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New: Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office Will Withdraw from Berkeley Post Office on Sunday to Move Forward in Their Fight

From Margot Smith, Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office
Monday August 19, 2013 - 12:21:00 PM

Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office worked for the last year to prevent the sale of our historic Civic Center Berkeley Post Office building. They count among their successes the local and national press coverage of the issue, broad public support and continued pressure on the U.S. Postal Service.

To build on these successes, Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office are now concentrating on the lawsuit challenging the Post Office sale, legislative action by our State and Federal representatives, and a city of Berkeley effort to rezone the downtown as a governmental, cultural and educational district. The group is also working with other communities across the nation who are threatened with the sales of their post offices. From the Bronx to Santa Monica, the USPS is selling the historic post offices that were entrusted to it.

Because of the need to focus on legal, legislative and community matters, Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office finds that it is time to withdraw from participation in the camp at the Main Post Office as of noon, Sunday, August 18. 2013. We deeply appreciate the commitment of those in the encampment, but need to withdraw to work on other priorities. The encampment or In-Tents Defense of our Post Office is self-governed by Berkeley Post Office Defense which shares our goals of public ownership of our historic post office and a United States Postal Service that serves the common good. 

Several thousand Berkeley citizens have signed letters to our legislators and support the fight. The whole community--the city of Berkeley, the California Assembly and Senate, and federal representatives have supported the efforts to prevent the sale of this historic building. Media coverage includes the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, KTVU, KRON, KABC television. Congressional proposals are in process by Senator Bernie Sanders and from our own Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Recently, the U.S.Postal Service notified Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates that the appeal of the Downtown Berkeley Post Office is under consideration by the U.S. Postal Service Postal Regulatory Commission, and it will make a decision within 120 days. If the USPS finds that they will continue with the sale, we may return to the encampment.

Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office would like to thank its many supporters and encourage them to join with us in the continuing effort. We will still have tables and information in front of the post office to keep people aware of the issues.

In Berkeley, work proceeds at several levels to prevent the sale of our cultural heritage.

o Legally: Save the Berkeley Post Office is joining with the National Post Office Collaborate to take legal action with other communities, such at La Jolla, the Bronx, and Chelsea, NY, to stop these sales.
o Legislation: Senator Bernie Sanders is being asked to amend his bill to prevent the sale of historic post office. Thirty Senators and 167 Congressman are co-sponsoring his bill and the companion bill in the House. We are also trying to rezone the area.
o Education and Outreach: The Committee continues to table and leaflet in front of the Post Office to encourage Berkeley residents to support efforts to save the building for the public which it was meant to serve and which paid for it.
o Fundraising: the public is asked to make a tax-deductible donation to the National Post Office Collaborate to support the legal efforts to stop these sales. Please go to http://www.nationalpostofficecollaborate.com/ ;;; then click on DONATE. Or mail a check to the National Post Office Collaborate, P.O. Box 1234, Berkeley, CA 94701

"We want these post office buildings to stay within the public domain," said Jacquelyn McCormick, who organized the National Post Office Collaborate to prevent these sales. It is working with Harold Hughes, retired USPS General Counsel, now an attorney with Utah-based Ford & Huff, to look at legal strategies.

In April the Postal Service approved the sale of three other historic post office buildings: the Wall Street post office in La Jolla, Old Chelsea on West 18th Street in New York City, and the Bronx General Post Office on the Grand Concourse. As in Berkeley, these three post offices contain New Deal public artworks. The murals in the Bronx by Ben Shahn are masterpieces, monumental in scale and extremely well-known. We, along with these cities, are legally challenging the U.S.P.S.' right to sell these historic buildings.

There is no real financial need for the USPS to sell off its assets. As of 2003, the USPS real estate portfolio had an estimated worth of $110 billion. The process of privatizing USPS real estate holdings may yield enormous commissions to CB Richard Ellis, the giant commercial realty firm that was awarded an exclusive contract for USPS property sales. University of California Regent Richard Blum is the chairman of CB Richard Ellis and the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Margot Smith
Save the Berkeley Post Office

New: CHP Shooting Closes Tunnel

By Bay City News Service
Friday August 16, 2013 - 10:43:00 PM

A California Highway Patrol officer shot a suspect in a hit-and-run collision this afternoon on state Highway 24 in Oakland, in an incident that closed the eastbound Caldecott Tunnel at the height of rush hour, law enforcement officials said. 

A downed motorcycle that caught fire was reported to the CHP at about 3:40 p.m. near the Claremont Avenue offramp in Oakland, the CHP said. 

That motorcycle was related to a shooting and police incident that occurred a short time later further down the highway in Orinda, CHP Officer Sam Morgan said. 

Contra Costa County sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said a CHP officer investigating a hit-and-run found a car that matched the suspected vehicle at about 4 p.m. on Wilder Road just off the highway. 

Officials have released few details, but Lee said that at some point in contacting the driver of that car the officer fired his gun at the driver, striking him in the torso. 

The driver was taken to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Lee said. Officials have not disclosed his condition. 

The motorcyclist was transported to a hospital but is expected to survive, according to the CHP. 

Eastbound lanes of Highway 24 were closed for about two hours during the two investigations on each side of the Caldecott Tunnel, backing traffic up at the height of this evening's rush hour. 

The CHP, the sheriff's office and the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office are jointly investigating the officer-involved shooting, Lee said. 

Anyone with information about the incident has been asked to call the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office at (925) 646-2441.

Nuking-under-the-Influence: Booze, Drugs and Atomic Power

By Gar Smith
Thursday August 15, 2013 - 03:30:00 PM

On June 9, 1985, Ohio's Davis-Besse nuclear facility suffered a loss of feedwater coolant. The situation quickly grew desperate. As the water boiled away, the reactor core came within 41 minutes of becoming completely exposed and experiencing a meltdown. Although the coolant flow was reestablished after a tense, 12-minute lapse, the resulting damage was serious enough to shut the troubled reactor for a year.

The incident — dubbed "the worst accident since Three Mile Island" — drew the attention of the US House Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power. The subcommittee filed a report revealing that Davis-Besse had recorded 48 feedwater problems since July 1979 and 40 accidental reactor shutdowns between 1980 and 1985 owing to equipment failures and human error.

In an attempt to improve discipline at the plant, Davis-Besse's owners reached out to the military: they hired a former nuclear navy commander to serve as plant manager. This plan ran aground in dramatic fashion when the new manager showed up drunk during a Christmas holiday, began cursing his employees, and started throwing punches. Plant security had to be called in to drag him from the building.

For years, this singular incident has served as a salutary example of a seemingly self-evident truth: nuclear technology and alcohol are not a good mix. So it may come as a surprise to discover that, more than two decades on, alcoholism and drug abuse continue to haunt the nuclear power industry. 

As a matter of policy, the NRC routinely administers "fitness-for-duty" (FFD) tests to determine whether workers and supervisors are capable of performing their duties without impairment. Employees are tested on a random "lottery-style" basis and required to report to the on-site medical office for a Breathalizer or saliva test. If the initial examination is positive, the individual is then instructed to provide a urine sample. 

The NRC's threshold for alcohol testing is 0.04 blood-alcohol content. The NRC points out that this is much lower than the DUI limits for drivers in most states. 

In addition to weekly FFD tests, nuclear plant supervisors can also order workers to report to the medical office if they detect "aberrant behaviors." According to the NRC, supervisors are on the lookout for "a wide range of actions from staggering, making simple mistakes (such as turning the wrong switch), acting belligerent or out of character." 

Some may find it a bit alarming that "turning the wrong switch" is categorized as a "simple mistake." We are, after all, dealing the nuclear power plants. 

A 2011 NRC survey revealed that more than 8 percent of employees orderedto report to the medical station "for cause," subsequently tested positive for banned substances. This survey took notice of a "class" difference. Among employees of the plant owners, in more than half the cases, alcohol was the leading cause for action. Among the ranks of the employees of vendors and contract workers, however, more than half of the infractions were attributed to marijuana. 

But it's not just contract workers and plant employees who have been docked for being drunk or stoned on duty. The NRC's daily Event Notification Reports also record numerous occasions where plant supervisors also were disciplined, banned or dismissed for being under the influence.  

Of greatest concern, of course, is the sobriety and clear-headedness of the individuals in charge of actually operating the reactors. But, even here, the NRC's records provide substantial cause for alarm. 

On July 14, 2012, for instance, a reactor operator in the control room of Pennsylvania's Limerick Generating Station had his license revoked after being found "under the influence of alcohol." The NRC hastened to assure the public that the individual "was never the sole control room operator on duty." [Evan Brandt, Pottsdown Mercury, Sept. 26, 2012.] 

Although the alcohol was consumed "off-site," the NRC issued the individual a Severity Level III citation for behavior that "resulted in or could have resulted in moderate safety or security consequences" and could have left the individual incapable "for a relatively short period" of "preventing or mitigating a serious safety or security event." 

A press release from Exelon, the plant's owner, agreed that "performing licensed activities under the influence of alcohol is a serious matter" that can undermine the public's "special trust and confidence" in a nuclear power operator. To say the least. 

Nuclear Workers: Tipsy, Wasted, Sloshed, High and Smashed 

Here is a partial list of incidents— drawn from the NRC's own Event Notification Reports — that document cases of workers found "nuking under the influence" (NUI). 

May 2011: An operator at DTE Energy's Fermi 2 Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Michigan failed a random drug test and was banned from the plant. 

July 2011: A licensed plant operator at Limerick Nuclear Power Plant tests positive for alcohol. Banned from control room. 

August 2011: An un-licensed supervisor at Fermi 2 was disciplined for being besotted while on duty. 

October 2011: A non-licensed supervisor at the Watts Bar NPP in Tennessee was arrested for possession of a controlled substance "with the intent to distribute." His access to the plant was terminated. 

November 2011: Contract worker at Surry NPP in Virginia tests positive for alcohol. Access to site terminated. 

November 2011: Contract supervisor at Farley NPP in Alabama allows an "obviously impaired" worker to "go home and 'sleep it off'" rather than undergoing a "for-cause" FFD test. Both the supervisor and the worker subsequently "had their unescorted access to the protected area terminated." 

January 2012: Employee supervisor at Nine Mile Point NPP tests positive for alcohol. As a result, his "unescorted access has been administratively withdrawn." 

April 2012: Licensed operator at Kewaunee NPP in Wisconsin tests positive for alcohol. Plant access suspended. 

May 2012: Licensed plant operator at Point Beach NPP in Wisconsin fails "for cause" test after behavior suggests individual was under the influence of alcohol. Access to plant suspended. 

July 2012: Worker at Limerick NPP removed from site after being found under the influence of alcohol. 

July 2012: Supervisor at Georgia's Vogtle NPP tests positive for alcohol. 

August 2012: Supervisor at Michigan's Fermi NPP tests positive for alcohol. 

August 2012: Non-licensed supervisor at Quad Cities NPP in Illinois tests positive for alcohol. Access to plant terminated. 

August 2012: Licensed supervisor at Louisiana's Waterford NPP fails fitness tests. 

August 2012: Licensed "employee supervisor" tests positive for alcohol after he was observed "staggering and shouting bizarre orders in a slurred voice." 

September 2012: Supervisor at Mississippi's Grand Gulf NPP tests positive for drugs. 

September 2012: Supervisor at the Saint Lucie NPP in Florida tests positive for alcohol. Access to plant terminated. 

October 2012: Workers failed "for-cause" FFD tests at Sequoyah NPP in Tennessee (alcohol), Browns Ferry NPP in Alabama (chemical), Vermont Yankee NPP (chemical) and Harris NPP in North Carolina (unspecified). 

November 2012: A non-licensed contracted "acting supervisor" at Florida's Turkey Point NPP tested positive for alcohol. Access terminated. 

December 2012: Supervisor with access to both the Dresden and Braidwood NPPs in Illinois confirmed positive for the use of a "controlled substance." 

January 2013: Non-licensed contract supervisor at the Fort Calhoun NPP in Nebraska tested positive for a controlled substance. Unescorted access to site terminated. 

February 2013: Non-licensed supervisor at Clinton NPP in Illinois tests positive for alcohol. Restricted from plant. 

April 2013: Licensed supervisor at New York's Nine Mile Point NPP tests positive for alcohol. 

April 2013: While off duty, a licensed worker at Florida's Saint Lucie NPP arrested for possession of a controlled substance. 

April 2013: Employee supervisor at Limerick NPP in Pennsylvania tests positive for alcohol. Access to site restricted. 

April 2013: A supervisor at Exelon's Limerick Generating Station tests positive for alcohol and her access to the plant is restricted. 

April 2013: Licensed reactor operator at Grand Gulf NPP in Mississippi tests positive for illegal drugs. Access to GE Boiling Water Reactor site terminated. 

May 2013: An employee supervisor at the V. C. Sumner NNP in South Carolina is banned from the plant after testing positive for alcohol. 

May 2013: Licensed reactor operator at Grand Gulf NPP tests positive for alcohol. Access to plant terminated. 

May 2013: Contract supervisor at Fort Calhoun NPP has access to plant revoked after failing fitness test. 

May 2013: Supervisory employee at Wolf Creek NPP tests positive fo alcohol. Access to plant terminated. 

May 2013: Non-licensed supervisor at Limerick Nuclear Power Plant tests positive for alcohol. Access to plant revoked. 

May 2013: Workers at Minnesota's Monticello NPP discover an unsealed bottle of alcohol hidden under a desk in a Protected Area. The bottle was open and one-third empty. 

May 2013: Licensed reactor operator at Mississippi's Grand Gulf NPP confirmed positive for alcohol. Access to plant terminated. 

June 2013: A non-license contract supervisor at Turkey Point NNP is arrested off-site for possession of a controlled substance. Access to plant terminated. 

July 2013: Supervisor at the Pilgrim NPP in Massachusetts tests positive for a "banned substance." Access to plant terminated pending investigation. 

July 2013: A supervisor at the New Jersey's Oyster Creek NPP failed a random fitness for duty test and registered positive for alcohol. The employee’s access to the facility was restricted but not revoked. 

NUI Citations: A Proliferating Problem 

The NRC's 2011 review of its FFD program indicates that the drinks-and-drugs problem is widespread and growing. In 2011, the NRC administered 178,586 individual FFD tests (the largest number since 1993). According to the report, "marijuana, alcohol and cocaine continue to be the abuse substances of choice and accounted for 90 percent of positive results." 

The good news? The percentage of workers and supervisors testing positive was only slightly more than .5 percent of the total workforce. While the number of nuclear workers caught using marijuana and alcohol has been rising since 1990 (up 5 percent and 7 percent, respectively), the number of workers identified as cocaine users has been declining (down 17 percent). More troubling is the discovery that, during the three-year period of 2009-2011, positive tests for amphetamine use among nuclear workers rose 7.56 percent. 

The 2011 NRC survey reported only 70 positive tests for alcohol among thousands of nuclear plant employees tested nationwide. During the same year, however, nearly 500 contractor and vendor employees tested positive for marijuana. 

While it may appear reassuring that only a small number of the nation's nuclear power plant employees are actually failing on-site drug tests, this doesn't offset the chilling fact it only takes a moment for a single stoned, soused, buzzed (or just inattentive) employee to wreak disaster. As Dr. Edward Teller ("The Father of the Nuclear Bomb") famously observed back in the 1980s: "There's no system foolproof enough to defeat a sufficiently great fool." 

A classic, cautionary tale dates from 1975. In March of that year, a worker at Alabama’s Browns Ferry reactor complex tried using a candle to check for air leaks and wound up setting fire to the plant. The fire raged for 7.5 hours with two General Electric nuclear reactors operating at full power. One reactor went dangerously out of control, resulting in a 20 percent Core Damage Probability — i.e., a near-meltdown. The plant remained shut for two decades. 

The Brown's Ferry inferno provides a sobering reminder of what can go wrong when workers, contractors and supervisors start mixing drinks and drugs with nuclear fuel rods and super-heated steam. There's always a danger that the "morning after" hangover could come in the shape of a fallout cloud. 

Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and the author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (Chelsea Green). 

Contact: Gar Smith, c/o Academic Publishing, Inc., PO Box 27, Berkeley, CA 94701. Gar-smith@earthlink.net

Augustus Bart Berger, Jr.
1924 - 2013

Wednesday August 21, 2013 - 02:00:00 PM
Augustus Bart Berger: 1924 - 2013
Augustus Bart Berger: 1924 - 2013

Augustus Bart Berger, Jr., passed away on August 7th, 2013, in Berkeley, California, at the age of 89. He was known throughout his church parish as extremely kind, generous, and caring. He was active and alert and continued his charity work until the end. 

Bart was born on July 12th, 1924, in Denver, Colorado. His family moved to a small farm on Vancouver Island near Victoria, British Columbia, in 1934 to help relieve the stresses of the depression. They moved to Berkeley in 1939 after his father’s death, and Bart attended Berkeley High School. 

Upon graduation in 1942 at age 17, he enlisted in the Army Corps (Air Force). He was assigned to the 15th Air Division and stationed in North Italy, where he flew over 50 missions during World War II as a P-38 pilot and reconnaissance photographer. He earned two Silver Stars. 

After the war, Bart graduated from U.C. Berkeley as a civil engineer. Bart worked for the California State Highway Department for 28 years until his retirement in 1977. Bart was initially a surveyor and later a designer in several departments. He helped lay out several of the Bay Area’s freeways. 

Bart married June Elizabeth Fountain on February 3rd, 1951, in Berkeley. He is survived by his sister Margaret Wallace of San Francisco, 4 children [Bart (Marcia) of San Jose, Tom (Marianne) of Albany, Ralph (Eileen) of Orinda, and Joan (John Coffey) of Colma], 9 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. 

Bart loved the outdoors. His family fondly remembers the many summer camping trips they enjoyed together, and many visits to Bart’s childhood retreat at Estabrook Ranch, Colorado. 

Bart was an excellent photographer. He was an early member of the Berkeley Camera Club and remained active in the club for many years. He met his wife, June, at the Berkeley Camera Club. He enjoyed taking pictures of landscapes and family members, and he printed and developed his own photographs. 

Bart was an avid gardener, and enjoyed building projects such as his greenhouse and home-built solar cooker and water heater. 

Bart was very active in his church. He participated in several community-service activities, including providing food and transportation to those who needed it. He was known for devotion to his family, neighbors and friends, and for countless good works for the disabled and less fortunate. 

Most of all, Bart is remembered by his family as a loving, caring father who taught his children well through his many examples of kindness and consideration. 

There will be a memorial mass for Bart at Saint Mary Magdalen Church in Berkeley at 11 a.m. on Friday, August 30th, followed by a reception at the church. 

In lieu of flowers, please donate to Saint Mary Magdalen Church or the charity of your choice.

Michael Ricardo Melton
December 25, 1954 - August 13, 2013

Wednesday August 21, 2013 - 01:16:00 PM
Michael Ricardo Melton <br> December 25, 1954 - August 13, 2013
Michael Ricardo Melton
December 25, 1954 - August 13, 2013

Michael Ricardo Melton passed over the early morning of August 13, 2013 in Sacramento, CA after succumbing to illness. He was 58 years old. 

Born in Oakland, California to Idella Maria Melton and John Melton, Jr., he was the first child born to that union. After graduating Berkeley High School where he excelled academically, socially and in sports, he joined the military and served in the United States Air Forces. He then obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Sacramento State University where he made the Dean's List.  

After beginning a family with Vanessa Harvey Melton, the young couple became active members at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church. Melton graduated from American Baptist Seminary in Sacramento, CA first in his class and accepted the role of Associate Minister at Trinity. 

A youth advocate, Melton obtained teaching credentials at California State University East Bay and had nearly completed a Masters in Education Program with intentions of pursuing teaching as a profession. He became a Tutor within the Education Department while pursuing his degree. "Ricardo" coached softball teams, enjoyed spirited conversation and enjoyed helping others.  

A devoted friend and mentor with a great sense of humor, he held the distinction of being part of the first crop of Berkeley residents to integrate the Berkeley Unified School District. An entrepreneur, he operated a successful carpet company in Washington State for ten years.  

He is survived by one son Michael Ricardo Melton, Jr., one daughter, Faith Melton, granddaughters Laiyah Chere Morganstein, Mc Kayla Melton, grandson Trevohn Melton; sisters Robin Lynne Garry [Sultannah Muhammad] of Oakland, CA, Tiffany Kapri Ellison [Melton] of Los Angeles, CA, Gabrielle Lenore Williams [Wilson] of Oakland, CA, brother, Cassius Scott Wilson of Berkeley, CA ; Zenora, Cynthia, Cassandra, Kimberly, Jacqueline Joyce, John Claude and Shelly Melton; cousins Darolyn Denise Davis and Steven Davis, Miranda Wilson, D. Mark Wilson and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. 

Funeral Services will be held in Berkeley, CA at McGee Avenue Baptist Church, 1640 Stuart Street, Monday, August 26 at 11 a.m.

Prominent Activist, Chef and La Peña Founder, Hugo Brenni, Passes Away

By Fernando Andres Torres. LatinOPen
Wednesday August 21, 2013 - 01:14:00 PM
Hugo Brenni
Monin Mendez
Hugo Brenni

Noted Bay Area Chef and one of the original funders of La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley, Hugo Brenni del Canto passed away in arms of his wife Wanda in the remote Chilean island of Chiloe on August 18, 2013. 

Hugo was a friend, a grandfather, a father, a husband, and most of all a compañero who struggled for peace and social justice. 

Brenni arrived from Chile in 1956. In 1975, he was one of a handful of a group of activists who founded the cultural center on Berkeley’s Shattuck Ave. on the south border with Oakland. He became the Chef of the center founded to promote the national solidarity movement against the military who, with the support of the U.S. government, overthrew the popular government of Chile’s President Salvadore Allende. 

Dozens of Chilotes and residents of the Island, where he was buried today, attended his funeral in a community gathering building he helped build with locals. In Oakland, friends and family gathered on August 19 to remember his legacy and pay tribute to his memory. His son Nicolas said his father was a compassionate man who opened his heart to the cause of the Chilean people. Nicolas who fathered a boy two weeks ago said “I became a dad one day and lost my dad the other.” 

La Peña member Eric Leeson said Brenni participated in many activities to denounce the atrocities against Human Rights being committed by the Chilean military. One of these activities, said Leeson, was the boycott of the 1975 San Francisco visit of the Chilean navy four-masted barquentine tall ship Esmeralda, which was used as a prison and floating torture center. 

Leeson also recalled a meeting that Brenni and other activists held with founder of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), Margo St. James, a celebrated advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution who described her self as a sex-positive feminist. Out of that meeting came the first sex-workers boycott against Pinochet’s sailors while in San Francisco,” said Leeson. 

Recalling details of the founding of La Peña, Brenni said in a 2003 interview for Berkeley’s Daily Planet (BDP): “We had looked at three or four places that we couldn’t afford… We were holding a benefit at the Starry Plough, and when we came out that night I saw the ‘For Rent’ sign on the space next door. The rent was cheap, so we began renting it and then bought it later.” 

Brenni was also a drummer who in many occasions accompanied the late singer Rafael Manriquez, and a accomplished cueca (traditional chilean dance) dancer. Frequently he was called to the La Peña stage to dance it. Running from the kitchen and firmly weaving his apron as a handkerchief, Brenni would delight audiences with his toe tapping and gracious movements. 

In a recent communique, La Peña wrote in its web page: “We deeply mourn the loss of Hugo Brenni, La Peña’s co founder and great friend for nearly 40 years… Hugo will always be remembered for his good humor, unceasing friendship, and culinary delights. Without Hugo’s restaurant experience and community dedication, La Peña would not have been born nor have survived. In July, 2003 he was honored with La Peña’s highest award. Hugo was inducted to La Peña’s Community Hall of Fame.” 

I Love to Cook 

Brenni was a passionate cook who worked in various well-established restaurants in the area including Oakland’s Crogan’s and Max’s,Montclair’s The Egg Shop, and Lafayette’s Rossmore. Following the tradition of peñas in Latin America; gathering cultural huts that combines food with art and culture, Brenni believed that a good and productive political discussion worked better around a table with a fine dish prepared with fresh and local produces. Brenni’s favorite motto was “food for the body, food for the spirit.” 

“I love to cook,” he said to BDP. “I love to serve people the food that they eat when they are listening to music or poetry… What I think is that you can’t run a business without politics… Everything – the performances, the management, the restaurant must be tied in to politics. You can’t isolate a business from the world outside… It is not about the rewards… I have learned so much from the people I have been around… all the people that have taught me what I know,” (idem). 

Brenni was known for his mastering of Latin American culinary traditions. San Francisco Chronicle‘s food critic Kim Severson described his menu as “a homey trip though the peasant-style dishes of countries like Chile, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. The portions are large, the prices a bargain and the approach in the kitchen consistent and honest.You could make a complete, satisfying meal just ordering from the menu’s first section, which offers a dozen tapas-styled picks such as humitas, a close cousin to a tamale, which is crafted from sweet, coarse-ground corn spiked with onions and basil and wrapped and steamed in a corn husk. Or, try a little calorie bomb of a dish that combines thin slices of sauteed linguica and onions with the best french fries I’ve eaten in months. A standout entree is lechon asado, a classic Cuban recipe based on marinated, slow-roasted leg of pork. Friendly service makes eating a pleasure at Cafe de La Peña,” 

Miracle Chiloe, the Most Memorable Meal 

Seduced by the culture of the Chilote people, the geography, and lured by friends living in the island, the Brenni’s sold their Albany house and move to Chiloe where they bought a piece of land and built a house in 2003. Hugo was already acquainted with Chiloe’s cookery. Consistently, every end-of-the-year in Berkeley, he prepared the acclaimed curanto, the well known and intricate Chiloe dish. Most times these events were set as benefit for diverse causes. 

Located in the Region de Los Lagos, Chiloe is the second largest Island in southern Chile. With an area of 3,241square miles, Chiloe first inhabitants Chono, Huilliche and Cunco peoples dated from more than 7,000 years ago. The island is separated from the mainland by the Canal Chacao, Chacao Strait. 

Traveler Laurel Miller wrote on a trip she took to Chiloe in 2010: “My most memorable meal on Chiloe, (was at) Hugo and Wanda’s. Hugo prepared our lunch from ingredients grown and foraged on the property or purchased from neighboring farms. While he cooked, Wanda, who is from the States, told me, “What’s amazing about Chiloe is you can just walk down to the beach and collect as many shellfish as you can carry, get king crab from the kids on the corner, harvest wild berries. The local people are so traditional, the soil is so rich…there is always food. That’s the miracle of this place.” We sat down to a lunch of roast duck with a piquant salsa de murta, freshly-dug fingerling potatoes, a beet salad, and Wanda’s sourdough bread, cultured from wild yeast. Miraculous, indeed,” (gadling.com). 

I Don’t Know if I Will See you Again 

The following is a letter sent to LatinOPen by former La Peña Executive Director Paul Chin: 

I sadly learned of the death of our beloved compañero Hugo Brenni. It was quite an emotional shock to learn of his death. I had Hugo over for lunch when he was last here a couple of weeks ago. As he departed our house he said to me, “I don’t know if I will see you again.” Unfortunately those words were very prophetic. The human mind does not want to accept the prognosis. I was hoping that the doctors would be wrong and that Hugo would survive this cancer. Alas, it was not to be. 

I cannot remember the exact moment I met Hugo. Definitely I met him at La Peña. I believe it was sometime in 1976. It was through the politics and the cultural activities of La Peña that attracted me to the place and gave me the privilege of meeting people such as Hugo. 

At that time I was a volunteer along with my then Argentine compañera Monica. We encouraged our friend Wanda, who we had met in Potosi, Bolivia in 1973, to volunteer. Little did we know that Hugo and Wanda would later become a couple. Over time we have maintained our friendship. 

I remember Hugo for his generosity and his good nature. I remember the many curantos (traditional Chiloe native dish) that Hugo initiated and the love he expressed for good food and good company. Hugo was a friend, a grandfather, a father, a husband, and most of all a compañero who struggled for peace and social justice. I will always treasure the many warm memories he has left with us. My heartfelt condolences go out to his immediate family and to the larger family who shared his food and good nature for many years. Hugo Brenni, PRESENTE! 




The Editor's Back Fence


Odd Bodkins: Carl (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday August 21, 2013 - 02:14:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Why Can't Berkeley's Derby Street Baseball Field Serve Local Residents?

By Jane Stillwater
Wednesday August 21, 2013 - 01:42:00 PM

I walked past the brand new Derby Street baseball field yesterday and immediately realized that it was completely fenced off and vacant. And the basketball court next to it was fenced off and vacant too.  

I don't know exactly how much Tim Moellering Field cost exactly to build and couldn't find its price-tag listed on Google either, but let's assume that the field had cost, let's say, three million dollars. And then let's say that the number of ball players who will use it, and who also actually have a key to unlock the gates to the field, is around 200 users. 200 goes into three million how many times? Would that average $15,000 per user as the cost of this field? 

I don't mind the $15,000 per user so much. Good for them. But I do mind the fact that none of the local residents get access to it too. The only thing that local residents such as myself seem to get out of this deal is to contribute our already-scarce on-street parking spaces to the success of this venture. As for everything else, all we appear to be allowed to do is to gaze longingly through the yards and yards of locked-up inaccessible chain-link fences -- at all that beautiful green grass that we ourselves will never be allowed to set foot on. 

Oh, and we also get to pay for the water bills and maintenance crews needed to keep this field so clean and green. I almost forgot about that.

Reporters Leaving the US

By Jagjit Singh
Wednesday August 21, 2013 - 01:38:00 PM

The heavy handed actions of the US master spy agency, the NSA, have struck a piercing blow at the heart of democracy and freedom of the press. Acutely embarrassed by the revelations of Edward Snowden via the London Guardian and reporter Greg Greenwald, the British government held David Mirandra, Greenwald’s partner, for nine long hours at London’s Heathrow Airport. Jacob Appelbaum, computer security specialist has experienced similar harassment by US and other officials and lamented that “what is at stake is the ability for a human being to have dignity and for journalists to have integrity with their sources, threatening the whole concept of a free democracy," 

Reporters Without Borders issued a strongly statement castigating Miranda’s detention and stated, "the world’s most repressive states often identify journalism with terrorism and now the British authorities have crossed a red line by resorting to this practice.” 

Gareth Peirce, a prominent British attorney stated that Section 7, of the British law under which Mirandra was detained was a gross violation of the law’s intended purpose and was merely used to intimidate and punish Greenwald’s reporting actvities. 

Laura Poitras, a prominent journalist mocked the White House’ alleged claim that they had not instigated Mirandra’s detention. She has also been continually harassed and intimidated by security officials. Sadly, more and more reporters are leaving the US and are working for foreign bureaus to escape the tentacles of US and British officials – a sad commentary to our claim to be free and functioning democracy.

New: Impaired and Addicted

By Carol Denney
Monday August 12, 2013 - 01:45:00 PM

Written in appalled recognition of the Berkeley Rent Board’s interference with efforts to protect low income renters from secondhand smoke.

impaired and addicted
the Rent Board agrees
is how renters must live
by the Rent Board’s decree
we live in apartments
so what can we do
if our neighbors are smokers
then we’re smokers too

Chorus: what’s wrong with the rent board
the science is in
did they all miss the memo
can’t public health win
we may live in apartments
but we matter too
we can’t hold our breath
without all turning blue 

our children are suffering
but the Board doesn’t care
because smoking restrictions
give them such a scare
if stepping outside
seems like such a tough test
just try having cancer
or holding your breath (chorus)

secondhand smoke does
immediate harm
but the Rent Board can’t work up
a lick of alarm
they say go sue your neighbor
for clean air instead
sounds like a great plan
unless you are dead (chorus)

the Rent Board’s proposal’s
pathetically weak
keeping smoking indoors
makes our health prospects bleak
if they pass a weak law
there’s something we can do
vote them all off the board
and just get a fresh crew (chorus)

the Rent Board just doesn’t
know beans about health
and the truth is some of them
are smokers themselves
which is fine it’s their choice
long as my air’s smokefree
I just can’t figure out
why they want to kill me (chorus)

the Rent Board should represent
nonsmokers too
that’s what their charter
instructs them to do
stand up for clean air
get the smokers outdoors
and stop being tobacco
industry whores (chorus)


SENIOR POWER: Women’s Equality Day

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday August 15, 2013 - 03:40:00 PM

In 1971, Representative Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced in Congress legislation designating August 26 each year as Women's Equality Day in the United States of America. Women had finally been provided the right to vote when, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed. Sixteen other nations had already guaranteed women this right. The amendment had been introduced in 1878.  

What does this have to do with senior power, with old Americans? One might also ask whether old women vote. Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. Just who is or is not eligible to vote varies by country. Some nations discriminate based on sex, race, and/or religion; age and citizenship are usually among the criteria. Low voter turnout has been attributed to a variety of economic, demographic, cultural, technological, and institutional factors. It may also be due to disenchantment, indifference, or contentment.  

Over the last 40 years, voter turnout has been steadily declining in the established democracies. This trend has also accompanied a general decline in civic participation, such as church attendance, membership in professional, fraternal and student societies, youth groups, and parent-teacher associations. At the same time, some forms of participation have increased—people are far more likely to participate in boycotts and demonstrations, and to donate to political campaigns.  

States with the best older voter turnout are Washington, Maine, Montana, North Dakota and Colorado. Senior citizens are much more likely than younger people to vote. People under age 45 are much less likely to vote. Nationwide, 61% of people age 65+ voted in the 2010 election, the best turnout of any age group and compared to 46% of all citizens. In the United States, the oldest citizens are the most likely to cast their ballots, which gives us political clout beyond our numbers alone. 

Senior citizens have a vested interest in protecting the benefits they receive from the federal government. From Medicare to Social Security to Medicaid (California’s Medi-Cal), older people have a greater interest in voting than younger people who do not receive the same benefits. If these popular government programs for senior citizens were to change, it would dramatically affect the lives of most retirees.  

The voter registration process is another reason older people vote in greater numbers than younger people. Every time a person moves to a new address, she or he must re-register to vote. People over age 65 have more residential stability. The longer one is in a place, the more ties one has to the community and the more campaigns there are which are likely to mobilize one.  

Older voters tend to be more stable in where they live, whereas younger voters tend to be more mobile. Young people who forget or simply won’t bother to reregister at their new address may be kept from voting. Some political scientists contend that voters who are away from home at college are at a great disadvantage voting-eligibilitywise. Having lived in a university neighborhood and worked at polling places on election days, I am aware of just the opposite-- young twice-voters.  

Older voters are thought to have more time. "They have the time to participate in politics," says Paul R. Campbell of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. "Most of them are retired, largely thanks to Social Security, and they have the disposable income to make campaign contributions and the skills to write letters to politicians." 


The California Senior Legislature (CSL) is a four-day model legislative session in which 120 delegates, each at least 60 years old, convene in Sacramento to consider aging-related bills that they have written. It was established by the State Legislature to provide an organized grass roots advocacy tool with direct input into the State Legislature. Year-round activities include advocacy efforts to support CSL priorities, although I am not aware of any in Berkeley.  

The first CSL session was held in 1980. Since then, CSL delegates have spearheaded advocacy efforts in long term care, elder abuse, nursing home reform, national health plan and many other areas. Delegates are elected to four year terms in the CSL from all areas of California. There is a great deal of variation among the methods for holding elections and gathering votes. Primary responsibility has been the local Area Agency on Aging’s determination. In some areas, the elections are held in senior centers. It is years since CSL campaigning and elections were held in the two remaining Berkeley senior centers. 

In Alameda County, the Advisory Committee to the Area Agency on Aging conducts the election by receiving applications for the open positions, asking the prospective candidates to appear before a meeting of the Committee (which is open to the public) and make a presentation’ then the Committee members vote to select the Assembly and Senate members of the CSL from PSA 9. 

The 2013 Annual Legislative Session of the CSL will be held October 28 – 31. Senior Legislators will seek State lawmakers to author at least 10 of the Session's priority proposals and then work throughout the year to ensure adoption of these measures. The CSL is funded by contributions, not taxes. 


Why don’t women vote for women? Or, to put it another way, when there is so much unanimity about reforms women want, what inhibits them from voting themselves into power? There is no male bond to counter women’s submissiveness, which can be so divisive. Especially among Southern women. Women do vote, however-- slightly more than men. In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama carried 55% of the female vote.  

Need I say more? Just 2 things. ERA. Hillary! In the August 3, 2013 issue of The Daily Beast, conservative Myra Adams presents her version of “16 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Will Win 2016.” 


WORD - Women Organized to Resist and Defend - has issued a call to action: nationwide demonstrations for Women’s Equality Day, August 23-26. On Saturday, August 24 WORD joins the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington Rally and March in D.C. A few of the West Coast cities that will rally and march are: 

Los Angeles on Sunday, August 25 (la@defendwomensrights.org or 323-596-7340);  

Sacramento on Saturday, August 24 (sac@defendwomensrights.org); and 

San Francisco on Saturday, August 24 (sf@defendwomensrights.org or 415-375-9502.) 

General inquiries: info@DefendWomensRights.org. http://www.DefendWomensRights.org

* * * * 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends screening all patients 60+ years old for signs and symptoms of elder abuse and advocating for a safe environment for all aging women. ("ACOG Recommends Screening Women for Elder Abuse" (HealthDay News, Jun. 20, 2013).  

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Components of a Disability plus "The Revolving Door"

By Jack Bragen
Thursday August 15, 2013 - 03:37:00 PM

What are the factors that sometimes make a person with mental illness disabled? 

Medication may make a person physically slower. Paranoia sometimes interferes with performing a job. A mood disorder such as clinical depression makes it harder to show up for work. Some days, a person with mental illness simply cannot perform at a good level. Most employers can't or won't accommodate any of that. 

It is harder for a person with mental illness to get hired. The jobs that we are able to acquire are often entry level with a lack of responsibility. This is largely caused by discrimination. Employers invariably find it harder to trust someone with a psychiatric disability. 

Additionally, someone with mental illness might be told by many that they can't work, can't do it, or aren't good enough. Sometimes mental health caregivers believe it is their job to burst people's bubbles. 

Persons with mental illness may develop a negative pattern around employment as I once did. A negative pattern might look like this: To begin with, person with mental illness fails at a work attempt and then is very self-critical. This harsh self-criticism only makes it more difficult to try again. And when we do try again, our efforts are sabotaged by the negative emotions left over from the previous incident. 

Self-trashing is worse than someone else's harsh opinion. You can be immune to someone else's criticism, but not your own. Family members, although they have good intentions, may sometimes inadvertently feed into a negative pattern when they are attempting to help. 

None of this should minimize the fact that many persons with mental illness are great contributors to our work force. Most find it necessary not to disclose their condition for fear that doing so could end their employment. 

* * * 

The life path of someone with a mental illness is generally not easy. When we initially recover from an episode of acute symptoms, are released from the hospital, and return to some semblance of normal life, we may believe that we are past the hard part. We may not be aware that the life experiences in our future could be nearly as rocky as what we've already been through, if not more so. 

Everybody wants to have "the good life." However, if someone has a chronic, severe psychiatric disability, often they can not perform at a job on the same level as an unimpaired person. Many of us can work at only a minimal level. This leads to perpetually living on a low income level. Thus we see people our age and younger enjoying things like a house, a new car, travel, parties, and the stock market. We are lucky if we can maintain a part-time job which will allow us to occasionally have a Denny's meal, or to live in a neighborhood other than the very worst. 

When someone in their twenties who has a chronic mental illness holds down a job, they may begin thinking more highly of themselves, which is a good thing. But they may also believe they're cured and don't need treatment, and this could be a mistake. 

The pattern in which some mental health consumers periodically go off medication and then relapse was referred to by one therapist as "the revolving door" of mentally ill people returning to the hospital. 

I have made many of the mistakes typically made by persons with mental illness. 

The pattern for many persons with a mental illness often begins with a period of doing very well. The person with mental illness may or may not go off medication in the belief that they are cured. At some point, something goes wrong. 

Those who remained medicated probably have a better chance of weathering an incident. (Such an incident might be a dog bite, a breakup with a partner, the death of a loved one, a fender-bender auto accident, or something else that disrupts a person's stability.) 

Someone with severe mental illness may go through several cycles before they're done. The person is working and doing well, something happens to them and they deteriorate, and then they return to the hospital and are back to square one. At that point, the person eventually regains a good level of functioning and tries again, or else they might be too damaged from too many relapses to keep at it. 

It is believed that people with schizophrenia often experience fewer symptoms after age fifty. Middle and old age can be looked forward to as a time when things are finally better. For this to happen, someone with schizophrenia must physically survive that long, must not have too many repeat psychotic episodes since each one does damage, and must have some kind of adequate living situation.

ECLECTIC RANT: Studies Show Assisted Outpatient Treatment Programs Save States Money

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday August 15, 2013 - 03:21:00 PM

Forty-five states permit the use of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), court-ordered treatment (including medication) for individuals who have a history of medication noncompliance, as a condition of their remaining in the community. Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Tennessee do not have AOT. 

A recent Duke study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that the mandatory AOT program known as Kendra's law in New York has saved costs. The Duke study examined costs for 634 people who received court orders between January 2004 and December 2005. It compared costs in the year before the court orders, the year after and two years after and the results suggested that if you invest in AOT and target it correctly, there are some significant savings. 

The study also evaluated costs for non-Kendra’s Law patients who voluntarily used intensive services. In New York City, costs declined, but less than for court-ordered patients. This suggests that some patients respond to a judge's order to comply with treatment, even though failure to comply has no penalty except for evaluation for possible hospitalization. 

This Duke study is consistent with other studies conducted in North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and Florida. 

California enacted Laura's law, modeled after Kendra's Law but, unfortunately, it has only been implemented in Nevada County and a small pilot project in Los Angeles. In Nevada County, Laura's Law has proven so successful that the county was honored in 2010 by the California State Association of Counties. In announcing the recognition, CSAC said Nevada County offset public costs of $80,000 with savings estimated at $203,000 that otherwise would have been spent on hospitalization and incarceration of program participants. These cost savings in Nevada County are consistent with the other studies mentioned earlier. 

In conclusion, the research demonstrates that AOT reduces the risks of hospitalization (or if hospitalized they had shorter lengths of stay), arrest, incarceration, crime, victimization, and violence. AOT also increases treatment adherence and eases the strain placed on family members or other primary caregivers. Maybe it is time for other California counties to implement Laura's Law because AOT is not only effective, but can save money. 

Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: “Camelot” at SF Playhouse great summer fare with all-pro cast.

By John A. McMullen II
Thursday August 15, 2013 - 03:17:00 PM
Fpreground: Wilson Jermaine Heredia*, Johnny Moreno* and Monique Hafen* with cast of Camelot.
Jessica Palopoli
Fpreground: Wilson Jermaine Heredia*, Johnny Moreno* and Monique Hafen* with cast of Camelot.

For the second summer running, the SF Playhouse has mounted a Lerner & Lowe musical in the beautiful theatre at the Kensington Hotel on Post Street. Last year it was “My Fair Lady” with Johnny Moreno, Monique Hafen, and Charles Dean with set by Nina Ball, and it swept the Critics Circle awards. This year, it’s “Camelot” with Johnny Moreno as Arthur, Monique Hafen as Guinevere, and Charles Dean as Merlin/Pellinore. 

The set by Nina Ball is a revolving castle that offer amazing set changes with believable and spectacular landscape and skyscape projections on the back wall.  

The acting is convincing, and singers are impressive, the music direction is top notch. 

It’s good. But not up to the standard they set last year. 

Johnny Moreno has become one of this critic’s favorites: he offers a heightened reality to his characters, and has a mellifluous, expressive baritone that warms and thrills. When he sings the memorable songs
which begin “A law was made a distant moon ago here..,” “How to handle of woman…,” “If ever I would leave you,” one wonders that he is still in this town and not moved to the Bigger Time. Monique Hafen has a charmingly ironic way about her character and a sweet voice, though it becomes steely in the upper register which can be jarring. When both sing, they are wholly involved in acting and communicating and there is an easy chemistry between them Charles Dean plays the sweet old codger with aplomb. The new face— Wilson Jermaine Heredia —as Lancelot is well cast since he looks unlike any of the other Britons in the cast and has a suitable tenor, though too often it seems he is concentrating on singing and navigating the tricky stairs rather than on the acting the song. 

They stumble between accents: Arthur starts off in the British dialect he did with perfection in MFL, but as soon as his dialogue with Guinevere begins with her speaking Americanese, he defaults to our common US dialect. However, when they sing, the British pronunciations take over. It is confusing, and somehow the American makes the story commonplace rather than the grand fantasy legend based on fact that is one of the shining moments in England’s fabled history. Though the inhabitants of the Camelot of yore would not have spoken with what we know as a British accent, the stage convention that conjures up that time and place is the Queen’s English. In the film, Franco Nero as Lancelot had a continental accent which worked well, and should this Lancelot would have assumed a French twist in his speech, it may have made his character more exotic and convincing.  

The stage combat is sorely lacking. They clank swords and are cautious in the movements. Stage fighting requires a certain amount of tension that comes from extended practice to get up a convincing rhythm. A modicum of believable danger is required, but not so much as to make the audience actually worry for the actors’ safety. While the set is stunning, the actors have to gingerly negotiate all the levels, and since there is practically no flat platea, it makes stage fighting chancy.  

Abra Berman costumes flamboyantly which is a delight for the eye. She has the pre-chivalry rude knights dressed in leathers and furs with faces painted as the very image of crazed and ravaging Celts. 

Arthur is dressed more decorously, but Berman wisely omits sleeves to show off his substantial biceps. 

Guinevere and her ladies are dressed lovely, but they are outshone by the men’s costumes. Lancelot is costumed more conservatively and knightly. The costumes strive to make a statement of Pagan ways versus the Christianity that Lancelot brings to the table. 

To further that statement during the song “The Merry Month of May,” Director Bill English has the heathens appear to be coupling on the heath in full public orgy mode—as is alleged to the custom to make the grass grow green (the Maypole is a supposedly a paean to phallic worship). 

Camelot is a tale of how the hubris of renouncing the fleshly pleasures can come back to bite you in the tukus. If you don’t pay homage, particularly the Goddess of Love, she will bring the house down around your head. Lancelot is Christian to the point of bringing back from the dead a combatant he had dispatched, which astonishes and beguiles Guinevere, who, up to that point, had treated the interloper with disdain. He has become friend, brother, and son to Arthur who seeks to find a better way. Yet he betrays bonds of hospitality as surely as Paris did, and nothing good came of that except The Iliad.  

All things considered, it is an enjoyable rendering of the classic, and I give it a “Go see it.” 

If you want a preview, the very hip publicity and website staff at the SFPlayhouse has posted a very professional video preview.  

Find it at http://www.sfplayhouse.org/season1213/camelot.php?video=1#link_video 

Playing at 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel) between Powell/Mason 

For info/tickets: http://sfplayhouse.org/season1213/camelot.php

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Berkeley Playhouse “The Wiz” dazzles with singing, dancing

By John A. McMullen II
Thursday August 15, 2013 - 03:11:00 PM
Lion (Benjamin Pither), Scarecrow (Aejay Mitchell), Dorothy (Taylor Jones), and Tin Man (Reggie D. White)
Ken Levin
Lion (Benjamin Pither), Scarecrow (Aejay Mitchell), Dorothy (Taylor Jones), and Tin Man (Reggie D. White)

If you are looking for something to do this weekend or next, go see “The Wiz” at Berkeley Playhouse at the Julia Morgan Theatre on College Avenue. It closes Sunday August 25, and you don’t want to miss this extraordinary array of talent. 

I really don’t much care for the songs of Smalls and Brown who wrote it. Except for “Ease on Down the Road,” I can’t remember one. But in the singing, dancing and acting, the cast is superb and professional. 

Dorothy (Taylor Jones), Scarecrow (Aejay Mitchell), Cowardly Lion (Benjamin Pither), Tin Man (Reggie D. White), The Wizard (Vernon Bush) and Auntie Em/Glinda (Nicole Julien) are Broadway quality in dancing and singing.  

The choreography by director Kimberly Dooley is complicated, brilliant, and a vast improvement over previous musicals I’ve seen from this company. The tornado dance was very creative and solved that problem through imagination rather than special effects which I find preferable in live theatre. 

My only complaint on with the choreography is the Scarecrow’s lack of “collapsing”—he’s made of straw—and that step was made memorable by Ray Bolger in the 1939 film. Aejay Mitchell was very limber, gymnastic, and talented so it did not seem to be a lack of ability that constrained that famous move.  

The musical direction by Tal Ariel—who won the Critics Circle award for “Seussical” at the Playhouse the year before last—was an instrumental part of the success of this production. Everything jelled. Ariel uses off-stage backup singers to enhance the music, and there was never a musical misstep. He jazzes up the music even more than it already is and makes for a rocking good time. 

My quibble with the musical is that it removes the introduction of the Oz characters of the mean bicycling Miss Gulch, and the triad of farm hands who later become the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man. 

This omission removes the rationale for her “dream” (colorized in the film) featuring characters from her life, which adds immeasurably to the story and one’s suspension of disbelief. It’s hard to imagine the audience not being familiar with the film, but I guess it’s possible.  

Director Kimberly Dooley is a master caster and has gathered together a great group together. She uses the young people and children’s ensemble to great advantage; among them is a standout, dancer Tierra Allen. 

Young or old, you’ll appreciate the talent, and it’s something you can do with the kids before school starts. But hurry, because it closes on Sunday, August 25.