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New: Berkeley’s New Ideology: A critique of the “Strategic Plan”

Steve Martinot
Monday February 27, 2017 - 01:25:00 PM

The city staff has proposed a Strategic Plan for Berkeley. The Plan occurs in the midst of severe crises besetting Berkeley, distracting from their resolution. It promotes the interests of the staff as a seemingly autonomous "organization" within city government, rather than an instrument of local democracy. Reducing the people to political consumers, and limiting them to non-participant “input,” it enlarges the structural chasm between the people and the government that is one of the sources of the present crises.

On January 31, 2017, the city manager presented a report to City Council on a Strategic Plan for Berkeley that staff is developing. The motivation for this Plan (as the city manager puts it) is a need to “have an idea of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re going to accomplish it.” In other words, it is a plan to make city government more effective and more efficient. Its purpose is to “articulate the long-term goals” of the city and “short-term projects designed to advance those goals.”

The odd thing about it is its appearance right in the middle of a number of crises besetting the city. These crises (concerning homelessness and affordable housing) have been the context for a change in City Council itself, and would seem to call for very focused administrative attention, rather than a diversion to a number of other “long-term” goals. It is as if (by analogy), while the Oroville Dam was coming apart under torrential rains, California engineers spent their time proposing different engineering principles for building dams. In the midst of crisis, that might be beside the point. 

This is not a capricious analogy. Rent levels are so high in Berkeley that low income families, if they lose their lease or succumb to exorbitant rent increases, will be “washed out” of town. Homelessness is increasing precisely because fewer and fewer people can afford the rent. Whole neighborhoods are being displaced and dislocated. The African American population of Berkeley has dropped from 25% to 8%. Five homeless people have died of exposure during the autumn and winter of 2016. Four people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the area, possibly because of faulty (unmaintained) heaters. And there has been a forceful (police) repression of a homeless political movement, an intentional community demanding humane resolution of the entire homeless situation. 

These crises and their attendant tragedies are not the result of government inefficiency. They result from governmental refusal to confront the impact of economic forces that, if left unchecked, will eventually destroy the economic infrastructure of low income neighborhoods. The implication of the “Strategic Plan,” that “we don’t have an idea of what we’re doing,” is belied by the many neighborhood gatherings that have proposed real resolutions to the crises. So what is the real "strategy" here? 

The thrust of the plan

The Plan’s development has a structure as well as a pragmatic dimension. To initiate the Plan, staff first polled and surveyed itself (during 2016), generating discussions that produced the Plan’s categories and goals. After that was done, the City Council was brought into the process. And after that, residents and constituents are given a chance for "input" (via a webpage). That is, Council and constituents are presented with the option to add, subtract, or provide feedback on what has been created by the staff. This creates a procedural hierarchy in which staff holds hegemony. The people come last, and councilmembers are upstaged concerning their own job. 

The pragmatic dimension of the plan is what one would expect. It enumerates governmental responsibilities such as city maintenance, preservation of infrastructure, community amenities, safety and health, and economic stability. These are listed as "goals," a category that includes efficiency, inclusivity and constituent participation. 

And here, a red flag goes up. Why would the responsibilities that constitute the very purpose of government in the first place be listed as "goals"? What might that mean? 

For instance, to list "inclusivity" as a goal admits there is an extant degree of exclusion. Does that refer to a prior deafness to neighborhood needs? Or is the Plan initiating a different kind of inclusivity? It offers no critique of any old exclusionism, nor the many forms it took. 

One encounters an “old form” of exclusion in Council meetings. People would line up to speak for a minute without effect, and developers would call neighborhood meetings that were strictly pro forma. This new plan only gives people a webpage on which to have "input." Without dialogic engagement in policy-making, there is no real participation. “Participation” becomes an empty rhetorical term, as does "efficiency." A councilmember once said (last year), “If fewer people would come to speak at these hearings, maybe we could get some work done.” 

The Plan’s "effectivity" is focused on who benefits from the achieved goals. In "effectively" accomplishing goals, the city seeks to become the provider of a product. "Benefit" signifies the successful operation of a service organization. But that in turn reduces those who benefit to the level of "consumers," rather than participants – that is, the Plan implicitly equates "participation" with "consumption." Has government just become another corporate structure? 

Real participation would involve people in policy-making, fostering togetherness in dialogues by which people discuss with each other what needs to be done, and from which policy would emerge. One does not create participation by exchanging an amorphous "inclusion" for a previous "exclusion." One includes by transforming a structure based on monologue into one based on dialogue. 

The plan does not speak of dialogue, but rather of inclusion and input. 

In her report to Council, the manager announced that webpage responses had already pointed to the issues of homelessness and affordable housing. But that only means they have been reduced to input. That which is destroying people’s lives gets reduced to "issues." 

Born of hierarchy, the Plan neglects to include the democratizing of city processes (hearings, development, planning, police comportment, etc.) which should form a basis for resolving the city’s crises. Instead, one detects a form of fetishist narcissism insofar as the Plan includes itself as one of its own goals. 


Some special attention must be given to one of the Plan’s goals. It is called “equity.” The goal is “to promote and demonstrate racial and social equity.” What does equity mean? 

The term is originally economic. It refers to corporate stocks, to securities representing ownership interests, and to funds that give owners a claim on profits or earnings. A shareholder’s claim to capital proceeds would seem to be fairly far afield from racial equality. But the term can also refer to a body of legal and procedural rules – i.e. doctrines by which people are treated in an equitable manner. Thus, it can signify a certain freedom from bias, favoritism, or hierarchy. It implies that a person has a claim on a situation, and a claim on being respected, as well as on an ability or right to participate. In that sense, "equity" marks an antipole to exclusion, standing in opposition to inequality, by which it becomes a synonym for "equality." 

But we have to be careful here. Equity does not refer to anyone’s claim on another individual. One can claim treatment equal to other individuals with respect to institutional operations (such as government or the court system). But that is not a claim on an individual. It is a claim on an institution with respect to others. In short, equity refers to a relation between individuals and institutions. 

"Equality," however, is bigger than that. Equality is assumed in treating people equitably. It is one’s social equality that is recognized when an institution does so. And it is equality that is suppressed when it doesn’t. For instance, when the police racially profile people on the street, it marks a refusal to treat people equitably, and thus withholds recognition of equality. Equality becomes an issue when it is a question of an institution approaching an individual. 

In short, equity and equality are not the same. Individuals can claim equity (that is, equitable treatment) when they approach institutions. When institutions approach individuals, they can either recognize their equality by treating them equitably or not. Where equity refers to what people can claim, equality refers to what people must defend in the way institutions approach them. Equity is relational and pragmatic, and equality is inherent and fundamental. They move in different ethical directions. 

Against slavery, for instance (whether chattel or wage slavery or debt slavery or sex slavery), the desire for freedom expressed in running away or in organizing rebellion is an affirmation of equality against its withholding by the enslaving institution. The bond-laborer seeking freedom is not opting for equity in the institution but expressing equality with it in moving against it. Equity will reappear, perhaps, with the issue of reparations. 

In council hearings, constituents come forth and offer input or commentary. They have equity insofar as they are granted equal time in which to speak, as a recognition of their equality with each other. But insofar as the institution (council hearings) only allows them to have a minute or two to speak, and deprives them of the ability to dialogue with councilmembers, they are denied equity with respect to it. They have no claim to have the council listen to them, or to take their concerns to heart. Insofar as this locks them out of the policy making process, it renders the councilmembers an elite. 

(To democratize the council’s hearings would require shifting its meeting structure whenever a significantly large group of people showed up on an issue, opening the meeting to a form that would enable dialogue between the people and the council, rather than only monologic "input.") 

When an institution withholds equity from persons, it is in effect imposing inequality on them. In other words, inequality is something that is done to people through social institutions (and those social institutions can include cultural structures, such as patriarchy or white supremacy). 

Equality gives power to humans, to be assumed in the face of institutions, and equity gives power to institutions, against which humans can only make claims and applications. For a democracy, equality of personhood must be an assumption, not an issue. It does not need to be promoted or demonstrated, since it is already the foundation on which people make political decisions about their collective needs. To reduce democracy to a service organization is to reduce equality to equity. 

When the Strategic Plan states that one of its goals is to “promote and demonstrate racial and social equity,” it is adopting an institutional perspective, that of granting equity. This "granting" then expresses another form of hierarchy, the assumption of the power to withhold equality that already characterizes city government. To foster racial equity, what is needed is the cessation of withholding of equity by institutions, an end to the creation of inequality. 


In prioritizing institutionality (fostering equity rather than equality), the Strategic Plan reveals an ideology of organization, and a consciousness of that ideology. The staff refers to itself as “the organization.” This is a strange mode of self-reference for city employees. Those in a political party, for instance, may refer to it as “the party,” and those in corporate management often refer to it as “the company.” In such references, they are recognizing a certain identity and autonomy in which to locate themselves – a sense of social belonging (“our thing,” which translates in Italian as “la cosa nostra.”) What autonomy is the city manager and staff recognizing when they refer to “our organization” or “the organization,” as they do some seven or eight times in their report? We are speaking about a city government here. 

Such reference does not appear in the Plan itself, but in the thinking of the staff, as a sense of identity. And this conforms with the staff’s previously mentioned self-prioritization. The staff’s goals and priorities initiate the Plan’s central values, to which the rest of the city is subordinated as "input." Overall, it betrays a recognition of boundaries, a status constituted by those borders, and a sense of identification with them. The identity of “the organization” constitutes a presence that lurks behind walls, a flaunted independence toward the practical work of political implementation, and thus a political distance between government and people. 

This is not farfetched. After last November, with a new council elected, the city manager was entreated to stop the police raids on the homeless community – as a temporary measure while the new council articulated a better policy. The manager refused, and the police continued their assaults, as a direct repression of this community’s political statement. 

It was gratuitous repression. The manager and the police chief knew about executive discretion. They could have chosen to leave enforcement in abeyance for a while. In choosing not to, they expressed their organizational autonomy as a priority over both the council and the people. 


To the extent this Strategic Plan is based on hierarchy, a boundary between an autonomous "organization" and the constituencies of Berkeley (now represented by the locked doors requiring access procedures in City Hall), it constitutes a disservice in three ways. It disrupts the urgent social responsibility of city government to resolve the crises the city faces now. It reduces people to consuming objects, rather than presenting itself as an instrument for facilitating greater popular self-governance and self-determination. And it widens the chasm between the people (relegated to monologic "input") and dialogic participation in policy and decision making that is the hallmark of democracy. 

The city staff may think of the plan in a problem solving manner, for which a service organization may be most efficient. But the political purpose of defending the people against dislocation and displacement, and against the miseries attendant upon gentrifying development, is not “problem-solving.” And the staff might euphemize the organizational distance between governance and the people as leadership. But it reduces leadership to an elitist rule-governed exclusion from democratic governance. To arrest the current corrosion of communities requires political will, and involvement of the communities themselves that are affected by that corrosion in making decisions in their own interest. 



DHS comes to a college town--local police regret being fooled

Chris Krohn, Santa Cruz City Councilmember
Friday February 24, 2017 - 02:23:00 PM

About a dozen journalists, three city councilmembers, five police officers including the Chief, Kevin Vogel and two deputy chiefs—Rick Martinez and Dan Filippo, along with Mayor Cynthia Chase were all present inside the Police Community room on Center Street [Thursday] morning to hear about what went down, and what went wrong, in Santa Cruz this past February 13th when DHS came to town. It was a press conference, and some press really came while the public was kept outside. A group of about twenty-five huddled around the ornate police plaza fountain, perhaps exchanging text messages in order to follow the blue mea culpa happening inside.

On Wednesday night I received a call while attending my daughter’s CCS soccer match vs. the Menlo School from Atherton. (Had to fit that in somehow.) It was being played on the plastic turf of Santa Cruz High. A stunned-sounding Deputy Chief outlined for me how Homeland Security had acted outside the scope of their activity on that certain Monday morning terrorist hunt. They arrested some gang members, but also detained several undocumented residents, He was disgusted by this, and it flies in the face of our city council Sanctuary City resolution, he flatly stated. It’s against our community values, he even said. Wow, I thought.

It seems DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, had been duplicitous with SCPD. Under a supposed cooperation agreement with local police they would be hunting down known gang members who DHS said were planning more mayhem in our community. But DHS went further.

Without communicating with SCPD they turned the operation into an old-fashioned La Migra raid, something this town experienced quite a bit in the 90’s when ICE, then called the INS, raided neighborhoods at odd hours and hauled away fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers in order to deport those without papers. But remember, the deputy-chief reminded me, FEMA [the federal emergency management agency] falls under DHS, and we also need to work with DHS in investigating underage sex crimes. Finally, he said he had been so incensed over DHS actions that he contacted our U.S. Representative, Jimmy Panetta, and one of our U.S. senators, Kamala Harris. And by the way, there will be a press conference tomorrow at 11am, he said. 

I hung up the phone, Menlo was winning 3-0. 

This morning [Thursday], Chief Kevin Vogel was first up at the press conference. “And I say with tremendous concern…Homeland Security acted outside the scope of this activity” when they detained at least 10 Santa Cruz residents, he said. 

“The only reason SCPD involved itself with DHS was to arrest violent gang members” that were threatening our community… Vogel said. “We did not know there was an immigration component…had I known immigration status was part of this, I would not have participated.” 

Next up was Deputy Chief Dan Filippo. 

Filippo outlined the whole day, February 13th. It began around 4 a.m., he said, and for the Santa Cruz Police Department, it ended at 9:16 a.m. 

“We understood going in we were going after criminal gang members,” he said. 

Then, around 2 p.m., Filippo heard there were “identification checks” being done on Market Street and wondered who that might be. He learned that it was HSI, Homeland Security Investigations, another branch of DHS along with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) 

Six of 10 picked up were arrested and transported to San Francisco, Filippo said, where they were processed. Five were released and forced to wear ankle bracelets upon returning to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was feeling the full force of a post-911-created federal government agency. 

Batting in the press conference clean-up spot [yesterday] was Mayor Cynthia Chase. She said she is “deeply disturbed and upset…this is outrageous.” 

Chase went on to say that there is “no question, this action has torn the city apart.” She said the council would discuss this issue at the 7pm session of the Santa Cruz city council next Tuesday night, February 28th

“We are a community that protects its members,” she reminded everyone present. 

There were also about 6 or 7 others on the periphery of the tight gathering who I did not recognize (plain clothes police? friends of police? family?). 

Chief Vogel came back to the press conference podium one more time after the mayor was done to talk about changes he envisions that may now be on the horizon. “We’ve been working on our police policy manual,” he said. “We will be presenting that policy to the council at its next meeting.” Before taking questions from the assembled journalists he added, “We look forward to supporting a stronger Sanctuary City policy…and we will not collaborate with agencies we cannot trust.” 


Editor's note: In addition to being a member of the Santa Cruz City Council and occasional Planet contributor, Chris Krohn is the son-in-law of the Planet's editor and publisher. The Bay City News report on this event can be found here, along with links to television reports and a video of the press conference. 

March 4 Trump planned for Saturday in Berkeley, counter-protests expected

Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday March 03, 2017 - 03:25:00 PM

A march for Donald Trump is planned in Berkeley this Saturday, one of dozens planned nationwide to show support for the new president. 

The "March 4 Trump" in Berkeley is the only event planned in the Bay Area and one of three planned in California. Marches were previously planned in Los Angeles and Sacramento, but organizers decided to cancel those to attempt to bolster attendance at the other events. 

As of this afternoon, 133 people had said they were attending the Berkeley march on the event's Facebook page. Several commenters were trying to arrange rides, some coming from elsewhere in the Bay Area or the Central Valley. 

Berkeley police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said today that the Police Department has been in touch with organizers and while they have not obtained a permit, they are coordinating with police. 

The rally is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and then will march to the University of California campus at about 3 p.m., Frankel said. He said he did not know how many people would attend. 

There has been some indication that there may be counter protests at the event, including from self-styled anti-fascist groups who helped organize the violent protest against far-right writer and speaker Milo Yiannopoulos last month.  

Asked if police had any plans to prevent violence between different factions of demonstrators on Saturday, Frankel said, "The department is prepared for a number of different contingencies." 

Counter-protesters have said that there is the potential for white nationalists to attend the march, but organizer Rich Black has pushed back against that suggestion in online postings, saying that no organizers have any association with white nationalist groups. 

"If any one person that shares the beliefs associated with white nationalism or belongs to any Neo-Nazi faction or Nazi Workers Party attempts to attend this event, they will be ejected immediately," Black wrote. 

Asked how they plan to eject Nazis from the rally, Black said today, "We have security detail as well and police will be present. We will remove agitators and nazis flying any nazi banners are agitators."

Press Release: Indivisible East Bay Hosts Empty Chair Town Hall Absent Dianne Feinstein: Thousands RSVP

From Liz Kelley, Indivisible East Bay Press Communications Leader
Friday February 24, 2017 - 02:40:00 PM

Indivisible East Bay is holding a town hall with or without Feinstein on Sunday February 26th 10am at Elmhurst Community Prep School, 1800 98th Avenue in Oakland. Groups representing 15,000 of her constituents have asked Senator Feinstein to hold such a forum and provide an opportunity to ask her questions directly. Senator Feinstein has declined to attend Sunday’s town hall but that’s not stopping Indivisible East Bay from holding an event to make their presence known and their voices heard. 

Over the last several months, groups of Indivisible Chapters have been popping up all over the Bay Area, meeting with staffers and representatives with direct requests to resist the Trump Administration. Their areas of concern include saving the Affordable Care Act, Immigration Rights and Protections, and opposing President Trump’s Cabinet and nominee for the Supreme Court. The recent resignation of Michael Flynn has Indivisible members eager to hear information from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. 

“Our security concern is that an adversary of our country has gained improper ascendency in the highest councils of our Government's Executive branch.” says Indivisible East Bay member Alex Alten. Growing concerns of Russia’s influence on the 2016 Election are inspiring voters show up to their representatives in record numbers with an ever-growing list of questions on national security. 

Senator Feinstein plans to make a public appearance on Friday 2/24 at an event at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco, but for many people, this isn’t enough. The venue offered seats for only 140 people. Senator Feinstein plans to take only 10 minutes of questions from the audience. “Ten minutes of audience questions is no substitute for the kind of town hall meeting Californians are crying out for,” said Amelia Cass, an organizer for the Empty Chair Town Hall this Sunday.

The event is expected to have a large turnout in Oakland this Sunday. Members of Indivisible SF and Indivisible East Bay are collaborating to send a message to Feinstein: we want you here and we have questions. The event will include speakers such as George Lakoff, linguist and Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley. It will also have an activist fair with information and a video booth for voters to record a message to be sent to Feinstein’s office. Over 30 political groups from as far North as Yolo County and as far South as Santa Cruz are slated to attend.

"San Francisco residents just want a chance to hear from Sen. Dianne Feinstein and raise their concerns directly” says Jacques Fortier, Indivisible SF organizer. “This is what we’re asking of all of our Members of Congress. We want to better understand her votes in the Senate so far and what we can to do to support her in resisting an administration that threatens basic American values.” 

Indivisible East Bay Press Coordinator Liz Kelley can be reached at lizkelley16@gmail.com or (650) 315-0596 for comment. Event Coordinator Amelia Cass can be reached at ameliacass@gmail.com or (617) 953-6908. 

Information on the event listed here : https://www.facebook.com/events/140766766439352/ 

A Kvetchy Quatrain and Some Trumped-up Haikus

Gar Smith
Friday February 24, 2017 - 03:11:00 PM

I'd like to report that Trump has no rapport

that his Twitterish tirades leave much to abhor

that his public deportment disgraces the nation

"Deport him, instead!" is my loud exclamation

White-hot White House Haikus

--- ---

Boo! The Great Trumpkin!

He's orange and hairy-scary!

He even spooks spooks!

--- --- 

Trump's in a bind now 

Learning to juggle The Job 

His balls in the air 

--- --- 

"Fake news" brouhaha 

Real goal of Washington's post: 

"Silence our critics" 

--- --- 

Trump is a monster 

Who can beat him? Al and Jill 

Vote for Franken/Stein! 

--- ---  

Sir Trump's latest whine: 

Wants SNL banned, no shit 

Sad, turdy Knight's jive 

--- --- 

Trump's swamp-critter picks: 

A mad-as-sin cabinet. 

Pass the Advil, please! 

--- --- 

Here's wishing you a 

Furry Murky Christmas and 

A Scrappy New Year 

--- --- 

It's a brand new year 

Fresh outta the box. (I say: 

"Reseal the damn box.") 


If the US were 

A real democracy, Trump 

Wouldn't be the prez. 

--- --- 


Trump came in the runner-up. 


--- --- 

You need a license 

To drive a car but not to 

Run the USA 

--- --- 


Why should anyone show up 

For a runner-up? 

--- --- 

Trump's our new leader? 

The Reprimander-in-chief 

is what we'll call him 

--- --- 

Trump is a coward. 

When critics call him to task, 

he simply retweets 

--- --- 

The Oval Office 

The awful Offal Office 

With Trump at the desk 

--- --- 

Trump a "populist"? 

With his cuts, millions could die. 


--- --- 

Trust me. Believe me. 

Who needs the truth when I've got 

Alternative facts. 

--- --- 

Want Trump's tax returns? 

Donald has a suggestion: 

"Waterboarding works." 

--- --- 

Trump says vote was rigged 

Wants an investigation. 

How 'bout a new vote? 

--- --- 

The press versus Trump 

The Dailies v. Go-Lieth 

Press on, truth tellers! 

--- --- 

Flynn was in and now 

He's out, his memory failed 

Wired and now he's fired 

--- --- 

Andy Puzder caves 

Thanks to Oprah and his ex 

Puzder cussed her. Sad! 

--- --- 

Kellyanne Conway 

She does it her way, lobbing 

Alternative facts 

--- --- 

Trump and spies make news 

Donny puttin' out for Vlad? 

Trump's not orange. He's Red! 

--- --- 

Trump's taunts and stunts go 

beyond the realm of satire 

More like sad, tired ire 

--- ---  

Trumpty-Dumpty sat 

on a Wall. Trumpty-Dumpty 

had a great fall. Splat!

Robert Alexander David (Bob) Schwartz

Margot Schwartz
Friday February 24, 2017 - 04:05:00 PM

Robert Alexander David Schwartz (Bob) was unfortunately obliged to abandon his recently adopted ten-year plan as a result of a stroke, which ultimately claimed his life on February 18.

A dedicated swimmer and aficionado of Fenton’s Swiss Milk Chocolate shakes, he was born in 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1944, after which he served as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor during World War II. In 1951 he moved to Oakland, where he lived the remainder of his full and dynamic 92 years. He earned a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Golden Gate University Law School, becoming a member of the California State Bar in 1974. 

Never too keen on taking orders from others, Bob was founder of three corporations: Schwartz and Lindheim, United Plastics, and most recently Key Source International, which has developed and patented award-winning technology that is revolutionizing the healthcare industry.  

Bob’s commitment to the City of Oakland led to his being named “Citizen of the Year” in 1996, receiving the Distinguished Lifetime Service Award sponsored by The Oakland Tribune and the Oakland Association of Realtors. He has served on the boards of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Urban Strategies Council, New Oakland Committee, Peralta College District Vocational Advisory Committee, Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Oakland Economic Development Advisory Commission, and the East Bay Community Foundation.  

As Chairman of the Northern California Democratic Party, he worked tirelessly for the first campaign of Jerry Brown for Governor. Further political activism involved committee work for the campaigns of US Congressman Ron Dellums, US Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and California State Senator Nicholas Petris.  

In 1978 he founded the Robert A.D. Schwartz Foundation and the Peer Tutoring Institute, which at one point maintained over 40 programs in the Oakland Unified School District. His Foundation continues to seek meaningful ways to support teachers implementing peer tutoring into curricula all over the country, therefore encouraging what Bob considered to be two of the most essential elements of our students’ education: scholastic aptitude and good citizenship. 

An avid tenor saxophonist and clarinetist who played in a 15-piece band in his MIT days, Bob sold his instruments when he joined the Navy, giving up performing his beloved music. During the ensuing years he instead focused on being an enthusiastic music appreciator and supporter, devotedly attending and filming his children’s every violin performance as well as those his wife Debbra held for her private violin students. He played a major role as a member of Mayor Lionel Wilson’s task force in the resuscitation of the Oakland Symphony after their devastating musicians’ strike and subsequent bankruptcy in 1986, and was also immensely proud to have served on the committee which chose Michael Morgan as the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Music Director in 1990.  

In 1999 serendipity arrived in the form of Ethiopian jazz pianist Elias Negash, who moved in next door, helping Bob to rekindle his love for the jazz standards. After 55 years, Bob picked up where he left off, playing with Elias every Saturday. They invited more musicians to join and eventually formed The Therapists, a band performing for seniors at local retirement homes.  

Swapping out his signature coat and bow tie for one of his many Aloha shirts to perform “Comeback Jazz” (“When Jazz comes back, it brings your memories along”), Bob was consistently inspired by the way these classic songs brought back deep and joyful memories for the residents. They danced and sang along, in some cases transcending the confines of very severe physical limitations.  

Poignantly, Bob recounted a recent audience member dancing in his wheelchair, reveling in the sounds he clearly cherished -- it was only later that Bob learned this man possessed neither of his legs. Hoping to foster enthusiasm for this project, The Therapists also produced two studio recordings which are available free of charge at www.comebackjazz.org for anyone interested in supporting their efforts or creating similar programs. 

On Robert A.D. Schwartz Day (December 14, 2016), Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf proclaimed, “Mr. Schwartz exemplifies what it means to love Oakland and its people, demonstrates through action his loyalty and devotion to our city, and epitomizes a life well-lived in service to others.” 

Bob is survived by brother Charles (Susan), sister Polly; wife Debbra Wood Schwartz, their children Margot and Noah; former wife Deanna Osterberg, their son David (Myla) and grandson Alexander; children Robert (Chan-Sook), Stevon, Paul (Pamela), and Donald (Elizabeth); grandchildren Shinyung, Yea-Eun, Aeri, Junghee, Jaegyun, Borami, Jaeman, Charles, Donald, and Samuel; as well as one great-grandson Alpha Buta.  

A Memorial Service will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center (www.splc.org) or the Peer Tutoring Resource Center (www.peertutoringresource.org).



Berkeley's problems are not unique to us

Becky O'Malley
Friday February 24, 2017 - 06:03:00 PM

Regular readers of the Planet might be surprised, as I have been, to see that this issue contains contributions from current or former elected officials in three cities outside our usual Berkeley beat. But when you read them, you might discover that they’re on themes which have Berkeley resonance—it could happen here, and probably will. 

First, the obvious one. Richmond Mayor Tom Butts takes up the topic of lazy stereotyping by metropolitan papers of suburban cities (not as much of an oxymoron as you might think at first). He’s annoyed, rightly, by what might be called the Rough Richmond meme (a neo-clever term I’m never sure I’m using right.) Richmond is portrayed as being in the thrall of radical spendthrifts and worse, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy because of over-generous employee pensions and other extravagance.  

Now, there exists a worthy discussion of the topic of underfunded liabilities, but here’s the point: There’s nothing special about Richmond. Berkeley too has its panicky deficit hawks, as do many other cities, and they might have a point, but it’s a much more general situation with the statewide CALPERS pension system very much in the middle. It’s just easier to pick on Richmond than to explain the whole complicated ball of wax. 

Berkeley’s stereotype is one part that old familiar Bezerkeley( “they’re always coming up with wacky ideas”) and another part the “grey ponytails” dominion, a place populated by elderly liberals who inexplicably cling to homes which they could be selling for millions to wealthy younger people. 

Next, we’re uniquely soft on homelessness, of course. Many, and not just metro papers, believe that homelessness in whatever city they happen to be in is created by civic laxity, which causes homeless people to flock there. Many Berkeleyans will tell you that with a straight face. 

But it’s not so easy, as the former mayor of Albany, a real small town wedged between the urban towns (again, not an oxymoron) of Richmond and Berkeley, knows, since the down-and-out have spilled over there too. The challenge of dealing with what are colloquially called crazies without killing them is the same in all three cities. It’s a problem of the whole big society, not special for us. 

And speaking of the police, how about that Santa Cruz story? How often do you see the local cops holding a press conference to denounce Homeland Security? Not very often until now, because HS (or ICE, or whichever of its many acronymic subdivisions you might encounter) hasn’t been in the habit of raiding localities in exactly this terrifying way in the Obama administration (which did, however, deport more than its share in other ways.)  

Listen up, Berkeley, this too could happen here. In fact, it did happen here 75 years ago, as our Japanese American residents (mostly living west of Grove Street because of housing discrimination) were removed en masse by the fearful majority. You might think Berkeleyans would have known better, being educated and all, but nobody prevented it.  

The latest bunch of lunatic executive orders threatens especially two very disparate groups: those from countries where Islam is the dominant religion (except perhaps Christians from there) and the Spanish-speaking undocumented migrants from this hemisphere, most of them Christians but who cares about that? 

It’s been reported that the Santa Cruz police are now working on a new set of protocols which will enable them to detect and resist immigration raids disguised as anti-crime actions. If they actually do figure out how not to be fooled for a second time, perhaps the manual they’re proposing to create for this purpose could be shared with the Berkeley police.  

Also, I’ve learned that the Santa Cruz city council has not yet actually passed a sanctuary ordinance, just a sanctuary resolution, which is not binding, just advisory. Language intended to toughen up their stance has been in the works now through several city council meetings, but has been postponed repeatedly, despite the protestations of two councilmembers recently elected on a progressive slate but still a minority. Even the more moderate councilmembers are outraged by this new development, so they just might pass a tough ordinance next week. 

It's time for Berkeley’s new progressive majority to take a hard look at our own sanctuary ordinance (or resolution?) and to ask our police what procedures they have in place to prevent being fooled by the federals.  

One good idea proposed by my source on the Santa Cruz council is some sort of conference of elected officials from the progressive cities of Northern California to trade survival strategies. 

It’s a brave new world, folks, and we’re all in the soup together. Might as well learn to swim. 










Public Comment

The Privatization of Public Schools

Harry Brill
Thursday March 02, 2017 - 03:15:00 PM

Our society is moving rapidly in a dangerous direction. Government is increasingly playing the role of assisting business to maximize profits instead of attempting to improve the quality of life of the public. The strategy is privatization. Among the public institutions that are becoming increasingly privatized are K-12 educational institutions. Called charter schools, they are rapidly increasing at the expense of public schools. In Washington, D.C. 44 percent of the students are enrolled in charter schools. In some cities, including Detroit and New Orleans, a majority of the students are educated in charter schools. 

Charter schools are defined as public schools that operate independently from local school boards and other public schools. But the only thing that is really public about them is that they get their money from the public sector, which as a result financially bleeds the public school Those who are interested in exploring why educators and progressives generally are disappointed with charter schools should go to the internet site, Charter School Scandals. You will read about how in many instances the funding of public schools are being cut to feed the predatory interests of charter school proprietors and managers. You will also read about their lack of transparency and accountability. In California, for example, the charter schools do not favor transparency for good reasons. State authorities have found that many of its charter schools have been responsible for over $80 million in wasteful and fraudulent spending of public money. 

President Trump appointed the billionaire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. She has very close ties to the conservative wing of the Republican Party. She served as the Republican National Committeewoman in Michigan. DeVos has worked very hard and successfully to expand the number of charter schools in Michigan. She has supported these schools no matter how poor their record of accomplishments are. For example, although students of the charter school in Detroit, Hope Academy, have continually experienced very low test scores for more than a decade, its license was nevertheless renewed. 

It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that all charter school advocates are interested in only profit. On the contrary, many progressives have been concerned about the shortcomings in public schools and accordingly, want to find a way of improving the quality of K-12 education. Among the advocates was Albert Shanker, who was head of the American Federation of Teachers union. In 1988 he proposed what was soon after called charter schools. He offered a vision of setting up alternative schools that gave teachers much greater freedom to teach and develop the curriculum. Many prominent educators agreed. 

The first charter school opened in St. Paul Minnesota with about 35 students in 1992. There are now over 6,700 charter schools in the United States who teach more than two and a half million students. Unlike the orientation of progressive educators, the charter schools, instead of cooperating with the public schools, have been competing with and attempting to replace them. Instead of involving teachers in the task of improving and developing curriculum, how to shape these schools is now completely in the hands of management. Because of the very vigorous efforts of charter school administrators, only 10 percent of the charter schools are unionized. In public schools, 49 percent of the teachers are union members. The union affiliation gives these teachers some clout to influence school policy. Unlike public schools, the main interest of charter schools is to make money. In fact, it is about making lots of money. 


But it was progressives like Shanker, not conservatives, who first proposed charter schools. Their model favored democratic decision making along with giving teachers an opportunity to develop different approaches to educating K-12 students. Certainly there were problems with the public schools that needed to be addressed. But by proposing alternatives to the traditional public schools they legitimated the unfortunate development that followed. The progressives did not realize that ambitious entrepreneurs would take advantage of the opening that Shanker and others provided. 


In retrospect, it might have turned out differently if progressives instead had focused exclusively on the existing public schools rather than seeking to support alternative educational institutions. The most serious problem confronting the public schools has been inadequate funding. Without a decent budget there are serious limits to what can be accomplished. Particularly important, teachers needed more autonomy to improve the performance of the schools. Although Shanker and other progressives supported a benign kind of privatization, they later regretted what has actually emerged. But as the private sector became more active in building support for charter schools that they would completely control, it was too late to contain this development. Those who craved profits had immense political and economic advantages, including the strong support of Clinton when he was president, and President Obama, who embraced Charter Schools and favored their expansion. 


Nevertheless, progressives have seriously attempted to address the serious problems of charter schools. Last year in California a coalition of community groups, parents, and state leaders banded together to persuade the state government to enact a charter school transparency bill. Charter schools would have to comply with the same state laws governing open meetings, open records, and conflict of interest laws that are required of traditional public schools. However, Governor Brown not only vetoed the bill. He included in the budget $20 million for charter schools. He explained in a letter to the legislature that these schools have benefited from "the strong commitment of dedicated individuals". The governor does not only support charter schools. He financially benefits from the two charter schools that he purchased and owns. 


Although the recent bill was supported by a majority of the legislators, it lacked the two thirds vote that is required for an override. However to understand how California state government actually works it is important to realize that even if the bill enjoyed a two thirds majority to override the veto, an override would not have happened. In the last two sessions, the legislature sent to the governor bills that it approved by at least a two thirds vote. Although Brown vetoed about 250 of these bills, the legislators nevertheless made no attempt to override any of them even though they could have.  


What is going on? In short, Brown plays the flack catcher role, which allows many legislators to appear more progressive than they really are. They can tell their constituency that they voted in favor of their interests despite the opposition of the governor. Nor did the Democratic Party legislators attempt to override any veto even when the Republican Schwarzenegger was governor. The advocates of the transparency bill mistakenly thought that they lost only because the bill failed to achieve a two third majority. But the reality is that once the governor vetoes a bill the chance that it would be overridden is exactly zero. 


The problem for progressives and the public generally is coping with the combined resistance of business and government, both of whom erect barriers that are very difficult to overcome. To stand a chance of improving the odds, progressives must not only be well organized. They must be openly and consistently adversarial and outraged. And most of all, they must do whatever they can to nominate and elect a progressive governor.

Open Letter to Councilmember Worthington opposing Honda project

Jeffrey J. Carter, attorney at law
Friday February 24, 2017 - 03:13:00 PM

I am writing to you to express my disappointment in your opposition to the neighborhood appeal of the ZAB decision approving the relocated dealership proposal of the Honda dealer. I have had an opportunity to review your comments from the most recent council meeting in which you provide reasons for your opposition, which from my perspective, appear to be unsupported by the facts and the law. 

A well-founded rule of statutory construction mandates that if the language of an enacted ordinance or statute is clear, then one may not look to the debate surrounding its adoption for guidance in its interpretation. While the 2013 ordinance, No. 7,304-NS amended the zoning ordinance to permit auto sales in the C-SA district, including certain ancillary operations such as repairs, the amendment did not alter the definition of “ancillary use” within Section 23.04.010 of the zoning ordinance which is applicable to the entire zoning ordinance.  

ANCILLARY USE: A use that is both dependent on and commonly associated with the principal permitted use of a lot and/or building and that does not result in different or greater impacts than the principal use.  

The highlighted clause within the zoning ordinance definition of ancillary use is crucial in the case of the Honda dealership use permit appeal because the addition of the repair facility has been clearly shown to have a demonstrably different and greater impact than the principal use as an automobile sales facility on the surrounding neighborhood.  

The debate is not as to whether the repair shop use is incidental or ancillary to the auto sales use, but rather whether the ancillary repair use will result in a “different or greater impact” than simply an auto salesroom, which it obviously will have. The 2013 amendment does not give carte blanche to an automobile dealership to engage in ancillary activities that “result in different or greater impacts than the principal use.” 

Furthermore, and contrary to what you seem to suggest in your statements to the council, the amount of time Honda may have spent in attempting to relocate or comply with the laws of the city are simply not germane or proper with respect to the area of inquiry of the city council in this matter. While the alleged difficulties experienced by Honda may generate sympathy, such sympathy may not serve as the basis for a decision one way or the other. The decision of the city council must rest on the facts, law and procedure as established by the ordinance. And major consideration must be given to the compatibility of the character of the use with the adjacent residential neighborhoods, and particularly to whether the use will generate “traffic or parking demand significantly beyond the capacity of the Commercial District or significantly increase impacts on adjacent residential neighborhoods.” BMC, Chapter 23E.56.090B.3. and 4. 

The city council, as you are aware, has the authority, based on its consideration of the hearing and record, to “reverse or affirm, wholly or partly, or modify any decision, determination, condition or requirement of the Board’s original action...” BMC, Chapter 23B.32.060D.2. I believe that the facts and law fully support the appeal of the hundreds of neighbors, on behalf of themselves and the community generally, and urge you to join with council members Hahn, Bartlett, Davila and Mayor Arreguin in reversing the ZAB decision.  



Berkeley Police get it right

Robert Cheasty
Friday February 24, 2017 - 02:37:00 PM

Kudos to the Berkeley police for disarming the "Homeless man arrested for slashing tents in Berkeley” and for using non-lethal force to do it. This story could have easily been “Homeless Man Brandishing a Sword and Slashing at Tent Dwellers Shot and Killed by Police.” 

In order to encourage and support the right kind of response we need to acknowledge when the police conduct is admirable. In this instance a poorly trained officer could have easily reacted with fear and shot the man slashing with his sword. Thankfully the officers responding were properly trained and showed great restraint and respect for human life all the way around. 

At a time of too many stories with tragic endings and suspects killed at the scene, we owe a great debt of thanks to the supervisors at the Berkeley Police Department for seeing that the line officers are getting the training necessary to deal with very dangerous situations while using the least amount of force required. 

Congratulations to the City of Berkeley and to its Police Department. 

Robert Cheasty is a former mayor of Albany. 

BAMBD calls for community support of the Berkeley Flea Market

Marvin X
Friday February 24, 2017 - 02:03:00 PM

Remember the time when the Berkeley Flea Market was the chief market place of North American Africans and Africans from the Diaspora? Remember when it was the crossroads of Pan African culture in the Bay? Well, if vendors and shoppers don't rush to keep it alive, it is in serious danger of closing down. The non-profit corporation which operates the Flea Market at the ASHBY BART Station are threatening to close the market on Sundays because they cannot afford the expense of Sundays due to the low turnout of vendors and customers. A petition was circulated demanded it remain open on Sundays but it is a business and no business can remain operating in the red! This is an economic reality. 

Of course we know gentrification or ethnic cleansing has decimated the North American population in Berkeley, the Bay Area and throughout the US. Thus it is no surprising the ASHBY Flea Market is in dire straights. But we think it can be resuscitated with Pan African Unity, otherwise it will join the dustbin of history of other cultural/economic districts such as West Oakland and the Fillmore in San Francisco. 

ASHBY Flea Market organizers have called upon Oakland poet/playwright/organizer/planner Marvin X and the Black Arts Movement Cultural and Business District (BAMBD) planners to assist in a revival of the Berkeley Flea Market. The BAMBD planners have agreed to help in the resuscitation of the market so vital to Berkeley's Pan African identity, even though BAMBD planners realize the ASHBY Flea Market may suffer a fate similar to the BAMBD unless there are investment partnership agreements with Berkeley developers who eye the flea market space as ideal for expanding the long planned Berkeley corridor from downtown Berkeley through the Lorin District to downtown Oakland which will erase the traditional North American African presence in South Berkeley. Alas, this is why the cause is lost unless North American Africans and those of the Diaspora unite in Pan African unity to push back those reactionary pseudo liberal whites who have no qualms about further displacement of North American Africans in Berkeley. For a clearer perspective on how North American Africans view their situation, we suggest they check in with Berkeley NAACP president Al Mansour who has described the fight for space and place as ethnic cleansing, to the utter dismay of Berkeley's pseudo liberal whites. Alas, shall we quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, "I'd rather deal with the KKK than pseudo white liberals.!" 

The BAMB will do all we can to keep the ASHBY Flea Market alive as a symbol and reality of North American African cultural and economic identity and independence. But your help is needed as vendors, cultural workers, artists and customers. We are begging you to vend at the ASHBY Flea Market; we are begging you to shop at the market in the name of self-determination and cooperative economics. Let's bring this cultural and economic entity back to it's former glory as the cross-roads of Bay Area cultural livelihood! 

At present, other ethnic groups benefit from our consumerism as per spending with other than our own kind, even at the ASHBY Flea Market. There are a plethora of ethnic groups who sell to us but will never buy from us. This has got to stop. I talk about this in my Parable of the Donkey. North American Africans are the donkey of the world: any ethnic group can set up shop in our community and prosper, send money back to their home countries while we go down down down.  

I was elated this morning at the ASHBY Flea Market when I purchased coffee and peace cobbler from a sister and she gave me change with bills marked with red, black and green, the colors of the Pan African nation. She said her mother had told her to mark bills in this manner. I informed her I shall mark all my bills the same way.  

In conversation with the Flea Market organizers, after they told me to celebrate Black History Month every month, I agreed to do so in our newspaper The Movement. After all, we are not Black/African in February, but 24/7, so we shall do so in our newspaper beginning with the March issue, celebrating Woman's Herstory Month.

A Route To Poverty: The Decline of Conventional Employment

Harry Brill
Friday February 24, 2017 - 01:53:00 PM

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the standard of living is declining despite the claims of many public officials and corporate CEOs. Among the important problems that have been battering working people is that millions of jobs have been and continue to be OUTSOURCED abroad. Since the year 2000, about 5.5 million jobs in manufacturing have been outsourced. A conservative estimate of the total shipped abroad since the year 2000 would be at least 9 million jobs This does not include the substantial number of jobs that have disappeared because of the steep decline in consumer spending as a result of moving jobs abroad.

Since the 1980s many businesses have employed another weapon -- DOMESTIC OUTSOURCING. In addition to sending work abroad, many establishments are also replacing their own workers with less expensive employees from subcontracting firms. Apparently they have decided that the very last thing they intend to do is to increase their workforce even if their business volume is expanding. Unless this development is successfully confronted a lot more working people and their families will be joining the ranks of the poor. 

Among many of the large corporations about 20 to 50 percent of their total workforce is procured from the many thousands of domestic subcontracting businesses. Bank of America, Verizon, Proctor & Gamble and FedEx Corporation each do business with many of these contractors. In certain industries, including oil, gas and pharmaceuticals, outside workers sometimes outnumber employees by at least 2 to 1. According to the Wall Street Journal there are currently about 20 million workers that are not employed directly by the company where they work. Moreover, many of these workers are leased for only part-time work and for a short period of time. 

The advantage to business is that compared to the wages paid to regular employees, labor costs are considerably lower. Subcontracted workers are paid up to 30 percent less than regular workers, and in agriculture, the wages are up to 40 percent lower. = Moreover, as many workers have experienced, even the highly exploitative poverty wages they receive do not satisfy their employers. So in addition many workers are also victimized by wage theft. They are paid below the minimum wage, not paid for working overtime, forced to work off the clock, and suffer unlawful paycheck deductions. According to a survey of workers in the food industry, 70 percent of the subcontracted workers are not paid for their overtime. About 25 percent reported minimum wage violations. Some of these violations are egregious. The Los Angeles Times reported that 11 bakery workers were paid just two dollars an hour over a two year period. Incredibly, 8 out of 10 Los Angeles workers experience wage theft.  

The obvious question is how do employers get away with their outrageous and illegal conduct? The obvious answer is that for one reason or another many workers feel too vulnerable to complain or for good reason feel that complaining would be futile. These subcontractors know how to recruit workers who will pose no serious problems. Among these "safe" employees are undocumented immigrants, workers who have been arrested, and a growing number of desperate workers who have been long term unemployed.  

Since these workers are not paid by the firms they work in, there is little or nothing they can do about their dismal situation. If they complain to the subcontractor they will not be dispatched to another firm. In effect, they are fired. Generally speaking, workers who are lucky enough to procure employment via subcontractors work in a climate of insecurity and fear that is encouraged by the establishment. 

The public recently learned, for example, of the almost 700 documented workers in 12 states who were arrested by the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency and now face deportation. To understand the significance of these arrests, keep in mind that terrorizing these workers is not just a screwball idea of the Trump administration. The Obama administration also engaged in massive arrests of undocumented workers. In fact, in some weeks arrests exceeded 2000 undocumented workers. An advocate of these workers explained that stirring fear is the main motive of the establishment. Not surprisingly, the news of these arrests puts many of these workers on edge. It is certainly one way of assuring compliance among the 8 million highly exploited undocumented immigrants who are in the workforce. 

Although it is understandable that working people attempt to seek assistance from government, both federal and local, government has done very little to alleviate their problems. Over half of the subcontracted workforce who are employed in government programs receive no benefits at all. And very few receive paid sick leave and health insurance. Until President Obama signed an executive order that increased the wages of workers whose subcontractor has contracted with the federal government, 74 percent earned less than $10 an hour. Although the legal wage now is $10.20 an hour, Trump is threatening to rescind the executive order. But even if Obama's decision remains, it is still a poverty wage. 

Generally speaking, the laws that presumably protect contracted workers are too often ignored and violated. Among those workers who have legally challenged the theft of their wages, 83 percent who win a favorable decision never see a dime. Indeed, the enormous gains that corporations have made by employing subcontracted workers have been very costly to working people.  

It is very difficult to evaluate what lies ahead. However, if present trends continue, subcontracting rather than directly hiring workers will increase, and accordingly conventional hiring will continue to decline. As a result, the poverty that domestic outsourcing breeds will be engulfing a much larger share of the nation's workforce.

Islamophobia & Anti-Semitism

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday February 24, 2017 - 11:19:00 PM

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have once again reared their ugly heads. Eleven Jewish community centers across the country received bomb threats. At a cemetery in University City, Missouri, more than a 100 Jewish gravesites were desecrated. Facing intense criticism President Trump finally broke his long silence and denounced anti-Semitic threats. But this came a week after he chastised a Jewish reporter, Jake Turx, for asking about the recent bomb threats at his news conference. In his usual nasty bullying style he heaped scorn on the reporter and the “dishonest media” and demanded the reporter sit down. 

During the press conference with Prime Minister, Netanyahu, Trump side-stepped a similar question posed by an Israeli reporter by heaping self-congratulatory praise on his “amazing election victory” raising increasing concerns about his rapidly declining mental faculty. 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center the number of anti-Muslim groups in the US has tripled last year, from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year. Hate groups have received a huge boost by the candidacy and then election of Donald Trump who has been very adept at fanning the flames of racial disharmony and has now become “divider-in-chief”. 

Sadly, Trump has unleashed a kind of Pandora’s Box of hatred in our country. And those are not easy things to get back in the box. 

But in rare gesture of racial harmony a Muslim group went online to raise money to help the Jewish community restore the damaged tombstones.

Who will police the press?

Tom Butt, Mayor of Richmond
Friday February 24, 2017 - 02:06:00 PM

It all started with a story on Richmond first published by the LA Times (Cutting jobs, street repairs, library books to keep up with pension costs, Generous retirement benefits for public safety employees could help push the Bay Area city of Richmond into bankruptcy) authored by Judy Lin, a reporter for CALMatters, which describes itself as a “a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture dedicated to explaining California policies and politics.” In fact, CAL Matters is largely funded by rich right wing silicon valley Republicans and foundations, including Greg Penner, grandson-in-law of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, Condoleezza Rice, Helen and Chuck Schwab and George Shultz. 

Without checking the facts, major newspapers around the state picked up the story, which was really about exploding pension plans statewide, a legitimate subject, but inaccurately invoked the prospect of bankruptcy in Richmond to make a point.. Invoking old news from 2 ½ years ago, Lin wrote, “When the state auditor gauged the fiscal health of California cities in 2015, this port community on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay made a short list of six distressed municipalities at risk of bankruptcy.” What she neglected to add was that the state auditor later met with Richmond officials and was satisfied that the city was not at risk after all. 

Then, Lin found the only source she could to reinforce the bankruptcy theme, quoting ousted City Councilman Vinay Pimple, “’I don’t think there’s any chance we can avoid it,’ said former City Councilman Vinay Pimple, referring to bankruptcy.” 

Then, Lin quoted me out of context, “’It’s a huge mess,’ said Mayor Butt. ‘I don’t know how it’s going to get resolved. One of these days, it’s just going to come crashing down.’” I was clear that I was talking about the entire state pension system, not Richmond. 

After the LA Times published the story, newspapers statewide picked it up, including our local Bay Area News Group. None of them fact checked it. City Manager Bill Lindsay responded (City Manager Bill Lindsay's Response to Richmond Bankruptcy Articles, February 11, 2017), “The issue of municipal pensions, including escalating costs, the need for reforms, proper management of the CalPERS system, and other related topics have been discussed and written about a great deal over the past several years, and, especially, in recent weeks. But, to my knowledge, never has the word ‘bankruptcy’ been used to describe the effect of pension costs on the City of Richmond, and, frankly, it is inaccurate, irresponsible, and reckless to do so now,” but he got no coverage. 

Even squeaky clean KQED republished it without fact checking it. Then I got a call from John Sepulvado of The California Report who asked for an interview. If I had known he was from KQED, I would not have talked to him. But I did (http://audio.californiareport.org/archive/R201702200850/b). I thought I did a pretty good job of debunking the bankruptcy theme, but he persevered and finally cut me off when he wasn’t hearing what he wanted to hear. His teaser for the interview stated, “The Bay Area City of Richmond is the latest city to face the grim reality that bankruptcy may be in the cards. Rising pension costs are the big culprit just as they’ve been in other cities forced to reorganize their finances through bankruptcy proceedings. Host John Sepulvado spoke with the Mayor of Richmond, Tom Butt, about the situation. Reporter: John Sepulvado.” 

I just don’t understand why the press continues to pick on Richmond. We have the same challenges that most cities have, and in many respects, we are handling them better with fewer resources. Maybe we are just the Rodney Dangerfield of cities. And, as they say, any publicity is good publicity. 

Questions for Supreme Court Nominees

Christy Straub
Friday February 24, 2017 - 03:40:00 PM

The difference between an excellent judge and an appropriate Supreme Court nominee may well be her/his understanding and willingness to support our Constitution. 

All Judges before the Congress will be excellent judges with acclaimed written theses and decisions. However, the Supreme Court is designate to check all such Judges for Constitutionality in decisions and the Congress is tasked to determine whether personal beliefs of nominees may conflict with full application of the Constitution to cases upon appeal from all courts and from all the many qualified judges throughout this nation. 

Thus the following questions must be answered in the affirmative and demonstrably supported in actions, included philosophical theses to confirm appropriately nominations to the Supreme Court. 

  • Do you believe in separation of Church from State?
  • Do you support freedom and equal rights for every citizen without exception?
  • Do you believe that when an individual belief conflicts with freedoms and equal rights for every citizen, exercise of that individual belief is limited by its infringement on rights of the whole?
(For example, the right of the individual’s exercise of religious belief in prayer may not take priority over another’s right not to pray. The solution is recognition of an individual’s right to pray privately or individually in public, but not to require others to pray. 

Another example is the conflict between a religion-based KKK belief in white superiority, a discrimination based on color and supported by their churches and their faith. 

The solution was recognition that despite an individual’s private right to believe in superiority, everyone is guaranteed free and equal access to churches and any other public offerings. 

Another example is a woman’s belief that abortion is amoral, another faith-based belief that conflicts with another woman’s belief that abortion should be an individual decision. The solution again is that the rights of every woman to choose for herself must be recognized over the individual right to believe otherwise personally. Thus choice is recognized by Roe v Wade, as the Constitutional resolution to allow each woman’s right to her individual belief regarding the morality or necessity of abortion, and the free exercise of each individual’s belief without infringing on another’s belief. 

  • Do you consider the following statements true regarding our Constitutional guarantees of equal rights and freedom for every citizen?
1 Freedom is limited by infringement on the rights of others.  

2 Public access and offerings must apply equally to all citizens, lest they be deemed discriminatory under our Constitution. 



Getting packages delivered at Redwood Gardens

Linda Burrell
Friday February 24, 2017 - 03:38:00 PM

In response to Eleanor Walden’s posting: I suggest that she first communicate with the local post office, ask for the postmaster. If the mail has a deliverable address, I believe it’s not possible for the management company to prohibit the postal carrier from delivering tot that address. Additionally, the Gardens is a business and typically mail must be delivered if properly addressed to a business address.  

Second, if HUD is subsidizing the rents, there are very likely regulations that prohibit that management company from requiring their tenants to rent post office boxes or go to the post office for packages. Post office boxes are in short supply and the post office surely doesn’t want a lot of aged and inform customers standing in line.  

A short cut might be to get in touch with Barbara Lee’s office and ask her staff to step in. Congressional Representatives maintain staffs who are usually very knowledgeable and responsive to their constituents’ questions and problems, especially where the government itself is involved. The same would be true of our new Senator Kamela Harris’s office. Over the years when I practiced law I was pleasantly surprised at the excellent service provided by elected representatives. My own daughter was able to obtain health insurance in Virginia because the state office I had referred her to worked on her behalf and guided her through the ACA process.


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Of Trump, Vipers & Foreign Policy

Conn Hallinan
Friday February 24, 2017 - 01:51:00 PM

“Chaos,” “dismay,” “radically inept,” are just a few of the headlines analyzing President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, and in truth, disorder would seem to be the strategy of the day. Picking up the morning newspaper or tuning on the national news sometimes feels akin to opening up a basket filled with spitting cobras and Gabon Vipers.

But the bombast emerging for the White House hasn’t always matched what the Trump administration does in the real world. The threat to dump the “one-China” policy and blockade Beijing’s bases in the South China Sea has been dialed back. The pledge to overturn the Iran nuclear agreement has been shelved. And NATO’s “obsolesce” has morphed into a pledge of support. Common sense setting in as a New York Times headline suggests: “Foreign Policy Loses Its Sharp Edge as Trump Adjusts to Office”?

Don’t bet on it.

First, this is an administration that thrives on turmoil, always an easier place to rule from than order. What it says and does one day may be, or may not be, what it says or does another. And because there are a number of foreign policy crises that have stepped up to the plate, we should all find out fairly soon whether the berserkers or the rationalists are running things. 

The most dangerous of these is Iran, which the White House says is “playing with fire” and has been “put on notice” for launching a Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile. The missile traveled 630 miles and exploded in what looks like a failed attempt to test a re-entry vehicle. Exactly what “notice” means has yet to be explained, but Trump has already applied sanctions for what it describes as a violation of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Program of Action—UN Security Council Resolution 2231—in which Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear energy program. 

A 2010 UN resolution did, indeed, state, that Iran “shall not undertake activity related to ballistic missiles.” But that resolution was replaced by UNSCR 2231, which only “calls upon Iran not to test missiles,” wording that “falls short of an outright prohibition on missile testing,” according to former UN weapon’s inspector Scott Ritter

The Iranians say their ballistic missile program is defensive, and given the state of their obsolete air force, that is likely true. 

The Trump administration also charges that Iran is a “state sponsor of terror,” an accusation that bears little resemblance to reality. Iran is currently fighting the Islamic State and al-Qaida in Syria, Iraq, and through its allies, the Houthi, in Yemen. It has also aided the fight against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. As Ritter points out, “Iran is more ally than foe,” especially compared to Saudi Arabia, “whose citizens constituted the majority of the 9/11 attackers and which is responsible for underwriting and the financial support of Islamic extremists around the world, including Islamic State and al-Qaida.” 

In an interview last year, leading White House strategist Steve Bannon predicted, “We’re clearly going into, I think, a major shooting war in the Middle East again.” Since the U.S. has pretty much devastated its former foes in the region—Iraq, Syria and Libya—he could only be referring to Iran. The administration’s initial actions vis-à-vis Teheran are, indeed, worrisome. U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently considered boarding an Iranian ship in international waters to search it for weapons destined for the Houthi in Yemen. Such an action would be a clear violation of international law and might have ended in a shoot out. 

The Houthi practice a variation of Shiism, the dominant Islamic school in Iran. They do get some money and weapons from Teheran, but even U.S. intelligence says that the group is not under Teheran’s command.  

The White House also condemned a Houthi attack on a Saudi warship—initially Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer called it an “American” ship—even though the Saudi’s and their Persian Gulf allies are bombing the Houthi and the Saudi Navy—along with the U.S. Navy—is blockading the country. According to the UN, more than 16,000 people have died in the three-year war, 10,000 of them civilians. 

Apparently the Trump administration is considering sending American soldiers into Yemen, which would put the U.S troops in the middle of a war involving the Saudis and their allies, the Houthi, Iran, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and various south Yemen separatist groups. 

Putting U.S. ground forces into Yemen is a “dangerous idea,” according to Jon Finer, chief of staff for former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a U.S. war with Iran would be as catastrophic for the Middle East as the invasion of Iraq. It would also be unwinnable unless the U.S. resorted to nuclear weapons, and probably not even then. For all its flaws, Iran’s democracy is light years ahead of most other U.S. allies in the region and Iranians would strongly rally behind the government in the advent of a conflict. 

The other foreign policy crisis is the recent missile launch by North Korea, although so far the Trump administration has let the rightwing Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe carry the ball on the issue. Meeting with Trump in Florida, Abe called the Feb. 12 launch “absolutely intolerable.” Two days earlier Trump had defined halting North Korean missile launches as a “very, very high priority.” 

The tensions with North Korea nuclear weapons and missile program are long running, and this particular launch was hardly threatening. The missile was a mid-range weapon and only traveled 310 miles before breaking up. The North Koreans have yet to launch a long-range ICBM, although they continue to threaten that one is in the works. 

According to a number of Washington sources, Barak Obama told Trump that North Korea posed the greatest threat to U.S. military forces, though how he reached that conclusion is puzzling. It is estimated North Korea has around one dozen nuclear weapons with the explosive power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, about 20 kilotons. The average U.S. warhead packs an explosive force of from 100 to 475 kilotons, with some ranging up to 1.2 megatons. It has more than 4,000 nuclear weapons. 

While the North Koreans share the Trump administration’s love of hyperbole, the country has never demonstrated a suicidal streak. A conventional attack by the U.S., South Korea and possibly Japan would be a logistical nightmare and might touch off a nuclear war, inflicting enormous damage on other countries in the region. Any attack would probably draw in China. 

What the North Koreans want is to talk to someone, a tactic that the Obama administration never tried. Nor did it consider trying to look at the world from Pyongyang’s point of view. “North Korea has taken note of what happened in Iraq and Libya after they renounced nuclear weapons,” says Norman Dombey, an expert on nuclear weapons and a professor of theoretical physics at Sussex University. “The U.S. took action against both, and both countries’ leaders were killed amid violence and chaos.” 

The North Koreans know they have enemies—the U.S. and South Korea hold annual war games centered on a military intervention in their country—and not many friends. Beijing tolerates Pyongyang largely because it worries about what would happen if the North Korean government fell. Not only would it be swamped with refugees, it would have a U.S. ally on its border. 

Obama’s approach to North Korea was to isolate it, using sanctions to paralyze to the country. It has not worked, though it has inflicted terrible hardships on the North Korean people. What might work is a plan that goes back to 2000 in the closing months of the Clinton administration. 

That plan proposed a non-aggression pact between the U.S., Japan, South Korea and North Korea, and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. North Korea would have been recognized as a nuclear weapons state, but agree to forgo any further tests and announce all missile launches in advance. In return, the sanctions would be removed and North Korea would receive economic aid. The plan died when the Clinton administration got distracted by the Middle East. 

Since then the U.S. has insisted that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons, but that is not going to happen—see Iraq and Libya. In any case, the demand is the height of hypocrisy. When the U.S. signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it agreed to Article VI that calls for “negotiations in good faith” to end “the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” 

All eight nuclear powers—the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain, India, Pakistan and Israel—have not only not discussed eliminating their weapons, all are in the process of modernizing them. The NPT was never meant to enforce nuclear apartheid, but in practice that is what has happened.  

A non-aggression pact is essential. Article VI also calls for “general and complete disarmament,” reflecting a fear by smaller nations that countries like the U.S. have such powerful conventional forces that they don’t need nukes to get their way. Many countries—China in particular—were stunned by how quickly and efficiently the U.S. destroyed Iraq’s military. 

During the presidential campaign, Trump said he would “have no problem” speaking with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un. That pledge has not been repeated, however, and there is ominous talk in Washington about a “preemptive strike” on North Korea, which would likely set most of north Asia aflame. 

There are a number of other dangerous flashpoints out there besides Iran and North Korea. 

*The Syrian civil war continues to rage and Trump is talking about sending in U.S. ground forces, though exactly who they would fight is not clear. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent once called Syria a three-dimensional chess game with nine players and no rules. Is that a place Americans want to send troops into? 

*The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan—now America’s longest running war—is asking for more troops

*The war in the Eastern Ukraine smolders on, and with NATO pushing closer and closer to the Russian border, there is always the possibility of misjudgment. The same goes for Asia, where Bannon predicted “for certain” the U.S. “is going to go to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years.” 

How much of the White House tweets are provocation and grandiose rhetoric is not clear. The President and the people around him are lens lice who constantly romance the spotlight. They have, however, succeeded in alarming a lot of people. As the old saying goes, “Boys throw rocks at frogs in fun. The frogs dodge them in earnest.” 

Except in the real world, “fun” can quickly translate into disaster, and some of the frogs are perfectly capable of tossing a few of their own rocks. 


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


Coping with Trump Stress Disorder

Bob Burnett
Friday February 24, 2017 - 01:36:00 PM

A month into the Trump Administration, many Americans are stressed out. A recent study by the American Psychological Association revealed, "more Americans reporting symptoms of stress and citing personal safety and terrorism as sources of stress." 57 percent of respondents said "the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress." 

It's because of Donald Trump. Writing in the February 19th New York Times, Frank Bruni observed that Trump is using an "appall-and-anesthetize political strategy." It's easy to see this intellectually; every day we are beset by a new Trump outrage: lies, racism, blatant conflict-of-interest, or evidence of unsavory ties to Russian oligarchs. In addition, for many Americans, Trump's behavior provokes a searing visceral response; he is re-stimulating. Trump opens old wounds, reminding us of an ancient oppressor: someone we encountered who was a bully or an abuser. 

The cumulative impact of this -- repeated re-stimulation -- can be deadening. Robert Reich warns us to avoid four dysfunctional responses: 1. Coming to regard Trump as "normal" -- a version of Stockholm Syndrome. 2. "outrage numbness." 3. Cynicism. 4. Helplessness. 

Nonetheless, unless a miracle happens, we're stuck with Trump for a while. Our first chance to neuter his "appall-and-anesthetize" strategy comes on midterm election day, November 6, 2018 --- 620 days from now. Meanwhile, here's some practical suggestion for warding off Trump Stress Disorder. 

1. Take it one day at a time. We're running a marathon not a sprint. Focus on the present moment. Each day do something positive for yourself; buy yourself flowers or throw a pot or play your favorite Stevie Wonder CD... Follow this with one act of resistance (however small). 

2. Protect yourself. If you realize that you are re-stimulated, turn off the news. Do what you need to to become centered. Step outside and connect with the earth. Breathe. 

3. Take care of yourself, in general. Plan for "the marathon." Eat a healthy diet. Get regular exercise. Make sure you get enough sleep. 

4. Take a day off from Trump. Turn off the news. Do whatever it takes to avoid "he who shall not be named." Go for a walk in nature. Call your best friend. 

After 24 hours, if you are still having trouble sleeping, take another day off from "Voldemort." Or three... (This is not avoidance but rather providing space for healing.) 

5. Connect with your family and friends. These are difficult times; it's okay to ask for help: "I am stressed out by what's happening. I need to hang out." If you can, play games with children or take your dog to the park. 

Remember that your family and friends are likely to also be stressed out. Ask them how they are. Listen. It may seem like an oxymoron but there is something empowering about deeply listening to a loved one's suffering. Cultivate compassion. 

6. If you are aware of being re-stimulated, talk to someone about this. That someone may be your relationship or best friend or a trusted adviser. Go to a safe space and let it all out! If you feel like it, stamp on the floor and yell at the top of your lungs, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more." 

7. Connect with an action group in your area. The best way to combat Trump Stress Disorder is to take action. You can find a local resistance group via the Indivisible web site ; usually more than one. This may be a large group committed to a broad range of actions or it may be a small study group. Chose the group that you feel most comfortable with. 

What I've written so far is similar to a recent post by Daniel Hunter "How to build a resilient culture of resistance in hard times." Hunter adds two thoughtful suggestions: 

8. Read, listen to, or share a story about how others have resisted injustice. "Millions have faced repression and injustices and we all can learn from them.... See the suggested resources at FindingSteadyGround.com." 

9. Be aware of yourself as one who creates. "The goal of injustice is to breed passivity — to make us believe that things happen to us, events happen to us, policies happen to us. To counteract this, we need to stay in touch with our sense of personal power." 

The bottom-line is to combat Trump Stress Disorder by first taking care of yourself and then taking action. Robert Reich observed, "Fighting Trump will empower you." 


Toni Mester
Friday February 24, 2017 - 01:24:00 PM
1310 Haskell Street, to be demolished
Toni Mester
1310 Haskell Street, to be demolished

A spectre is haunting Berkeley, the spectre of THIMBYism, long buried in the zoning code and currently lurking in the agendas of the City Council and the Planning Commission.

The House in My Back Yard (THIMBY) has become a contentious issue as the need for more housing bumps against the historic political conflicts and ageless geography that separate the flatlands from the hills.

THIMBYs come in two basic sizes: big and small. One would think that big back yard houses would be allowed on the biggest lots and the smallest on the small but the Berkeley zoning code has this in reverse. Big houses are being squeezed into relatively limited space in the flats while the smallest units originally planned for larger upland parcels face so many hurdles that the eagerly anticipated backyard cottages may never be built. 

Accessory Dwelling Units 

The project to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the R-1 and R-1H districts has been several decades in the making. Although the hills are zoned for single-family homes, property owners there have long been divided on second units. After World War II, with the population of Berkeley rapidly swelling from 85,500 in 1940 to 113,800 by 1950, the City hired the land-use consulting firm of Hahn, Campbell and Associates to conduct surveys. The minutes of the Council in September and October of 1948, available at the City’s records-on-line, are replete with testimony from hills dwellers who wanted to increase the opportunities to build housing. One citizen on Tamalpais Road submitted a petition with 239 signatures “favoring two-family and multiple houses in this street” while others opposed. 

After two years of hearings and debate, in January 1949 the Berkeley City Council passed a zoning code and map (ordinance 3018) that was amended 350 times until it was replaced in 1999 by the zoning ordinance (6478) in effect today. 

Although the hills and the Claremont remained single-family zones, many unpermitted second units have been built. Nobody seems to know the exact figure, but the post-war pressure to allow accessory units continued until 1985, when the first legal allowances in the R-1 districts prevailed over the objections of the Northeast Berkeley Association (NEBA).  

That original ADU ordinance (5695) required a minimum lot size of 4500 square feet on which a “subsidiary” structure between 300 and 640 square feet could be built. An extra off-street parking space was required. 

The new zoning code passed in 1999 incorporated these allowances and the potential for granny units in the main dwellings of the R-1 zones. 

In 2003, the allowance for ADUs was expanded to other residential zones but prohibited in Panoramic Hill for environmental and safety reasons. As interest in building new units increased, in 2015 the City unified the existing rules into a new chapter 23D of the zoning code that allowed units of 750 square feet or 75% of the primary residence. 

To its credit, the City of Berkeley has been ahead of the game when it comes to allowing little THIMBYs. Thanks in part to local ADU activist Karen Chapple, a professor at UCB and planning commissioner, the State legislature last year came to the aid of property owners by passing laws that make “granny units” easier to build. 

The City is in the process of revising our accessory dwelling units ordinance to comply with the new state guidelines, including relaxation of parking requirements. The Planning Commission held a public hearing in January on the new language, with action probably reaching the Council in March. 

The fire department is concerned that some roads in the hills are too narrow to overpopulate, and so a minimum road width of 26 feet is proposed. 

Meanwhile the ADU allowances have become entangled with the controversy over Airbnb culminating in a new short-term rental chapter 23C.22, which gets its second reading on Tuesday February 28th. The definition of short-term rental is less than fourteen days, and the Council has strictly limited the ability of owners and tenants to engage in the “sharing economy” using a host platform like Airbnb. 

The purposes of the new short-term rental law are to provide standards of operation and alternative forms of lodging, prevent displacement and conversion of long-term rentals, and protect neighborhood character and livability.  

A business license will be required as well as host residency stipulations and notification of neighbors. These restrictive regulations on high-turnover rentals should make some people reconsider essentially operating a hotel in a residential neighborhood. 

We all know people who do, including the constant cleaning; such income can be an essential part of their personal economy, helping to pay the bills and the mortgage. There are other perks. Availability can be cancelled, allowing the owners to take a vacation from hosting, and the platform provides a package deal: advertising, customer vetting, and monetary deposits, after taking a percentage. Many hosts enjoy meeting the large variety of guests who come from all over the country and the world. 

The new law should not be a huge burden for those who are willing to play by the rules. Some owners will revert to long-term leases. Others will continue to use Airbnb but only for rentals of 14 days or more. Two weeks is barely enough time to explore the Bay Area, using centrally located Berkeley as a base. Time will tell if the current number of Berkeley Airbnb listings – around 300- decreases with these new regulations. 

Another outcome may be that some owners will simply not comply, and tracking down outlaw listings will aggravate the enforcement headache for a City that already has an unknown number of unpermitted units. 

To complicate matters, the Council decided to outlaw short-term rental of new ADUs, just when we need them the most. A worrisome unintended consequence may be that few ADUS will get built. With construction costs between $50k to $75K, the quickest way to recoup such expense is to rent them short-term. If building permits for ADUs dry up as a result, the Council should revisit this restriction. 

Another rule passed on February 14 says that existing ADUs can only be rented short-term if they haven’t been a long-term rental within ten years, which is actually a prohibition since Airbnb has only been in existence for ten years. This unenforceable rule will make outlaws of well-intended ADU owners who rent to students during the school year and want to rent short-term during the summer. 


Main Buildings 

Big THIMBY’s are called “main buildings” in the Berkeley zoning code, where the very nomenclature presents a problem. How many main buildings can one lot contain? In the R-1A, two main buildings; in the R-2 and R-2A, up to three main buildings; in each case, the number is dependent on the lot size. It’s confusing because main means principal or most important whereas these zones actually allow main buildings of similar size. 

I contend that a parcel can only have one main building and that others should be called detached dwelling units or DDUs. Such taxonomy would clarify the THIMBY universe: little ones being ADUs and bigger ones DDUs. 

All of the low to medium density residential zoning from R-1A to R-3 is a total mess, from the illogical vocabulary to the inconsistency of district purposes with their development standards. In 1991 the Council imposed a uniform height limit of three stories without a public hearing and recommendation by the Planning Commission. Such piecemeal zoning is the primary reason for poor results including design disasters, demolitions and delays. 

Main buildings are condos-in-waiting, and the potential for providing ownership opportunities and family housing needs to be considered in a holistic way. As Hamlet says, “nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” The problem is that the current allowances for multiple main buildings are creating a demolition derby in West Berkeley, and the current owners rightly feel threatened. They deserve an opportunity to shape the future of their neighborhoods. 

On Tuesday the Council hears a rerun of the appeal of the 1310 Haskell Street project that includes the demolition of a single-family home and replacement by three “main buildings” in south Berkeley. The 300 page administrative record reads like a bad novel. 1310 Haskell Street is the Peyton Place of zoning appeals. 

The story begins two years ago when an owner occupant sells her one-story 1925 single-family house to Cristian S. Hedes, the principal of CS Development in Danville for $650,000. The project is designed by architect Matthew Baran with assistance from Cassidy Cheung of Baran Studios. Manny Bereket is the project manager for the City of Berkeley. 

The three houses are each two stories reaching 22 feet with flat roofs, averaging 1900 square feet with three bedrooms on the second floor and enclosed garages on the first. The designs are also similar: boxy modern with stucco walls, horizontal wood panels, aluminum doors and windows, and modest cantilevers or bays on the second floor. The neighbors hate the project, even after the architect makes some minor design adjustments known as “tweaks” in Berkeley parlance. 

In June 2015, twenty neighbors show up at a mediation session with Baran at Seeds, which summarized the meeting: “The applicant described the project. Not a single neighbor had anything positive to say about it. No further meetings were scheduled.” 

On March 10, 2016 the project goes to ZAB, which approves it 6-3 after a lengthy discussion that reveals the zoning problems. Hahn, Tregub, and Pinkston vote no. The hearing demonstrates that the purposes of the R-2A conflict with the development standards, which would allow four building of three stories each. Something is clearly out of whack. 

The neighbors – all 42 of them- appeal to the City Council, who hears the appeal on July 12 and denies the project, overturning the approval by the ZAB. The decision is Darryl Moore’s call. Haskell Street is in his district, and he’s obviously feeling shaky about the election. He makes a grand speech about the importance of neighborhoods, and gets five votes to deny and four abstain. Tom Bates casts the deciding vote. 

In October the Bay Area Renters Federation sues the City, citing violation of the Housing Accountability Act that prohibits a reduction in housing units except when health and safety are at stake. The City immediately settles the case by paying BARF’s legal costs and allowing the appeal to be heard again. 

It’s anybody’s guess what this Council is going to do. They cannot reduce the number of units, as Pinkston suggested at the ZAB hearing, but they could find detriment in the shadowing of neighboring properties and reduce the mass of the second stories by requiring a redesign. 

All of this could have been prevented if the development standards in the flatlands had a height limit that harmonized with the neighborhood and required second stories to be smaller than the first by providing a 45º setback known as a “sun access plane” that is required by many Bay Area cities. If Berkeley wants to promote family housing, then a larger open space requirement is needed than what the R-2A provides. 

There isn’t a villain in this story. The usual suspects will blame the NIMBY neighbors or the politicians that they love to hate. But it’s the zoning, stupid. In the ZAB hearing, every member of the Board says so in one way or another. The R-2A needs to be rewritten to make it functional and coherent. The development standards need to conform and reinforce the purposes of the districts and provide design consistency and guidance. Every single flatland zone needs to be so reformed. A rewrite of the R-1A is already underway at the Planning Commission, and the Council should refer all the others. 

Chaos reigns in THIMBY land. The ADUs are in danger of being regulated to death, and the main buildings need to be better defined by form and function. The backyard is an icon of American culture, not just a Berkeley conflict zone. Neighbors want to protect their gardens and privacy. The fast-track urbanites want to tax or build on back yards, that little bit of nature we call our own. Berkeley faces a challenge in providing more housing while preserving the peaceful green spaces that characterize a town that sits in the eye of the Bay Area urban swirl. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley.

ECLECTIC RANT: Trump versus the media

Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 24, 2017 - 01:58:00 PM

Low Energy Jeb [Bush], Little Marco [Rubio], Lyin' Ted [Cruz] pathological Ben [Carson], and Crooked Hillary [Clinton] were all quite effective labels used by Donald Trump on his march to the White House. With the destruction of 16 primary challengers and a well-known political figure in his rear-view mirror, Trump has now zeroed in on his old opponent, the media. Why? Because the media is out to get him. Or maybe they are just fact checking. 

During the primaries and general election, Trump's assault on the media was quite successful. He ran a media campaign directly against the media, helping himself to the copious media attention available to a TV star while disparaging journalists at every podium and venue.  

Now much of the media has turned on Trump. He still gets lots of coverage, but that coverage is overwhelmingly negative. Is the media winning? A February 11, Gallup poll found that just 40% of Americans approve of President Trump's job as president, compared to 55% who say they disapprove. Obviously, a majority of Americans do not believe what Trump said at his recent press conference when he said, "This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine." Fine-tuned indeed! 

Trump is not letting up on the media. He's called reporters “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” He's called out individual reporters for alleged bias. He even intimated that the media was purposely covering up terrorist attacks. For example, here's what Trump said at U.S. Central Command in Florida: 

"You’ve seen what happened in Paris, and Nice. All over Europe, it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that." 

He didn't offer any explanation or proof. 

He also falsely accused journalists of both inventing a rift between him and intelligence agencies and deliberately understating the size of his inauguration crowd and said that up to 1.5 million people had attended his inauguration, a claim that photographs disproved. 

Recently, he blasted the U.S. intelligence agencies again, tweeting, 

"Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA andFBI?). Just like Russia."  

The New York Times and the Washington Post crimes were that they both had reported on the contacts between a Russian diplomat and Michael Flynn. Isn't that what the media does? 

On February 17, 2017, he tweeted, 

"The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" 

In addition to fabrications, untruths, and lies, we can now add "alternative facts" and "fake news" to our lexicon. "Alternative facts" is a phrase used by U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway during a Meet the Press interview on January 22, 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's false statement about the attendance at Trump's inauguration as President of the U.S. 

Fake or bogus news is nothing new. Now bogus stories can reach more people more quickly via social media than what viral emails could accomplish in years past. As Trump tweeted, 

"The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!" 

Unfortunately, the mistrust of science and critical thinking in this country is a growing problem. Trump like a snake oil salesman knows this and panders to this mistrust. If we are not careful, we will listen to what Trump says and forget to watch what he does. 

The danger, of course, is that the less credulous will view all media as biased or fake and Trump's outrageous statements will be received with less skepticism than they deserve.  

I see a continuing battle between Trump and the media throughout his presidency. I'm rooting for the media.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Long Term Effects of Heavy Meds, and the Trivialization of our Lives

Jack Bragen
Friday February 24, 2017 - 12:56:00 PM

In the past ten years, some of my motor skills have deteriorated. I've become clumsy, and I have difficulty negotiating staircases, especially on the way down. I am only in my early fifties.  

In comparison to this, when younger I had exquisite balance, I was slim, I was agile, and I could walk long distances, sometimes from one town to the next. Now I'm lucky if I can get out and walk the dog a half mile with my wife.  

When I turned forty, was in excess of 200 pounds, and developed hypertension, I decided that it was time for me to stop doing handstands. At one time, I could walk up and down staircases on my hands, and I could walk straight (upside down) for a distance in excess of fifty yards.  

I've mentioned this numerous times in this column--persons diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses have a shorter life expectancy, by about twenty to twenty-five years, compared to those not afflicted. The stresses of the illness could explain part of this. Yet, also, heavy psych medications taken over a period of decades will have bad effects, and that's what I'm experiencing, along with normal, understandable aging.  

Heavy medication makes it hard to exercise the body. In fact, heavy exercise probably gets a person to sweat a lot of the meds out of the body, which could then result in an increase of symptoms of mental illness. However, if heavily medicated and sedentary, it is hard to get the body to move. In fact, antipsychotic medications, through their depressing effect, make everything harder.  

As far as bad effects on the brain of being medicated long term, there is evidence to support that. I know that there are many things I can no longer do that I could do in my twenties. I've maintained my intellectual capabilities, probably because I exert my intellect in writing and meditation on a daily basis. I believe that this has prevented atrophy of the parts of my brain responsible for intellect.  

Effort is essential if we are to overcome the deleterious effects of medication. Even brushing my teeth is difficult. But since I don't want my teeth to fall out, I generally make the necessary effort involved in oral hygiene.  

Medication can apparently cause the brain to atrophy unless the patient continually exercises his or her capabilities. The alternative of not taking medication, however, is not a genuine alternative, since it is likely to cause a relapse, which will allow the mental health treatment system to force medication on us.  

Furthermore, having relapses due to not taking medication against medical advice (AMA for short), does far more harm to the brain than taking meds and staying on meds.  

Upon being medicated and stopping work for an extended time, there may be no going back, especially if you are past thirty. The capacities necessary to hold onto employment may fade away while on medication, unless they are utilized. If you do not feel capable of work, perhaps a volunteer job with part time hours could prevent loss of the capacity to work.  

Some of the changes of an aging mental health consumer could be inevitable. Some of these changes are comparable to the normal effects of aging, yet they seem to take place about twenty or thirty years sooner.  

When someone with mental illness dies young, you don't see much fuss made of it. Those who administer the mental health treatment systems don't always take our lives seriously.  

When you see those in charge of the mental health treatment systems handing out sugary cake and cookies as a reward, as a bribe, or as a pacifier, and when, at the same time, they do nothing to help us quit smoking, these are deplorable policies. I'm not just making this up, this really happens. 

Most of the "second-generation antipsychotics" which were once called "atypical antipsychotics," cause diabetes and extreme weight gain. Therefore, failure to regulate diet when taking these medications is potentially life threatening.  

General practitioner doctors are not as aggressive in treating physical ailments of the mentally ill. This is just another reason why our life expectancy is less than average. Our lives aren't valued.  

When cultures try to justify oppression of a group, such as slavery in the U.S., and the genocide of the Jews under the Nazis, the notion is promoted that the group is a lower form of human, or perhaps really a subhuman category of people. This is what we see, albeit to a lesser degree, with how mentally ill people are treated.  

Counselors take us for dumb. The idea that we are "less" is drilled into our heads on a daily basis, if we are in outpatient institutionalization.  

So, when it is clear that mentally ill people have lives that are short, that lack the good things, the material things that bring satisfaction to most Americans, not a second thought is given to it.  

It is not considered important if long term medication use is causing our brains to shrink. It is not considered important when medication causes our weight to double within a period of a couple years. It is not considered important if we have irreversible, involuntary muscle contortions of the tongue, mouth, face, and upper body. 

The purpose of the mental health treatment systems, the actual purpose, is not to help us have the best possible lives--it is to manage us and prevent us from becoming a nuisance to mainstream society.  

Mental health professionals are here to "manage" the mentally ill population. This sometimes puts them at odds with what's best for us. If we want things to be better, there are a lot of obstacles. If we want to do well in life, it is up to us.  


Arts & Events

Oscar nominated short films (2017)

Reviewed by Ian Berke
Friday February 24, 2017 - 03:18:00 PM

Even dedicated film fans are often stumped at the Academy Awards when it comes to the short categories. When and where are they ever shown? And who has the chance to see them? Well, each year, for the past ten years, a few theaters have screened the final list of Oscar nominated short films.

Short films are defined as less than 30 minutes (slightly longer for documentaries) and divided into three categories: live action, animation, and documentary. Most are highly accomplished; the documentaries often some of the most powerful films screened in any given year. This is not to suggest that the live action and animated films are less accomplished. They often show the talent that it takes to tell a story, develop a character, and resolve the action in 20 minutes, a challenge to do well. These films are rarely seen individually since few theaters are prepared for screenings of such short duration. But a distribution company has bundled the award nominees together in all three categories, five films each, with a total screening time (this year) running from about 130 minutes for the live action and 153 minutes for the documentary shorts. The Clay, Opera Plaza, the Shattuck, the Rafael and the Camera 3 (San Jose) are all screening the live action and animateds, but only the Rafael and the Camera 3 are showing the documentaries because of their extended length. All opened last weekend and will probably continue to screen for another two weeks. Don’t miss them: they are gems.  

This year the documentaries are particularly powerful and timely, often focusing on dark topics, each an example of accomplished filmmaking. These will stay in your head (and heart) for a long time. The live action shorts are outstanding as well, but the animateds, with one exception, seemed a bit tame. 

The first documentary is Joes Violin, a 24-minute US film about a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who has donated his treasured violin to a Bronx high school for girls. The school district solicits fine old instruments, which they lend to their students for a year or so. A contest determines the recipient, this time won by a young Hispanic girl, who becomes friends with the donor. The music class, replete with some very talented young musicians, is led by a charismatic teacher. This very upbeat film is just what we need to counter our post-election blues. 

The second film, Extremis, is a close look at the Intensive Care Unit at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. It focuses on four dying patients and the agonizing process of deciding how much longer they should be treated before being allowed to die. These are patients who have a very low probability of recovery even with the best medicine. Most would die quickly without the breathing machines and none have advance directives to guide the family. The doctors try to help the families with their difficult decision making. Some family members are reluctant, feeling guilty that if they agree to pull the plug, they might be throwing away that miracle recovery. This 24-minute film is intense and emotional, with frequent dramatic close ups. It’s reminiscent of a Frederick Wiseman film but in color with dialogue. The head of the ICU and its doctors can only be described as beyond dedicated. 

4.1 Miles, a 22-minute American film, looks at a captain in the Greek Coast Guard who is trying to rescue some of the refugees attempting to cross over from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. The title refers to the distance between the two. We’ve seen lots of photos but here the visuals have a power well beyond the newsprint stills. Hundreds of refugees are crammed into small leaking boats, many of which are literally sinking as we look on. The water is cold and rough, and the refugees are terrified. It ts a struggle to maneuver the coast guard craft in the chop and to pick up survivors and bodies. This is nearly all hand-held camera work, much aboard a wildly pitching small boat. Greek islanders help when the refugees come ashore. There are children, babies, and adults so exhausted they can hardly walk. The captain is haunted by this never ending flow of people and by those that he couldn’t save. This is an extraordinary documentary of mass tragedy. 

Watani: My Homeland, is a 39-minute United Kingdom film about a Syrian family attempting to escape the horror of the war in Aleppo, Syria. Four children live with their parents, but the father has just been captured by ISIS, and the mother realizes that their only hope is to leave. This is no easy task as the city is being bombed and shelled daily. Eventually, months later, the mother and her children reach Germany. They are grateful and stunned to be in a place that’s clean, without gunfire and bombing. This is another very accomplished film, every bit as emotional as you would expect. It made me ashamed that the US has done so little to help these refugees, in contrast to other European countries and Canada. 

The final documentary is The White Helmets, a 41-minute United Kingdom film about the White Helmet organization in Syria. This group of unarmed volunteers tries to rescue people from bombed and collapsed buildings. Ill-equipped, they work with more heart and courage than can be described. Filmed mostly in Aleppo, the cinematography is astonishing. We see Russian jets bombing and Syrian helicopter dropping barrel bombs, clearly designed to kill civilians. The sight of crushed bodies being excavated from the ruins is horrifying, although sometimes survivors are pulled from the wreckage, as when the White Helmets find a baby just weeks old, covered with cement dust, who is dug out alive when his cries are heard. Everyone in the rescue crew is crying, and the child is named the miracle baby. Three hundred of these volunteers have been killed and there is no question that some of the footage was shot by cameramen who did not survive. Still they persist and have succeeded in rescuing about 50,000 people in Syrian. These are astonishing numbers, and if we are looking for heroes, here they are. The Russians and the Assad regime are surely evil, but the refusal of the US to enforce a no-fly zone, makes us complicit. 

The live action shorts are also very impressive. They total 130 minutes and include Sing (Hungary), about a new member of a school choir, her good friend and the less-than-kind choir director. Silent Nights (Denmark) is about a desperate illegal immigrant from Ghana and his interaction with a worker at a shelter. Timecode (Spain) is a hilarious look at two security guards in a garage for an upscale development, where cameras are everywhere. Ennemies Interiors (France), looks at a interview in a French security agency with a long-time resident of Paris who wants to become a citizen. This intense, harrowing film is like something out of 1984, extremely well acted and very timely given our new obsession with domestic terrorism. La Femme et la TGV (Switzerland) opens with a woman of a certain age who waves at the TGV engineer with a Swiss flag from her stone house next to the tracks. She runs a bakery in her small town but is worried by cut-rate competition from a chain selling ordinary pastries at discounted prices. The story is sweet, surprising, and an altogether very enjoyable film. 

This year the documentaries are probably the strongest; all examples of accomplished film making about important issues. I don’t mean to slight the live action shorts because they too are very fine. All are imaginative, well done, and substantive. However the animated shorts, with one exception (The Blind Vaysha), are weaker, albeit more upbeat, than the other two categories. Seeing all of the shorts is the equivalent of a fine film festival, compressed into a number of hours rather than days. You will be astonished by the power and quality of these films. They are greatness on screen. I've used the word “powerful” often here because nothing less describes these films.

Pinchas Zukerman and Angela Cheng Play Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday February 27, 2017 - 01:28:00 PM

On Saturday evening, February 25, at Herbst Theatre, noted violinist Pinchas Zukerman teamed up with Canadian-born pianist Angela Cheng in a program of sonatas for violin and piano by Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. This concert, staged by Chamber Music San Francisco, offered Mozart’s Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in E flat, Op. 12, No. 3, and two pieces by Brahms – the brief Sonatensatz (Scherzo) in C minor, and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor. In 2009, at the invitation of Pinchas Zukerman, Angela Cheng joined the Zukerman Chamber Players in touring Europe and Asia. Since that time, Ms. Cheng has also been a member of the Zukerman Trio, which includes cellist Amanda Forsyth. 

Opening Saturday’s program was Mozart’s G Major Violin Sonata, one of six he composed between Mannheim and Paris in 1778-9. Consisting of two movements, an Allegro con spirito and an Allegro, this violin sonata features stellar interplay between violin and piano, each taking turns introducing and/or developing musical themes. Eric Blom notes of these violin sonatas that “These six works show that surprising maturity in a young man of twenty-two which one notices his music reflects very strikingly at the time of his falling in love with Aloysia {Weber) and the death of his mother.”  

Next on the program was Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in E flat, Op. 12, No. 3, which was one of three violin sonatas the composer dedicated to Antonio Salieri, with whom Beethoven studied dramatic and vocal composition around 1797-8 in Vienna. Marking a turn toward a more revolutionary style, these three violin sonatas were harshly received when they first appeared. Reviewers in the Allgemeine musicalische Zeitung criticized “a forced attempt at strange modulations, an aversion to the conventional key relations, a piling up of difficulty upon difficulty.” This said, Pinchas Zukerman and Angela Cheng handled the difficulties of the E flat Violin Sonata with aplomb. The third and final movement, a Rondo, was particularly inspiring.  

After intermission, Zukerman and Cheng returned to perform two works by Johannes Brahms. First came the Sonatensatz (Scherzo) in C minor, an early work by Brahms which was briskly dispatched in a spirited collaboration. Next came the Violin Sonata in D minor by Brahms, one of the composer’s late works. An Allegro opens this piece assertively, followed by an Adagio that establishes a sunny, happy outlook. A third movement, marked Un poco presto e con sentimento, features elaborate interplay between the violin and piano, elegantly performed by Zukerman and Cheng. The fourth and final movement, marked Presto agitato, offers a stormy, dark and brooding intensity, fiercely played by Zukerman and Cheng. The audience responded warmly to the virtuosic display of these two fine musicians, who responded with an encore of Maria-Theresa von Paradis’s Sicilienne, a lovely, lilting piece that effectively lightened the mood after the more strenuous and often difficult music by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.