Berkeley Squelches Squirrels While Oakland Burns

By Becky O'Malley
Friday February 21, 2014 - 04:45:00 PM

In case you were wondering whether Berkeley has really gone to hell in a handbasket, check out today’s column by one of the Chronicle’s trio of obnoxious conservative columnists, Chip Johnson. 

Headline: At City Hall, Berkeley Has Done It Right. 

Say what? I’d link to it, but Chip’s now behind the Chron’s pay wall (can’t imagine who’d pay to read him) so I’ll have to illustrate with copious quotes.  

First, his lead (or lede, if you prefer): 

“One of the reasons I chose to live in Oakland instead of Berkeley was the long history of political shenanigans and guerrilla theater at Berkeley City Hall.”  

But now, he thinks Oakland’s let him down: 

“Oakland City Hall these days feels a lot like Berkeley used to—with crowds of rowdies, crusaders and chanting, often-nutty, crowds cramming into the council meetings and taking over the agenda. Berkeley, meanwhile, seems more—well ... sensible. 

“This week, an activist in the Oakland council chambers preached against doing business with companies linked to nuclear weapons development, and opponents railed against a police operations center they believe is really a government spying operation. … 

“In Berkeley, meanwhile, officials are planning to capture and gas a problem population of ground squirrels, they've put restrictions on wacky City Council agenda items as a way to keep focused on the business at hand, and the only demonstrations that seem to erupt anymore are by Code Pink, a women's antiwar group.” 

Well, in the first place, Chip doesn’t seem to have watched many Berkeley City Council meetings lately. No offense to Code Pink, but Save the Post Office, CopWatch, student district advocates and many more continue to compete for the Council-Chamber-Packing prize money with splendid demos and stirring speeches.  

But all is not lost—Berkeley seems to be enhancing its reputation for civic sobriety in Johnson’s eyes by gassing squirrels and censoring agenda items. In all fairness, Oakland might not have any squirrels to gas, but how about killing some raccoons or Canada geese, or even feral cats? 

And Johnson loves our Gasser-in-Chief: 

“Bates' actions have won him four consecutive terms in office and have provided Berkeley with the kind of stable leadership Oakland enjoyed under Brown. Bates leads the city. Period.” 

Yes, period indeed. That’s the kind of thing they used to say about Chicago’s Mayor Daley, isn’t it? That was another dynastic reign that had its fans. I lost a valued friend relatively early in the Bates regime when I called his organization a machine, but at least he’s made BART run on time (well, not really even that).  

Oakland, on the other hand, has let down the side in a big way, says Chip: 

“Oakland has elbowed Berkeley out as the contemporary epicenter for social issues in the East Bay, if not the Bay Area.” 

Oh, the horror, the horror, social issues! 

Berkeley, meanwhile, has solidified its place as a suburban backwater, which is what it should be in Chip’s World: 

“In Berkeley, Bates has successfully removed most of the squirrely politics from council meetings, and replaced it with pragmatic, albeit tough, plans to address issues of importance, even when the subject is squirrels.” 

Oh, what a relief it is. Oakland’s wasting its time dealing with unimportant stuff like nuclear weapons development, while the Berkeley City Council tackles the big stuff: squirrels. 

This morning I pounced on The Chipper’s column as a terrific target for satire, but how can you satirize this kind of thing? Sad to say, even though he’d never make it as a reporter of facts, there’s an uncomfortable amount of truth in what he says.  

All too often, Berkeley's City Council chambers are deserted by the public while councilmembers transparently go through the motions of rubberstamping what Bates and the staff have obviously pre-decided elsewhere. The Bates majority has been fiddling while public pools close and buildings which should be civic treasures decay.  

Meanwhile, Berkeley’s being bought up. 

The infamous Sam Zell, whose Equity Financial corporation acquired much of downtown Berkeley on the Bates watch, was recently in the news once again, according to Bloomberg News: 

“Billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell agreed with capital pioneer Tom Perkins that wealthy Americans are being unfairly criticized and said that the 1 percent work harder.” 

Those of you with long memories may remember that Zell’s outfit paid for Bates-sponsored Measure R. This “advisory” measure, which was sold to gullible voters by a gold-plated campaign, is now being used by the Bates administration as the excuse for the rape of downtown Berkeley. If you’ve forgotten what happened then (it was way back in 2010) use the button above to search the Planet on “Sam Zell” for all the particulars.  

That’s the kind of money which talks around here these days. Oakland, on the other hand, is in the midst of an artistic renaissance. As techies muscle them out of San Francisco, creative people are moving to Oakland, sometimes touted as our Brooklyn, in droves.  

Bates and his developer cronies meanwhile are lusting after the tech trade, and if they succeed the suburbanization of Berkeley will be complete and Berkeley artists will have to move to Oakland too. It’s only a matter of time before Chip Johnson moves here, I’m afraid. I saw him once in the Caffe Trieste, probably scouting for a nice new Equity-owned luxury condo. Oh, dear—there goes the neighborhood.