The student group that selected comedian Bill Maher to be the commencement speaker at the University of California at Berkeley has attempted to rescind the invitation after student backlash over some of Maher's statements, but the university won't allow it, school officials said today. -more-
Editor's Note: This letter, addressed to Berkeley City Attorney Zach Cowan, was forwarded to the Planet by an interested citizen who had received a copy by email:
This letter is in response to your letter of October 27, 2014 and is intended to address what seem to be the City’s main issues.
First, you express concerns about the fact that the United States Postal Service (“Postal Service”) will not discuss with the City of Berkeley the details regarding the status of properties being offered for sale by the Postal Service, including the Berkeley Main Post Office, beyond what is already publicly available at http://uspspropertiesforsale.com/. The Postal Service needs to continue to keep confidential that information, which under good business practice, would not be disclosed. -more-
New: The City of Berkeley Illegally Paid $140k for Redistricting Lawsuit Against Itself and Residents (Public Comment)
When the City Council voted to sue its own City Clerk and residents earlier this year in its redistricting battle, the City illegally paid high-powered law firm REMCHO, JOHANSEN & PURCELL LLP $140,000 without Council’s approval.
Though City law allows the City Manager to execute contracts under $50,000 without Council authorization, any contract that exceeds that threshold must be publicly confirmed by a majority vote of City Council. So when City Manager Christine Daniel hired Remcho to sue the City before any public mention of a lawsuit, let alone a vote, she entered into the contract at $30,000. However, on April 30th, the contract was amended to $140,000 without any approval or disclosure.
Attached are the initial contract with Remcho, the final amended contract, the transcript from last evening’s Council Meeting where Christine Daniel confirms that contracts over $50,000 must be authorized by a vote of the Council, and an item adopted by Council that specifies the thresholds for contract authorizations.
The contract was only recently found by accident when Stefan Elgstrand, one of the residents sued, searched for the original contract and found that it was amended. -more-
East Bay Regional Park District police are investigating a fatal shooting on Tuesday night near the Berkeley Marina. -more-
Elections officials must receive vote-by-mail ballots by 8 p.m. on Nov. 4. Postmarks will not be counted, so voters who wish to vote by mail are encouraged to mail their ballots in early to allow for postal transit times, elections officials said.
For more information from the Alameda County registrar, see this website: http://www.acgov.org/rov/votebymail.htm -more-
Press Release: Can Berkeley Stop the Sale of its Downtown Post Office?
USPS admits it’s signed a sales contract.
Rally on Saturday at 10:30
The U.S. Postal Service has walked away from negotiations with the City of Berkeley and the National Trust on an agreement to preserve Berkeley’s Main Post Office. The USPS refuses to respond to questions from the City of Berkeley or from Congresswoman Barbara Lee regarding the imminent sale. We still do not know who the buyer is. The USPS has listed the building for sale since July, 2013, with CBRE, the realty firm headed by Richard Blum, Senator Diane Feinstein's spouse. Attempts to obtain further information from the U.S. Postal Service were stonewalled. -more-
Redwood Gardens at 2951 Derby Street in Berkeley has been in the news lately and will continue to be. Many of us are familiar with the place from cultural, political, or social events we attended in their community room. It is part of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidized complex of buildings with 169 apartments, gardens and community facilities for seniors and people with disabilities. The project was established as a co-op some 28 years ago by Cooperative Services Inc. (CSI). Currently it is managed by CSI Support and Development which operates number of co-ops in California. Redwood Gardens is the only development that now is not a co-op. (There is some history behind the change which is not necessary to go into here.)
The CSI Support and Development website outlines the principles of cooperatives. “Living in a co-op means living in a building that is controlled by the resident members. The resident members vote on all major operating decisions, including writing the annual budget. … Becoming part of a CSI co-op allows you to enjoy the benefits of apartment living while retaining control of your environment.”
Although this ideal existed in Redwood Gardens in the past, it is far from the way things are now. The residents have no control over management decisions and even opportunities for expressing their concerns and being heard are being increasingly denied. And there are some very serious concerns. They are afraid that much of what management has been doing and plan to do will have negative impact on the quality of their lives.
In the words of resident Gary Hicks, “There is increasing enmity between the residents and management.” The popular community room is no longer available, it has been taken over by management for offices. A bridge that is a primary entrance to the east side of the building is hazardous and restoration is taking unduly long. (Architect Avram Gur Arye has provided extensive photographs of this.) Changes are being made in the gardens and community areas with no input from the residents. -more-
League of Women Voters Denies Involvement on Behalf of Berkeley's Ballot Measure S, as Claimed in Pro-S Ballot Arguments Submitted by City Officials
Editor's Note: The Berkeley/Albany/Emeryville League of Women Voters yesterday sent the following letter to Berkeley's mayor and City Council, refuting claims in the Measure S ballot arguments placed there by city officials that the League participated or agreed to have its name used in support of the measure: nhh
October 23, 2014
Dear Mayor Bates and Council Members,
On behalf of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville, we wish to bring to your attention that the arguments for measure S and again in the rebuttal against the arguments against Measure S, the Redistricting Measure, incorrectly state that the League of Women Voters was a participant in the creation of the Council’s Redistricting Ordinance and plan and imply that the League was a major participant.
We were not asked nor did we approve the inclusion of our name in the argument and rebuttal. In fact, the LWVBAE is neutral on Measure S. The proponents of the measure and/or the City Clerk should have asked us to sign to give permission for the use of our name. -more-
A former Berkeley City College student was sentenced today to 12 years in state prison for fatally stabbing University of California at Berkeley student Christopher Wootton near campus six years ago. -more-
Last year, an assistant director for Elementary contacted me. The plot of an episode of the crime drama starring Lucy Liu (Kill Bill, Charlie’s Angels), entitled, “Solve for x,” centered around a mathematician vying for the top prize in the number-wizarding world. I encouraged CBS to make a big deal of the fact that the mathematician was a woman─women at the highest levels of math are so thin on the ground, girl calculators need to find contemporary role models wherever they can, even in works of fiction. -more-
Exclusive to The Planet: Edward Snowden's Message to Berkeley On the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement
On October 1, Free Speech day in California, former National Security Agency subcontractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden sent the following message to veterans of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement. It was read aloud on the Savio Steps by FSM vet Jack Radey during a rally marking the 50th anniversary of the day students surrounded a police car to prevent the arrest of a political activist who had been tabling for the Congress of Racial Equality. -more-
Even the words, the point
of the pen itself as it dances
swirling against the page—No,
jiggling & scraping against
it, reaching for a grace & stumbling, re-
tracing and scratching out—
—From “THE HOUSE,” by Ron Loewinsohn, Goat Dances, Black Sparrow Press, 1976
Today I’m back on the same topic I ranted on briefly last Sunday. That would be Berkeley ballot Measure S, the one that asks you if you support the outrageous gerrymander that Mayor Bates and his docile council majority foisted on the city at the last possible moment to fulfill their decennial obligation to create new boundaries for the council districts. The answer, of course, is No, No, a thousand times NO.
If you hadn’t figured that out already the bad behavior of the scheme’s supporters should be enough to make up your mind. On Sunday I pointed out that in flagrant violation of the applicable law they’d paid some idiot to staple a whole bunch of “Yes” signs on every telephone pole for many blocks along Ashby/Tunnel. They’re probably elsewhere as well.
(1) It’s illegal to nail signs to wooden telephone poles.
(2) Even if it were legal, it would be annoying. We had six (6) plasticized signs in front of our house alone, four on one pole and two on the other. Ugly.
This is no way to make friends. I strongly suspect that some flunky was hired to post X number of signs, and no one bothered to tell him where he should put them. (Prejudice admission: I generally use the male pronoun when clueless errors are involved.) I’ve seen not a single pro-S sign posted in anyone’s home yard.
And now the Yes-on-S gang has been caught in another egregious mistake: claiming participation from the League of Women Voters in their ballot arguments. Wrong. Didn't happen. -more-
The Editor's Back Fence
Nothing, nothing is more depressing this week than looking at the pile of (excuse me, grandma) crap that arrives in the mailbox every day as the election season comes to a close. Well, maybe it’s the boiler room phone calls for the candidates. -more-
After the previous election some readers complained that they couldn't locate the Planet's endorsements when they went to vote. To make it as easy as possible, between now and the election we're going to maintain this corner of the front page where you can always find our endorsements along with links to editorial material with more detail about specific candidates and issues. This week we want first to remedy one oversight: We strongly support the unopposed slate of candidates for Berkeley's Rent Board. Their campaign is being pitched as an opportunity for Berkeley voters to reaffirm their support for our long-standing rent control and stabilization law, so don't forget to check those candidates' boxes on your ballot.
In other areas (click on the links for fuller discussion) :
Berkeley Measure S (district gerrymander): NO
Berkeley Measure R (green downtown regulations):Yes
Measure D (tax on sugar in soda pop) : no endorsement
Alameda County Measure BB: Yes
Judges: Here's a recommendation from an active young lawyer who comes from a family of distinguished attorneys but wishes to remain anonymous: " Liu, Cuellar, Werdegar,Humes, Kline, and Stewart are yes. Ruvolo is the only definite no." She voted yes for everyone but ruvolo.
Then, click here for the candidates: Which Berkeley City Council Candidates Should You Support?
Short Answers: District 1, Alejandro Soto-Vigil; District 4, Jesse Arreguin (unopposed); District 7, Kriss Worthington; District 8, Jacquelyn McCormick (rank her first, followed by George Beier, second, and Lori Droste, third. Skip fourth place. )
Finally , check out this May editorial with a self-explanatory title: Tony Thurmond is the Best Choice for California Assembly ...
We're pleased to see that Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguin has added his endorsement to Tony's long list of fans.
In the video below you can see Tony explain his campaign in person at a Berkeley house party: -more-
Quoting Mal Warwick’s op-ed in Berkeleyside once again, “There’s no way to know why these groups [such as Big Oil] are spending so much money here. We can only assume that something about Thurmond, or his opponent, Elizabeth Echols, has moved them to support one and oppose the other.”
Reiterating that we do not and cannot know who is actually behind those Alliance for California’s Tomorrow mailers, I return to the question as to which candidate is being supported, which opposed. In my last op-ed [below], I pointed out that there is no known reason why “Big Oil” would be supporting Tony Thurmond, since on the Richmond city council he voted against Chevron’s plan to refine heavy crude—a plan that is still in limbo.
And in fact, the Echols campaign has—to my knowledge—stopped short of claiming that “Big Oil” is actually trying to put Thurmond in Sacramento. Rather, they are making the more indirect argument that “Big Oil” is so terrified of Echols’s strong environmentalism that they are supporting Thurmond in order to keep her out (“oppose the other”). -more-
What’s going on in the race for California Assembly District 15? Elizabeth Echols is running perhaps the nastiest campaign I have ever seen—a nearly 100% negative campaign based on the insinuation that her opponent, Tony Thurmond, is backed by “big oil, tobacco, and predatory lenders”—perhaps the three industries most guaranteed to bring rage into the hearts of liberal Bay Area voters (surpassing even Big Soda).
And on what is this insinuation based? Has Tony Thurmond done anything in his public career to give grounds for it? Not that I have so far been able to dig up—nor Echols either, presumably, since she has provided no instances. Rather, it is based completely on the mysterious direct mail we have been receiving on Thurmond’s behalf from The Alliance for California’s Tomorrow and, apparently (I have not personally received any of these), from Keep CA Strong PAC.
So what are these entities? They are independent expenditure committees, which have been proliferating like cancer cells, particularly in the aftermath of Citizens United. Essentially they are political money laundering operations designed specifically to make the connection between the donor and the beneficiary untraceable. Even the recipient of the largesse does not know—by law cannot know—who is spending the money. So the source of the mailers is a mystery. Thurmond does not know who paid for them and Echols does not know either. -more-
In what is turning out to be an epic political battle, the race for Richmond City Council is less than one month away from election day.
The stakes are massive: in a city that receives approximately 10% of its total revenue from Chevron, one of Richmond's largest employers, the oil giant has every intention of maintaining its powerful political influence there.
But after three major disasters at the Richmond Chevron Refinery, the worst of which was an explosion and fire that sent more than fifteen thousand residents to the hospital in August 2012, there's evidence that the Richmond populace is not so enthusiastic about the company's presence in their city. According a Richmond Confidential article last year, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Goia said that “there's always been a love-hate relationship between Chevron and Richmond.” He added, “support is at an all-time low.” -more-
As a resident of Berkeley's District 8, I'm concerned that the front-runner in our Councilmember's race may be a person who has more potential conflicts of interest than anybody I can recall, namely Mike Cohen. He has a senior position at UC Berkeley, in which he is in charge of licensing the university's technology to commercial enterprises, particularly startups, and he is co-founder and a major stockholder in Peak Democracy, which organizes online forums for local governments. He appears to be within the letter of the FPPC's definition of conflict-of-interest, but he is well outside its spirit. District 8 may be the area most impacted by the activities of UC Berkeley, and its residents are often at loggerheads with the Administration, including multiple citizens' lawsuits against it. Thus any ties to UC are a problem for someone whose job is to support the residents' interests - the incumbent is a case in point. -more-
In a determined effort to punish James Risen, the New York Times investigative reporter, the Bush and now the Obama administration has threatened him with imprisonment unless he reveals his source who provided him details of the massive illegal warrantless wiretapping conducted by the National Security Agency. This case will undoubtedly become the most significant challenge to press freedom in decades. -more-
It must be the worst of times in Berkeley when a modest and pragmatic measure that wins endorsements from the entire City Council, civic leaders, candidates, and the political mainstream from the Chamber of Commerce to the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club still doesn’t satisfy outspoken members of our community. -more-
While much of the world is finding it difficult to recruit trained medical staff to dispatch to West Africa to combat the Ebola epidemic, one nation is responding to the crisis. Cuba has already dispatched 165 health workers to Sierra Leone and is sending 91 additional staff to Liberia and Guinea. This brings the total to 256 people, more than a third of all foreign medical staff. Cuban President, Raúl Castro, offered to work with the United States to help combat the Ebola epidemic. -more-
One of the serious shortcomings of the recently enacted Berkeley Minimum Wage Law, which became effective October 1, is the permanent exemption for the University of California Berkeley campus. By 2016, the minimum wage will reach $12.53 per hour. But not for many employees of UC Berkeley. Because the University is presumably a public institution sustained by the state, its workforce is not covered by local laws. However, the reality is that although the State of California had once been its primary source of funding, this is no longer the case. -more-
That Soda Tax--It's a no- brainer. This is Liberal Progressive Berzerkley town and we DEFY you Big Soda! It's us against Big Soda. That's all. Don't bother me with details, I've already got my yes on D yard sign up. -more-
Since I have now been attacked twice in the Daily Planet by someone named Joanna Graham, most recently yesterday in a “Take Two” addendum to her original piece, it’s time to respond. Ms. Graham is apparently exercised that I stated the obvious about the forces at play in the 15th Assembly District race in an opinion piece I wrote elsewhere. -more-
November 4th is the day for us to decide about important issues facing us at home and abroad. Let us elect those who will help us regain trust in the government and its policymakers. At the present time, our basic needs are ignored in favor of conveniences for the rich. Our need for basic health care and access to education is great. Our opportunity to be heard and to participate in decision-making is zero. -more-
Vote YES on HB 4307 and HB 4038. -more-
I fully agree with Carol Denny’s piece on leaf blowers. In communities where they are banned, neighbors should talk to neighbors whose gardeners persist in using the machine. However, as a professional gardener, whenever I hear a municipality is discussing banning the blower, I agree, blowers are polluting machines that disturb settled dust and urban particulate matter. However, if you are going to take away this tool from the worker, YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY HIM MORE if you want him to use a rake, hose or broom to achieve the same kind of cleanliness. Or, customers could accept a little less perfection... -more-
My 19-year old son died of AIDS back in the early days of the AIDS pandemic. The hysteria surrounding the Ebola crisis reminds me somewhat of the hysteria in the early days of the AIDS crisis. There was a plethora of misinformation, risky rumors, blaming of the victim, and lots of finger pointing. At one time an AIDS diagnosis was a virtual death sentence. But as AIDS hit the United States and Europe, money poured into research. Now AIDS is largely treatable as a chronic illness although medications are costly. -more-
Attempting to predict the outcome of the November 4th midterm elections, political observers have scratched their heads at the behavior of the youngest US demographic segment, the Millennials. These are the 80 million voters born after 1981. They have the power to determine any political race but it’s unclear what they want or even if they will vote. -more-
I often have paranoid feelings concerning mental health practitioners even though these are the professionals who apparently are trying to help. However, not all of this paranoia is unfounded. Among counselors who are generally dedicated and giving people, there are a few bad apples. -more-
Arts & Events
In a season dominated by star-quality sopranos, San Francisco Opera offered yet another outstanding company debut in Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian’s vocally voluptuous Floria Tosca. Critics have sometimes been harsh on Puccini’s Tosca – Joseph Kerman haughtily dismissed it as “that shabby little shocker” – but audiences have always loved it. In San Francisco, the first-night audience for Tosca on Thursday, October 23, offered frequent bravos and bravas as well as a standing ovation at the close of the opera. As was warranted, the greatest outbursts of applause went to Lianna Haroutounian for her sumptuous singing as Tosca, a role in which she offered superb vocalism featuring brilliant high notes and lush low notes. Haroutounian has already sung at Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and makes her New York Met debut later this year. -more-
Theater Review: 'Mahmoud'--Tara Grammy Presented by Golden Thread
"Taxi Driver, Gay Man, Pre-teen Girl--One Iranian Actress, One BIG identity crisis."
CITIZENFOUR: Documenting Edward Snowden's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Act of Courage
Opens at the Albany Twin theater on October 24.
CITIZENFOUR is a real-life spy thriller featuring three charismatic and eloquent individuals driven by high moral purpose into a knife-ringed pit of high-stakes intrigue. The dialogue crackles like a Hollywood script in a story that unfolds like a John le Carre novel. -more-
Note: Director Judy Irving will be on stage for a Q&A after Saturday's 7:20PM screening. -more-
Press Release: Melody of China to Combine Chinese Traditional Music with Western New Music in Bay Area Premiere Performances in November
Talent and beauty are merged into one as Melody of China, San Francisco’s premiere Chinese chamber ensemble, premieres a new work at Old First Church on Friday, November 7 at 8 P.M. with follow-up performances at Yoshi’s Oakland and the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View. The program will feature captivating performances by the bold and dynamic Melody of China, known for their mastery of Chinese traditional instruments, with talented guests Peter Josheff, Jon Jang, Francis Wong, Marcus Shelby and Deszon X. Claiborne.
All three concerts will showcase Melody of China’s (MoC) newest commissions, exciting collaborations, and lively traditional selections. The program at Old First Church (San Francisco) will feature the premiere of Yuanlin Chen’s "Coexistent Beauty" for yangqin, guzheng, pipa, sheng, dizi, bass clarinet, violin, cello, keyboard and electronics. Chen’s piece, supported by a grant from Chamber Music America, will be performed again at the Community School of Music and Arts and Yoshi’s Oakland. In the composer’s words: “Coexistent Beauty explores differences and connections in various perspectives among human society.” The program at Yoshi’s will also include a new work for Chinese instruments and jazz quartet along with a vocal performance by MoC’s own Gangqin Zhao. The program at the Community School will include Chen’s new work and traditional selections. Other pieces include "Flying China," MoC’s own medley of traditional pieces showcasing each instrument, and several other stirring selections from the group’s vast traditional repertoire.
The concerts will feature several high-profile guests including the bay area’s leading new music clarinetist Peter Josheff, violinist Dan Flanagan, cellist Kevin Yu, drummer Deszon X. Claiborne, Mongolian Horse-head fiddle master Bo Li and keyboardist Eric Myers. The Yoshi’s date will also feature jazz pioneers pianist Jon Jang, saxophonist Francis Wong and bassist Marcus Shelby. -more-
Oakland—On Saturday, October 26, 2014, hundreds of people from across the Bay Area will picket at Berth 57 in the Port of Oakland to block the Israeli owned ZIM Lines ship from unloading to protest Israel’s continued blockade on Gaza and its ongoing occupation of Palestine. Organized by Block the Boat Coalition (BTB), this protest follows the historic success of a similar BTB action in August in response to the Israeli bombardment on Gaza. The Zim Piraeus was prevented from unloading for four straight days and was ultimately forced to leave with most of its cargo still on board. -more-