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Dress Codes for Customers at the Berkeley Credit Union?!? An Open Letter to Fadhila Holman, Manager, Berkeley Co-op Credit Union

Robert Brokl and Alfred Crofts
Monday November 09, 2015 - 04:15:00 PM

My husband and I have been members of the Berkeley Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union (now at Ashby and Adeline) for approximately 40 years, and your four moves during that period. We were happy to see the swelling number of members after the commercial banking disasters, and people looking for alternative community banking. However, after that giddy period at the credit union, we have noticed a chill, an unfriendliness. The imposition of the restrictive no dog policy, increasingly long holds on deposits, and apparently large staff turnover are examples. That change in tone was manifested like a ton of bricks last week, by the decree by fiat of your new dress code and its implementation by your aggressive and hostile security guard.  

I had been asked to “tip" my baseball cap by the same guard recently. I was taken aback, but in a hurry, and complied. (A note: I am hair-challenged, my scalp and head is sensitive to cold and sun, and I wear a hat nearly everywhere with no problem.) Last Friday, Nov. 6, as we entered the bank, the guard demanded I remove my cap. I hesitated this time. He then demanded that Alfred Crofts, my husband and fellow member, take off his sunglasses, who angrily refused. The guard referred us to the notice posted on the front window as justification. He then ordered the tellers not to serve us until we complied, but they did anyway. Later, we checked out the new sign, which “requests” customers remove “hats, hoods, headgear, and sunglasses…” Code. 

So, our question for you, is this new policy for reasons of customers obscuring their identity or weapons? If it is to protect against weapons, then obviously purses, bags, backpacks, briefcases, etc. are suspect and would need to be searched or x-rayed. If for purposes of identification and for security cameras, why stop there? Will you next be adding yarmakas, Sikh turbans, head scarves, hijabs, niqabs, burkas, al-amiras, shaylas, chadors, respiratory masks, wigs or toupees, hats for chemo patients with hair loss, heavy make-up, Halloween or party costumes, etc. What about customers stopping in on the way to formal occasions, dressed formally?  

And will your insensitive security guard—the credit union’s de facto customer ambassador and representative--get to make the obvious judgment calls that will be necessary? (He is in marked contrast with the other regular guard, Lena, who is remarkably courteous and friendly. ) Alfred pointed out on Friday the customer at the window next to us who was also wearing sunglasses, with no objection from the guard. After his recent eye injury, Harry Reid wears dark glasses—would he be refused service? Stevie Wonder? 

Since this IS Berkeley, what about the customers who dress for personal or artistic expression or for religious reasons (c.f., the recent Abercrombie and Fitch head scarf ruling)?  

Since Friday, we have been researching whether the credit union policy is simply part of a trend toward airport security at other venues? Certainly that has not been our personal experience in other Bay Area banks we patronize and we noted the Wells Fargo bank in SF Civic Center next to the public library and a large homeless population has only a “no smoking” sign at the entrance. Closer at hand, the Oakland Temescal Bank of the West has no such signs, dogs allowed. The Wells Fargo in the Berkeley Elmwood at College and Ashby, which has had several robberies, has plexiglass windows protecting the tellers (but not all the employees), dog-friendly with treats. In Downtown Berkeley on Shattuck, at Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Union, and Mechanics Banks no dress codes, plexi barriers for the tellers at Union Bank, all except Bank of America dog-friendly, which does allow dogs for the “handicapped." 

In summary, the Cooperative Credit Union with its dress codes is not just an outlier, but the exception, and management is exposing the credit union (and its members) to anti-discrimination litigation. 

Our request is simply that the policy be immediately rescinded, that the credit union if necessary undertake a public process regarding personal attire and security issues, and that—at a minimum—the security guard receive sensitivity training. The other question of course is why such provocative, controversial, and rare if not non-existent elsewhere policy got implemented in the first place, under the radar? 

Habitot Raises almost $3500 to Hold Birthday Parties for Homeless Kids

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Saturday November 07, 2015 - 02:53:00 PM

Habitot Children's Museum staff have raised almost $3,500 to hold birthday parties for homeless children, museum officials said Thursday.  

Staff with the At-Home-At-Habitot program host the parties, which let children learn about giving, growing up, sharing and interacting, according to museum officials. 

Homeless children may lose that chance to learn and enjoy the joy of birthday parties, museum officials said.  

The parties at Habitot Children's Museum give kids 2.5 hours of time in the museum, a dedicated party room, a personalized birthday cake, a gift, music, decorations, art-room supplies and transportation to the museum, if needed, according to museum officials.  

Museum staff raised $8,444 in 2013, which allowed them to host birthday parties for 200 homeless children in 2014, museum officials said.

How Should Berkeley Deal with Homelessness on November 17? A Discussion

Friday November 06, 2015 - 02:25:00 PM

On November 17 Councilmember Linda Maio plans to introduce some new measures which some have characterized as criminalization of homelessness, and suggested that they would violate current HUD policies. The measures can be found here (Action21) and here (Action22). In the Public Comment section below, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane outlines how he wants his city to deal with homelessness, which is also a problem in that other college town, and Carol Denney discusses the new HUD rules. 

There are also articles on the topic by Denney and Councilmember Jesse Arreguin in last week's issue.

Press Release: Berkeley Public Library Hires Beth Pollard as Interim Director of Library Sevices

Friday November 06, 2015 - 03:46:00 PM

The Berkeley Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) has appointed Beth Pollard as the Interim Director of Library Services, Chair Abigail Franklin announced today.

Filling the vacancy from the departure of former Director Jeff Scott in September, Pollard will step in to provide management oversight for the Library as it prepares to recruit a new director.

Pollard, the former City Manager of Albany, served this past year as Interim Deputy City Manager for the City of Berkeley for six months during the recruitment process for the Deputy City Manager position.

“Beth has just the right combination of strong management skills, leadership ability, and familiarity with Berkeley to help guide us during this transition,” said Abigail Franklin, Board Chair. 

“We have tremendous talent in our Library staff,” said Franklin, “on whom Beth can rely for a wide range of library services expertise to complement her general management insight and experience.” 

The Board is especially appreciative of current Acting Director Sarah Dentan, whom it tapped to step in immediately after Scott’s departure, Franklin said. She will return to her duties as Acting Deputy Director in addition to Library Services Manager. 

Included in Pollard’s background is a period as Acting Director of the San Anselmo Library and service on the International City/County Management Association’s Local Government-Public Library Partnership Initiative. 

Pollard said she is thrilled to be returning to work in Berkeley, and in particular in the Library. “Libraries grow minds and expand hearts,” said Pollard, “and Berkeley is a leader in seeing that growth and expansion are available to everyone.” 

“I look forward to partnering with Berkeley Public Library’s enthusiastic and dedicated Board, Staff, Friends, Foundation, and community to maintain excellent library services over the coming months,” she added. 

Before serving as Albany’s City Manager for 12 years, Pollard worked for the towns of Fairfax and San Anselmo for 20 years, starting as a secretary and working her way to San Anselmo Town Administrator after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Cal State Hayward/East Bay. 

Library Trustee Winston Burton underscored his enthusiasm for Pollard’s appointment, “Beth has proven herself as a respected community leader. She has a demonstrated ability to work well with management and line staff of various cultures and ethnicities.” 

Pollard will start in the position November 9 and serve until a new Director is appointed, anticipated for Spring 2016. 

The Berkeley Public Library consists of the Central Library, four newly renovated Branch libraries.

Unbearable News: UC Berkeley Now Has an "Official Bank"

Gar Smith
Friday November 06, 2015 - 03:22:00 PM

The corporate colonization of the Berkeley Campus continues apace. On October 27, The Daily Californian announced Amazon's plans to establish a base camp inside the new Student Union building, complete with Amazon shipping lockers and a digital lounge. Now comes word that Bank of the West has staked a claim to 989 square feet of commercial turf inside the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.

On October 30, Bank of the West (BoW, a member of the Paris-based BNP Paribas Group) took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle to proclaim: "Bank of the West is now the official bank of UC Berkeley—a pioneering relationship between two premiere organizations."


Why did BoW (the state's fifth-largest bank) get the nod over, say, Bank of America? The ad would lead one to believe it was all just a matter of ursine solidarity. Berkeley's mascot is a bear, BoW's logo includes a bear and, as the Chron ad proudly put it: "In the West, We Bears Take Care of Our Own." 

And so, beginning in January 2016, it's official: Oski Bear is bullish on commercialism. 

A report in the Daily Cal explained that this latest corporate intrusion into the halls of Academe was spurred by the University Partnership Program (UPP) as "part of a broader initiative to increase partnerships with private businesses in an attempt to tap new sources of revenue . . . . with the goal of marketing UC Berkeley to potential sponsors as a whole institution." 

According to UCB officials, the search for Cal Berkeley's first "official bank" involved a competitive bidding process. So Oski's brand bank might easily have wound up being the Bank of Shanghai. (Chase and CitiBank were reportedly involved in the bidding to become UC Berkeley's reigning banker.) 

Unfortunately, the new corporate take-over was bad news for CUBS (Credit Union for Berkeley Students, Faculty, and Staff), the bear-friendly, student-operated cooperative savings organization that has been tending to student and faculty needs for decades. On its Website, CUBS explains how a coop differs from a commercial bank: "Credit unions are not-for-profit, meaning that all profits earned go back to its members in the form of lower fees and higher interest on interest-bearing accounts. Organized to serve, democratically controlled credit unions provide their members with a safe place to save and borrow at reasonable rates. Members elect the volunteer board that runs each credit union." 

A staffer at the Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union (which absorbed the campus credit union in 2000) explained that the coop's last on-campus ATM was removed when the Student Union was closed for remodeling. The Coop's CUBS lease was up for renewal but the bidding process put an end to student-run, non-commercial banking on campus. There was just no way the Coop could compete against some of the biggest names in global banking. 

(There is, however, something good to be said for BoW's parent bank. In August 2007, BNP Paribas was the first major financial group to blow the whistle on the risks of sub-prime lending and the company promptly shut down its two sub-prime accounts.) 

BoW will be setting up shop on the first floor of the Student Union as part of a 10-year contract that will ban every other commercial bank from campus grounds. BoW plans to spend S13 million imbedding its infrastructure on the USB landscape and, in return, the bank expects to rake in multiple millions. 

And what does UCB stand to gain? Well, in exchange for its exclusive lock on campus commerce, BoW is expected to offer UCB around $1.7 million per year in financial support. It has been suggested that $240,000 of that sum could flow to student programs with another $100,000 going to the Cal Alumni Association. 

Some might see a conflict of interest here, since it was the ASUC Student Union Board of Directors that voted to accept the BoW's lease agreement on October 28. In fairness, the Student Union only played a companion role in the deal. The UPP was the architect of the agreement: The ASUC was only shown the full contract as "a courtesy" since the sole item it was asked to approve was the lease of space inside the Student Union. Some ASUC members complained they had not been given sufficient time to review to contract prior to voting. 

"I wanted to see the breakdown of the stakeholders," Grad Student Assembly President Jenna Kingkade told the Daily Cal. "Where is the money going? I wanted to make sure the Student Union got a fair deal." According to the Daily Cal, a review of the full agreement failed to reveal specific obligations as to what funding would flow to the ASUC's coffers. 

The contract does require that BoW make annual donations to the Bear Opportunity Endowment, a BoW-run program that generates "financial awards" to be managed by UCB's Financial Aid and Scholarships Office. 

The contract promises that the Cal Athletics sports program will receive some financial drip-down from the deal, but there is a precondition. As the Daily Cal explains, the funding is being offered "in exchange for allowing the bank advertising opportunities, such as placing banners or signs in offices, the Recreational Sports Facility and Memorial Stadium." 

The contract grants BoW "exclusive" rights to flog its "financial services" in Bear territory. BoW will install seven ATMs on campus—one in the Student Union, one in the Hass Business School and other locations to be announced. BoW will control all student checking accounts as well as financial planning. The contract explicitly bans UCB from advertizing any competing services on campus. BoW also promises to host a campus "financial literacy program" and plans to offer "paid internships" (presumably to students interested in careers with BoW). 

Where is this commercialization of the UC collegium likely to end? Hard to tell, but here is a suggestion for the financial wizards at the UPP: 

Sign a deal with the Italian automaker Fiat to design a new luxury vehicle for UC administrators and other Masters of Capital. It would be called the Fiat Luxe.

September Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday November 06, 2015 - 02:51:00 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! 

The White Elephant Sale is Coming

Toni Mester
Friday November 06, 2015 - 01:50:00 PM

Donations to the Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale will be accepted at the Warehouse on Saturday November 7 and December 5, and the van is available for pick-up of large items. 

The annual sale, slated for March 5 and 6, last year raised over $2 million for the Oakland Museum, an educational and cultural center that serves the community not only with exhibits but also parties and events year-round, including Friday nights that feature music and Off-the Grid food trucks and half price admission to the Museum. 

Artists are encouraged to donate inventory that is cluttering up closets and studios, works that haven’t sold but deserve to be treasured by new owners, especially young and low-income city dwellers who otherwise could not afford original art. The donation of art work is tax-deductible and will probably be snatched up at the Preview Sale on Sunday January 31, which is a ticketed event that attracts collectors who have an eye and a purse for quality originals. 

Artists who are planning to donate should ensure that your work is clearly marked with name and date to establish provenance and attribution. A frame ensures a higher price at the sale as well as for the tax-deduction. 

All gifts allow the donor entrance to the warehouse on the days just prior to the March White Elephant Sale, avoiding the long lines. If you have never experienced this high end garage sale, it’s a treasure trove and a hoot! They don’t take everything, so be sure to check the list of items that are not accepted before packing your boxes. 

Toni Mester is a member of the Oakland Museum Heritage Society. 



The Chronicle Gets Berkeley Wrong--Again

Becky O'Malley
Friday November 06, 2015 - 12:45:00 PM

If you’re lucky enough to have skipped J-School, and are one of the many Berkeley residents who have dropped their subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle, you just might want to take a look at a text-book example of lazy journalism in this morning’s issue: Berkeley Plaza housing needed, but meets with resistance.

(Good luck, however, navigating their lame pay wall. I’ve been a subscriber for forty years, and I still have to reset my password EVERY SINGLE TIME I try to read it online.)

Columnist Chip Johnson has authored a classic single-source story, in which he appears to have talked only to the clever developer’s shill who’s fronting for the luxury housing development which has been approved by Berkeley’s developer-dominated Zoning Adjustment Board. He doesn’t even seem to know what the relationship of proponent Mark Rhoades is to the property owner, for example.

He says that Rhoades is “the principal in the Rhoades Planning Group, which holds the contract for the Berkeley Plaza development.” Well, yes, Mark’s the front man, but the applicant is Hill Street Properties of Los Angeles, whose principal is a guy named Joseph Penner, who specializes in flipping entitled project sites. What “holds the contract” means to Chip is anyone’s guess. I don’t expect he has much business experience.

If he were a real reporter, which he’s not, he might have talked to some of the people who oppose the plan, or maybe even come to a meeting or two—after all, there were more than 30 of them. If he’d been at the last couple of ZAB meetings he might have noticed that at least one of the board members who voted against the project was clearly under 30, probably under 25. Instead, he bought into Rhoades’ pejorative characterization of opponents as “grey pony tails”. 

And by the way, Chip, the quote is “don’t trust anyone over 30”, not “over 40”, an error for which he seems to blame architecture critic John King, who’s not that dumb. 

While we’re on the subject of errors, let’s also notice that Chip locates this project as being near “the Ashby BART station”. Well, it’s true that BART stations in Berkeley are fairly close together, but someone who’s actually been here (which doesn’t seem to include Chip) might say that the building would actually be near the Downtown Berkeley BART station. Facts, facts, facts—it appears that Chronicle columnists these days are allowed to be immune to facts. 

Then there’s this quote: 

“It’s exactly the kind of growth that progressives across the Bay Area have been screaming for for more than a decade — and now it doesn’t meet Berkeley’s architectural standards. 

“This is an old story in Berkeley, and the lengths to which preservationists have gone to maintain historic buildings, which includes reducing original walls to paper-thin facades, are too often petty and frivolous.” 

Okay, Chronicle editors, if there still are any. I challenge anyone who’s still sentient at the old paper to produce even a single Berkeley instance of ‘reducing original walls to paper-thin facades.” Makes a handy cheap rhetorical flourish, but it’s just not true. You could even ask John King if you don’t believe me. 

And then there’s that claim that “It’s exactly the kind of growth that progressives across the Bay Area have been screaming for for more than a decade.” No, Chip, evidently you don’t even read the Chronicle. That would be what progressives have been screaming about, not screaming for. 

Surely you noticed, in the recent San Francisco election, the substantial opposition to exactly this kind of “luxury market-rate” (translation: pricey) building, when what’s needed is affordable housing. Seems to me there was some kind of ballot measure about this, wasn’t there, which came pretty close to passing, didn’t it? Supported by progressives, remember? 

Another fast and loose with facts example: “ 'from 1970 to 1995 they built only 600 new housing units,' Rhoades said.” Chip fell for the oldest trick in the “How to Lie with Statistics” book. Rhoades, as any 10th grade math student could tell you, deliberately selected the economic period of lowest growth. 1995 was twenty years ago—the relevant question is what’s been built since. 

From an excellent piece by Tom Hunt: “Over the last 8 years Berkeley has added only 14% of the housing goals set by the regional Plan Bay Area for moderate income and below but has added 89% of the goal for households making more than $92,566 (Above Moderate Income). If we don't build 1116 units of affordable housing before we build 125 above moderate income units, we won't build our way out of the affordable housing hole we're in.” Hey, Chip, take a look at these figures

And finally we come to the identified opinion part of Johnson’s rant. As a columnist, he’s hired to be opinionated, so we can’t quibble when he is. But we can call his opinions stupid if we want to, and we do. 

He opines:“The Berkeley Plaza project is a worthy, needed project packed with many perks included in the community benefits package offered by the developer. 

“It’s a good deal for the city that includes a $6 million payment to the city’s affordable housing efforts and a pledge to refurbish the 10-screen Shattuck Theater, an anchor entertainment venue on Berkeley’s main thoroughfare.” 

Six million dollars? Oh, come on. 

In an area where the median home price is now hovering above a million, just how many affordable homes would this project provide? As anyone who reads what passes for the Berkeley press—either berkeleydailyplanet.com or berkeleyside.com—knows, this particular project has been given a very special break on the in-lieu payment that the Berkeley city planning department is offering for all market-rate projects like this. And the developers will be allowed to pay up on the $6 million not when the $86 million building is permitted, as they’d have to do in San Francisco, but when it’s occupied, 3-5 years hence. 

The $6 million fee, moreover, is deeply discounted from the affordable housing payment that will probably be required for subsequent tall buildings now in the works for downtown Berkeley. Could this have anything to do with Mark Rhoades’ former job with the city of Berkeley’s planning department? I know, I know, Chip Johnson is not an investigative reporter, but he shouldn’t be a sucker. 

In San Francisco, by contrast, buildings which ask for special concessions outside the usual zoning are being required to include affordable units on-site, not just to make pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by payments into a slush fund which will probably never build anything. 

San Francisco typically requires the inclusion of affordable units in every project which gets special consideration—one recent very big building has offered to include 40% of such units at the time of completion. 

And that plan to “refurbish” the 10-screen Shattuck Theater? It’s a joke. How is it a good deal to first destroy the existing, profitable Shattuck Theater and then—maybe—rebuild it after a lengthy construction period? At best, it’s compensation for damage done, and it’s not legally enforceable by the public. 

It’s hard to understand what the Chronicle has to gain by buying into the ageism which this pathetic single-source puff piece represents. I’d wager that the “over-60 property owners” that the probably 50-something Mark Rhoades denigrates with the help of Chip Johnson (no spring chicken himself) represent the Chron’s target demographic, or at least its actual demographic. 

My under-60 offspring long ago stopped reading the Chronicle. (One of them went to Berkeley High with San Francisco Supervisor-elect Aaron Peskin, who seems to have won handily without the Chronicle’s blessing.) 

Oh well, now that Jon Carroll is retiring, there will not be much reason for this over-60 print reader to continue to subscribe to the San Francisco Chronicle. It seldom covers Berkeley, and when it does it gets it wrong, in this case embarrassingly wrong. I’ll miss Caille Milner and sometimes Leah Garchik, but that’s about it. 


The Editor's Back Fence

Do You Want to be a Subscriber?

Friday November 06, 2015 - 04:04:00 PM

It has come to my attention that many people have no idea that they could get a free "subscription" to the Berkeley Daily Planet, Berkeley's independent non-commercial online publication with a modest amount of news and a lot of opinion. All you have to do is write to subscribe@berkeleydailyplanet.com, and then you'll get Updates which contain links to let you know when something interesting has been posted, a lot on Fridays.

Public Comment

Demolition of Rent-Controlled Units Sets Bad Precedent

Berkeley Tenants Union
Friday November 06, 2015 - 04:02:00 PM

On Tuesday November 17, the City Council will hear Berkeley Tenants’ appeal of the demolition of 18 rent-controlled units at 2631 Durant. The units were 100% occupied when the owner applied for the demolition. 

Allowing the demolition presents dangerous precedents: 

1) The staff report and corresponding opinion by the City Attorney for 2631 Durant say that the requirement under BMC 23C.080 that any rent controlled unit be replaced with permanently affordable housing does not apply to demolitions at all, ever. 

2) The staff report also says that a 4.17% return on investment in the initial year is not enough profit to be called a “fair return” for the developer. In addition, that 4% estimate is based on a pro-forma using 2015 market rent ceilings for older, rent controlled units in the area (studio = $1495) while the Housing Element shows that market rents in a rehabilitated building would be much higher (studio = $2,239).  

This would be the first time Berkeley has allowed an owner to claim he can’t make a fair return on a rehabilitated building. 

3) There is one other disturbing fact in this case – developer Cliff Orloff argues that the building is infeasible to repair but the staff report shows they invited the Berkeley Fire Department to conduct exercises in the building, including cutting holes in the roof!! Additionally, the developer has been aware of termites since they bought the building several years ago, but has allowed their damage to go uncheck, and the developer left the building open, so damage was also caused by squatters, despite multiple notices from Code Enforcement. To grant this project as requested is to condone demolition by neglect.  

Please stand with Berkeley Tenants Union and Associated Students of UC Berkeley (ASUC) in asking that the Council honor the intent of the voter-approved Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (1974), the Rent Removal Ordinance (1984) and the Demolition Ordinance: 

1) Loss of older, rent controlled or otherwise affordable housing must be mitigated by replacement with permanently affordable housing for Low or Very Low income renters.  

2) The pro-forma should be based on projected 2017 market rents for rehabilitated buildings. An initial Return on Investment of 4% is an acceptable return. 

3) Owners should not be rewarded for allowing buildings to fall apart. 

Join Us at City Council on November 17, and send an email to the City Council, marked “Durant Appeal, November 17” by writing clerk@cityofberkeley.info 

– they should get your email by November 10th.

HUD Hooks Funding to Fairness

Carol Denney
Friday November 06, 2015 - 02:20:00 PM

Is your local politician immune to moral shaming? Does he or she pass ordinances targeting homeless people for sitting down, or sleeping in public, or having camping equipment with you? Are you scratching your head wondering how to make it stop? 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) might be able to help. 

Almost two billion dollars of “Continuum of Care” grant money is slated to go to applicants who use proven, effective strategies to address homelessness. Applicants will compete for funding based on their willingness to adopt best practices, such as permanent housing.  

It’s one thing to stack up position papers on the waste of continually giving tickets to people with no money, cycling people through emergency rooms instead of providing housing and services, and wasting police resources on issues which would disappear if everybody simply had somewhere to live. 

But it’s another thing to hold a steaming pot of two billion dollars of public funding under municipal and county noses with an offer to share it if and only if it isn’t wasted. 

Treating people who have nowhere to go as though they were criminals isn’t just bewildering, ineffective, and immoral—it’s wasteful. The HUD guidelines are clear: they want proof that cities are using proven strategies that have a lasting impact on a local level, a focus on root causes, a commitment to decriminalization, and housing first as an effective strategy. The guidelines were issued only a few short weeks after the Department of Justice’s Statement of Interest clarifying that laws criminalizing sleeping, sitting down, etc., are cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of constitutional rights. 

Eric Tars of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty puts it this way:“for the first time HUD is asking Continuums to ‘describe how they are reducing criminalization of homelessness.’ Inthe extremely competitive funding process, Continuums’ ability to fully respond to thisquestion can determine up to two points in the funding application, and in many cases could bethe difference between receiving funding and not.” 

Imagine the city of Santa Cruz, which has criminalized sleeping, or the city of Sacramento, which has criminalized “camping” on public or private property without a permit, attempting to address this particular portion of an application for federal funds. 

No one can be sure whether this clear signal regarding Continuum of Care grant money is something cities can sidestep semantically by referring to what we recognize as anti-poor laws as something else— “safety enhancement” laws to keep sidewalks from being blocked? Park protection laws to keep public lawns healthy? Politicians use stock phrases to defend anti-poor laws, suggesting that they’re trying to make sidewalks accessible, to enhance “commercial vitality”[1], to address a public “perception” of danger, etc. And certainly HUD’s even more recent announcement that it is proposing a reduction in the Bar Area East Bay’s Section 8 fair market rents, which will increase the number of households unable to use Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, indicates that the housing crisis will not disappear overnight. 

But the Department of Justice’s recent Statement of Interest announcing that Boise, Idaho’s anti-homeless law is flatly unconstitutional and the HUD grant guidelines asking cities to describe “how they are reducing criminalization of homelessness” are a clear signal that at least in these waning days of the Obama administration there is agreement that wasting money is bad policy. 

[1] City of Berkeley, California 

How Santa Cruz Deals with Homelessness, and Some New Ideas Which Berkeley Should Consider

Don Lane, Mayor of Santa Cruz
Friday November 06, 2015 - 02:03:00 PM

As I write this letter, the City Council I belong to is about to take up a variety of measures related to homelessness. Some of these items will be discussed this week. Others will presumably be discussed over the next few months. With winter coming soon and this set of issues once again coming to the top of the Santa Cruz community’s agenda, I’d like to outline a framework for looking at these issues and make some specific proposals. 

But let me begin with a quick report on some good news and some bad news in the field of homelessness in Santa Cruz. 

First, the good news: 

—There are several successful program models that are having a positive impact on both the community and the individuals that had been experiencing homelessness in Santa Cruz. The permanent supportive housing model, which our county began to put into practice many years ago has demonstrated real success. The 180-2020 Project, which built on the early local success with permanent supportive housing, has (in the last 3 years) housed more than 350 individuals that had been chronically homeless on the streets of Santa Cruz County for many years. And a City/County partnership (once called the Downtown Accountability Program and now going by the name PACT) to break the cycle of homelessness, nuisance crime and over-utilization of costly emergency services is showing very good results. 

—The nationwide "Mayors' Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness" and the high level of federal funding associated with the effort to house every veteran is bearing real fruit both nationally and locally. The lead agencies for this effort in Santa Cruz — the Veterans Resource Center and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs — are well-funded, well-staffed and are housing local homeless veterans every week. 

—A public/private/nonprofit partnership worked to create and adopt a forward looking county-wide strategic plan ("All In") to address homelessness. That plan, which continues and strengthens a positive trend toward approaches to reduce and end homelessness rather than the past practice of relying too much on managing it, was adopted unanimously by every local government jurisdiction in our county. 

—The County of Santa Cruz recently funded the hiring a high-level staff person to coordinate the countywide homeless services system and to guide implementation of the countywide strategic plan. The County also stepped in with major gap funding to sustain two programs at the Homeless Services Center when HSC experienced a major funding loss. These are part of a very significant trend of County government’s larger commitment to taking on the issue of homelessness. There might have been a time when the City of Santa Cruz could have had some justification for claiming that the County was not meeting its responsibility in taking on the challenge of homelessness. That time has now passed. 

—The Association of Faith Communities has rebuilt the Interfaith Satellite Shelter Program and it is now serving 15 to 20 individuals per night on a rotating basis at local churches. The program is also doing new work to link participants to a wider range of services and moving more people into long-term housing. 

—Lastly (in the good news category) the 2015 Homeless Census and Survey showed that our county (and the city of Santa Cruz) had a significant reduction in homeless population. I don't mind saying that I don't think that this census is a very precise tool for measuring the numerical level of homelessness but it is widely recognized as a good tool for seeing general trends and the trend on the level of homelessness in Santa Cruz is a good one. 


Now, the not so good news… 


—In contrast to the good news at the county government level, the City of Santa Cruz has reduced its funding commitment for homelessness programs even as the County has increased its funding substantially. This City reduction was not done to single out homeless services for budget reductions—— the cuts came to almost all human services programs. However valid those reasons for this reduction, it is a real problem that the reduction in City funding for homeless services has been significant. 

—The Daytime Essential Services program at the Homeless Services Center has been severely curtailed due to the loss of key state grant funding. This means hundreds of people without homes have lost regular access to breakfast and dinner meals and to sanitation facilities including restrooms and showers. It also means many people who had a somewhat protected place to spend their days are now passing their days in public spaces and neighborhoods all around the community. I know some people might have imagined that, if day services at HSC were severely restricted or eliminated, that the community problems associated with homelessness would diminish and that many people living on the street would go away from Santa Cruz. The verdict on this idea seems to be in —— and homelessness did not go away. (My judgment on this is based on reports from all over the community suggesting that people who appear to be homeless are still present all over town and the burden placed on the community by extensive homelessness has not diminished significantly.) 

—The Paul Lee Loft Shelter at HSC also lost substantial funding this year and has adapted to grant funding requirements by changing its role from a short term emergency shelter to a different kind of interim housing program. The Loft Shelter had been the main year—around emergency shelter for adults in the Santa Cruz area and it is no longer a contributor to meeting our short term shelter needs. Despite a fairly widespread misconception, we've never had a lot of emergency shelter for adults in the City of Santa Cruz. And now we have even less. No matter how you slice it, during most of the year, there are literally hundreds of adults without an indoor space to sleep at night. 

—It gets even worse. Because HSC has had to cut so much program and so much staffing, without additional funding, it will not be staffed and equipped to be the operator of north Santa Cruz County's Winter Shelter Program (at the National Guard Armory in DeLaveaga Park.) HSC will need tens of thousands of dollars of new funding to operate a Winter Shelter Program. 

—Even if our city and county come up with enough funding to sustain the Winter Shelter Program, when the weather turns bad (as in very heavy El Niño rains) the Winter Shelter will not be sufficient. It can serve about 100 adults. There are several hundred unsheltered individuals in the immediate Santa Cruz area. 

—It's also important to note here what is probably the worst news of all: rental housing costs are skyrocketing. It's widely agreed that our area is experiencing a housing affordability crisis that is likely worse than any past housing crisis we've seen. People, mainly people with jobs, are being priced out of their rental housing situations every day. This suggests that both a potential increase in homelessness could emerge and that it will be more difficult than ever to move local people off of the streets and into housing. 

— Last but not least in the bad news category: we are continuing to experience tremendous litter and waste disposal problems along with environmental damage as a result of careless actions by people camping in our parks and open spaces. The City has sought to manage this problem by increasing ranger and police interventions and through the issuance of citations—— especially camping citations. The number of camping and sleeping citations issued this year has increased tremendously compared to previous years. Yet hundreds of individuals continue to sleep in our parks and open space lands every night. I think we have a failure of policy and practice on multiple levels. a) Our camping enforcement activities are not substantially reducing the number of people sleeping in these public spaces. b) The environmental damage and litter damage persists. c) We have more citations being issued that end up having little deterrent effect while consuming much law enforcement time. 

Beyond what I’ve categorized as good news and bad news, there is another significant piece of news. The federal government has, in a variety of ways, signaled that it will not provide federal homelessness funding to localities that enforce laws against sleeping outside when those who are sleeping outside have no legal alternative. The feds have also started to intervene in court cases that question local laws that prohibit sleeping in public places for people who have no place else to sleep. 

The City of Santa Cruz has been able to maneuver through this legal situation in recent years. Several years ago, the City Council worked with the City Attorney to set up a system whereby people who had sought emergency shelter but were turned away for lack of space could have sleeping and camping citations dismissed. This has been less than a perfect system but it least it tried to avoid penalizing people who had made an effort to avoid sleeping outside. Now this model is becoming less functional because there is almost no drop—in emergency shelter in our city. (In the non—winter season —— April to November—— there are something like 15 to 30 unrestricted emergency shelter beds in Santa Cruz) It has become extraordinarily difficult for any homeless adult to find any emergency shelter. If court rulings continue to hold that penalizing people for sleeping outside when they have no alternative is unconstitutional, Santa Cruz (and hundreds of cities around the country) will no longer be able to enforce this kind of ordinance. 

A related issue which has surfaced locally, partially in the context of our city council's consideration of RV parking regulations, is the reality that many people without homes sleep in their vehicles. Courts have begun to wade into this issue, too, and the general trend seems to be that cities might not be able to restrict people from sleeping in their vehicle if their vehicle is in every other way compliant with the law. When Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo tried to ban people without homes from sleeping in vehicles, lawsuits ensued and both cities were required to make some allowance for sleeping in vehicles. 

So we have quite a tangled web of challenges and circumstances to take on as we wrestle with homelessness. 

As I mentioned before, our local governments have adopted a strategic plan that I believe provides an excellent road map for how we can successfully reduce homelessness in our county. It’s based on well—tested models that are working elsewhere. These models are now showing success here. But this roadmap was not primarily designed to address some of our most pressing short—term challenges. And, beyond that, the conceptual roadmap is just a plan on our desks unless we take concrete actions and make a real commitment of resources to implement it. 

So... I would like to offer for community discussion a set of proposals that I hope will be considered and then acted upon by the City of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz City Council in the coming days and months: 

1) Commit additional funds in the amount of $31,000 to ensure that the Winter Shelter Program can operate again this year and provide shelter for up to 100 adults throughout what we expect will be a very wet rainy season. I also suggest we indicate a willingness to contribute a modest amount more if there is a weather—based need and a countywide willingness to extend the Winter Shelter program for extra weeks. (The final decision on this second part would occur in February or March.) 

2) In conjunction with a mid-year budget update and budget adjustment in January, consider an additional allocation of funds to sustain the Paul Lee Loft Shelter through the current fiscal year, allowing that program additional time to seek a state Emergency Solutions Grant in 2016 without closing the loft program. (Allowing that program to close prior to the completion of the 2016 ESG funding cycle would virtually ensure that the program would lose eligibility for ESG funds next year.) 

3) The County of Santa Cruz has taken steps to create an emergency "warming center" program that will provide the most basic of protections from the rain and cold on nights that are either wet or have near- freezing temperatures. A volunteer organization is working in the Santa Cruz area to implement a similar Warming Center program for this winter season. While I think it is unrealistic for the City to take on providing all of the facilities that might be needed for a "warming center" program, I think we can be one of the partners in this. I propose that the City Council direct our City staff to identify a suitable facility (or facilities) to be used for up to 10 nights of warming center use this winter season at no charge—— contingent on the warming center volunteer project identifying other locations/facilities that will commit to sharing in this effort by providing 30 nights of warming center use. (It’s my understanding that the volunteer effort has already identified 20 nights of facility use from private organizations.) Of course, city staff would set reasonable standards for the use of city facilities and the city's offer of use of these facilities would be withdrawn if those standards are not met. 

4) Amend the current camping ordinance to remove references to "sleep" and "sleeping" and "covering up with blankets." I realize that some will argue that this will encourage even more camping in our city...and therefore result in even greater improper waste disposal and environmental damage. This does not have to be the case. Any person that sleeps outside and is also making a mess is committing other violations of city ordinances and this suggested amendment would do nothing to discourage enforcement of those ordinances. In fact, if the city council made it clear that waste problems and environmental damage are a priority for enforcement rather than sleeping, we could actually send the message that we are going to focus on the real impacts of camping rather than on the natural survival activity of sleeping. 

5) I propose that the City Council indicate that the City will seek a partner organization with experience working on homelessness to set up a pilot permit program for local residents living in vehicles (limited to 25 vehicles). City cooperation on this pilot program will be conditioned on a rule that the vehicle of each participant be registered at an address with a Santa Cruz zip code (95060—65). It would also be required that permissible parking locations be away from residences and be dispersed throughout the community and that the partner organization provide outreach services to the program participants. I believe this pilot would best be implemented in conjunction with the RV permitting program under development by city staff under previous city council direction. 

6) I believe the City should take a neutral and open stance on the question of creating a small, pilot camping area for people unable to access any other form of shelter. Personally, I think this kind of “outdoor shelter” is fraught with likely problems of significant magnitude. Santa Cruz’s earlier attempt at this kind of camping space turned out to provide a place for individuals to prey on the most vulnerable people in need of safe shelter. This does not mean that a genuinely safe and well—managed camping space would not have value—it means that a community organization with proven capacity to manage this kind of project would have to put a complete project plan together (including a legal and workable physical location). I think the City should indicate a willingness to permit such a program but not be partner in operating it. 

7) Direct our City Manager to include a proposal for City participation in the funding of the County's Homelessness Coordinator position in the 2016—17 City Budget. (There would not be a formal decision to provide funding in the near future—just a decision to consider this participation in the context of other budget decisions next June.) 

8) Engage in a process to determine what would be the city’s “fair share” of homeless services in relation to our county and our region. I believe we need to stop making our decisions on these issues based on the unwillingness of some other communities to take on any significant responsibility on this issue. If every community used that standard, we could pretend that it would be justified to do nothing. In light of the fact that hundreds of individuals living on our streets are “locals” by any standard, I believe we need to decide what we are willing to do for those individuals and build our funding commitments around this. It would also create a starting point for inviting our neighboring jurisdictions to do the same. 

9) Participate with other agencies (public and nonprofit) to evaluate and consider the best use of the facilities located at 115 Coral Street. Changes to HSC’s funding are having an impact not only on their programs but on the programs run by the County Health Department and the River Street Shelter operated by Encompass Community Services. We cannot afford to let any of those facilities to be underused when the need to address homelessness remains so high. The City and the community would be well—served to work with its partners on rethinking the use of those facilities. 

Of course, others in the community have different proposals and suggestions and I will consider those approaches as others consider mine. 


When we address an issue as complex, controversial and persistent as homelessness it’s not unusual for there to be some avoidance of one or more elements of the issue—elements that probably fit well under the tag "the elephant in the room." 

In Santa Cruz, I believe the biggest “elephant” is the behavior of a handful of high profile homelessness activists. (Note: these are homelessness activists—— the most notable among them are not themselves homeless.) Years of boisterous and offensive behavior have caused me to avoid dealing with some aspects of local homelessness issues. I imagine this is also the experience of some other local elected officials. Anyway, I am not proud of my choice to avoid some of these issues. I have allowed what I see as the poisonous behavior of a very small number of people to keep me from taking on some truly important issues. 

With this letter, I am trying to move in a new direction: no longer allowing this behavior by others to interfere with my efforts to address difficult aspects of homelessness as a community issue. I hope others in the community will join me in this new approach.  

I also want to be clear here that I don’t consider my assertion that some of the activists have behaved badly as a rejection of all of the substantive concerns those individuals have raised about local homelessness policy. Just because some of them behave poorly, does not mean all of their ideas or assertions are incorrect. 

I also want to suggest that there may well be a second elephant: the persistent avoidance by local government of the most difficult QUESTIONS related to homelessness. Here are some of the questions that really must no longer be avoided, especially in light of the Grand Jury’s recent report on homeless services and the emergency shelter crisis:  

—Where is a person who attended Santa Cruz High 15 years ago and who is now broke and troubled and living on the streets supposed to sleep tonight? 

—Where will we suggest that each of the several hundred unsheltered individuals in the Santa Cruz area spend the night when it starts raining hard? 

—What public purpose is served when an unsheltered, impoverished person gets a citation for sleeping outside? Is that kind of citation having any positive impact on the homelessness problem we have? 

—What is our city's "fair share" of services? How many emergency shelter beds are appropriate for us to have in a city of our size with our level of homelessness? 

——And, finally, a couple of specific questions for any official who includes in their response to these kinds of questions: "it is up to some other level of government or some other entity to deal with homelessness." What do we imagine homeless individuals should do while we wait for those other levels of government to step up? If those other entities are not doing their fair share, who should pay the price for that failure? Should it be those entities and their leaders or should it be the individuals who are struggling to survive without a home or a place of shelter? 

Lest any reader believe that I am pointing the finger at someone else to deflect from my own responsibility—I will simply say that I am as responsible as anyone in this community for our failure to address our lack of shelter and our over-reliance on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to manage homelessness. I have been a direct participant in many of my City’s decisions on homelessness. I have failed to adequately answer many of the questions I am posing. I’ve come to realize that I am not fulfilling my commitment to compassion and compassionate action if I don’t address these issues more thoroughly and engage others to join in that work with me 

I encourage others to join me in making a new commitment to address these issues more directly and effectively. I’m looking for new partners in this work. I’m also ready to engage in frank conversations on these issues with people of good will—even if we have disagreements on any particular policy or funding approach. We have so much work left to do. 


Don Lane [Mayor of Santa Cruz] 


(P.S. This is the fourteenth draft of this letter. I apologize for its length. I continue to wish I could communicate on this set of issues more clearly and make every point more completely. However, at some point, I have to say it’s “good enough” to launch what I hope will be fresh discussion and break out of some of the places we've been stuck.)

The Double Binds that Beset Berkeley's City Council When It Tries to Address Affordable Housing

Steve Martinot
Friday November 06, 2015 - 01:36:00 PM

A sort-of townhall meeting, quaintly named “affordable housing 101,” is being planned for November 14 by the city’s South Berkeley “Idea Center.” One supposes it will be about how City Council will be providing affordable housing in Berkeley. That will be like trying to sail a small boat in a hurricane.

In Berkeley, around the issue of affordable housing, four antagonistic forces act on city council. There is Plan Bay Area, which requires Berkeley to develop over 3900 new housing units by 2020. There are the landlords who are raising rents inordinately on uncontrolled units, mimicking what is happening in San Francisco, and promising a similar mass dislocation of people. There is a crescendo of demand by low and middle income residents for affordable housing, so that those being priced out by landlords can find a place to live, and not have to leave. And fourth, there is the problem of housing developers being incorporated, meaning they will be constrained by their financing to build market rate housing whenever they can. In the middle of this miasma, the city of Berkeley has no way to force corporate developers to build affordable housing.

This is a terrible double bind for a city government to be in, unless it enjoys abandoning the people and getting payoffs from developers. If the bind that the city finds itself in is structural, then nothing will save it from accomplishing nothing. The people and the neighborhoods will remain unprotected and unaccommodated. 

To understand this political double bind, let us begin with the Plan Bay Area. 


1- Plan Bay Area  

This Plan was drawn up by ABAG (Assoc. of Bay Area Governments) and the MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency), adopted in July 2013 and included in (up-dating) state law SB375 in April 2014. ABAG is not an elected body. It is a governmental structure that sits between the state government and the cities and counties. The theory it assumed, and wrote into SB 375, was that by building new urban housing, highway commuter traffic would diminish, with a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions. People would not have to drive in from the suburbs, and suburban sprawl would be contained. Thus, Plan Bay Area "allotted" a quantity of new housing units to each bay area city, to accomplish this move of suburbanites into the cities. (We will return to the political strategy this represents below.) 


2- The Rise in Rent Levels  

Rent level increases are a direct result of the Plan. The development proposed by the Plan will occur along major transit corridors, called Primary Development Areas (PDA). In Berkeley, these include University Ave., South Shattuck Ave., Adeline St., and San Pablo Ave. The majority of this housing (rental and condo) will be market rate (i.e. not “affordable”), and will appeal almost exclusively to higher income residents who can pay the rising market rates for housing. Yet it will be built in neighborhoods where property values are low, that is, in low income areas. That is because developers like to buy land where prices are low in order to maximize their gain, and that is to be found in low income areas. Therefore, the proposed development will push upward all property values in the adjoining neighborhoods, replace current stores and restaurants with higher priced stores, and displace lower income residents. 

The dislocation of low income residents will occur in areas adjoining the PDAs because, in anticipation of the rise in property values, landlords will start raising their rents, hoping to get a jump on the expected general shift in demographics toward the more well-to-do. Other houses will be bought by speculators who hope to profit from the general rise in real estate prices. The effect will be a general increase in the cost of living. 

As rents rise, residents will find themselves expelled from their homes (priced out) and forced to look for housing outside their neighborhood, often in distant suburbs. This is the first step in how new housing development destroys a neighborhood. 

The city is powerless to regulate or correct this situation, since rent control laws are barred by the Costa-Hawkins bill, passed back in the 70s. That means that council cannot come to the aid of long time renters now facing rents they can no longer afford. There are still apartments whose rent levels are regulated by previous rent control. But in 2014, Berkeley lost 36% of its controlled units when tenants vacated and the units went to market rate. 

In short, development causes a social crisis fairly rapidly because it dislocates people who thought their position in a neighborhood was fairly stable. In San Francisco, where this crisis is now in full swing, we see a demonstration of what the future holds for the east bay – unless some kind of movement arises to protect the neighborhoods. 


3- The Neighborhood Demand for Affordable Housing  

In neighborhood meetings all over town – West Berkeley, South Berkeley, Dowtown, etc. – the same fear and anger has been expressed. “We don’t want to be forced out. We need the city to build affordable housing so that we are not dislocated by this process of development. We are not against development, but we do not want it to destroy our neighborhoods.” 

This clammoring for affordable housing (affordable as defined by HUD, which sets rent at 30% of the tenants’ income) is a logical response to the crisis that rising rent levels impose. But it also represents the fact that neighborhood residents have no democratic access to the planning process. They have had no voice in what areas are proclaimed Priority Development Areas. And they have no voice in what each specific development project will be – that is, what it will demolish, what it will contain as housing units, and what it will look like. 

The city gives assurances that 20% of the units in these new buildings will be required to be affordable. But the city cannot enforce this condition. Under the Palmer Decision of 2009 (California Supreme Court), cities are liable for any loss of profit to landlords due to such rent regulation. Developers therefore have the ability to opt out of including affordable housing units. They can be made to pay a mitigation fee in lieu of affordable units, but they cannot be forced to build them. City council’s hands are tied in this respect. 


4- Building construction will be done by development corporations  

Corporations will build market rate housing, and back away from affordable housing, preferring to pay the mitigation fee instead. (The city will have to turn to non-profits to get affordable housing built.) This is not a result of greed (though it is a perfect breeding ground for it). It is inherent in the corporate structure itself, and its mode of financing its operations with debt, which place certain necessities on it. 

To finance its operations, a corporation borrows money. To get a loan, it has to put up collateral, just like everyone else. When a homebuyer buys a house, the house itself becomes the collateral for the mortgage, which is a loan. Publicly listed corporations can put up their own stock as collateral. A development corporation will put up the building being built. In the absence of sufficient collateral, the interest rate on the loan would be very high. 

This means that the value of the collateral has to be maintained to satisfy the lender (the bank). And collateral, whether of stock or buildings, will be subject to market forces. When stock prices drop, the corporation must make up the difference with cash or more stock. When real estate values drop, the developer must make up the difference or pay back the loan. To do the latter, the building (finished or not) will have to be sold. This is called recapitalizing the building, that is, turning it back into capital that can be used to meet debt requirements. 

Thus, the primary concern for a development corporation is the resellability of the project, as a condition for getting the loans needed without paying high interest rates. Affordable housing units, when included in a new building, hinder the ability to recapitalize because the affordable units are not on the market, but are governed by HUD regulations. That is, the value of those units is determined politically (according to the tenant’s income), rather than economically by the market. For low income families, this is a good thing; it allows many families to have a place to live. For corporations, it is a bad thing because it obstructs recapitalization. Therefore, they will prefer to pay mitigation fees rather than include affordable housing units. The mitigation fees add to the cost of production, but that cost can be passed on in a subsequent sale. 

Though the corporate preference for paying mitigation fees in lieu of affordable units makes a mockery of a city’s promise to include affordable housing, a city council prefers dealing with development corporations and market rate housing because building values will be higher, generating greater city revenues in taxes and other fees. It will supposedly put the mitigation fees in the Housing Trust Fund (HTF), from which affordable housing units can be financed. But in a rising real estate market, such as that engendered by the Plan Bay Area, those mitigation fees will not amount to much. 


5- The city has no assured way of funding affordable housing  

While the demand now is for hundreds if not thousands of affordable housing units, the most the city will be able to get out of corporate developers (under the present system) is a few dozen. If council has to turn to non-profits to satisfy the affordable housing need, it will have to raise its own money for financing purposes. 

The city says that the mitigation fees will finance affordable housing projects. Yet it has admitted that it has no way to enforce the payment of those mitigation fees. It can sue for non-payment, but can only do so on a project-by-project basis, which is expensive. If mitigation payments are not enforceable, developers can "neglect" to pay into them as agreed. And in fact, many have not been paid. Thus, when the city promises to use the fees paid into the HTF to build affordable housing, it is making a promise it cannot keep. 


In sum:  

The city council can do very little for the people in the realm of housing, in the situation created for it by the Plan Bay Area. The city is caught between the political necessity to build new housing, the fact that this necessity produces rent increases that the city is barred from regulating, the problem of mass dislocation of residents resulting from these rents increases, and the massive need for affordable housing that it creates, while being tied to development corporations whose interest lies in building market rate housing that will not satisfy that need. 

Caught between a political imposition by the state and an uncontrollable situation within its own neighborhoods, it is hemmed in by the corporate debt structure, the law (Costa-Hawkins), the courts (Palmer decision), and the political structure (ABAG) from protecting its citizens or meeting the needs of its residents. It is unable to supply affordable housing, to curtail rent increases, or to defend neighborhoods against massive development. City government is helpless, and therefore useless. 

This implies that electing other people to council will not change the situation. The problem is structural (a composite of the corporate structure, the debt structure, the legal structure, the fee structure of the city, and the market structure of housing properties). All these structures work together to prevent the city from defending the well-being of its people. 

From the perspective of city residents, if city council is useless, merely a source of empty verbiage, then it is the residents of the city who must take the situation in hand. It is the structure that must be changed. Either the city government can be liberated from the structures that imprison it, or it must be replaced. 


Why has this happened?  

Why has the Plan Bay Area imposed a requirement on the city of Berkeley (and on other bay area cities) that puts it into such a horrendous crisis? 

The theory behind building new housing is that new arrivals for elite jobs in the financial and information tech industries will live in town rather than the suburbs, and not have to commute. This will supposedly cut down on greenhouse emissions. There are two things wrong with this theory. First, ABAG’s prognosis about future population growth is based on computer projections, while the actual growth of Berkeley has been small over the last two decades. That means that ABAG’s Plan is actually focused on those who already live in the suburbs, and already have elite jobs (able to afford market rate housing). Second, the process of moving high income people into town will result in low income people being moved out of town, to become commuters in turn. So the net change in highway emissions will be negligible. 

But there is a larger political purpose. The US government wants the bay area to serve as a primary capital city for the Pacific Rim Economy. The structure of that economy is now being defined through the TransPacific Partnership treaty. It will favor corporate operations rather than people, and establish business conditions that will supersede local democratic decisions. For that purpose, finance, information technology, and transportation industries are being expanded here. Thus, the existing neighborhoods are targetted as expendible against the need to house the employees of those industries. 

For the people of the neighborhoods of this and other cities, either we organize and take over the planning process, shifting it to a local level, or the neighborhoods will be bulldozed by gentrification. 


The Republican Debate

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday November 06, 2015 - 03:35:00 PM

Following their disastrous defeat in the 2008 election, Republicans did a great deal of soul searching and came to the conclusion that they should start talking to the American people rather than serve as an echo chamber to their own base which merely reinforces their own cherished, misguided beliefs. The recent Republican debate failed to achieve this objective but used every opportunity to trash each other and Obama’s policies without offering any specifics or alternatives. 

Frustrated by their collective weak performance they lashed out at the CNBC moderators for failing to offer them softball questions. A pouting Trump got his way following the successful boycott of Telemundo pitting himself against Latino voters. The candidates were frothing at the mouth when asked to explain how they might simultaneously slash taxes and the federal deficit; deport 10 million people overnight; or cut the tax code from 70,000 pages to three. To make it more interesting for future viewers, the real answers could be provided with a screen caption in real time. 

Passionate familiarity with the issues, not anger and bombast should be an essential human quality for those seeking the presidency. A president who has the nuclear codes given to emotional responses and a superficial knowledge of the important issues would be an unmitigated disaster. We witnessed what happened on George Bush’s watch – an endless war in Afghanistan chaos in Iraq, a staggering federal deficit and a monumental bank crisis.

Minimum Wage Increase Hissed and Dissed at Spenger’s

Carol Denney
Friday November 06, 2015 - 01:32:00 PM

A few dozen merchants, Downtown Berkeley Association staff, and three council representatives met Wednesday, November 5th in Spenger’s back room to strategize against a proposed increase in the minimum wage on the City Council agenda Tuesday, November 10th, 2015. 

District 6 Councilmember Susan Wengraf, District 5 Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, and District 4 Councilmember Jesse Arreguin telegraphed their willingness to vote down or weaken the proposed legislation as a burden on local businesses, which see the wage increase as, as one merchant put it, “friendly fire.” 

No one in the room expressed support for raising the minimum wage, which according to the Economic Policy Institute has been stagnant over the last 35 years, lagging “far behind economy-wide productivity.” The failure of wages to grow and rising wage inequality is the primary explanation for the rise of family income stagnation and income inequality.[1] 

The merchants stated that they “were not informed” when the issue came before the Labor Commission, which formulated the proposal, and plan to organize to present personal stories of the hardship raising the minimum wage will be on their businesses to the City Council November 10th stating repeatedly that they will be tempted to close their businesses. 

Many iconic Berkeley businesses, such as Edy’s restaurant and Tupper and Reed music store have closed their doors over the years. But the minimum wage was not the issue raised; rising rents commercial leases were, issues which were not introduced at the Spenger’s meeting.  

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who is running for mayor, expressed support for re-defining the current definition of small businesses to include those with as many as 57 employees, which would exempt an enormous ratio of Berkeley employees. 

[1] Steven Balsam, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz, of The Economic Policy Institute. More specifically: 

Lawrence Mishel, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Heidi Shierholz, The State of Working America, 12th Edition, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2012. 

Steven Balsam, Taxes and Executive Compensation, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #344, August 14, 2012. 

Josh Bivens and Lawrence Mishel, “The Pay of Corporate Executives and Financial Professionals as Evidence of Rents in Top 1 Percent Incomes,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 27, no. 3, summer 2013, pp. 57–78. 

Josh Bivens, Using Standard Models to Benchmark the Costs of Globalization for American Workers Without a College Degree, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #354, March 22, 2013. 


(Hopefully Not) Coming to a School Near You: Mountain Bike Racing

Mike Vandeman, Ph.D.
Friday November 06, 2015 - 03:30:00 PM

Mountain bikers and the mountain bike industry know that the future of their sport depends on recruiting young people into it. Consequently, they are actively promoting the creation of mountain bike racing teams in the nation's high schools. They will ask to use school facilities, the school's name, and the school's teachers as coaches. They will claim, using questionable logic, that mountain biking is fun, healthful, socially responsible, and environmentally beneficial. But don't be fooled! If you do your own investigation, as I have, you will find that exactly the opposite is true. 

Of all the many high school sports, mountain bike racing is the only one that is actually illegal! For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the league managers had to go 50 to 100 miles away to find a legal place to race. Every park in the Bay Area has a speed limit (generally 15 MPH), and won't allow mountain bike racing. No land manager within 50 miles is willing to subject the lands that s/he is responsible for to such abuse. That is a good indication that mountain biking - especially mountain bike racing – is not environmentally benign. 

A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. Of course, it's not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts. I found that of the seven studies they cited, all were written by mountain bikers, and in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions. In short, mountain biking, partly because mountain bikers travel several times as far as hikers, causes several times as much erosion, damage to plants, and harm to animals (e.g. driving them away from the resources that they need) as hikers. 

Introducing children to mountain biking is criminal. Mountain biking, besides being expensive and very environmentally destructive, is extremely dangerous. Recently a 12-year-old girl died during her very first mountain biking lesson! Another became quadriplegic at 13! Serious accidents and even deaths are commonplace. In September, 2000, a mountain bike race was held in a regional park in the San Francisco Bay area. One rider ended up brain damaged. Since then, mountain bike racing has never been allowed. Truth be told, mountain bikers want to introduce kids to mountain biking because they want more people to help them lobby to open our natural areas to mountain biking and children are too naive to understand and object to this activity. For I have collected almost 600 reports of serious accidents and deaths caused by mountain biking. 

Isn't one of the purposes of school creating good citizens? Although the mountain bike teams claim not to support illegal mountain biking or illegal trail-building, their members (and, in some cases, even the coaches!) have often been caught doing just that. Their excuse is that there aren't enough legal trails close by…. 

Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and, worst of all, teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it's not!). What's good about that? 

If your students want to mountain bike, I suggest that you let them do it on their own time. Don't lend this environmentally destructive activity legitimacy by sponsoring it.


THE PUBLIC EYE:Hillary’s Toughest Opponent

Bob Burnett
Friday November 06, 2015 - 01:52:00 PM

It appears that Hillary Clinton will be the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate and her Republican opponent will be Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz. Which of these four would the most challenging in a debate? 

The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls shows Hillary Clinton with a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders, 55.9 percent versus 30 percent. She also leads him in Iowa by 24 percent and in South Carolina by 31 percent; only in New Hampshire does Clinton trail Sanders, by 1 percent. 

The Republican prospects are murkier. The latest Huffington Post Poll of Polls shows Donald Trump leading (29.3 percent) followed by Ben Carson (24.1 percent), Marco Rubio (8.8 percent), Ted Cruz (7.3 percent), and Jeb Bush (7.1 percent). However, Carson leads Trump in Iowa (by 6.8 percent) while Trump leads Carson in New Hampshire (by 17.7 percent). Meanwhile, Rubio has become the favorite of the oddsmakers, given a 42 percent chance to win, versus Trump (18 percent), Carson (11 percent), Cruz (10 percent), and Bush (10 percent). 

According to instant polls, Donald Trump was the winner of the third Republican debate. However, the experts at the 538 web site judged the debate winner as Rubio, followed by Cruz, Christie, Fiorina, Carson, Kasich, Huckabee, and Trump; with Paul and Bush bringing up the rear. (The consensus is that Jeb Bush will not be the Republican nominee.) 

Let’s suppose that at the First Presidential debate on September 26, 2016, Hillary Clinton debates one of the GOP prophets of gloom and doom, “the four horsemen of the apocalypse:” Trump, Carson, Rubio, or Cruz. Which would give Hillary the most trouble? 

Clinton is an experienced politician and debater. In 2008, she and Barack Obama participated in 26 debates and she’ll appear in 6 more Democratic debates. 

Donald Trump is a billionaire with no political experience; that’s his strength with the Republican base that prefers an outsider. While Trump radiates sound bites he doesn’t have polished policy positions; recently Trump refused to do a radio interview if they asked him any policy questions. Trump’s aggressive style could ruffle Hillary; he won’t back down and will lie if necessary. (In the latest Republican debate, Trump told three whoppers: he falsely accused John Kasich of being on the board of Lehman Brothers, he denied calling Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckenberg’s personal senator,” and falsely claimed credit for shortening the CNBC debate from three to two hours.) 

Ben Carson is a famous neurosurgeon who was director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins from 1984 to 2013; he’s another Republican “outsider” candidate. Carson differs from Trump in two key respects: he’s unassuming and extremely religious (he’s a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church that believes the bible is literally true and the second coming of Christ is imminent.) Like Trump, Carson’s policy positions are sketchy. Hillary’s challenge will be to expose Carson’s naiveté while treating him respectfully and not be thrown off by the fact that Carson will lie on occasion (during the third Republican debate, Carson lied about his association with nutritional supplement manufacturer Mannatech). 

Marco Rubio is a first-term Senator from Florida. It appears he is the insider candidate that has supplanted Jeb Bush as the representative of the Republican establishment. Unlike Trump and Carson, Rubio has polished policy positions. He’s also 24 years younger than Hillary. Rubio is a skilled debater and has an earnest manner that belies his ambition and willingness to lie. (During the third Republican debate, Rubio lied about his personal finances.) During a debate with Hillary, Rubio’s challenge would be to defend positions he’s changed several times (such as immigration). Clinton’s challenge would be to treat him with respect and not be rattled when he reveals his true nature as the proverbial “baby-faced assassin.” 

Texas Senator Ted Cruz also has a shot at capturing the Republican nomination. He’s another outsider candidate. (In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll Cruz was in fourth place when Republicans were asked who their first choice was for the GOP nomination and he was tied for second when voters were asked for their second choice.) His strategy seems to be to hang back and wait for the collapse of Donald Trump’s campaign. (That would leave Carson with the evangelical vote, Rubio with the “insider” vote, and Cruz with the Tea-Party vote.) Cruz might be Clinton’s toughest opponent; he was a champion debater at both Princeton and Harvard Law School. (He demonstrated his debating chops during the third Republican debate.) Cruz has well-articulated very conservative opinions, is as aggressive as Donald Trump, and is more than willing to lie to make his point (Politifact reported that two-thirds of his political statements are false.) 

At the moment, Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite to defeat any of the GOP’s four horsemen of the apocalypse. 

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

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Portugal’s Democracy Crisis

Conn Hallinan
Thursday November 05, 2015 - 01:40:00 PM

Within a week, Europe will face one of the most serious challenges to democracy it has seen in many decades. On Nov. 10 Portugal’s minority rightwing government will likely lose a vote of confidence, initiating a series of events that will determine whether voters in the European Union (EU) still have the right to a government of their own choosing. 

The crisis was set off by the Oct. 4 elections that saw the rightwing Forward Portugal coalition, which has overseen austerity policies that have driven 20 percent of the population below the poverty line, lose its majority in the parliament to three parties on the left, the Socialist Party, the Left Bloc, and a Communist/Green alliance. 

Forward Portugal, an alliance of the Social Democratic Party and the Popular Party, lost 28 seats in the election, dropping from 135 seats to 107. The left parties, meanwhile,won over 50 percent of the vote and picked up 25 seats, for a total of 122. An animal rights party won 1 seat. 

The Portuguese parliament has 230 seats. A majority is 116 seats. 

Instead of asking the left if it could form a government, however, on Oct. 23, Portuguese president Cavaco Silva—a former prime minister for the Social Democratic Party—reappointed the rightwing alliance’s leader, Pedro Coelho as prime minister. 

Silva went further, however, delivering an incendiary speech in which he declared that he would never appoint “anti-European forces” to run the government, and denouncing parties on the left for opposing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the common currency, the euro. 

“It is my duty, within the constitutional powers, to do everything possible to prevent false signals being sent to financial institutions, investors and markets,” he concluded. 

The speech has set off a firestorm in Portugal, one that is reverberating throughout the EU. It is one thing for the EU and its financial enforcer, the Troika—the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—to exert pressure on a country from the outside. It has done exactly that in Greece. It is quite another to say that a particular political or economic program is beyond the pale. 

Portugal’s austerity program, originally introduced by the Socialist Party, has impoverished the country and driven half a million young people emigrate. Unemployment, while down from its height of 17 percent, is still at 12 percent, and over 31 percent for youth. One out five in the population is below the poverty line of $5,589 a year, and Portugal has one of the highest in income inequality in the EU. The average household income has fallen 8.9 percent since 2009. Exhausted by austerity, Portugal’s voters turned against the rightwing government and turned it into a minority. 

In what is an historic development—one commentator called it a “Berlin Wall moment”—the three left parties put aside their differences and agreed to form a united front government. 

While all the left parties opposed austerity—the Socialist Party having finally seen the light— they differed on many other issues. The Left Bloc and the Communist Green alliance opposes Portugal’s membership in NATO and wanted the country to get out of the Eurozone, the group of 19 countries in the 28-member EU that use the euro. 

The euro is a controversial issue. It has been a boon for Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, and to the large banks that dominate European finance. But it has had a generally negative impact on many other countries, particularly those in the distressed south—Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Since Ireland is also in this same the problems are economic, not geographical. 

As far as NATO goes, there are a number of political organizations that argue the old Cold War alliance should be retired and that NATO does more to raise tensions on the continent that it does protect its members. 

In any case, opposition to NATO and the euro are hardly opinions that should bar one from government, but that is exactly what the Portuguese president has done. 

He has received support for his position as well. Joseph Daul, president of the center-right grouping in the European Parliament, said, “The sacrifices made by the people of Portugal must not be jeopardized by a government composed of anti-EU and anti-NATO parties.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said an anti-austerity government in Portugal would be a “very negative” development. 

Some of the comments have an Alice in Wonderland quality to them. Coelho said, “It’s time to say loud and clear that the Socialist Party lost the elections…we’re not going to stand the elections results on their head.” He was joined by the rightwing Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, who warned, “coalitions of losers want to join forces to do away with moderate majorities in our societies, to attain through deals what they didn’t achieve at the ballot box.” 

But as the Socialist Party grouping in the European Parliament pointed out in a statement, “Portuguese voters were very clear in the last general election with a strong majority (62 percent) against the austerity policies of the last four years.” 

Rajoy, of course, has his own problems. His rightwing People’s Party will probably lose its majority to the Socialist Party and the leftwing Podemos Party in Spain’s upcoming Dec. 20 elections, but it still may be the single largest vote getter. He wants to stay in power and the Portugal maneuver gives him a strategy for doing just that. 

What clearly surprised the Portuguese right is that the left could agree to work together. The Socialist Party has long been at loggerheads with the Communists, who accuse it of being too much like the rightwing Social Democratic Party. Indeed, the fact that the Socialists did not win the election outright is in part due to the fact that voters are still angry with the party for introducing the austerity policies in the first place. 

But the dramatic gains for the Left Bloc—it is now the third largest in the parliament, ahead of the Communist/Green alliance—clearly convinced the left that it should find issues to agree on. After several meetings, the Left Bloc and the Communist/Greens agreed to temporarily shelve the euro and NATO issues, and the Socialists pledged to end austerity. 

There are still major questions to iron out. The Left Bloc and the Communist/Greens want to challenge Portugal’s staggering debt—they have a solid basis for claiming that much of it is illegitimate—while the Socialists have been silent on the subject. Eventually the euro, NATO, and the debt will be on the table, but such disagreements are hardly unique to Portugal. There is virtually no government in Europe without ideological divisions. 

In any case, despite their differences, the left parties are on the same wavelength as the majority of Portuguese voters: no more austerity. 

If the Portuguese president refuses to allow the left to form a government and Portugal Forward is defeated in the Nov. 10 vote, Silva can appoint Coelho to run a caretaker government and call for new elections. But those won’t be for eight months. Silva’s presidency runs out in January, and new elections can’t be held for six months following the appointment of a new president. 

The left has the votes to insure a president compatible with the will of the voters—they have already overridden the right’s candidate for Speaker of the House and put their own candidate in—but there will still be six months before the next election. Eight months is enough time for a rightwing caretaker government and its backers in the EU and the Troika to do considerable mischief. Greece has felt the power of the Troika and seen what it can do to undermine opposition to its policies. 

During the recent Greek crisis, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaueble made it clear that what Greek voters wanted was irrelevant. Greece would bow to the Troika or the Troika would strangle the Greek economy, period. In essence, national governments should restrict themselves to things like what color park benches should be painted—provided the paint is affordable. 

If this “soft coup” stands, taxes, interest rates, public ownership, investments, and economic strategies to control inflation and unemployment—long the battleground for conflicting ideologies—will no longer be issues to be decided democratically. Unelected bodies, like the Troika, will make those decisions, in spite of the fact that many of the Troika’s policies—like austerity—are highly controversial and have an almost unbroken track record of failure. 

Democracy is what is at stake in Portugal, and it is a crisis that cuts to the heart of the European Union experiment. Do people still have the right to make decisions about policies that have a profound impact on their lives? Or do they only get to quarrel about the color of park benches? 


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








Conn Hallinan
Monday November 02, 2015 - 01:57:00 PM

If there is a lesson to be drawn from the Nov. 1 Turkish elections, it is that fear works, and there are few people better at engendering it than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Only five months after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in the Turkish parliament, a snap election put it back in the driver’s seat. 

The cost of the victory, however, may be dear, because, to achieve it, Erdogan reignited Turkey’s long and bloody war with the Kurds, stood silent while mobs of nationalists attacked his opponents, and unilaterally altered the constitutional role of his office. 

Observers from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that violence and attacks on the media had a significant impact on the election. “Unfortunately we come to the conclusion that this campaign was unfair, and was characterized by too much violence and fear,” said Andreas Gross, a Swiss parliamentarian and head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation, 

At the same time the European Union (EU) seemed to favor an AKP victory. The EU Commission held off a report critical of Turkish democracy until after the vote. Two weeks before the election German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey bearing $3.3 billion in aid for Syrian refugees and an offer for Turkey to revive its efforts to get into the EU. Previously, Merkel had been opposed to Turkish membership in the EU. 

The finally tally is almost everything Erdogan wanted, although he fell short of his dream of a supermajority that would let him change the nature of the Turkish political system from a parliamentary government to one ruled by a powerful and centralized executive—himself. 

There are 550 seats in the Turkish parliament. The AKP took 49.4 percent of the vote and won 317 seats, an increase of 64 over the June election. While 276 seats is a majority, what Erdogan wanted was a supermajority of 367 seats that would allow him to change the constitution without involving the electorate. He did not achieve this. 

The secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) picked up two seats over the June election for a total of 134 seats. The Kurdish-dominated leftwing People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which scored an historic 13.1 percent of the vote and 80 seats in the June election, managed to squeak by with 10.7% of the vote and 61 seats. If it had failed to pass the 10 Percent barrier for parliamentary representation, most of those seats would have gone to the AKP, possibly giving Erdogan’s party the supermajority it craved. 

Indeed, it was a statement of the HDP’s resilience that despite the violence directed at the party and the arrest of many HDP activists, the organizations still managed to clear the 10 percent bar for representation in the parliament. The HDP announced that it planned to challenge several seats that the party says involved fraud. 

The rightwing Nationalist Action Party (HDP) dropped 31 seats, falling to fourth place with only 40 seats. It would appear that most of their voters jumped to the AKP. 

Erdogan set out to change the Turkish constitution back in 2007 and has pushed to reconstruct the country’s politics ever since. However, the AKP has never had 330 votes in the parliament, the number needed to place a referendum before the voters. Erdogan did not get that magic number this time either, but he is close and may be able to pry a dozen or so voters from the ranks of the rightwing nationalists and get his referendum. 

The AKP won almost five million more votes than it did last June. Voter turnout was over 86 percent. 

A referendum is a disquieting thought. Erdogan is a relentless campaigner, and opponents are worried that, while most Turks do not show much enthusiasm for his constitutional changes, scare tactics, repression, and money will push such a referendum through. Pre-election polls predicted that the AKP would get about the same number of votes in November that it got in June. They were dead wrong. Erdogan’s formidable political skills and his willingness to polarize the country are not to be underestimated. 

While the AKP now has a majority, it is at the expense of re-igniting the war with the Kurds, a conflict that has cost Turkey $1.2 trillion and some 40,000 lives. It has also seen an almost unprecedented wave of attacks on the Kurdish party, its supporters, and the press. 

Four days before the Nov. 1 election, police raided the offices of Ipek Media, closing down two newspapers and two TV stations. The news outlets have been handed over to a government trustee who is investigating them for “supporting terrorism.” Ipek Media is closely associated with Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher currently living in exile in the U.S. Gulen and Erdogan were formerly allies, but had a falling out in 2012. 

Erdogan has also gone after several other media outlets, including the Dogan Group, which owns Turkey’ popular daily, Hurriyet, and CNNTurk. Both outlets have interviewed politicians from the HDP, which the President charges is a front for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is designated a terrorist organization and the target of Turkey’s current war on the Kurds. 

While there is a relationship between the PKK and the HDP, the latter has sharply condemned the violence of the former and has a far broader base among Kurds and non-Kurds. Apparently some of the conservative religious Kurds, who voted for the HDP in June, were spooked by the violence and returned to the AKP. 

Mobs led by the Ottoman Hearths—the youth arm of the AKP—and the Idealist Hearth—youth arm of the rightwing MHP—have burned HDP offices, attacked Kurdish businesses and homes, and attacked leftwing book stores. On Sept. 8 a nationalist mob rioted for seven hours, burning offices and stores in the city of Kirsehir, while police stood by and watched. 

The chair of a local branch of the HDP, Demet Resuloglu, said she warned police about the mob, but they did nothing. She and several others were temporarily trapped in a bookstore by a mob that set the establishment on fire. “We escaped with our lives after jumping from the second floor. It was an organized affair. Everything happened with the knowledge of the police, the governor and everybody,” she told the news outlet Al-Monitor

Similar attacks took place in the resort towns of Alanya and Manargat. 

During the election campaign, Turkish Kurds and leftists were the targets of several bombings that took over 130 lives and were almost certainly the work of the Islamic State. But Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, blamed it on the PKK and tried to tar the HDP with the same brush. 

Selahattin Demirtas, a leader of the HDP and a member of parliament, is currently being investigated for supporting “terrorism” and insulting the president, Since Erdogan became president in August of last year, more than 240 people have been charged with insulting him. 

Erdogan is likely to treat the AKP’s victory as endorsement of his campaign to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even though polls show that 63 percent of Turks disapprove of getting involved in Syria. 

The war has turned into a disastrous quagmire, and the Europeans and the Russians are pushing for a political settlement. Erdogan—a man with a stubborn streak—will probably insist that Assad first must go, a formula that will endear him to the Gulf monarchies, but will almost certainly keep the war going. Turkey is already hosting 2 million Syrian refugees and millions more are headed toward Europe. 

The Turkish president has unilaterally redefined the office of the president from one of neutrality to partisan activist. Rather than trying to form a coalition government after last June’s election—a major part of the president’s job—Erdogan sabotaged every effort to compromise, banking he could stir up the furies of sectarianism and fear to create the climate for a comeback. While the AKP is wealthy, parties like the HDP were tapped out by the June election and could not marshal the resources for another national campaign. In the last weeks of the election the HDP canceled rallies, fearing they would be attacked by rightwing mobs or create targets for Islamic State bombers.  

Erdogan created chaos and then told voters the AKP was the only path to peace and stability. It was an argument a lot of voters bought, but the costs are high. The press has been muzzled, a war that was over has been re-started, and Turks and Kurds are once more at each other’s throats. The war in Syria is likely to drag on, and the polarization of Turkish society will deepen. 

But the AKP has only a slim majority, and the peace and stability it promises is an illusion. As the British Guardian noted, “President Erdogan has got his majority back, but Turkey has been damaged in the process…Sadly, this election is unlikely to mark a passage into calm waters for Turkey.” 


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




ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Proactively Treating Psychosis

Jack Bragen
Friday November 06, 2015 - 02:01:00 PM

Just as a reminder--this column is merely an opinion column and it is not a substitute for consulting with a mental health professional.  

In recent years, according to one medical doctor, the philosophy of treatment of Type 2 Diabetes has evolved. This doctor said that it is better to treat this illness more aggressively, in order to minimize damage to the body. Schizophrenia, in analogous fashion, can also be treated more aggressively--keeping symptoms at a minimum. (This is a completely different issue from the known fact that many psychiatric drugs cause obesity and Type II Diabetes.) 

If someone suffers from schizophrenia, they may benefit from getting the maximum medication they can tolerate, but not to the point of too many or too severe side effects. This increases the person's chances of developing necessary insight into their condition. It may also cause the brain to be healthier, since psychosis apparently is bad for the brain.  

I have been taking these medications for well over thirty years. Medication hasn't ruined my life.  

I can't handle as much activity as I once could. I can't handle driving in San Francisco. I can not handle a full-time job. Certain things that entail high energy, quick reflexes, multitasking, and stress, I can not deal with. I don't know how much of these limitations are caused by meds, versus how much of this impairment is either caused by my disease or perhaps by premature aging of my brain.  

However, I have reached clarity of thought. Writing for publication has helped my mental condition. Any brain-intensive activity, such as a college or adult school class, doing a lot of reading, or perhaps working at a paid or volunteer job, especially one that involves working at a computer, is probably going to be good for brain condition. I believe this increases serotonin and develops more receptors in the "good" areas of the brain. If this is so, it might help compensate for the possible brain suppressing side effects of antipsychotics. 

Paradoxically, I find that psychiatric meds create primarily a physical impairment, and they do not wipe out intellect. Other people may have other experiences. 

I have benefited from high dosages of antipsychotics. By taking a lot of meds, I have prevented myself from slipping into partial delusion. This has prevented me from losing judgment and losing the insight that I need medication. In my particular case and probably for many others, the delusions are pernicious and they are formidable. It requires a lot of vigilance, even now that I am nearly twenty years into recovery, to prevent delusions from taking hold. I can never let up on this vigilance.  

However, if you are young and not accustomed to the effects of antipsychotic medication, sometimes a lower dosage is better. Antipsychotic medication can create misery because of the side effects and the suppression of the mind. Over the years I have adapted to these meds. Being medicated to me feels normal. Yet in the first few years of taking medication, the meds made me miserable.  

I suggest working with a psychiatrist to arrive at the best solution, including finding which antipsychotic is effective and has the least side effects. Different people find different medications to be tolerable and/or effective. 

Delusions often have an emotional charge. The strong emotions they trigger are one factor that can make it more difficult to relinquish these erroneous thoughts. This is one reason why cognitive therapy and/or mindfulness can help people who suffer from psychosis.  

Delusions could promise something good, could help you deny something bad--or they could be a false threat. Whether a delusion creates pleasure or displeasure, either way this is a strategy of the disease. The delusions, by triggering strong emotions, are able to gain neurological priority.  

I recently discovered a paranoid delusional system that had been forming in my peripheral consciousness. Medication doesn't provide total assurance that a psychotic person won't be delusional. Delusions seem to find ways to slip past the barriers that we have put up.  

While medicated, the delusions that remain, one hopes, can be identified and dismantled. If medication gets too low, things may begin to deteriorate, and the ability to use the mind to fix the mind could be lost.  

I haven’t talked about therapy yet. People need meaningful interaction with others, and schizophrenic people need to talk about our symptoms to someone. We also need to get reinforcement of what we are doing right. Many of us don't need deep psychological analysis so much; actually it can be harmful.  

I have had better luck with therapists who have more life experience, compared to the inexperienced ones who sometimes believe they can cure my problems. An experienced, older therapist, or a smarter one at least, can be quite helpful. There are some who are in the wrong business. When someone in his or her twenties, fresh out of college, believes they are going to fix me, it means that I have a delusional therapist.  

Being aggressive on the medication side, and being gentle on the therapy component, can help create a good outcome. The longer a mental health consumer goes without a repeat episode and, at the same time, makes a good effort in life, the better are his or her chances at a meaningful and lasting recovery.  

ECLECTIC RANT: San Francisco Implements Laura's Law

Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 06, 2015 - 01:55:00 PM

On July 8, 2014, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in favor of implementing Laura's Law in the City and County of San Francisco. On November 1, 2015 Laura's Law was implemented under the direction of Angelica Almeida, Ph.D. for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The City’s three-person Laura’s Law team will be the first stop for people whose mental health issues could land them in court for mandated care. Twelve counties have now implemented Laura's Law. 

How did Laura's Law become California law? Laura Wilcox, a 19-year old sophomore from Haverford College, was working at Nevada County's public mental health clinic during her winter break from college. On January 10, 2001, she and two other people were shot to death by Scott Harlan Thorpe, a 41-year old mental patient who resisted his family's attempt to seek treatment. Thorpe was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to Atascadero State Hospital and was later transferred to California's Napa State Hospital.  

Laura Wilcox’s death was the impetus for passage of AB 1421 in 2002, an assisted outpatient treatment program (AOT), which has since become known as Laura’s Law.  

For the uninitiated, an AOT program allows court-ordered, intensive outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illnesses who refuse medication because their illness impairs their ability to make rational decisions.  

People with psychotic disorders who received court-ordered treatment for 180 days had significantly better outcomes than those who were given either intensive treatment alone, or a court order alone. Thus, AB 1421 provides for a 180 day period of intensive treatment under the supervision of the court. Currently AOT can only be used if a county’s board of supervisors enacts a resolution to implement and independently fund a discrete Laura’s Law program. Now, an AOT program is available statewide as a tool that can be, but is not required to be, used to efficiently treat the most problematic patients.  

A 2000 Duke University study demonstrated that people with psychotic disorders who received court-ordered treatment for 180 days had significantly better outcomes than those who were given either intensive treatment alone, or a court order alone. That's why AB 1421 incorporates these findings by providing for 180 day periods of intensive treatment under the supervision of the court.  

AB 1421 was modeled after New York's "Kendra's Law." Among the targeted hard-to-treat population, Kendra's Law resulted in 74 percent fewer homeless; 83 percent fewer arrests; 49 percent less alcohol abuse; and 48 percent less drug abuse.  

Fortunately, money should no longer be an issue since voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 63 in 2004, which established a one percent tax on personal income above $1 million to fund expanded health services for mentally ill children, adults, and seniors. Nothing in Proposition 63 prevents these funds from being used to implement Laura's Law.  

In Nevada County, where the killings took place, the law has been fully implemented and 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.  

We have heard much hand-wringing about what to do with the homeless -- many of whom are chronically mentally ill -- who are picked up off the streets. They may or may not be placed in a treatment facility, if one is available. Once they complete treatment, they are too often dumped back on the streets with no housing, jobs, money, or followup by a professional case manager. In a short time, these homeless are back on the street. Laura's Law could be invoked for those who refuse medication because their illness impairs their ability to make rational decisions, and utilize court-ordered outpatient treatment and provide for a 180 day case-managed followup.  

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 2010 estimated that 7.9 million Americans suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder - approximately 3.3 percent of the U.S. population when combined. Of these, approximately 40 percent of the individuals with schizophrenia and 51 percent of those with bipolar are untreated in any given year, according to NIMH.  

Opponents of AOT argue that that Laura's Law violates the civil rights of persons with severe mental illness. In truth, Laura's Law provides a very thorough protection of the civil rights of such persons. At the core of our civil rights is our ability to choose to do what we want. When a person is unable to understand the nature and consequences of their decisions because of their illness, that person is fundamentally deprived of the ability to exercise any civil rights. By assuring timely and effective intervention for the disabling medical condition of severe mental illness, Laura's Law restores the capacity to exercise civil liberties and reduces the likelihood of the loss of liberty or life as a result of arrest, incarceration, hospitalization, victimization, suicide, and other common outcomes of non-treatment. While we as a society must safeguard the civil rights of the unfortunate, we also have an obligation to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. Laura's Law provides such safeguards.  

With the implementation of Laura's Law, San Francisco has another tool to help the mentally ill.

Arts & Events

New: The 40th Anniversary American Indian Film Festival

Gar Smith
Saturday November 07, 2015 - 02:39:00 PM

November 6-13, 2015 at San Francisco's AMC Metreon

Gala 40 Dinner & AIFF Award Show on November 14, 2015 at Hotel Nikko

When most Americans think about movies, the images that typically come to mind involve romance, villainy, heroism, guns, explosions and car chases. Or course, we accept that commercial cinema serves up a world of escapist fantasy but we lack the cultural yardsticks to measure how far removed our movie-going experiences are from anything approaching an average life on planet Earth.

Take those car-chases, for example. In nearly every mainstream movie you expect to see someone driving a car. That's "normal." Well, nope, it's not. The truth is that 91 percent of the people living on this planet today do not and never will own a car.

It may also be true that 91 percent of the films the average movie lover sees in the course of a year do not constitute anything close to a realistic impersonation of the global human condition.

Fortunately, a good dose of remedial Big Screen therapy is headed our way as the American Indian Film Festival (AIFF) brightens Bay Area movies screens from November 6-13. The AIFF's eight-day run manages to include 95 works from Canada and the USA—an incredible selection of feature films, documentaries and 59 shorts (ranging from two to thirty minutes).


Launched in 1975, the AIFF is both the oldest and most prominent media showcase for indigenous cinema, having brought more than 2,000 examples American Indian and First Nations films to enthusiastic urban audiences over the past four decades. (The fact that the festival was founded 40 years ago may explain why it is called the "American Indian" and not the "Native American" film fest.) 

Year after year, the AIFF proves real-world cinema can be just as entertaining as reel-life cinema. This is, after all, the cinema of the world's majority. 

There are no master spies, no superheroes, no glamorous superstars. Instead, the AIFF is grounded in the lives of people who tend to live close to nature, who are members of close-knit families, who live and struggle in small (and often remote) communities. 

These are stories that reflect the experiences of most of the globe's seven billion inhabitants. The protagonists in these films aren't Marvel superheroes or Hollywood royalty spouting the words of award-winning screenwriters, but that doesn't mean the films are lacking in humor, human drama, or uplifting and wrenching emotional swings. 

There are too many films to list (let alone review), so let's just note some highlights (the complete schedule is available online): 

A Sampling of Some of the AIFF Feature Films 


We're Still Here: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited

We're Still Here is a documentary based on the book, A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears. Antonio D'Ambrosio's book (and now, his film) charts the evolution of Cash's little-known 1964 protest concept album—a collaborative project with Native American folk artist Peter Lafarge that stands as a heartfelt tribute to the struggles of Native People. 


A Thousand Voices (USA) 

They say "It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story" and this documentary manages to blend an array of voices—from the Navajo Nation, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Tribe. Kiowa Tribe, Pueblo de Cochiti, Ohkay Owing, and Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, Jemez, Santo Domingo, Pojoaque, Santa Clara, Taos, Nambe and San lldefonso—into a universal account of Native American women whose strength and wisdom has helped safeguard Indigenous traditions and culture. 


Songs My Brother Taught Me (USA) 

Filmed in the Great Plains and the Badlands of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the film explores the complex bond between a bother and his younger sister—two children searching for a sense of belonging but caught on separate paths. 


Children of the Arctic (USA) 

A coming-of-age film that encompasses a yearlong study of Native Alaskan teens in Barrow, Alaska. Still surrounded by the legacy of their ancestors, these twenty-first century youngsters are members of an isolated culture that has survived centuries in a tundra wilderness now undergoing fundamental change on a rapidly warming planet. 


Le Dep 

A psychodrama about a young Innu woman who works at her family-run convenience store in rural Québec takes a frightening turn when she robbed by a gun-wielding assailant. Lydia's trauma takes a strange turn when she realizes she knows the identity of her assailant. 

OKPIK'S DREAM | Official trailer from Catbird Productions on Vimeo


Okpik's Dream (Canada) 

As a child, Harry Okpik's dream was to own a sled and become a respected dog racer. The Canadian government disrupted that dream when (in an act of savagery that echoes the US Army's genocidal slaughter of the Plains buffalo) federal agents gunned down thousands of Inuit sled dogs across the Canadian Arctic. The 11-year-old Harry watched the snow turn red and believed his dream was dead as well. Fifty years later, Harry remembers the Dog Slaughter and the accident that cost him a leg. This moving documentary follows Harry through several long arctic seasons as he prepares a team of huskies for the Ivakkak—a grueling 373-mile sled race. 

Awards Show & Gala 

A concluding Awards Show & Gala will be held on Saturday, November 14 at the Hotel Nikko. 

For complete details, visit aifisf.com

Ticket and Showtimes 

All evening screenings will be held at the AMC Metreon (135 4th St., San Francisco) and will begin at 7 p.m. 

For ticket information please visit aifisf.com

About American Indian Film Institute & American Indian Film Festival  

"The American Indian Film Institute's mission is to foster understanding of the culture, traditions and issues of contemporary American Indian and First Nations peoples. We encourage Indian filmmakers to bring to the broader media culture the indigenous voices, viewpoints and stories that have historically been excluded from mainstream media. Moreover, our goals include tireless advocacy for authentic visual and work-force representations of Indians in the media." 

Music of Versailles at St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 06, 2015 - 03:29:00 PM

In a program of French Baroque music, the local group Musa performed on Friday, October 30, in the series of Barefoot Chamber Concerts held in the Parish Hall of St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley. Following in the wake of American Bach Soloists’ mini-festival in August devoted to music of the court of Versailles, Musa tapped into the same repertoire featuring works by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Féry Rebel, Jacques Morel, and Jacques Duphly, all of whom were centered at Versailles during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV. Musa features Gretchen Claussen on viola da gamba and cello, Noémy Gagnon-Lafrenais on violin, Addi Liu on violin, Kim Mai Nguyen on viola, Frédéric Rosselet on cello, Derek Tam on harpsichord, and Anna Washburn on violin. 

Musa opened the program with Concert V from Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts, transcribed for sextet. This work began with an up-tempo movement, followed by a slow movement in which the violins and viola embroidered a melody over a basso continuo from the cellos, and culminated in a fast movement full of brio. Next on the program was a work by Jacques Morel, (fl. 1700-1749), a Chaconne en trio which featured Derek Tam on harpsichord, Gretchen Claussen on viola da gamba, and Addi Liu on violin. Following Morel’s Chaconne were two short works for harpsichord by Jacques Duphly (1715-1789). As played by Derek Tam, Les Graces offered shimmering textures, while La Félix evoked the image of a man striding purposefully forward, with the music almost galumphing along.  

The highlight of the program was Jean-Fery Rebel’s Le Tombeau de M. Lully,” a piece dedicated to the memory of the great Jean-Baptiste Lully, who presided over all musical affairs at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles from 1662 till his death in 1687. The final movement of this work, Les Regrets, offered a somber but beautiful tribute to Lully. To round out this concert, Musa performed Rameau’s Concert IV, from Pièces de clavecin en concerts, transcribed for sextet.  

A word must be said about the musicians comprising Musa. Violinist Noémy Gagnon-Lafrenais is a tall, lanky young woman with an energetic style of playing. She often bends deeply at the knees, then suddenly swoops to her full height on her toes. This gives her the air of a country fiddler hopping about as if inviting the villagers to dance. This is done gracefully, one might even say, charmingly, so it is not obtrusive, although it is quite noticeable. By contrast, Addi Liu, who sometimes alternates with Noémy Gagnon-Lafrenais as lead violin, plays in a totally reserved manner, as do all the other members of Musa. As a group, Musa deserves credit for bringing us more of the wonderful music of the French Baroque.  

San Francisco Symphony’s All-French Program

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 06, 2015 - 02:48:00 PM

Three French composers, a French conductor, and a French pianist are all featured in this week’s San Francisco Symphony program, with concerts Wednesday through Friday, November 4-6, at Davies Hall. Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts works by Georges Bizet, Maurice Ravel, and Camille Saint-Saens. Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is the soloist in Ravel’s remarkable Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand. This work, the highlight of Wednesday evening’s performance, was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. While serving in the Austrian army in World War I, Paul Wittgenstein, a gifted pianist, was wounded and lost his right arm. Undaunted, he set about commissioning piano works for the left hand. He approached Ravel in 1929, and the French composer was delighted by the challenge. 

The resulting Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand is a rare and wonderful masterpiece from Ravel. It has often been cited as one of the two or three best piano concertos of the 20th century. The Larousse Encyclopedia of Music calls it “Dionysian,” and many listeners find in it a dark, almost sinister quality. Ravel opens the work with cellos and basses establishing a growling, sinister mood, while the contrabassoon intones a solemn theme. Low horns introduce a suggestion of “jazz elements” Ravel said he incorporated in this work. While waiting for the piano soloist to begin playing, a crescendo slowly mounts over thirty-two bars of slow music. When the piano enters, it makes a dramatic leap that spans five octaves. Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet played with Dionysiac frenzy, capping his entrée with a glissando from the bottom A on the keyboard to the top D. As the work progresses, the piano plays a lovely lyrical melody and the orchestra introduces a robust scherzo. In the latter section the piano’s phrases are often capped by “jazzy” horns that come as a surprise at the end of a phrase. Indeed, throughout this work there are many surprising turns, as Ravel never ceases to astonish us, even at times to perplex us. All told, I find Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand to be a far more interesting and arresting work than his two-handed Piano Concerto in G major, which latter is quite tame by comparison. Paul Wittgenstein was the piano soloist in the world premiere of the Left-Hand Concerto in Vienna in 1932; and Wittgenstein was again the soloist when Ravel himself conducted the work in its Paris premiere in 1933. At our San Francisco Symphony performance, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet gave a bravura interpretation of this great work, and conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier graciously remained in the shadows and was content to let the pianist grab the spotlight.  

However, in the music that opened this all-French program – Music from the Carmen Suites by Georges Bizet – conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier was anything but a shrinking violet. He opened the work by playing the Introduction to Les Toréadors in the loudest, most bombastic manner; and he continued in this vein throughout. Incidentally, I would have much preferred to hear Bizet’s Suites from L’Arlésienne, which were originally scheduled on this program. No reason was given for the switch to the Carmen Suites, but the choice most certainly was Tortelier’s. Perhaps he wanted to make a bigger splash. Certainly, his conducting style in the Carmen Suites was flamboyant enough to draw everyone’s attention to the conductor, though the musical results tended to bring out the bombastic elements in this music. Only the dreamy Intermezzo and the softly subtle Seguedilla were played with restraint under Tortelier’s aggressive leadership. 

After intermission, the Symphony returned to perform Camille Saint-Saens’s Symphony No. 3 in C minor, the Organ Symphony. This work, dedicated “To the memory of Franz Liszt,” premiered in London in 1886, and was an immediate success. Dubbed the Organ Symphony because of its prominent use of the organ, this symphony has an unusual structure. Divided into two main parts, it opens with a brief Adagio that is quiet in mood, faintly suggesting Wagner’s influence. Then an Allegro moderato theme is introduced that echoes the familiar strains of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. The resemblance is so striking it has to be intentional. Much is made of this theme, which undergoes thematic transformations before ultimately giving way to a lovely slow section, marked Poco adagio, where the organ makes its first, modest entrance by simply adding to the languorous texture of this Tristan-esque music.  

The Organ Symphony’s second part opens with a scherzo. Indeed, there are several scherzo-with-trio alternations here. Suddenly, a fugue subject is suggested by the lowest instruments in the orchestra. Saint-Saens builds up the tension, as two pianos issue volleys of scales and the orchestra unleashes a crescendo. Then a sudden hush prevails as the high strings tentatively play the fugue subject in canon form. Cellos and basses chime in, playing pianissimo, with the basses plucking softly in pizzicato. The hush deepens as the notes die away. Suddenly, the organ enters with a grandiose C major chord, bolting the audience upright in our seats. This C major chord is repeated several times in quick succession, reverberating with a shock effect, as the orchestra plays a melodious theme. There ensues a chorale played by the strings as they develop a theme from the work’s opening movement. Two pianos add arpeggios, and the organ takes up the chorale, as the brass, timpani and cymbals perform fanfares between the organ’s phrases. The fugue material again surfaces and its counterpoint is fully developed, leading into a melody in the strings that is almost operatic. Saint-Saens then builds to a final climax of glorious fast-tempo C major majesty, as conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier ended the work with a flamboyant flourish.