fire hazard is concerned. If some of that flaming bark should be blown on to shake roofs in the hills we might have a firestorm that would literally suck the roofs off the houses. People might be trapped”. 


b) James Roof, Director of the Tilden Botanic Garden, in his detailed paper of February 1973, made observations about the areas wildfire risks, about eucalyptus tree risks and impacts on native flora, and offered his recommendations following the freeze of 1972. 


c) Professor Robert Stebbins, Professor of Zoology at UC Berkeley and the curator of the UC Museum of Vertebrate Zoology has been a long-time advocate for retaining eucalyptus groves because of the habitat they provide for local wildlife especially amphibians and birds, and prepared several papers on this subject during the 1995 HEF plan review period. 


d) The Temescal EIR Advisory Group in 2000, listed the following guidelines for eucalyptus and pine forests: “Eucalyptus Forest – This introduced forest community is highly controversial because of the extreme fire behavior that it can generate and because a significant number of native species that have adapted to it. It is a high priority for management, particularly in areas where it has the potential for involvement in wildland fires. Management plans must also take into account impacts on those species that have adapted to Eucalyptus. A number of native raptor species including the Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk and Great Horned Owl seem to prefer Eucalyptus to native forests in a variety of circumstances. Nest and roost trees should be identified and accommodated with appropriate buffers, where feasible, in fuel-break planning. Monterey/Bishop Pine Forests – This transplanted California native plant community occurs in dense stands and as individual specimens in several areas within the study area. Although less widespread than Eucalyptus, these coniferous forest species are also preferentially used by native raptors including the Golden Eagle. As with Eucalyptus, nest and roost trees should be identified and accommodated with appropriate buffers, where feasible, in fuel break planning.” 


e) The Vegetative Management Plan for the Eucalyptus Freeze Affected Areas in the Berkeley-Oakland Hills was prepared to guide the efforts of agencies working to reduce the potential for wildfire after the freeze of 1972. The Plan was prepared after the hills were declared a disaster area by the State’s Governor, and was adopted before the California Environmental Quality Act was amended to include public agencies. 


f) The Ubiquitous Eucalyptus article, by Bill O’Brien in the fall 2005 BayNature magazine describes the history of eucalyptus trees in the East Bay as well as statements and opinions by local “experts” about both positive and negative aspects of eucalyptus trees. 


g) Respect for the flammability of our hill’s dense eucalyptus groves is common knowledge among local fire chiefs. Fire departments have not been willing to use prescribed fire (with prescriptions set for when fire control is theoretically possible) to reduce the flammability of groves by clearing the 50 to 100 tons of ground fuel that can be found under unmaintained eucalyptus groves. Fires in native-like vegetation will not burn well in the hills during most of the year, but fires under eucalyptus with its shredding bark and oily leaves can move to the treetops during almost any season. Professor Biswell tried unsuccessfully, in the 1970’s to establish prescribed fire as a local maintenance practice in eucalyptus, as is done in Australia. Regional Park Fire Chiefs have wavered, and remain unwilling to use this technique even today because of the risk of escaped fire, and because of smoke impacts on the air basin. 


h) The 1995 HEF Plan (in its final Report and Technical Appendices) determined that eucalyptus and pine trees and the burning embers that they can produce in a wind driven wildfire are an important factor in the wildfire risks faced by hill residents. 


i) Javier Trelles, and Patrick J. Pagni UC Berkeley Professors analyzing the role of wind patterns during the 1991 fire, described the Sunday morning fire start as follows. On October 20, at 6:00 a.m., the normal weather pattern was interrupted as winds in excess on 10/ms arose from N 35 degrees E and the relative humidity dropped below 10%. This strong, dry convective current began to dramatically lower the moisture level of the previously soaked burn area of the Saturday fire. The ambient temperature climbed to 90 degrees. The few embers that remained buried overnight were by 10:45 a.m. spotting to new areas of dry fuel. Between 11:15 and 11:30 a.m., extremely rapid fire spread in windward di

Please Hear the Crying of Children

By Romila Khanna
Monday June 03, 2013 - 03:08:00 PM

Are we safe anywhere? Only people driven by madness or hate could perform the ugly deed that has shaken the whole country. Bostonians cheering the marathon could not have imagined such a tragic finish to the race. Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies need help from law-abiding citizens to identify the culprits. We should also consider what else can be done to protect innocent civilians from acts of terror in the future. Are our laws against terrorism strict enough? Are immigration officials given enough training and authority to identify terrorists as they seek to enter the US for their own vile purposes? Our freedom is so precious and so vulnerable. We grieve but we also want to think of ways to secure that freedom against terrorists hell-bent on destroying our open society. 

At the same time we want to protect our open society against gun owners within the US who are not required to undergo background checks. Guns are safe only in the hands of mature citizens who will not use them except in cases of mortal danger. Unfortunately, the gun lobby is more interested in sales than in the safety of ordinary citizens in an open society. How many Newtowns will it take before we recognize the peril to our children and our elders from reckless sale of assault weapons in the U.S.? 

Can no one hear the parents of the Newtown school children crying?

Evening and Sunday parking charges? (At City Council June 11)

By Michael Katz
Friday May 31, 2013 - 12:54:00 PM

On June 11, Berkeley's City Council will hold a 5:30 PM "worksession" on staff's "GoBerkeley" proposal to expand commercial-district parking enforcement:

Staff proposals in this document include:

* Evening: Extend hours of [metered-parking] enforcement from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in certain areas by implementing standard metered rates or a flat rate.

* Sunday Meters: Enforce parking fees in on-street meters and lots on Sundays by implementing standard metered rates or a flat rate. 

There are also proposals to raise hourly rates, at times and locations of "peak" demand.

In Oakland, metered parking until 8:00 p.m. was such a hit that Oakland's city council had to backtrack and cut enforcement back to 6:00 pm. In San Francisco, Sunday metered parking has recently been a big hit, too.

If Berkeley residents are equally fond of proposals for expanded enforcement hours, they should be sure to let our City Council know on or before June 11.

At a May 29 Southside "open house" about this package, one city staffer told me that Oakland had bungled 8:00 p.m. enforcement by telling the public it was about increasing revenue. Another staffer acknowledged that in the Elmwood, enforcement until 8:00 p.m. would mean charging neighborhood residents to park near their houses after work.

Berkeley staffers aren't making Oakland's mistake, even though this is indeed about revenue. They're shrewdly calling this a proposal to increase the health of Berkeley's commercial districts, by increasing parking turnover.

Some merchants, patrons, and residents might conclude that it seems more like destroying commercial areas to save them.

Since 2008, Berkeley residents have accepted sharply increased street parking rates, parking-permit costs, and fines. We knew the state budget was broken, posing a trickle-down threat of big deficits in Berkeley's budget. Mayor Bates presented higher charges and fees as an equitable alternative to deeper service cutbacks and layoffs.

Today, the state budget is actually approaching a surplus. One wonders why Berkeley officials are even considering further hikes in overall parking charges, rather than reductions. Is city government simply hooked on punishing people for driving cars? 

Berkeley Homelessness: Define USE

By Joseph Stubbs
Monday June 03, 2013 - 03:06:00 PM

The Homeless Experience is definitely of “use” in keeping the rest of us working like good citizens and not dallying, but if one tries to think about them from the perspective of reintegration, some interesting ideas arise. 

Once we have gotten done wantonly punishing homeless for not participating in the workforce, it may be of great interest to us to see what we’ve done to them. Thought of as wholly separate entitities they can perhaps all go to hell and who gives a toot. If all we consider them as being relavent to is that they are a nuisance to be relocated, then that is not much better. But to the extent that we might consider ourselves as one in a distinctly human experience which ties us all together in spite of everything, we would have an interest in what we have done to them. This is key. This is more the key than yes they can see, or yes they can count, or maybe sweep a street. Also, I’m not addressing inherent psychological disturbance of which there is admittedly much and for which little can perhaps be done from a causative perspective. I am addressing psychological issues created by the state of being homeless and the reality of what that means in terms of being cast out, unwanted, unacknowledged as a human being in spite of everything, unhelped, unloved, and undeveloped as a person. No matter where on the scale of competency a person falls, this reality has an effect all it’s own. These are basic human needs which do not go away because a person is homeless. I believe that much of the highly obnoxious, aggressive behavior seen in homeless people, especially towards each other as men and women, and which certainly does not help endear them to passersby, is based on narcissistic rage which stems logically and in no small part from the underlying subjective crisis caused by being in this state. 

What could this possibly mean in terms of city policy? Well, that’s a good question and if the answer were easy it probably would have been discovered already. Any useful answer that CAN be put forth however, has very far reaching potential to act as a model for everyplace else that struggles with the same problem as soon as they find the political will to do something. The thing that draws my interest into putting a serious bead on this line of inquiry is the word “compassionate.” If this word is to put it’s honesty where it’s mouth is and not just be a politically efficacious platitude, then there is hope here. It is challenging to be compassionate to someone who is being an ass. Even then, it is even more challenging to feel compassion with enough conviction to break the unspoken rules which keep us from thinking too intensely about this, and cause us to essentially dismiss the homeless as being human garbage to be tolerated, shuffled around, whatever. 

For Berkeley to lead the way it has to break a social rule, and this is a big deal. The rule which it has to break is the rule which states that the homeless experience is entirely something that homeless people have done to themselves. To break that rule is to acknowledge tacitly and publically that at least in part, something has also been done TO them to create their particular experience. This is a big no no, because you can see as an admission of guilt how it deflects responsibility - and as everyone knows there is no extra budget for a new sense of such responsibility. Even if one did invest money that doesn’t exist into capital investments to shelter and feed the homeless and maybe put them to work somehow or try to get them back on their feet (note Delancey Street in S.F. as a model), it doesn’t necessarily address the core issue which I am addressing. 

For Berkeley to lead the way it has to ask the homeless what it feels like to be disenfranchised. It has to do this publically. It has to demonstrate a genuine curiosity to know what their experience is and has been like regardeless of their state of apparent sanity. It has to put the pictures and stories and whatever other content is generated forward in a public venue, and something meaningful - not hidden away in the back room of a library. This is not just a horrid exercize. It has a great use, greater than sweeping all the streets - and one that benefits everyone, not just the homeless themselves. It is reintegration for us too, with our ability to be compassionate in a whole way, not a comparmentalized, selective way which is guided by various social traffic signs. It also challenges us to accept our role in this drama. It is a bold act which will be appreciated first by the mature, costs very little, and is a first step in offering a slice of dignity to the homeless. After all the first wave of inevitable and reasonable rage is allowed to vent, it lets them know that they actually do mean something in the community because the measure of their HUMAN EXPERIENCE is actually sought out as it relates to their extraordinarily stressful circumstance.

June Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Monday June 03, 2013 - 10:41:00 PM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


New: THE PUBLIC EYE: The Heartless Economy

By Bob Burnett
Friday June 07, 2013 - 04:06:00 PM

In January of 1968, Dr. Norman Shumway performed the first successful US adult heart transplant at Stanford Hospital in California. At the time, some complained the millions of dollars spent on the operation should have instead been used to feed the thousands of starving children in nearby communities. Nonetheless, the transplants continued and millions of children went hungry. It was a metaphor for the increasingly heartless nature of the US economy.

Recently the economy has seemed to be reviving. Consumer confidence is up, the housing market is booming, and stock market indices have hit new highs. Nonetheless, millions of Americans either have no work or are working far beneath their capability. Almost half of our families have no assets. The 99 percent have been left behind, 

Blame Reaganonics. During the Reagan era conservatives bewitched Americans with three malignant notions: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else, “a rising tide lifts all boats;” markets were inherently self correcting and there was no need for government regulation; and the US did not need an economic strategy because that was a natural consequence of the free market. 

What followed was a thirty-year conservative social experiment with laissez-faire economics. A period where America’s working families were abandoned in favor of the rich. A period where inequality rose as middle-class income and wealth declined. A period where corporate power increased and unions were systematically undermined. A period where CEO salaries soared and fewer and fewer families earned living wages. A period where American democracy morphed into plutocracy. 

This chart summarizes the consequences.  


America’s productivity and GDP increased but household income was stagnant. All of us worked to improve our economy but only a few reaped the benefits. 

Reaganomics produced a warped and brittle US economy, where more than two-thirds of our GDP was housing related: building, buying, and furnishing new homes or borrowing against existing homes in order to maintain a decent standard of living. In 2008, when the credit bubble burst, the debt-based consumption model failed, taking down first the housing sector and then the entire economy, resulting in catastrophic job losses. 

Since 2008 the economy has staggered back onto its feet. But the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that most of us feel America is on the wrong track. After all, the US economy depends upon steady consumption by working Americans and they aren’t consuming as much as they did in the past because they are fearful. 

Meanwhile, many businesses have the funds available to hire but, in many cases, they are filling what should be full-time permanent positions with part-time temporary workers or interns. When they do hire they are paying low wages

Since the Reagan presidency the number of decent jobs has steadily eroded. When workers retire from a GM assembly line, and a job that pays good wages, they aren’t replaced by their sons or daughters; they go to work at McDonalds. There has been an under-acknowledged “structural adjustment” that meant the US consumer economy could not function unless average Americans went deeply in debt: borrowed up to the limit on their credit cards or used up their home equity. 

Since the Reagan era, the heart has gone out of the American economy. The ratio of CEO salaries to those of rank-and-file workers has increased from 20:1 (1950) to 204:1 (2012). As productivity has increased, the benefits have disproportionately gone to the wealthy. 

There are four consequences of this shift. First, greed has been legitimized. Conservatives embraced the philosophy of Ayn Rand and spread the myth that the wealthy enable the economy, while the poor deserve to suffer because they are slackers. 

As a result, the American ethos has changed from “we’re all in this together” and “I am my brother’s keeper” to “what’s in it for me” and “you’re on your own.” The value of collective action has been minimized – “the triumphant individual” has squashed “the benevolent community.” 

Third, America has deified the corporation. Conservatives contend that what is good for Monsanto – and other corporate giants – is good for all Americans. Conservatives contend no harm is done by humongous corporations, who pay workers a pittance while a few executives earn enormous salaries. Conservatives deny that desecration of the environment has any long-term consequences. 

Finally, America has lost the recipe for true prosperity. We’ve forgotten that a healthy economy depends upon steady consumption by working Americans. We’ve decided to ignore the chasm between the rich and poor. But inequality is not an isolated social phenomenon; it’s an indication the US economy has Stage III cancer. 

America is not going to survive unless there are major social changes. Until we stop giving heart transplants to wealthy individuals like Dick Cheney and instead use the money to feed our starving children. Until we recover our heart. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Can the U.S. Claim Victory in Iraq?

By Ralph E. Stone
Monday June 03, 2013 - 09:24:00 PM

Following the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq in December 2011, can the U.S. claim victory or did the Obama administration adopt the face-saving solution of “Just declare victory and get out,” a position proposed by the late Senator George Akin of Vermont at the end of the Vietnam war? 

What does victory mean and why did the U.S. invade and occupy Iraq in the first place? The reasons given by the Bush Administration proved to be contrived: Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction; no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, or any Iraqi operational act against the U.S., was established; and, as Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, speaking on the Iraq invasion and occupation, said, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.” 

The costs of the Iraq war have been tremendous in terms of lives lost. Since the war began in March 19, 2003, over 4,400 US lives have been lost, and over 650,000 Iraqis were killed. 

The Iraq war cost U.S. taxpayers $810 billion and counting. Imagine how much health care, social services, education, housing, fire and police this money could have purchased. 

Additionally, we became the thugs the world when it was learned the U.S. used torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, at secret detention centers round the world, and the CIA conducted renditions or extrajudicial secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Uzbekistan and elsewhere. 

And in the aftermath of September 11, the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, which expanded government surveillance powers and the scope of some criminal laws. We have held prisoners at Guantánamo without charges for over a decade. 

Did we sow the seeds of democracy in Iraq? Iraq has had elections, but its lauded democracy is tenuous at best. Elections do not necessarily a democracy make. 

Iraq has three large ethnic groups: Kurds in the north; Sunnis in the middle; and Shiites, the most populous group, in the south. Given the ethnic and religious rivalry among these three groups and the ever-presence of al-Qaeda, there is little evidence that an Iraq democracy will last now that the U.S. military has left. In fact, there is little evidence that democracy will take root throughout the Middle East. 

We did eliminate Saddam Hussein and placed Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as Prime Minister, a position he hopes to continue well into the future. Al-Maliki has been trying to gain control over the armed groups in his country as a means to consolidate his power. Instead of bringing the Shiite and Sunni Arabs together, al-Maliki has sought to marginalize the Sunnis. He has resisted integrating Sunnis into the army. He has accused senior Sunni politicians of being terrorists, hounded them from power and, thus, lost the cooperation of the Sunni community. Unless Maliki is forced to resign and replaced by a more conciliatory figure, there is the real possibility of civil war. 

And there is the ever-presence of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi arm, known as the Islamic State of Islam, who are suspected of instigating a series of recent car bombings throughout Iraq. More than 1,000 people have been killed in Iraq by al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgents in May alone. The goal of al-Qaeda seems to be to undermine Iraqi confidence in the Shiite-led government. 

Finally, now that the U.S. has left Iraq, Iran has a market for its goods which is helping to relieve the U.S.-European Union boycott against Iraq. 

It remains to be seen whether the Iraq “war” was won. But, clearly, the U.S. had no moral or legal basis for invading and continuing to occupy Iraq. Whether the war was won or not, the U.S. was right to leave Iraq. 

Finally, I agree with President Obama that terrorism should now be treated as a criminal activity instead of a war on terrorism. This recasts the terrorists as cowardly thugs instead of enemy warriors. For a complete overview of the Iraq conflict from its beginning in 2003 until mid-2012, I suggest reading Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights.

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Afghanistan: Is It Really the End Game?

By Conn Hallinan
Monday June 03, 2013 - 02:19:00 PM

“Gunmen in Pakistan on Monday set ablaze five trucks carrying NATO equipment out of Afghanistan as the international military alliance winds down it combat mission there, officials said.” 

-Agence France Presse, 3/1/13 

There is nothing that better sums up the utter failure of America’s longest war than getting ambushed as you are trying to get the hell out of the county. And yet the April 1 debacle in Baluchistan was in many ways a metaphor for a looming crisis that NATO and the U.S. seem totally unprepared for: with the clock ticking down on removing most combat troops by 2014, there are no official negotiations going on, nor does there seem to be any strategy for how to bring them about. 

“I still cannot understand how we, the international community and the Afghan government have managed to arrive at a situation in which everything is coming together in 2014—elections, new president, economic transition, military transition—---and negotiations for the peace process have not really started,” said Bernard Bajolet, former French ambassador to Kabul and current head of France’s foreign intelligence service. 

When the Obama administration sent an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009 as part of the “surge,” the goal was to secure the country’s southern provinces, suppress opium cultivation, and force the Taliban to give up on the war. Not only did the surge fail to impress the Taliban and its allies, it never stabilized the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Both are once again under the sway of the insurgency and opium production has soared. What the surge did manage was to spread the insurgency into the formally secure areas in the north and west. 

With the exception of the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, virtually everyone has concluded that the war has been a disaster for all involved. 

The Afghans have lost more than two million dead over the past 30 years, huge sections of the population have been turned into refugees, and the country is becoming what one international law enforcement official described to the New York Times as “the world’s first true narco state.” According to the World Bank, 36 percent of Afghans are at or below the poverty line, and 20 percent of Afghan children never reach the age of five. 

The war has cost American taxpayers over $1.4 trillion, and, according to a recent study, the final butcher bill for both Iraq and Afghanistan will top $6 trillion. The decade-long conflict has put enormous strains on the NATO alliance, destabilized and alienated nuclear-armed Pakistan, and helped to spread al-Qaeda-like organizations throughout the Middle East and Africa.  

Only U.S. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) thinks the war on the Taliban is being won, and that the Afghan Army is “steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment.” Attacks by the Taliban are up 47 percent over last year, and the casualty rate for Afghan soldiers and police has increased 40 percent. The yearly desertion rate of the Afghan Army is between 27 percent and 30 percent. 

In theory, ISAF combat troops will exit Afghanistan in 2014 and turn the war over to the Afghan Army and police, organizations that have yet to show they can take on the insurgency. One of the Army’s crack units was recently overrun in eastern Afghanistan. Given the fragility of the Afghan government and its army, one would think that the White House should be putting on a full court press to get talks going, but instead it is following a strategy that has demonstrably failed in the past. 

The tactic of “shooting and talking” that is central to the surge has produced lots of casualties but virtually zero dialogue, hardly a surprise. That approach has never worked in Afghanistan. 

Part of the problem is that the call for talks is so heavily laden with caveats and restrictions that that they derail any possibility of real negotiations, among them are that the Taliban have to accept the 2004 constitution and renounce violence and “terrorism.”  

However, the Taliban argue that the 2004 constitution was imposed from the outside, and they want a role in re-writing it. As for “terrorism,” the Taliban denounced international terrorism five years ago. 

As Anatol Lieven, a King’s College London professor, senior researcher at the New American Foundation, and probably the best informed English language writer on Afghanistan, points out, the Americans consistently paint themselves into a corner by demonizing their opponents. 

That, in turn, leads to “a belief that any enemy of the United States must inevitably be evil. Not only does this tendency make pragmatic compromises with opponents much more difficult (and much more embarrassing should they eventually be reached), but, consciously or unconsciously it allows the US government and media to blind the US public, and often themselves, to the evils of America’s own allies.” 

For instance, the Americans will not talk with the Haqqani group, a Taliban ally, even though it is the most effective military force confronting the NATO occupation. The same goes for Iran, even though Teheran played a key role in organizing the 2003 Bonn conference that led to the formation of the current Kabul government. Iran also has legitimate interests in the current war. Because opium and heroin are not a major problem in the US, Washington can afford to turn a blind eye to the Afghan government’s alliance with drug dealing warlords. Heroin addiction, however, constitutes a national health crisis in Iran and Russia. 

It is not exactly clear what will happen in 2014. While American combat units are supposed to be withdrawn, in accordance with a treaty between NATO and the government of President Harmid Karzai, several thousand Special Forces, trainers, CIA personal, and aircraft will remain on nine bases until 2024. That agreement was the supposed reason for the massive suicide bomb May 16 in Kabul that killed 6 Americans and 16 Afghans. Hezb-i-Islami, an insurgent group based around Kabul and the eastern part of the country, took credit for the attack. 

That attack underlines how difficult it will be to forge some kind of agreement. 

Hezb-i-Islami pulled off the bombing, but the party’s political wing is a major player in the Karzai government, holding down the posts of education minister and advisor to the president. Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is also a rival of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and the bombing could just as well have been a maneuver to make sure Hezb-i-Islami has a seat at the table if talks start up. Hekmatyar has offered to negotiate with NATO in the past. 

The Taliban itself is divided into several factions, partly because the Americans’ systematic assassination of high and mid-level Taliban leaders has decentralized the organization. The Taliban is increasingly an alliance of local groups that may have very different politics. 

The Haqqanis’ have a strong presence in Pakistan, which requires that the organization maintain cordial relations with Pakistan’s Army and intelligence services. They scratch each other’s backs. So any understanding to end the war will have to be acceptable to the Haqqanis and Islamabad. No agreement is possible without the participation of both. 

Instead of recognizing the reality of the situation, however, the Obama administration continues to ignore the powerful Haqqanis, sideline Iran, and to alienate the average Pakistani though its drone war. 

As complex as the situation looks, a solution is possible, but only if the White House changes course. First, the “shoot and talk” nonsense must end immediately, General Dunford’s hallucinations not withstanding. If the U.S. couldn’t smother the insurgency during the surge, how can it do so now with fewer troops? All the shooting will do is get a lot more people killed—most of them Afghan soldiers, police, and civilians caught in the crossfire—and sabotage any potential talks. 

According to Lieven, the Taliban are far more realistic about the current situation than is the White House. Last July, he and a group of academics met “leading figures close to the Taliban” during a trip to the Persian Gulf. He says there was “a widespread recognition within the Taliban that while they can maintain a struggle in the south and east of Afghanistan indefinitely,” they could never conquer the whole country. Further, “in their own estimate,” they have the support of about 30 percent of population. A recent Asia Foundation poll came to a similar conclusion. 

While the Taliban refuse to negotiate with the Karzai government, Lieven says they told the delegation, “there can be no return to the ‘pure’ government of mullahs,” and “most strikingly, they said that the Taliban might be prepared to agree to the US bases remaining until 2024.” The latter compromise will not make the Iranians, Chinese, or Russians very happy—not to mention Hezb-i-Islami—but it reflects a deep-seated philosophy in Afghan politics: figure out a way to cut a deal. 

The Taliban’s rejection of talks with the Kabul government means that going ahead with next year’s presidential election is probably a bad idea. An all-Afghan constitutional convention would be a better idea, with elections postponed until after a new constitution is in place. 

There are numerous issues that could sink a final agreement because there are many players with multiple agendas. Regardless, those agendas will have to be addressed, even if not quite to everyone’s satisfaction. And everyone has to sit at the table, since those who are excluded have the power to torpedo the entire endeavor. This means all the combatants, but also Iran, India, China, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. 

And the White House needs to get off its butt. Afghan President Karzai, just returned from an arms buying spree in India, asked New Delhi to increase its presence in Afghanistan. This will hardly be popular with Pakistan and China, and Islamabad can make serious mischief if it wants to. 

The ambush in Pakistan brings to mind Karl Marx’s famous dictum about history: it happens first as tragedy, then as farce. 

The first time this happened was during Britain’s first Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42), when Afghans overran an East India Company army retreating from Kabul. Out of 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 civilians, a single assistant surgeon made it back to Jalalabad. 

The most recent ambush certainly had an element of farce about it. Four masked gunmen on two motorbikes forced the trucks to stop, sprinkled them with gasoline and set the vehicles ablaze. One driver received a minor injury. 

There is no need for a chaos-engulfed finale to the Afghan War. There is no reason to continue the bloodshed, which all the parties recognize will not alter the final outcome a whit. It is time for the White House to step up and do the right thing and end one of the bloodiest wars in recent history. 

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



New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: A Comparison With Substance Abuse

By Jack Bragen
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 10:50:00 AM

People seem to perceive persons with mental illness similarly to how they perceive people addicted to drugs. Indeed, sometimes persons with mental illness turn to drugs in a vain effort to get relief from the torment created by their brain condition. 

However, this lumping together of categories is unfair. Mental illness is not the result of a choice. However, people addicted to drugs at some point made the decision to ingest something, and their ongoing difficulties may be related to that specific behavior. Persons with mental illness, on the other hand, experience problems that have been handed to them by a malfunction in their gray matter. 

Both categories of ill people, (those addicted to drugs and persons with mental illness) have a tendency toward behavior problems. However, much of the time these specific behaviors are of a different type. 

Persons addicted to alcohol and drugs have behaviors that are intended to support their habit, which is sometimes very expensive. They may have additional problems with violence--including but not limited to domestic violence. 

Persons with mental illness, on the other hand, tend to have behavior problems related to being disconnected from reality, or related to being extremely depressed or manic. A person with mental illness may get violent, but it is not carried out in a bullying manner. When persons with mental illness are violent, (which is also infrequent, despite public perceptions to the contrary) it is usually random and disorganized. 

Many persons addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs come from a dysfunctional family, and many have a past of being physically or mentally abused. However, many persons who suffer mental illnesses come from good families, and a fair number have done well in school before the onset of their illness. 

Persons with mental illness have our own version of sobriety, and the biggest part of that is medication compliance. For someone with schizophrenia, staying on prescribed medication is the equivalent of an alcoholic person staying sober. When medication is a given, a person with mental illness can furnish effort to address the remainder of their problems. 

Even after compliance with treatment is established, persons with mental illness face an uphill battle. There are a number of difficulties we must face if we are trying to create a decent life for ourselves. We are typically economically disadvantaged, and it is very hard for us to get hired at a good job, not to mention performing at such a job. In general, we are not perceived well, and in people's perceptions we are lumped into the same category as criminals. 

Persons with mental illness have it rough, as do persons addicted to substances. Both are people suffering from diseases, and those in neither category deserve to be punished for having a disease. However, there are differences. Just as apples and oranges are both fruit but have different characteristics, persons with mental illness and those addicted to substances are similar in some ways, yet not the same. 

On the other hand, there exists a third category of unfortunate people, those with dual diagnosis. This is usually someone who has a mental illness and in an attempt to get relief, self medicates with alcohol or drugs. It is much harder for someone with mental illness to get off of substances compared to someone who is strictly an addict or alcoholic. These are people who need a lot of help, and there isn't much help for them at present.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Data Corruption

By Jack Bragen
Monday June 03, 2013 - 01:27:00 PM

The human mind is more powerful than any computer that has so far been built on our globe. This processing power greatly increases the likelihood of mental mistakes which I am calling "Human Data Corruption." 

Data corruption in the minds of most human beings, mentally ill or not, is rampant, and by necessity we have numerous mechanisms for adapting to it. We have basic instincts wherein fear kicks in and overrides intellect when we are about to do something dumb. When people evaluate something in a group, the consensus seems to make more sense compared to a conclusion of one person. 

Society has built-in safeguards to prevent many disasters that could result from people's mistaken perceptions. For example, the military of most countries have systems to prevent atomic warfare by mistake, or caused by a military official having a bad day. People who are mentally too far off are not put in responsible positions. 

There are plenty of people in the mainstream of society who believe things that aren't true and who are disconnected from reality. It is when someone holds strange beliefs that no one else shares that they become branded as mentally ill. 

When someone believes they have been abducted by aliens and writes a book about it, they are respected individuals. When someone says they are in contact with aliens but that person is unable to bathe or feed oneself, they quickly become a mental health care recipient. 

When someone says the messiah is coming, or coming back, they are not necessarily put into restraints or loaded up with antipsychotic medication. However, when someone says they are the messiah, yet they don't at the same time have thousands of followers who agree with this, they are put into the nearest psychiatric ward. 

When someone's delusions make them special, better or worse compared to everyone else, it is a sign of clinical psychosis. The ability to dispute basic observable facts, such as "you are in the city of Berkeley [or whatever your location is]" or "the year is 2013, and right now Barack Obama is President" or, "five times five is twenty-five." you get the idea. 

When human data corruption has grown to the extent that a person's behavior and speech are regarded as psychotic, they may need help. It is okay to have a few delusions or strange beliefs if you can still meet your basic needs. 

A person subject to psychosis may sometimes adapt to it by developing a greater amount of nonverbal awareness. However, without having the ability to process basic communication, someone isn't equipped to survive in our technologically and linguistically saturated environment. 

None of what I have said above disputes the idea that society is partly in state of collective fiction. Psychosis could be partly an unconscious attempt to get at some deeper truths. However, this does not make being psychotic a good thing. 

The ability to think for oneself can sometimes be a dangerous thing. If your name isn't Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Einstein, usually independent thought will lead you down the wrong path. The ability to listen to people without getting offended is a skill worth cultivating.


By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 10:51:00 AM

The world is undergoing significant demographic changes. By 2050, the global population of people above the age of 60 will probably exceed the number of younger people. Research has shown that elderly abuse is one of the biggest issues facing senior citizens worldwide. World Health Organization data suggest that 4 to 6 % of elderly suffer from some form of abuse, a large percentage of which goes unreported. 

The United Nations has designated Saturday, June 15, 2013 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Its purpose is to encourage communities to recognize the problem of elderly abuse, and for countries to create policies that foster respect for elders and provide them with the tools to continue to be productive citizens. It also seeks to bring together senior citizens and their caregivers, national and local government, academics, and the private sector to exchange ideas about how to reduce violence towards elders, increase reporting of such abuse, and develop elder friendly policies. I am unaware of any such programs in Berkeley. A free Workshop for Seniors – Staying Safe in Our Community – will be presented by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and Supervisor Wilma Chan, hosted by the Alameda County Library’s Older Adult Services. Speakers include representatives from many law enforcement and protective agencies. Learn how to avoid becoming the victim of elder financial and physical abuse at this important workshop. The program will include tips about how to avoid becoming a victim and, should you become a victim, who to contact and what the process entails. Speakers from the Victim Witness Elder Protection Unit as well as representatives from local law enforcement will appear and share their information and knowledge. Workshop presentation locations throughout the County include Thursday, June 13, 10:00 to 11:30 A.M. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave., (510) 526-3720. Hope to see you then and there.  

Elders’ advocates, community centers, and senior centers can, for example, use this day to raise awareness about the silent crisis of elder abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation by hosting discussions and a screening of An Age for Justice. This 2009 short documentary tells the “story” of elder abuse in America. It is also available on YouTube and with new Spanish subtitles.  

In California, elder abuse can be legally defined as mistreatment of an elder (aged 65+) or dependent adult (between the ages 18- 64 with physical or mental limitations) living either within a home or an institution. Common types of abuse are physical abuse (causing pain or injury), psychological (causing mental anguish), sexual (assault or rape), financial (using property or money without consent), abandonment, neglect (lack of reasonable care), abduction (taking the elder out of the state without consent), isolation (purposely preventing communication and contact) and self-neglect (an elder refusing to care for her/himself to the point of harm). Read more about it at California Elder Abuse Laws - Penal Code 368 PC.  

Legal News Articles is an Internet location where cases being litigated as well as potential cases are identified and annotated. For example, at LawyersandSettlements.com, under the subdivision Elder Care Articles in 2013: “California Chain Cited for Care Center Abuse Twice in Three Years;” “Care Center Abuse Uncovered through Hidden Cameras;” “Disability Center Loses Funding Over Care Center Abuse;” and “Inspections Show Serious Incidences of Care Center Abuse” in California, Missouri, and New York. 

Too many elder physical abuse cases arise from unnoticed and uninformed treatment from health care centers. The Orange County [California] Register reports that the California attorney general has filed a lawsuit against a chain of 5 health care facilities operated by Skilled Healthcare, alleging malnutrition, dehydration and overmedication. Skilled Healthcare operates 20 facilities across the state, with 2,360 beds.  


The May-June 2013 issue of the University of Chicago Magazine has a sweet letter from a Lagunitas, California alum. “…Hospice care allowed her to die at home with a view of her garden and the company of me and our two cats. Hospice could not have done a better job in assisting with her dying…” And there’s more. (page 5, headed The art of dying) 



Thursday, July 11, 2013 is the date of the first Mayoral Forum on Issues Impacting Older New Yorkers. The topic is “The Future of Aging Well in New York City.” The Council of Senior Centers and Services has invited all mayoral candidates, and questions will be taken from the candidates’ questionnaire.  

September 2013 will mark National Senior Center Month. This year's theme is Experts in Living Well. Members of the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) will receive a full toolkit to celebrate. 

September 22, 2013 is the 6th annual Falls Prevention Awareness Day (FPAD). This year's theme is "Preventing Falls--One Step at a Time." 

In the UK, dementia care is being given priority in the new National Health Service training guidelines. In Wales, care of the elderly is to be investigated in a new review launched by the Older People's Commissioner. In Scotland, there is demand for a medical training shake-up to care for elderly.  

California’s 5-page Advance Health Care Directive Form and related information are available online: California Probate Code Section 4700-4701 4700. The form provided in Section 4701 may, but need not, be used to create an advance health care directive. An individual may complete or modify all or any part of the form in Section 4701. Choose a strong healthcare advocate you’ve talked to before filling in your advance directive. Then make 10 packets that include all of these documents and give them to your doctors, family, and best friends. 

A study of states’ rankings of senior health care adequacy is based on 34 measures from government agencies and private research groups, ranging from physical activity levels and obesity to poverty and flu vaccinations. Minnesota ranks first, with Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma at the bottom. Minnesota's top ranking reflects a large number of seniors who report being in very good or excellent health, high rates of creditable drug coverage, relatively high availability of home health care workers, as well as a low rate of seniors at risk of going hungry and a low rates of hospitalization for hip fractures. Hawaii and New England were also tops. California at #25 is in neither the highest nor lowest groups. Florida #30. In bottom-ranked Mississippi, a high percentage of seniors live in poverty and are at risk of going hungry; there is a high rate of premature death; a low percentage of seniors report very good or excellent health and a low rate report annual dental visits. But Mississippi scored well for a low prevalence of chronic drinking and a high rate of flu vaccination. Details in the May 28, 2013 USA Today.  

Arts & Events

Press Release: Forum: Fire Risk Reduction and Tree Removal Plans for the East Bay Hills' Public Lands

From Dan Grassetti and Peter Gray Scott, Hills Conservation Network
Monday June 10, 2013 - 10:56:00 PM

The University of California, East Bay Regional Park District, and the City of Oakland want to remove more than 80,000 trees in the East Bay Hills. These public-sector entities also plan to deploy a 10-year program of herbicides. This attempt to reduce fire risk is to be funded by $5.9 million from FEMA. Come to a discussion of different visions for our hills. Ask questions and contribute your voice in advance of FEMA's June 17 deadline for public comment. 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12, 2013, 7:30 PM
The Hillside Club
2286 Cedar at Arch St.
Information: Helen Kozoriz Shoemaker (510) 336-0499

New: “REEFER MADNESS” at San Jose Stage, delightful and mindless, but wanting

by John A. McMullen II
Monday June 10, 2013 - 11:12:00 AM
Allison F. Rich*, Michael Doppe, Carmichael "CJ" Blankenship*, Mikey Perdue, 
              Galen Murphy-Hoffman*, Simone Kertesz, Gabriel Grilli*, Juliet Heller, 
              Brittany Blankenship. Front row: Will Springhorn Jr.*, Courtney Hatcher, Barnaby James, 
              Jill Miller, Orianna Hilliard.
Dave Lepori
Allison F. Rich*, Michael Doppe, Carmichael "CJ" Blankenship*, Mikey Perdue, Galen Murphy-Hoffman*, Simone Kertesz, Gabriel Grilli*, Juliet Heller, Brittany Blankenship. Front row: Will Springhorn Jr.*, Courtney Hatcher, Barnaby James, Jill Miller, Orianna Hilliard.

I don’t go to the South Bay theatre often enough, so I drove down to San Jose Stage Company on Saturday night to attend the opening of “REEFER MADNESS.” The weather was balmy and summery in a way it just doesn’t get up here in Oakland. The weather puts one in a good mood, which primed me to see a delightful if silly musical. 

The cast is very talented, the choreography has a couple of lustrous moments, but the music is wholly unmemorable and the lyrics are mindless doggerel. For instance, “Oh Marijuana, Marijuana / You crumpled me like cellophane / You’ve served me up like beef chow mein /But I need you, Marijuana.” 

It’s parodying the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film of the same name that dramatized how the weed leads to rape, murder, and general misbehavior. 

The music is more reminiscent of the late 1950’s “Grease”-type bubble gum than 1930’s swing, probably because it’s easier to use for parody and lends itself to simple-minded rhyme.  

There is one highlight in which the music is more in the style of the Swing Era: the seduction scene of the virginal Mary Lane under the influence of the Evil Weed which has funnier lyrics and very sexy action.  

However, the lyrics are wanting in wit, which is regrettable, because that is touchstone of a parody. They are all end-rhymed and without that internal rhyme which brightens the line and makes us laugh. Admittedly, I couldn’t make out all the lyrics; I guess the sound tech hadn’t quite got the right levels with a full audience in attendance (sound may differ at tech rehearsal than it does with a lot of bodies in seats). 

Gabriel Grilli* is great to watch as the pusher gangster and--are you ready?--Jesus Christ returned. Galen Murphy-Hoffman* plays the authority figure and soda fountain owner and various other parts with vigor and humor. Will Springhorn, Jr.* is just hashish-maddened for most of the time, but his turn in the Mary Lane seduction scene shows off his voice and ability. 

The lead romantic couple of Barnaby Williams as Jimmy and Courtney Hatcher as his ditzy, naïve, blonde girl friend Mary Lane give over-the-top, golly-gosh-gee portrayals appropriate to genre and era. Hatcher is a good swing dancer, who turns provocative vixen when she strips down in the aforementioned seduction scene where she is doing most of the seducing with a strong hint of domination. The Swing dancing is a plus with all the moves you would expect done with aplomb.  

The choreography by Brittany Blankenship has a glowing moment or two, particularly in the seduction scenes, and there are three truly notable dancers: Orianna Hilliard, Carmichael “CJ” Blankenship* and Mikey Perdue. Hilliard has incredible flexibility with true grace, Blankenship has a body-builder’s physique with the dancing chops of a Broadway pro, and Perdue can pirouette for days. 

The dope fiends are often played as zombies, and there is a moment of cannibalism as a result of a very bad case of the munchies…you get the drift. 

It parodies a lot of other musicals, but it all seems to fall flat. It begins with a warning by an authoritative academic like in “Rocky Horror,” gives a nod to “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with a denouement appearance by FDR who refers to what a little red-haired orphan girl once told him. 

Director Tony Kelly assembled a great cast full of enthusiasm and talent, staged it very well, and made sight gags where he could, but the material seems to be written one weekend by a couple of guys on brownies. 

If you haven’t seen the film “Reefer Madness,” it will make it funnier for you know at least a little bit of it. You can VIEW it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2FZgErvNTE&wide=1 

So if you’re looking for a uncritical good time, roll up a doobie, have some exceptional Mexican home-cooking at La Penita a block from the theater, and enjoy the hell out of yourself like the audience did who gave the show a roaring opening night ovation.  

(*Member, Actors’ Equity Association)

New: Arcadia at ACT: Thick With Thought and Humor, an Intellectual’s Delight

by John A. McMullen II
Monday June 10, 2013 - 10:57:00 AM
Rebekah Brockman and Jack Cutmore-Scott
Kevin Berne
Rebekah Brockman and Jack Cutmore-Scott

In mythology, Arcadia is utopia, Eden, Pan’s paradise, a virgin wilderness with nymphs frolicking in lush forests, that longed-for pastoral setting in perfect harmony with nature. 

The setting for Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” now playing at ACT, is a late 18th-early 19th century English nobleman’s country estate, as near to paradise in setting as a wealthy peer could imagine or construct. But their society is replete with many snakes and temptations. 

A mathematical prodigy of a girl named Thomasina is tutored by a handsome, erudite young man who all the visiting women try to seduce including the mistress of the manor, the young girl’s mother. The character Thomasina is played by MFA student Rebecca Brockman who may be on the path to quick stardom that Annette Bening followed by playing leads while still a student. 

Poets visit, including an unseen Lord Byron who is nonetheless a character in the dramedy. 

In counterpoint, we have a second cast of contemporary literary historians and a mathematician trying to reconstruct the history and story surrounding Thomasina and Byron. 

Time warps with one cast exiting as another enters, and sometimes both inhabit the stage while still in their respective eras. 

It is a play thick with thought, with tortuous turns that need an audience member’s attention to negotiate, with language that floats loftily yet intertwined with many expletives, with high comedic humor and repartee—in other words, it’s a Tom Stoppard play.  

It is directed by ACT Artistic Director Cary Perloff who had much correspondence and a meeting with Tom Stoppard when the theatre previously produced this play during its post-earthquake reconstruction. 

If you go to the theatre “to be entertained,” this is not for you. If you go to the theatre to be illuminated and titillated with high thought and titillating repartee, then don’t hesitate. 

The single set of the mansion’s study is extraordinary with arcadian murals and a skylight. The cast is highly polished, and the casting is spot-on. The costumes are eye-pleasing and accurate to the period. 

“Arcadia” is what I call a doppio espresso play, for you need your wits sharp to follow and appreciate it. 

Though I have no hearing loss and sat in the orchestra, I opted for the free Sennheiser hearing devices (available in the lobby), which made the quick British Received line-delivery and the concepts (Fermat’s last theorem, graph theory, the intricacies of historical detective work) much more readily understandable. 

“Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard at American Conservatory Theatre through June 9th 

Directed by Carey Perloff 

CAST: Rebekah Brockman†, Julia Coffey*, Jack Cutmore-Scott*, Allegra Rose Edwards†, Gretchen Egolf*, Anthony Fusco*,Nick Gabriel*, Andy Murray*, Adam O'Byrne*, Nicholas Pelczar*, Ken Ruta*,Titus Tompkins†  

(*member, Actors’ Equity Association, † Student, MFA program at ACT & AEA Intern) 

Designers: Douglas W. Schmidt (Scenic Designer), Alex Jaeger (Costume Designer), Robert Wierzel (Lighting Designer), Jake Rodriguez (Sound Designer), Michael Roth (Original Music). 

More info at www.act-sf.org

New: “Dear Elizabeth” at Berkeley Rep charms with lovely words, warmth, and beautiful pictures

by John A. McMullen II
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:48:00 AM
Mary Beth Fisher and Tom Nelis as Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell
Mary Beth Fisher and Tom Nelis as Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell

I like epistolary plays where the letters sent between two people over decades are fashioned into a dramatic piece. The only trouble is such plays sometimes remind me of radio drama on NPR. But “Dear Elizabeth,” by Sarah Ruhl now at the Berkeley Rep, is saved from that trap by some of the best stagecraft I’ve seen this year, inspired staging, and two adept and exactingly cast professionals doing the acting. 

It’s about Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell who were both Poet Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Playwright Sarah Ruhl (probably best known for “The Vibrator Play”) has taken their letters from the late ‘40’s through the 70’s and fashioned a drama about their great friendship—its wit and warmth preserved in their missives to one another. Sometimes confessional, often cheering the others poems—but always with a little criticism, and nearly always with a genuine warmth, affection, and admiration, they reveal the lives of these complicated literary personalities. 

Before I went I Wiki-ed them both and took down my Norton’s Anthology of Poetry and read their major poems. That information vastly enhanced my enjoyment of the play. (You can read their poetry online at www.poemhunter.com .) 

Russell Champa’s lighting is more than an aid to the play, it is practically a character which supports them at every turn by reflecting time and mood and painting pictures even lovelier than the New England they both write about. Lighting changes From black, green, and lavender skies, to honeyed late afternoons and bleak, down-lit four a.m.’s, help their words and our imagination while pleasing the eye. Annie Smart’s scene design gives them room to move and for Lowell to cavort, and there is a spectacular effect which I shall not reveal but which changes the ions in the theater. 

Les Waters directs, and gives them just enough movement and business to keep it interesting while revealing these literary giant’s humanity and frailty and providing lots of humor.  

Ruhl’s play does not shy away from either the mental illness from which Lowell suffered or the alcoholism of Bishop, but delicately couches her long-time affair with Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares in general terms, as it does her proclivity for the same sex.  

Mary Beth Fisher* and Tom Nelis* portray the renown poets which brings foreign phrases like pas de deux and tour de force to mind. Both bear very credible likenesses to photos and preserved videos of them. Nelis--lanky, rumpled and bespectacled—is the very image of Lowell who was the scion of a Boston Brahmin family dating back to the Mayflower. Fisher has the same elegantly elongated nose as Bishop, and, to my ear, Fisher’s voice has the same inflections and timbre as the poet.  

You can hear Bishop’s own voice reading “The Fish” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJsFCI9_BeA and Lowell himself reading “For the Union Dead” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAKgNI92HrE

For those who are interested in more detail, a performance of a strict reading of their letters in concert at the 92nd Street YMHA in NYC is accessible at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cESRJAUR2MU 

Ironically, Elizabeth Bishop wrote in her first letter to Robert Lowell, dated May 12, 1947, "I was supposed to read, too, up at the YMHA Saturday evening but couldn't make it, and I hope my absence was a help rather than a hindrance." 

I came away from the play happy and fulfilled and it made for a pleasant and nearly perfect Sunday. If you love modern poetry and biography, do not hesitate.  

It plays through July 7th at the Rep Roda Theatre on Addison off of Shattuck in Berkeley. 

“Dear Elizabeth” by Sarah Ruhl 

Directed by Les Waters 

With: Mary Beth Fisher* and Tom Nelis* 

Annie Smart, Scenic Design 

Maria Hooper, Costume Design 

Russell Champa, Lighting Design 

Bray Poor, Original Music / Sound Design 

Jonathan Bell, Original Music 

(*Member, Actors’ Equity Association) 

“TERMINUS” at the Magic Theatre: a play that will burn itself into your memory

Theatre Review by John A. McMullen II
Monday June 03, 2013 - 03:09:00 PM
Carl Lumbly in Mark O'Rowe's "Terminus" at Magic Theatre.
Jennifer Reiley
Carl Lumbly in Mark O'Rowe's "Terminus" at Magic Theatre.

I go to a lot of plays, 40 per year at least, and I have for years.

There are certain—and few—truly outstanding memorable moments in the theatre.

If you want to have one of the memorable moments, call the Magic Theatre box office today and get a ticket to the first American production of Mark O’Rowe’s “Terminus” before the word gets out. 

It got a unanimous, spontaneous, jump to your feet standing applause at the end of the 1:45 minute no-intermission, hold-your-water performance. I’ll wager no one looked at their watch because they were utterly entranced by the three monologists’ weaving of their rhyming, interwoven stories. 

I ached to get to a keyboard to tell the world about this treasure. It has roots in Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milkwood,” Dante’s “Inferno,” Edgar Alan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Horror, (and Zap Comics, whose hallucinatory graphic tales will resonate if you’re a Berkeley Baby Boomer). 

The power of poetry, of rhyme and cadence has been lost in the theatre excepting The Bard. 

O’Rowe’s verse casts its net and its line and reels you in, the clever internal rhymes brightening the experience. There is much good humor and wit interspersed with the gore. 

It is not for the faint of heart. These are brutal tales, two of which are full of grueling phantasm. 

The title “Terminus” denotes the end of things, personal annihilation, that thing we all have in common. 

The setting is working class neighborhoods in Dublin, a tough place full of thugs and urban horrors. 


In the 1st c. BCE, Quintus Roscius Gallus, the first actor to win knighthood in Rome, spoke of the magic of the actor’s ability to envision an image, express it in words, and plant that same image in the listener’s mind. With just words—about 11,000, I estimate—at a rapid, but fully comprehensible pace, standing in place and using realistic expression as if the words were just coming to them, our triad flings image after image which rivets us to their stories. Their Irish accent helps soften the blow and gives naturalness to the poetic nature of the piece. There is a touch of the bard performing for the king and court in antiquity, and how a lengthy tale in rhythm and rhyme would hold an audience spell-bound for hours. 


Stacy Ross, Marissa Keltie, and Carl Lumbly are the performers, and Jon Tracy directs. All consummate theatre artists, they go beyond any performance of theirs which I have previously witnessed. “Witness” is the right word; it’s something you want to be able to say, “I was there, then,” as well as a little of the connotation of being present at a cataclysm. 


It is served up on a jagged pile of coal or shale designed by Robert Brill. It begins with a rumble that builds to a roar which shakes each audience member; there is momentary fear that it would increase beyond endurance, which puts one in the right mind-set for what’s to come. 


One wonders how much Bushmill’s brown liquid O’Rowe consumed to compose this utter masterpiece. 

He says he wrote a few lines every day. There is not a moment or a line amiss. 


I didn’t know anything about it except it was gritty and rhyming, and I prefer to go in cold. 

This is a SEMI-SPOILER ALERT, so for those of you who prefer to be surprised with the story, which in this case I think adds to the wondrous astonishment, STOP READING NOW. 


Three characters: 

A social worker rues her envious sexual betrayal of her daughter, but perhaps redeems herself by working up the courage to confront violence of a proportion unimaginable to the normal person. 

A young and lonely girl who has difficulty connecting with men, goes on an adventure with friends and a new-found potential lover which ends in catastrophe, but resolves through her transmogrification and a tryst with a demon lover. 

A painfully shy man who is hornswoggled by the Devil’s contract takes out his rage on women. 

Tough stuff. 

But a must-see. 

And kudos to Producing Artistic Director Loretta Greco for fighting to get the rights to O’Rowe’s masterwork. 



FLASH: there is a performance of “Terminus” at Laney College on June 8 for those unable to make it to Fort Mason in the Marina district of San Francisco.  


Tickets at www.magictheatre.org / (415) 441-8822 


John A. McMullen II is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area CRITICS CIRCLE, American Theatre Critics, Association, and Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Editing by E J Dunne. 

Updated: Around & About Arts & Entertainment: Live Oak Park Fair

By Ken Bullock
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:15:00 AM

This weekend's the 43rd annual Live Oak Park Fair, an all-day--10 to 6--free event, both Saturday and Sunday, featuring arts and crafts booths, including handmade clothing, music--soul, folk, jazz, bluegrass, Dixieland, Swing, country, Klezmer, Appalachian--magic shows, face-painting, and--for the first time--Edible East Bay's Edible Tastings, a spot at the center of the fair where free samples of food and body products will be provided in a benefit for People's Grocery of Oakland. Jan Etre produces the Fair, her 26th year at the helm. Free half-hourly shuttle from North Berkeley BART. info: 227-7110; liveoakparkfair.com

The SF Green Film Festival Comes to Berkeley May 30 - June 5, 2013

By Gar Smith
Monday June 03, 2013 - 02:36:00 PM
Mark Rufallo in Dear Gov. Cuomo
Mark Rufallo in Dear Gov. Cuomo

The 2013 San Francisco Green Film Festival includes 50 films from around the globe, with over 70 visiting filmmakers and guest speakers covering environmental topics surrounding clean energy, green chemistry, food, housing, trash, water, and art in the environment. The festival (which includes a week of special events, discussion panels, workshops and educational programs) takes place Thursday, May 30 through Wednesday, June 5, 2013 ending appropriately on United Nation’s World Environment Day. 

The festival’s main venue and headquarters is New People Cinema in Japantown. Other Festival Venues Include: Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library Main Branch, Superfrog Gallery in Japantown, SPUR Urban Center, and the Union Bank Community Room

Tickets are $12 per screening, $100 for a weekend pass, or $200 for a full pass to the festival’s over 50 films and events. 

Rebels With A Cause, from acclaimed Bay Area filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto, opens the Festival on Thursday, May 30. The compelling documentary celebrates the inspiring story of people from all walks of life who fought to save the Marin County coast from developers. 

Bidder 70 recounts an extraordinary act of civil disobedience on the part of Utah native Tim DeChristopher who placed a series of bogus bids on Utah lands being offered for sale. His monkey-wrenching threw a controversial federal oil-and-gas auction into turmoil. In response, the government threw DeCristopher into prison. After serving 21 months, he was released last month, on April 21, 2013. DeChristopher will join filmmakers Beth and George Gage at the SFGFF screening. 

Dear Governor Cuomo follows Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo, Joan Osborne and others as they commit daring acts of ‘fracktivism’ in a campaign to ban fracking in New York State. Director Jon Bowermaster will be on hand. 

Tiny – A Story About Living Small, is a film about families living in homes smaller than a parking space and one couple’s attempts to build a similarly scaled house for themselves. 

More Than Honey offers a dazzling look at honeybee colonies – and the threats to their continued survival -- from Academy-Award nominated director Markus Imhoof. 

The festival ends on June 5, UN World Environment Day, with the SF Premiere of Andrew Garrison’s Trash Dance

Something Special for the Kids 

On Tuesday noon, June 4, the SFGFF will host a free educational event focused on ocean protection and the threats of plastic pollution to animals and humans. Location: The Koret Auditorium in the SF Public Library's Main Branch (100 Larkin St., San Francisco near the Civic Center BART). 

For more information, contact: Ninth Street Independent Film Center, 145 9th Street, Suite 220, San Francisco, CA 94103. (415) 742-1394. info@sfgreenfilmfest.org

Rebels with a Cause:  

Reviewed by Gar Smith 

You cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism. 

-- Aldo Leopold 

The Third Annual SF Green Film Festival opens on May 30 with a perfect selection. Rebels with a Cause, by Bay Area director Nancy Kelly, celebrates the grassroots movement that "stood in the way of progress" and, in the process, kickstarted the modern land-preservation movement and created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. 

Between 1950s and 1970s, major construction developments were turning America's "empty" landscapes into new towns, cities and suburbs. The same fate awaited the untouched lands in Marin Country, north of San Francisco. Today, however, these remarkable vistas of hills, lakes, and ocean remain unspoiled, preserved and accessible as public open space -- a priceless gift to future generations. The film, Rebels with a Cause, answers the question: "How did they do it?" 

The fact that Bay Area activists – against all odds – were able to create a 100,000-acre National Park near the heart of a major US city, inspired a national movement to preserve and enjoy urban open spaces. 

It was US Representative Clem Miller who introduced the first legislation to protect the open space in 1958. Tragically, less than a month after President John Kennedy signed the bill, Clem died in a plane crash. (His body now rests in a grave overlooking Drakes Bay.) And soon thereafter, JFK was dead, killed by an assassin's bullet. 

Nixon's election brought the Vietnam War. In order to pay for it, Nixon pulled the plug on the National Parks Service budget, cancelling the authorization approved to create Bay Area parklands. Land costs, like the war, also escalated. The estimated value of the threatened land soared from $14 million to $57 million. With much of the vast coastal acreage in private hands, long-established owners and ranchers realized they could retire in style -- by subdividing the land and selling out to developers. 

The Bay Area's half-realized park plan came to resemble the disconnected patchwork of Occupied Palestine. Much of the land purchased for public enjoyment could not be reached without trespassing over private land. 

Activists started a Save Our Seashores Petition to save Point Reyes coastlands. Powered by the burgeoning environmental movement, the bulldozers were turned back and legislation was passed that approved not only Point Reyes but 13 other National Seashore Parks. 

A new threat soon arrived. The Battle of Bolinas Lagoon pitted local activists against developers who planned to saturate the quiet lagoon with marinas, hotels and a conglomeration of commercial enterprises. The marina development was torpedoed by an ingenious political maneuver that became known as "the Kent Island Conservation Coup." 

The next threat on the horizon was Marincello -- a European-style, forested village to be built on 2,100 acres overlooking the Marin coast. The plan called for construction homes, offices, recreational facilities and schools for a city of 21,000 residents. Marincello was part of a developers' dream that envisioned constructing 1.2 million buildings along a new freeway that would plow through the heart of Marin. Had this happened, the peninsula north of the Golden Gate would have looked like the peninsula below San Francisco. When Gulf Oil partnered on the plan, it looked like a done deal. But, once again, local preservationists prevailed. 

Eventually, eight coastal forts were removed from Pentagon control and handed over to the public, creating a necklace of regional parks that became central to securing the Golden Gate National Recreation Area -- a unified stretch of land running from SF's Fort Miley to the Point Reyes National Seashore. A campaign that began with a goal of saving 12.5 acres eventually lead to the preservation of 85,000 acres creating a stretch of untrammeled open space 85 mile long. 

Add to that the preservation genius of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), which protected open space by preserving existing farm and livestock holdings. MALT nearly doubled the amount of land saved from urban sprawl. Instead of tract homes, its tractors, the land is now guarded by cows and organic farms. today, 90 percent of Marin's land is protected from development. Today (as one of the activists observes in the film), Marin County remains "the lungs of the Bay Area." 

Rebels With a Cause allows viewers to share the recollections of the men and women who made environmental history many years ago. The film includes interviews with Huey Johnson (Trust for Public Land; the Resources Renewal Institute), Amy Meyer (People for a GGNRA) and the Sierra Club's Ed Wayburn -- who praises Rep. Phil Burton's political legwork, which was key to making this all happen. Burton was not a tree-hugger. He proudly insisted that he only time he went outdoors was "to smoke a cigarette." Despite this, he became one of the great political champions for wilderness preservation. 

What about fact people can't afford to live in Marin because of increased land prices? Giacometti simply smiles and insists he made the right decision. Today, he says, Marin County remains "the lungs of the Bay Area." 

"Nobody remembers you, nobody remembers the struggle," Huey Johnson reminisces. "They just know it's there. It's just a great joy to have it happen in our lifetime."

New: Theater Review: 'The Medea Hypothesis'--Central Works at the City Club

By Ken Bullock
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:16:00 AM

"Only children aren't happy. Adults are depressed."

Opening and closing with the projection of a young girl (Dakota Dry) wearing a crown and telling a scary fairytale, which hints at the mother being a witch, Central Works' premiere of Marian Berges' 'The Medea Hypothesis' focuses on a present-day fashion designer, Em (Jan Zvaifler), whose unseen husband Justin (Em laments that she "created" him, as Medea ensured Jason's success) leaves her for a younger woman, while she fears her daughter's becoming estranged ... an update of Euripides' tragic tale.  

Berger's quick, perceptive--and witty--play is staged in an impressive, fast-paced style by Central works artistic co-director Gary Graves, a succession of soliloquies by Em (which give Jan Zvaifler the spotlight to display her distinctive talent), alternating with dialogue with her interlocutors--in video projection, Skype-style,, with daughter (Dakota Dry) and the father of the bride, an Eastern European gangster-type, Carl (Joe Estlack), wearing shades, voice purring with innuendo ... also, speaking in person, a younger plumber, Christopher, Em engages in a fling with, as well as her demented dad, hunched in a wheelchair, a moustacho'ed waiter and restaurant owner in a Parisian fondue restaurant (all played by Joe Estlack), and with her suited factotum Ian (Cory Censosoprano), who--when not giving himself a manicure--sympathizes with, cross-examines, finally goads her towards revenge ... There's even a point when Christopher and Carl have a murky Skype tete-a-tete, Joe Estlack his own interlocutor ... 

As is typical of Central Works, a production in the studio-sized salon at the City Club gains more theatrical amplitude, through careful choice of script and its development, along with prowess in technical design (costumes by Tammy Berlin, lights by Gary Graves, video by Pauline Luppert, sound by Gregory Scharpen) and excellence in stage direction and acting (Joe Estlack, always a fine performer, co-founder of the premiere physical theater troupe mugwumpin, has had few opportunities like his romp here through several roles to show what a riveting actor he can be), than is often found on the big stages of the Bay Area's highly-touted professional houses.  

"My hands look terrible--and what about global warming?" Berges' play gets its title from a hypothesis that Mother Earth, like a bad mother (but good Medea!), kills off her more highly developed children (or they suicide themselves), bringing the world back to a microbial biosphere. A key moment of the Greek tragedy has the (female) head of chorus, realizing what Medea intends, admonish her about human moral law, to be met with the heroine saying: "I have no choice, but forgive you those words, as you haven't suffered as I do."  

Em suffers, but not so uniquely, just as many modern women, however accomplished, who've been discarded. In antiquity--especially Ovid's version--Medea was a witch. The phrase gets thrown around as an insult or a joke in 'The Medea Hypothesis'--Em denies having "powers"--but the deceptive weapons of revenge (a watch, a dress, a lipstick case) are laced with Polonium-210, a brew as potent as any centaur's blood or other classical poison. 

With its breeziness, underpinned by the darkness of passion and resentment, 'The Medea Hypothesis' nonetheless has something vague about it at certain points, maybe amplified by the abundance of soliloquies and dialogues with video images, which somewhat mutes or undercuts the very grave modern ending, something lacking the inevitability and specificity of Euripides' classic--a tragic, cosmic fate becomes the "merely" lamentable accident of character and choice in an unstable universe for modern theater, but leaves a space for a different kind of reflection and realization.  

'The Medea Hypothesis' is one of Central Works' better things--and that's saying a lot!  

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5 through June 23 at the Berkeley City Club, 3215 Durant Avenue (near the UC campus), $28 online, sliding scale of $28-$15 at the door. (Thursdays, pay what you can at the door.) Reservations/info: 558-1381, centralworks.org

New: Around & About Poetry: Jack Marshall & Gerald Fleming Read From Their New Books at Albany Library

By Ken Bullock
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:14:00 AM

Jack Marshall, who lives in El Cerrito, has been one of the bright lights of the Bay Area poetry scene for four decades, his successful series of books by Coffee House Press since the 80s bringing his constantly evolving work to all of North America ... 

This Tuesday at 7, Marshall will read at the Albany Library from his newest book, just released by Coffee House, 'Spiral Trace--A Poem.' It is, in fact, a book-length poem in 85 sections of mostly a page or two, many of which could stand free as poems in their own right. 

'Spiral Trace' is a delightful paradox: elegiac (it contains, among others, very literal elegies for late Bay Area poets Larry Fixel and Morton Marcus), at times a jeremiad, it's nonetheless relentlessly upbeat, moving fast on long-limbed periods that break down into short lines, often a half dozen or fewer words ... 

Clearly with a debt to Whitman, 'Spiral Trace' explores the contemporary world in all its vainglory in a rush of language, sometimes somber or lyrical, more often racy, slangy, humorous.  

After briefly recounting the story of Surrealist poet Robert Desnos reading others' palms in line for execution at Terezin Concentration Camp--and saving their lives by disorienting the guards--Marshall exclaims : 

"Poetry had better see through the doors/of boxcars, or else not play/on the tracks anymore.//No more songs/to the balcony;/the balcony is closed. So long ... //And to the new King of the Poetry Slam/I say, I'll see your Poetry Slam,/and raise you Islam." (section 17) 

He opens the book with a kind of prologue, an unnumbered tableau, "The Beautiful Hidden," listening to a chemotherapy patient, sitting in a car on his drive home from the clinic, zealously chattering about his "practiced foreboding," " 'His mind [ ... ] pure, his house [ ... ] a mess' " as the patient's driver says--before the tableau suddenly breaks: 

" 'The beautiful does not exist [ ... ] it is not waiting to be seen.' [ ... ] Then,/I swear, out of nowhere, two deer/come clattering down the street, two mighty, meaty/four-hooved tap dancers//on tip-toe./skidding sparks, at the intersection/stop, look off: a deer and a doe in El Cerrito,//peering toward San Pablo Avenue, tails/twitching panic in their pause, turn,/and head toward the hills."  

It's a long, serious, often hilarious, sometimes offhanded epic spiel, perfect poem for and of the times ... How will we explain today's dire breeziness to future generations? Marshall's new poem will be a singing Exhibit 'A'--especially his excellent tag lines at the end: 

"We live in, on,/through, traces of flow/before song sung, tongue stone ... //or strewn, then sown. I don't know,/song, stone, strewn, dumb-- /I gotta go." 

Marshall will be joined at the reading by his old friend, prose poet Gerald Fleming of Lagunitas, Marin County, reading from his new book 'The Choreographer' (Sixteen Rivers Press)-- 

"Companionship,//she'd written, certainly at first, and he'd answered--wanted to meet early--so okay, we'll meet at 8 a. m., she wrote, and at least this is no lazy man [ ... ] " 

Crucifixion, Kinetic: "Often, the scene depicted as tranquil--fait accompli, three men in their proper places, on crosses, assorted provokers and grievers below, sky leaden, sense overall not meat but vegetal, varnishes, tableau. [ ... ] " 

7 p. m. Albany Library. 1247 Marin Avenue (at Masonic, across from BART elevated tracks), Albany. Free. aclibrary.org/branches/alb or contact Dan Hess, 526-3720, extension 17

New: Around & About Film & Video: 'The Sari Soldiers,' Film on Nepal at the East Bay Media Center

By Ken Bullock
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:04:00 AM

Around & About Film & Video: 'The Sari Soldiers,' Film on Nepal at the East Bay Media Center 

"There are more than two sides to every story." 'The Sari Soldiers,' the film produced and directed by Julie Bridgham, co-produced by Nepalese journalist Ramyata Limbu, makes good on that truism by following a number of women on different sides of the civil conflict in the Himalayan country, including a Maoist commander, a monarchist leading a fight against the Maoists, and a woman speaking out against--and being retaliated on by--the Nepalese monarchy and army's abuses of human rights. sarisoldiers.com 

Next Wednesday, June 12, from 6-9 p. m., there will be a reception and screening of the film at the East Bay Media Center in downtown Berkeley, followed by a talk by Dhruva Thapa, editor of hamrosamaj.net as a fundraiser for programs by Human Rights Film Focus Nepal for bringing human rights education to Nepalese schools. $25-$500. East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison (between MLK & Milvia). Info: Bev Hoffman, 220-1660

New: Molly Bell shines in “Sweet Charity”—a reason to tunnel to the warm side!

By John A. McMullen II
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:02:00 AM
Molly Bell shines in “Sweet Charity”
Molly Bell shines in “Sweet Charity”

For those of you who do not live on the warm side of the Caldecott, you need to know that there is an incredibly talented musical theatre actress who is worth the drive (or via BART a few blocks away). 

Molly Bell* is Broadway professional in the talent department. In “Sweet Charity,” now at Center Rep at the Margaret Lesher Theatre, she makes you forget about Shirley MacLaine in the 1969 movie. She exudes the requisite innocence, vivacity, and feistiness of Charity Hope Valentine in this very dated, bittersweet musical. I was astounded that she was the same sophisticated lady who wowed us in the Cole Porter tribute “The Marvelous Party” at Center Rep three years ago. I never saw the legendary Gwen Verdon who created the role on Broadway, but Ms. Bell brings a naïve core with an unconquerable soul to the role that makes it about the character as much as about her inspired singing and dancing.  

Jennifer Perry’s choreography does justice to the Bob Fosse tradition. Sweet Charity was the late, great Fosse’s concept, with book by Neil Simon, and music by Cy Coleman who won five Tonys. Coleman wrote standards like “Witchcraft” and “The Best is Yet to Come,” and his musicals “On the Twentieth Century” and “Will Rogers Follies” and “City of Angels” still get a lot of play. Lyrics are by Betty Fields who wrote standards like "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", "Exactly Like You", "On the Sunny Side of the Street," and "The Way You Look Tonight." Her major musical was “Annie Get Your Gun.” 

The two well-known songs from “Sweet Charity” are “If They Could See Me Now,” which Molly Bell knocks out of the park (pardon the baseball metaphor: I had dinner at Willie McCovey’s a block away post Sunday afternoon matinee), and the catchy and libidinous “Hey, Big Spender.”  

The musical is simple: Manhattan dance hall girl (not quite a hooker) is a love addict who can’t find love. She meets a shy accountant in a stuck elevator. It seems simple and a throw-back in this era of musicals about schizophrenics, the ravages of AIDS, and teenage sex and suicide. But it was written in 1966 on the cusp of the Feminist Revolution, and while it proceeds for awhile in a simplistic plotting, it turns out not to be an easy girl meets boy, etc., formula.  

It was fashioned after Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” and even has a Marcello Mastroianni-like character with whom she nearly has a one-night stand. Noel Anthony* is masterful in both his resonant and impressive baritone and his portrayal of a smooth Roman cinema idol.  

Seems dance hall girls were the forerunner to the lap-dancer. A man paid for a dance and the groping game commenced with the dancer removing the man’s hand as fast as he could grab. Some took it a little further for a cash supplement. 

It was a well-fashioned cast, with Alison Ewing* and Brittany Danielle* as Nickie and Helene, the dance hall mother superior and her sidekick at the Fandango Dance Hall, and Keith Pinto* as Oscar, the nerdy groom-to-be, who pairs superbly with our lead. Kurt Landisman provides his usual superior lighting, with an easy and functional sliding door set by Annie Smart. The costumes by Christine Crook are what you would expect from a 1960’s musical from the era of “Be-in” and “Hair.” Sean Kana’s musical direction is award-worthy, with little snatches of barber-shop quartet and a marvelous blend of voices, particularly in Nickie and Helene’s duet "Baby, Dream Your Dream." 

One of the most memorable scenes is of an adventurous visit the unlikely couple makes to a San Francisco-transplanted hippie church “The Rhythm of Life.” James Monroe Iglehart* as “Big Daddy,” the leader of the cult, is an overwhelming presence on the stage, who moves his prodigious bulk gracefully with a gospel-powered, rock-the-house voice. (Reminded this reviewer of the “Church of John Coltrane”; however, it seemed ironic in hindsight memory of Jim Jones and David Koresh.) 

After reviewing the dense and attention-demanding “Copenhagen” and “Arcadia” last week, this was light, entertaining fun fare that was refreshing in contrast. It’s all about the talent and the production values, and worth the time to bring a smile on a Sunday afternoon.  

“Sweet Charity”  

Music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Betty Fields, book by Neil Simon, from a concept by Bob Fosse. 

Directed by Timothy Near 

Playing through June 22 at Center Rep at the Lesher Center for the Performing Arts 

More info at http://centerrep.org/ 

(*Member, Actor’s Equity Association) 

John McMullen is a member of the Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Assoc., and Society of Directors and Choreographers. 

Edited by EJ Dunne

New: “Abigail’s Party” at SF Playhouse—a Showcase of Talent in a Train-wreck of a Play

by John A. McMullen II
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 10:57:00 AM
Inappropriate dancing between hostess Bev (Susi Damilano) and Tony (Patrick Kelly Jones*)
Jessica Palopoli
Inappropriate dancing between hostess Bev (Susi Damilano) and Tony (Patrick Kelly Jones*)

“Abigail’s Party” at San Francisco Playhouse has a delightful and comically adept cast of five, who together almost make a very amusing two acts, but the play keeps getting in the way. Mike Leigh’s comedy-drama is one those BBC sitcoms of a couple of decades ago with a twist—actually with a twisted twist, particularly the incongruous (and here unrevealed) resolution.  

The set by Artistic Director Bill English is spot-on bourgeois and period perfection, and piques our hopes for a rousing evening of comedy. 

It is set in the late 1970’s, and is about British middle-class aspirations. It was created from improvisations with the actors, and also released to television. England’s Channel 4, an independent TV channel, reviewed it by writing, "Abigail's Party still ranks as the most painful hundred minutes in British comedy-drama. Written with surgical precision and horribly well-performed, beneath the farcical exterior is a savage satire on England's middle-class." It is a comedy of manners without manners. 

Producing Director Susi Damilano gives a stellar and sexy performance as Beverly, the hostess with the most-est—that is, with the most obnoxiously officious deportment imaginable. She is the pivot point and architect of the play since it’s her party to which she has invited three neighbors. She is holding the party with the excuse that the next-door teenager (the unseen Abigail) is having a party and Abigail’s mother Sue (Julia Brothers*) needs refuge.  

Beverly’s realtor husband Laurence (Remi Sandri*) dashes in and out trying to do business and buy refreshments for the party while arguing with Beverly in front of the guests; he is similarly pretentious, aspiring to culture élevéeand wanting to play a Beethoven LP for the party guests. Terse and surly ex-footballer Tony (Patrick Kelly Jones) and his giddy wife Angela (Allison Jean White*) round out the guest list.  

Overdressed Beverly, in a revealing emerald gown (which Ms. Damilano wears very well) enjoys quite a few minutes at the outset of the play dancing suggestively while putting out party snacks. It is the most entertaining moment of the play outside of her seductive dance with Tony while Tony’s wife Angela peeks voyeuristically over the magazine she pretends to read.  

With nothing substantial to converse about, the refrain of “have another drink” motivates scenes from the worst party you’ve ever attended. It has definite shades of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” with comic aspirations. 

Julia Brothers’ demurely deadpan reactions of suppressed embarrassment draw the most laughs from the audience, and reflect those of self-respecting middle-class viewers everywhere. The audience gave an enthusiastic round of applause on a Tuesday night—surely to laud the talented cast, but perhaps to express a touch of gratitude that the pain had ended. 

Under the sure direction of Amy Glazer, and through it all, the comic talents of the ensemble are patently obvious, but deserve a better piece to wrap their talents around. Truly, I can’t imagine this piece being done any better than this production. 

Look forward to the next offering of “Camelot” in July by this exceptional theatre company. If last season’s award-winning “My Fair Lady” (seven Critics Circle awards!) is an indicator of their ability with musicals, it will be a not-to-be-missed revival. 

(*Member, Actor’s Equity Association)