Full Text

Founders of East Bay Forward,host of YIMBYtown 2017 and ally of San Francisco BARF. L to R : Ian Monroe, Libby Lee-Egan, Greg Magofña (former aide to former  Berkeley mayor Tom Bates) Diego Aguilar-Canabal, (appointed to Berkeley commissions by Councilmember Lori Droste), and Victoria Fierce, described on EBF website as "hacker-at-large".
Founders of East Bay Forward,host of YIMBYtown 2017 and ally of San Francisco BARF. L to R : Ian Monroe, Libby Lee-Egan, Greg Magofña (former aide to former Berkeley mayor Tom Bates) Diego Aguilar-Canabal, (appointed to Berkeley commissions by Councilmember Lori Droste), and Victoria Fierce, described on EBF website as "hacker-at-large".
 

News

New: My Response to Dan Mogulof Commentary

Harry Brill
Tuesday July 18, 2017 - 01:02:00 PM

With regard to my response to Dan Mogulof, since my article appears in this issue also, my comments here will be brief. The reason I wrote my article on UC's Housing practices is that I am convinced that the motive for offering admission to thousands of more students is not motivated by a commitment to young people. Rather, it reflects its commitment to the private sector, which is to provide tenants for the housing being built by the private sector. UC Berkeley's history of catering to the business community is reflected in its failure to provide enough housing to its students. Only 22 percent of the undergraduate body at Berkeley can be accommodated by University housing. That compares with more than 38 percent on average at the nine other UC campuses. 

Moreover, UC Berkley's future plans are worrisome. The University has publicly acknowledged that it plans to form partnerships with private developers. As Mogulof acknowledges, it would not support lower fees than the private sector for housing. The University would provide the land and the private developer would build the housing and collect the rents. This approach assures that the housing for UC Berkeley students will continue to be unaffordable. According to Zillow Real Estate, rents have soared in the past three years by 40 percent. The median rents are now over $3400 a month. The University certainly bears some responsibility for this dismal state of affairs.


New: Menotti’s THE CONSUL: An Opera Trump Should Be Required to See

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday July 17, 2017 - 05:33:00 PM

Berkeley Chamber Opera’s Artistic Director, Eliza O’Malley, followed up on the outstanding achievement of her company’s production last December of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi with what seemed at first glance an odd choice for the company’s next production – Gian-Carlo Menotti’s 1950 opera The Consul. Menotti, an American-born composer of Italian origin, is hardly in the same league as Vincenzo Bellini. Menotti’s chamber operas The Medium (1946) and The Telephone (1947), and his television Christmas opera Ahmal and the Night Visitors (1951) have always remained marginal curiosities in the operatic world. Though I’ve seen these works, they never made much of an impression on me. Gian-Carlo Menotti’s main claim to fame, it seemed, was as founding director in 1958 of the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, which he later took to Charleston, South Carolina.

However, as staged by Berkeley Chamber Opera in two performances at Berkeley’s Hillside Club on July 14 & 16, Menotti’s The Consul was a revelation. Here is a serious opera written in a post-Puccini verismo style, full of angular, often dissonant music that alternates with occasional soliloquies and duets of a poignant lyricism. The plot revolves around a topic that is in the forefront of news today in Donald Trump’s USA – the fate of political refugees. Set in a fictional, unidentified European country, The Consul focuses on the plight of one John Sorel, his wife Magda, his infant son, and his aging mother. John, a political dissident in a totalitarian state, is wanted by the police for his political opposition to the government. When the State’s secret police come looking for John, he is hidden by his wife and mother. The police ask questions but don’t find John. Once the police have left, John bids his family goodbye and heads for the border. Taking his leave, John, movingly sung by tenor Michael Orlinsky, sings a poignant duet with his wife, Magda, ravishingly sung by soprano Eliza O’Malley. This duet, like most (but not all) of the music in this production of The Consul is sung in English. Earlier, as The Consul opens, a street-singer, sung here by mezzo-soprano Liliane Cromer, croons in French. Later, in a scene at the consulate, a foreign woman sings in Italian.  

Alexander Katsman conducted a chamber orchestra of ten instrumentalists. One would think that such a small orchestra could hardly overwhelm the singers. Yet in the intimate and hard acoustic space of the Hillside Club this was a problem, especially in the First Act, though a word to the conductor at the first intermission seemed to bring about a better balance for Acts 2 and 3. Igor Vieira directed this production with superb aplomb. Especially effective was Vieira’s inclusion of video material of contemporary refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, including American protesters both for and against refugees, which was screened during the poignant instrumental music opening Act 3 of The Consul. Costumes were by Barbara Lim.  

In each of the three acts of The Consul there are two scenes, one in the home of the Sorel family, and one at the consulate where Magda goes to apply for a visa to allow her family to join her husband in exile. In the consulate scenes, bureaucracy is scathingly depicted as the order of the day, of every day. There are endless papers to fill out, endless requests for personal information, endless requests for documents. The consular secretary, ably sung by mezzo-soprano Michelle Rice, is a stickler for details and rules.  

As Act 2 opens, John’s mother sings a lullaby to comfort the infant son of John and Magda. The child is ill and unsmiling. The lullaby was beautifully rendered by mezzo-soprano Deborah Rosengaus, who was excellent as John’s mother. The secret police return to the Sorel home and try to get names of John’s friends from Magda, but she refuses. This infuriates the secret police, and bass-baritone Jason Sarten was quite effective as the insinuating, threatening member of the State’s secret police, while baritone James McGoff was his ominous sidekick. In Act 2’s consulate scene, various people wait in line in hopes of obtaining a visa. Baritone J.T. Williams was excellent as Mr. Kofner, soprano Cara Gabrielson was superb as a Foreign Woman who spoke (and sang) only Italian, mezzo-soprano Bethany Goldson was a credible Vera Boronel, soprano Amy Foote was a fine Anna Gomez, and tenor Alexander Taite was outstanding as the magician Nika Magadoff, who beguiled and bewitched the crowd of visa-seekers with his magic tricks and experiments in hypnosis. At the close of Act 2, Eliza O’Malley as Magda erupted in a ranting soliloquy at the absurdity of the consular bureaucracy, asking, in a tour de force, if there really was a live human being in the next room where the consul had his office. “Tell me,” screamed Magda at the secretary, “Have you ever seen the consul? Does he even exist?” 

In Act 3 of Menotti’s The Consul, Magda informs the consular secretary that John’s mother and his infant son have both died. Increasingly desperate, Magda pleads for a visa or at least an audience with the consul. She is told to wait. Assan, one of John’s co-conspirators, arrives to warn Magda that John has sneaked back into town hoping to see her. If John is caught, says Assan, sung by baritone Igor Vieira, their entire group of activists will be endangered. Assan asks Magda to try to dissuade John from trying to see her. Magda writes a note to John in which, it is implied, she declares that she is about to commit suicide and urges John to save himself. Assan leaves to deliver the note to John, and Magda returns home. But John bursts into the consulate as it is about to close. He demands to see his wife. The secretary tells John his wife just left. The State’s secret police burst in, violently subdue John, and take him into custody. The secretary picks up the phone to call Magda. The final scene of The Consul takes place at the Sorel home. Magda takes pills to kill herself. A lengthy dream scene then occurs emphasizing Magda’s agony. This dream scene is a bit far-fetched and overdrawn, but then this is opera. As the dream comes to an end, Magda falls limp on the couch and dies. The telephone rings repeatedly, as the secretary tries in vain to contact Magda. Angular chords are heard in the orchestra as Menotti’s The Consul comes to a dramatic end. Donald Trump should be required to see Menotti’s The Consul.  

 


New: Op-Ed on UC Berkeley housing contains errors (Public Comment)

Dan Mogulof, Asst. Vice Chancellor, Office of Communications and Public Affairs, UC Berkeley
Monday July 17, 2017 - 05:55:00 PM

Harry Brill’s recent column on UC Berkeley and our housing challenges is so rife with errors that it’s hard to know whether the author was misinformed, confused, or intentionally inaccurate. 

Let us count the ways: 

The article states that the University now has “larger classes” without providing substantiation. In fact, average class sizes at Berkeley are slightly down as per the most recent data, 50.21 in 2015 versus 49.81 in 2016. 

Brill claims that, “the University made no real effort to obtain sufficient funds to hire more faculty to adequately accommodate the incoming students.” First, it is not the campus, but the UC system that leads the interaction with the State of California when it comes to funding. Second, as it happens substantial efforts were in fact made on this front and the State provided $20 million to the UC System in fiscal year 2015-16 for enrolling an additional 5,000 additional resident undergraduate students in 2016-17. The Berkeley campus received nearly $3.8 million from UC in State funds to enroll our share of additional students. Our campus also provided over $2.2 million of additional funds to address the immediate instructional costs related to the increased enrollment. One result of that investment was that we had approximately 50 more faculty members during the last academic year, as compared to the prior, despite Brill’s claims to the contrary. 

Brill writes that, “UC Berkeley's decision to increase admission is quite different than what the other nine UC campuses decided. Responding to limited budgets, their administrators instead reduced by 1.7 percent the number of students who will be accepted for the coming academic year.” First, enrollment and admission policy is also largely the purview of the system wide Office of the President, not the individual campuses. Second, there has been no reduction whatsoever in the number of students admitted to or enrolled on other UC campuses. Rather, it appears that the figure he cites refers to the system wide 1.7 percent decrease in California resident freshmen admitted to UC for fall 2017, as compared to fall 2016, when a historically large class was admitted in keeping with the three-year goal of enrolling 10,000 additional California undergraduates by fall 2018. Or, maybe Brill was confused because, coincidentally, this year the system wide admission rate dropped by 1.7 percent to 61.7 percent from last year’s 63.4 percent. This data point obviously has nothing to do with the number of students admitted, only the percentage of applicants accepted. See here: 

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/press-room/admissions-offers-track-enroll-10000-more-california-students-next-year 

http://www.dailycal.org/2017/07/06/californian-acceptance-rate-drops-fall-2017-uc-admission-data/ 

 

Then, Mr. Brill points to a statement I made as a supposed explanation for the University’s “neglect” of student housing needs, one where I stated that, "UC Berkeley has no plans to build student housing.” As it happens I most certainly did say that in 2015, but as Brill surely must know, that statement referred solely and exclusively to what was at the time planning for University-owned property in Richmond, and had nothing what so ever to do with planning for housing around the core campus in Berkeley. See here: 

http://www.dailycal.org/2015/08/26/uc-berkeley-students-plan-to-build-tiny-sustainable-homes-near-berkeley-global-campus/ 

 

To be clear, planning was already underway in 2015 for student housing construction that has been completed, or is currently underway, with more to follow in the years ahead. 

Finally, the long litany of errors in Brill’s column is topped off with a series of false and thoroughly unsubstantiated statements about our future housing plans. Yes, it is true that the University will likely rely on public/private partnerships for the construction of student housing, as is common practice on campuses across the country. This is, in part, made necessary by an utter lack of other funding sources for projects of this sort. However, Brill’s claims that these partnerships will result in housing that won’t be “affordable”, and will put students on the “highway to poverty” are without foundation, and raise serious concerns about the author’s credibility and responsibility. Here is the truth: Any residential facilities for university students constructed in the context of a public-private partnership with the campus will have the exact same fees as those currently available. We do not, and will not, charge differential fees based on how construction was financed. 

In sum, UC Berkeley did not ask for an enrollment increase, but we are doing what we must to accommodate it. The University is deeply concerned about the availability and affordability of student housing, and Chancellor Christ has put the issue at the top of her priority list. No matter what financial models are used to fund construction, students will pay the same fees for university housing. We are committed to working in close concert with the city and community on the development of a detailed housing plan. We invite and welcome comments on the University’s recently housing master plan report. See here: 

http://chancellor.berkeley.edu/task-forces-committees/housing-initiative

 

 


New: Berkeley’s economic, social, cultural, and environmental health (Public Comment)

Charlene M. Woodcock
Sunday July 16, 2017 - 09:56:00 AM

To the Berkeley City Council:

I think we can all agree that it would be a tragic mistake to permit gentrification to irreparably alter the character of our city. Berkeley’s reputation has long been based on the diversity―racial, cultural, and economic―of our city. As a city we have committed to reducing our contribution of greenhouse gases to the Bay Area atmosphere by requiring the highest energy efficiency standards for new construction. And Berkeley residents have made it very clear they want housing for all income levels. Unfortunately, these goals are not reflected by many of the residential development projects approved in recent years.

Inadequate rigor in formulating policy is derailing these commitments and the city is permitting the construction of many large residential buildings that will not meet the state’s 2020 requirement of zero net energy nor maintain economic and racial diversity by ensuring inclusionary housing. Instead, many large new buildings have been approved whose developers’ intent is to make the greatest possible profit without addressing the city’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases and energy and resource waste and to provide inclusionary housing. The result, with nearly all the new projects intended to be sold or rented at market rates, is the rapid gentrification of our city and failure to address the city’s need for family and low-income housing that meets the highest energy efficiency standards, as our Downtown Plan requires.

The November election made clear that Berkeley voters are dissatisfied with this failure and with the rapid gentrification it has encouraged. We elected people who ran as progressives specifically to address these issues. We want to see an energetic effort to change course and work with the tools provided by California law. We can work toward our goals by putting in place new requirements for future residential building projects as well as those that have been approved but not yet broken ground or received final construction permits. 

For example, the city has the ability to change zoning to “mixed residential use,” to require the projects in the pipeline to meet our housing needs. Since the Downtown Plan requires the most effective energy-efficiency standards, the city should replace LEED Gold with LEED Platinum to reflect current best environmental practice. Berkeley voters want to see much more rigorous design standards than LEED Gold so that we can reduce our contribution to pollution in the East Bay. The West Branch Library provides a model for improved design standards to achieve LEED Platinum.  

We should not waste our limited building sites on projects that do not meet our need for mixed rates, aesthetic distinction, and sustainable green design. We do not need any more bland, cheaply-built, “luxury” residential buildings for those able to afford market rates. We need to terminate or reform the projects in the pipeline that don’t meet the city’s need for inclusionary housing and more rigorous energy efficiency/environmental standards. To fail to do so will put us very far behind on our desired environmental goals and family/low-income housing needs. 


New: Three hospitalized after Berkeley shooting

Janis Mara (BCN)
Saturday July 15, 2017 - 04:38:00 PM

Three people were hospitalized after a shooting a block from the University of California at Berkeley campus early this morning, police said today. 

Around 2:42 a.m., an officer heard gunshots near the corner of Durant Avenue and Bowditch Street, Berkeley police Sgt. Cesar Melero said. 

The officer summoned backup, and police discovered that two groups had gotten into a fight and three of the people involved in the fight had been shot, Melero said. 

The people in the two groups fled from the officers, who were able to catch and arrest two suspects. Police also recovered a firearm, Melero said. 

The three victims were taken to the hospital with injuries not believed to be life-threatening, according to Melero. 

Police are continuing to investigate the incident, Melero said. 

0822a07/15/17 

CONTACT: Berkeley police dispatch (510) 981-5900 

Copyright � 2017 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 

/www/bcn/general/07/newsclip.17.07.15.08.23.01.1.txt


Updated: Missing Berkeley child recovered

Janis Mara (BCN)
Saturday July 15, 2017 - 02:53:00 PM

The missing 5-year-old child who was last seen in Berkeley Friday and her mother, a woman with diminished capacity, have been found and the child is safe, police said this afternoon. 

Pittsburg officers informed Berkeley police at 11:29 a.m. that 34-year-old Laquita Davis, who allegedly abducted the child, is now in custody in Pittsburg, police said. 

Davis' daughter, Malayia Booker, has been safely recovered, according to Berkeley police Sgt. Andrew Frankel.  

The child was taken by her mother, who is homeless, on Friday from the 1500 block of Prince Street, according to police. 

"We appreciate the support of our aware and engaged community as well as the assistance provided by the Pittsburg police department," Berkeley police said in a statement. 

No further details were available.


Opinion

Editorials

Why is a YIMBY like Sebastian Gorka?

Becky O'Malley
Friday July 14, 2017 - 02:02:00 PM
Founders of East Bay Forward,host of YIMBYtown 2017 and ally of San Francisco BARF. L to R : Ian Monroe, Libby Lee-Egan, Greg Magofña (former aide to former  Berkeley mayor Tom Bates) Diego Aguilar-Canabal, (appointed to Berkeley commissions by Councilmember Lori Droste), and Victoria Fierce, described on EBF website as "hacker-at-large".
Founders of East Bay Forward,host of YIMBYtown 2017 and ally of San Francisco BARF. L to R : Ian Monroe, Libby Lee-Egan, Greg Magofña (former aide to former Berkeley mayor Tom Bates) Diego Aguilar-Canabal, (appointed to Berkeley commissions by Councilmember Lori Droste), and Victoria Fierce, described on EBF website as "hacker-at-large".

My girlhood hero Tom Lehrer is popularly believed to have given up satire when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize, but Wikipedia says that’s just an urban legend. But what does it matter, in this era of truthiness and faux facts? It might as well be true, so let’s just say it is.

It’s certainly true that satire is getting harder and harder to spot. This last week alone had events both local and national that gave new meaning to the now hackneyed observation that “you can’t make this stuff up.”

Before we tackle YIMBYtown 2017, let’s just open with the Spy vs. Spy get-together of the hapless Junior Trump and a Russian woman whose glamorous published pictures look like she could have been played by Hedy Lamarr in a thirties spy movie. And they were accompanied by, playing for the US, sleazy Paul Manafort and smoothy Jared Kushner, with a random ex-spy along with the Russian team.

Junior now claims that Paul was just fiddling with his smart phone the whole time, not participating—doesn’t anyone but me know that you can record whole meetings on those gadgets?

No doubt SNL is already working on the satiric version, but how can you beat this kind of self-satire?

Yes, I know it’s serious, but I can’t help seeing the whole Trump administration as a kind of Opera Buffo. My fave character: Sebastian Gorka. Hungarian accent, goatee, crazy politics—the whole nine yards: “Oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way across the floor:” 

 

Watch for him if you'd like a nervous giggle. It's been recently reported that he's the new top of the heap in the loony White House. 

But we have our own local comic opera right here in River City. That would be the variously denominated crowd fronting from time to time as YIMBY/San Francisco BARF/ East Bay Forward and many more. They seem to be about 40 ill-mannered individuals who show up at meetings, but they’re regarded as Very Serious People by lazy newsies, stringers for the New York and LA Times, the Atlantic and other prestigious publications, who are looking for a “dog bites man” story. 

The YIMBYs have also been known to impress impressionable local pols, notably District 8 Councilmember Lori Droste, who actually appoints them to commissions. Benny Bartlett in District 3 seems to be hearing their siren song too. 

This week they’re doing Oakland, wearing the hat of YIMBYtown2017. To my everlasting regret, I’m missing their conference today, Friday, but you can get the full flavor of the event on their website here. 

My top picks are the pages which recount the rules of engagement. These provide new and better glosses for the currently trendy derisive term “special snowflake”, used in a variety of contexts by left and right, young and old, to characterize entitled behavior, usually of the under-forties but not always. 

First, check out the YIMBYtown 2017 Code of Conduct, which starts out: 

“· YIMBYtown is a supportive, safe, welcoming environment for all, regardless of level of political involvement, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, personal appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, age, religion, nationality, or other similar characteristic. 

“· Please be kind and courteous to each other. No personal attacks. There’s no need to be mean or rude. Don’t be ashamed to celebrate the work of others.” 

The Code of Conduct goes on to list every possible form of bad behavior which your mother should have warned you against, threatening that you’ll be asked to leave if you transgress, e.g. barring “Personal insults, particularly those related to gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability. “ 

This would not be so ironic if BARFers in the past on their list-serv had not repeatedly mocked speakers at Berkeley civic meetings in ageist terms (“grey ponytails”) and attacked individuals by name in comment sections of local blogs. (That would be me, for one.) Notice that this particular list of transgressions does not include age-related insults, though age is mentioned elsewhere. Perhaps they had to prescribe the Code of Conduct to control their own errant members? 

But fear not, even if rude people are asked to leave, the cops won’t be called to enforce this rule: Given the many marginalized people involved in our conference, we respectfully ask that you do not call the cops to the conference location.” It is Oakland, after all, so yes, cops might be a problem. 

The situation could get interesting nevertheless, if you believe this post on the Indybay website: 

SHUT DOWN YIMBY TOWN--3 days of autonomous action//creative intervention//sabotage .
On July 13-16 the pro-gentrification YIMBY Party will descend upon Oakland to plot our total destruction. ****lets show them how hard Oakland rides****”
 

Since I can’t make it, I’ll have to depend on other media to tell me what happens. But wait, check out the YIMBYtown Media Guidelines. I’ve been a journalist on and off since 1977, and I’ve never seen anything like this. Again, you can’t make this stuff up. 

One highlight (but do click through yourself to laugh at all of them!): 

“Everything *OUTSIDE OF PANEL CONTENT* is off-the-record by default, and explicit verbal or written consent is required for anything that can identify individuals or organization.” 

Be aware that the all-caps language about the panels was just added last night, probably because no self-respecting member of the press should sign off on reporting a totally “off-the-record by default” event. However you can be sure that the above mentioned newsies will be there regardless. I wonder if they’ll report the whole story, or just the permissible PANEL CONTENT? 

Why, why, are these YIMBYs so delicate? It’s hard to resist playground epithets to characterize their attitude ( “Just spoiled brats!”) They appear to be people from privileged middle-class backgrounds, mad at the world because they can’t manage to live in the style to which their parents accustomed them. Sad! 

An anonymous commenter on the IndyBay AntiFada notice provides: 

“Three recent quotes from Chief YIMBY Sonja Trauss:
1. ‘Gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price.’
2. ‘Gentrification is an unmitigated positive phenomenon for black homeowners. Full stop.’
3. ‘All anti-gentrification activism in some form is hostile to this recalculation’. 

I haven’t independently verified these quotes, but they seem plausible to me, given that I’ve seen Ms. Sonja in action and she talks like this. 

What I think is most ironic about this selfish gang is that they feel the need to erect a wall of protection around their own silly little conference, and yet they’re more than willing to enable market-rate developers to invade historic Black neighborhoods to build market-rate luxury apartments for YIMBY’s White peers. Their acronym should be YIYBY instead, by the way: Yes, in Your Backyard, or perhaps MIYBY, Me in Your Backyard. 

I find it odd to be sort of on the same side as AntiFada (previously noted for trying to shut down speeches by folks they don’t like,) though I too dislike the YIMBYs. But I’ll stick to my old-timey ACLU ethic: the best remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech—give them enough rope to hang themselves, and don’t forget to laugh when they make fools of themselves. It would be a shame to shut down YIMBYtown 2017 since it offers such a great stock of comic material, 

The Berkeley Daily Planet had hoped to get our revered satire correspondent, Grace Underpressure of the Pepper Spray Times, to attend on our behalf, but she said she was occupied making trouble elsewhere. I’m sure the recent threat of a libel lawsuit from a Berkeley commissioner she’d mocked in print had nothing to do with her decision. 

Even though they're silly, they should be taken seriously, however. 

On the serious side: how often do the Actually Serious have to explain to these dolts that warmed-over neo-liberal supply-side faith in the effectiveness of All Markets All the Time is so last year? It's just not as simple as the way your suburban high school econ teacher explained it to you. 

Tim Redmond, formerly of the Bay Guardian and now of 48hills.org, has tried repeatedly but in vain to explain the economics to the naive, as has former Planet columnist Zelda Bronstein, now contributing to the same publication. 

If you care about such debates and couldn’t make to YIMBYtown to hear their foolish rants in person, one of Tim’s recent pieces should tell you all you need to know about the flaws in their ideology : Listen, Yimby! What if your market-based model is destined to fail? An open letter from someone who is not a Nimby… 

And on an even more serious note, please be aware that right now in the state legislatures there are several developer-backed bills promoted by YIMBY/BARF which if passed would eliminate local control over most development. The worst one, SB35, just passed out of committee and is now on the floor of the Assembly. Urge our Berkeley City Council and our representatives in the state Assembly and Senate to oppose these bad bills before it’s too late. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Editor's Back Fence

With friends like this...

Monday July 17, 2017 - 06:12:00 PM

Berkeleyside Retweeted: 

Victoria Fierce @tdfischer 

FYI @berkeleyside is good and you should subscribe and support them. They take a lot of shit for their amazing work.


Public Comment

New: Torture & Killings

Tejinder Uberoi
Monday July 17, 2017 - 06:05:00 PM

On his first trip abroad, Trump was feted by the Saudis who regaled him with a huge weapons contract and effectively silenced him about concerns for human rights.

Following President Trump’s visit, a Saudi criminal court upheld several death sentences handed down to protesters.

The country is set to execute 14 men including Mujtaba who was only 17 when he was sentenced to death five years ago. Another member of the group is Munir al-Adam, who is half-deaf and partially blind.

Saudi Arabia has one of the highest executions in the world. Prisoners are often brutally tortured into making false confessions and convicted in secret trials.  

 

Confessions resulting from torture are inadmissible under international and Saudi law. As many as 40 percent of the people executed in Saudi Arabia are for nonviolent offenses. In recent months, there has been a massive uptick in executions and death sentences for nonviolent protests. One of the victims, Ali al-Ribh, was dragged out of school, tortured, forced to confess and then executed at a secluded spot. His family never saw him again. ISIS and Saudi Arabia share the same grotesque ideology. How quickly we forget, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 911 were from our great ally, Saudi Arabia. How much longer can we afford to abandon our cherished values of promoting human rights and democracy so easily in pursuit of trade deals which often results in selling weapons of mass destruction to the head chopping merchants of death?


The Bad News for UC Berkeley Students

Harry Brill
Thursday July 13, 2017 - 04:40:00 PM

UC Berkeley students are experiencing two serious problems -- larger classes and unaffordable housing, As we'll see both of these issues are intertwined. UC Berkeley recently announced that it has offered freshmen admission to more than 15,500 high school students for the upcoming academic year. This represents a 7.6 percent increase from last year. Among the students who were offered admission, at least 17 percent will actually accept the invitation. That comes close to 3,000 students, not including those transferring from a community college.

Unfortunately, the University made no real effort to obtain sufficient funds to hire more faculty to adequately accommodate the incoming students. Without a comparable increase in faculty, many students will be taught in overcrowded classrooms. Large classes tend to lower the educational value and experience of students, as these classes appreciably reduce the opportunity for student participation and to interact with each other.

UC Berkeley's decision to increase admission is quite different than what the other nine UC campuses decided. Responding to limited budgets, their administrators instead reduced by 1.7 percent the number of students who will be accepted for the coming academic year.

At UC Berkeley, The Berkeley Faculty Association (BFA)would be the most likely organization to engage the Administration on class size because working conditions are among the BFA's major concerns. The Board of Regents, whose pro-business members serve 12 year terms, select two faculty members, but only for a two year term, and without the right to vote. Moreover, neither BFA or any other labor organizations are involved in making the selection. As a result, some important issues are swept aside. So compliance rather than advocacy shape how the Board of Regents conducts its business.  

Also very problematic is the lack of adequate, affordable housing for incoming students. University housing can only accommodate 22 percent of the undergraduates. So almost 80 percent of the undergraduate students are on their own. By comparison the other UC colleges provide 38 percent of their undergraduates with housing.  

How do we explain UC Berkeley's neglect? Doesn't the University care about where and how the students live? I am sorry to say that it doesn't. In fact the Administration has even been frank about its disinterest in accommodating students. Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof remarked last year that "UC Berkeley has no plans to build student housing". He explained that the University's main objective is to provide a quality education, not housing. Isn't it astonishing that a high level administrator doesn't see the connection? Stanford University's Administrators understand that relationship, which is why 97 percent of the school's undergraduates live in on-campus housing.  

In truth, however, the Assistant Vice Chancellor offered not an explanation but an excuse. UC Berkeley's main concern is not offending private developers by competing with them. Recently, with the election of a progressive city council and mayor Jesse Arreguin, the political climate has changed somewhat. The new chancellor, Carol Christ, claims she wants to work with the new mayor on the affordable housing issue. But what the UC Berkeley administrators have in mind is partnering with the private sector on favorable terms for developers. The University would provide the property and a private developer would pay for and build housing. In return, the builder would be collecting the rent. This model is quite different from a public entity funding, operating, and collecting rent that is almost always more reasonable than what a private developer charges.  

So it is worrisome that the University, rather than offering students its own, affordable housing, is providing the private market with thousands of students to serve as tenants in the very expensive high rises that developers are building. In fact, flooding the market with students, whose options are very limited, is among the reasons that Berkeley rents are so high.  

To pay for rent as well as other expenses, many of these students will undoubtedly incur substantial debts that could also financially impact their families. For some students, the expensive living costs will take them on the highway to poverty. In contrast, the developers who are benefiting from the support of UC Berkeley's pro-business housing policy will be enjoying a very favorable financial outcome. They owe UC Berkeley's regents and administrators a sincere and hearty thanks . 

 

 

 

 

 

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Treason?

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday July 14, 2017 - 03:19:00 PM

The sordid details of the Trump family seem to be getting murkier by the day.

No amount of huffing & puffing by Donald Trump can slow down the Russia investigation. It is now known that Trump Jr, received an email from one of Trump senior’s former business partners offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The top secret emails and documents promised to “incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Donald Trump Jr. was elated and quickly arranged a meeting in June 2016 in New York with a Russian lawyer who had strong connections with the Kremlin.

The meeting was also attended by the president’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

It is extremely disturbing that all these surrogates failed to exercise their civic duties. They should have immediately informed the FBI that a hostile nation was seeking to undermine our democracy.  

 

The FBI should demand that Kushner and Manafort surrender their emails to shed further light on the purpose of these meetings. 

If the emails corroborate that Trump senior was “in the loop,” the evidence of collusion becomes irrefutable and the guilty parties must be charged with treason and driven out of office. The country can ill-afford to continuous this saga indefinitely. Trump should be dethroned and Hillary Clinton should come out of mourning and assume her rightful duties as president.


Israel’s hard right turn

Jagjit Singh
Friday July 14, 2017 - 03:16:00 PM

Runaway Jewish nationalism is threatening the very survival of the Jewish state.

Buckling under pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to grant more and more power to ultra-Orthodox Jews alienating Palestinians and the Jewish diaspora alike perpetuating the belief that Israeli Jews are more Jewish than the Jewish diaspora.

His recent actions have dealt a mortal blow to the 75 percent of the Reform and Conservative 10 million diaspora Jews. No longer can men and women pray together in the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Caving in to pressure Netanyahu endorsed a bill granting a virtual monopoly over conversions to ultra-orthodox rabbis. Non-Israeli Jews have expressed outrage over Netanyahu’s heavy handed policy rulings. The pro-Israeli lobby, Aipac demanded a policy reversal. 

Also, by refusing to end the brutal occupation, Israel is rapidly sliding into apartheid, pariah state. A thoroughly exasperated former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned “What are you going to do with 420,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank? How do you reverse this trend that will inevitably lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish democratic state?” No longer is the power of the American purse having much impact on Israeli policies. Give us your unconditional support but don’t interfere in our domestic polices seems be Netanyahu’s message. 

Reform and Conservative rabbis are rapidly becoming irrelevant.


Columns

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Stages of a Relapse

Jack Bragen
Thursday July 13, 2017 - 04:50:00 PM

The following will not be universally applicable to all who suffer from psychiatric illness. It primarily describes what happens, or perhaps what used to happen, with me. However, it may be applicable to a good number of others who've had similar experiences.  

In the first stages of a relapse, I am doing well, I am gaining confidence; and my symptoms are not preventing me from enjoying life. I am accomplishing things, and interacting with others.  

In the ensuing stage, my confidence is becoming overconfidence. I might feel ready to handle anything. I may have forgotten how bad it was, perhaps years before, when I had gone off medication. I may feel confident to the extent that I ask to have my medications lowered. A psychiatrist might go along with this request, since it may seem as though I am doing well. However, this could be a mistake.  

Later, in what I will call, "Third Stage of Relapse," I may have begun to develop one or more delusional systems, my behavior could be starting to get obnoxious, and perhaps strange, at times. I may believe at this point that I am capable of "riding out" the withdrawal from psychiatric medications. I may believe I am not sick at all or perhaps that I have cured myself with cognitive and other techniques. One problem with this stage is that I might be able to fool others into believing that I'm "cured," or, "in remission."  

At some point around the "Third Stage," a traumatic event often seems to happen. While this may be purely coincidental, the aftermath of it includes that I could begin to go downhill faster.  

In "Stage Four" of a psychotic relapse, I've become completely disconnected from reality, and I am interpreting my senses in a bizarre, delusional, and unreal manner. I am no longer capable of caring for myself, and I could be unintentionally doing a number of dangerous stunts. This stage is a threat to my physical well-being and to that of others. Also in this stage, brain damage could occur.  

If I survive "Stage Four" and make it to "Stage Five," this is where I've been put into involuntary treatment, medication is reinstated, and I wake up one morning and realize I am in a psych hospital -- again.  

There you have it, what it is like to be in the revolving door of mental health hospitalizations. The last time this happened to me was in the year 1996, and I hope that it doesn't happen to me again in my lifetime. Yet it could.  

Prevention of repeat psychotic episodes is the best thing we can do to improve brain health, as opposed to following a twisted ethic that psych medications are unnatural and that we are better off free of all prescription drugs. This is medicine, and people who have Schizophrenia need medicine.  

In "Stage Five," which is the hospitalization stage, we have an opportunity to make a lifetime commitment to keeping the condition treated.  

It is important to note that not all relapses are a result of noncompliance. Many people become ill despite every effort at cooperating with treatment professionals. In these instances, perhaps something could have been done, such as temporarily raising medications, if there is a period of worse symptoms. In other cases, the illness, sometimes in combination with life circumstances, has simply become worse, and not much could've been done to prevent that.  

Not all mentally ill people are alike. The stages of relapse are applicable to me, and probably to some other mental health consumers. Therefore, I recommend that you give this some thought, and figure out what your own particular pattern is, and what the predictors might be.  

A psychiatrist, in my past, would ask if I was eating and sleeping okay. This was his effort to look for early warning signs. Yet, by the time I've become ill to the extent that I'm not eating and sleeping, I've probably reached an acute level of being ill.  

The point is this: I suggest you look at your past, figure out what led to past relapses, and try not to repeat past mistakes, if there were any.  

If we can walk away from a relapse alive and intact, and having learned something from it, we can consider ourselves fortunate.  

However, if equipped with enough knowledge about ourselves, we may be able to recognize early warning signs, and redirect our path to avoid going into relapse. This can sometimes entail getting medication raised, getting more counseling, or reducing stress.  

In some instances, delusions can sneak up, without being detected--impairing our ability to judge, and the relapse has begun much earlier than the decision to reduce or go off medication. This is significant also because blame, if there is any, could be directed at the illness and not at ourselves.  

However, there should never be blame connected to psychiatric illness. It is not caused by us doing something wrong, and it is not caused by bad parenting. Mental illnesses are neurologically caused, and having a mental illness is not a sign of bad character.  


SQUEAKY WHEEL: The Affordable Forms

Toni Mester
Friday July 14, 2017 - 02:47:00 PM
914 Channing Way: 27 feet average height
Toni Mester
914 Channing Way: 27 feet average height

 

 

 

What kinds of housing should take precedent in West Berkeley where two units are allowed: single family homes with a backyard ADU, a duplex, or two big condo-houses? That’s the core issue for the public hearing at the Planning Commission on Wednesday July 19 at 7 pm, and you should come. The Commission meets at the North Berkeley Senior Center at Hearst and MLK. 

The issues resonate beyond the R-1A, the zone in question, to backyard development in all the residential zones, especially R-2 and R-2A that together regulate most parcels west of MLK, because the height allowances are the same. 

The zoning now in effect in West Berkeley and an area in Westbrae allows for two three-story houses to a height of 28 feet or 35 feet with an administrative use permit. That excessive allowance has fostered a trend of building large condo-houses, leading to numerous appeals and cries for reform. 

The staff proposal follows the recommendation of a developer who has built a lucrative business out of this allowance, keeping a three-story front house to the old heights and only shaving off one story from the back house. 

Our group, the Friends of R-1A, has been working for almost a year on a proposal that would maximize an owner’s options while adjusting the building envelopes to the existing scale of West Berkeley neighborhoods and promoting affordability. If you share these concerns, it’s time to speak out. 

The ADU v. the backyard house 

The attached accessory dwelling unit is the cheapest way to provide living quarters because the unit is added to an existing house and shares its roof and foundation. On a relatively modest budget, an owner can build the necessary walls and extend the plumbing, gas, and the electrical wiring, which does not require a separate meter.  

The detached ADU is more expensive to build because it requires a new foundation, roof, utilities, and extended sewer. The height of a detached ADU is restricted to one story of 14 feet, and the floor area is limited to 750 square feet but can be enlarged with an administrative use permit (AUP). The ADU ordinance (BMC 24D.10) was finalized earlier this year and won’t be the subject of this hearing, but it remains an option in this and other residential zones. 

If the ADU is so affordable to build, why should the R-1A allow a bigger more expensive backyard house? Some West Berkeley neighbors complain about this extra allowance because it doesn’t feel equitable. “The R-1 gets a little ADU while we get big backyard condo houses.” The reason for this difference is historical, based on past racism and piecemeal zoning, which I’ve explained in a paper on the subject. 

The ADU and the backyard house can be the same size. The essential difference between an ADU and a backyard house is that the owner of an ADU has to live on the property and cannot convert it to a condo and sell it separately. An ADU doesn’t require an off-street parking space, but the condo house does. 

The low down on heights 

The most problematic zoning standard is the height of the backyard house because of potential shading, noise, and loss of privacy from windows and balconies that overlook other properties. There’s also the question of where cars will be parked: on the street or off-street, at the front, middle or in the rear of a parcel. 

Since the number of vacant lots is dwindling fast, infill in Berkeley has two places to go: along the avenues, aka transit corridors, and into backyards. Most attention has been directed to the apartment buildings going up along the avenues, but as the market levels off for apartments, developers have been moving into the neighborhoods. On the corner of Tenth Street and Channing Way is a sweet little side-by-side duplex newly painted blue and surrounded by a wooden fence with a condo conversion sign. The applicant is Hudson McDonald, the developers of the New California, aka the “Trader Joe’s building” in downtown Berkeley. Other builders and designers working in West Berkeley include Baran Studio (Matt Baran, architect) 1310 Haskell Street project; Oakmont (Tom Anthony, John Newton et al.) 2218 -2222 and 2415 Ninth Street, 908 Cedar, 1737 Tenth, and 2212 Tenth Street; Matthew Wadlund, David Trachtenberg, and many others. 

We are blessed by having so much notable architectural talent; they are not the problem. It’s the irrational zoning and torturous process that makes building in Berkeley such a nightmare for everybody involved. Rational zoning outlines a realistic choice for building a project that will not be burdened by protests and appeals. Most cities have much more precise guidelines, including design standards. What to fix first in Berkeley’s anachronistic zoning code is a chicken and egg puzzle, but the heights of neighborhood houses in the low to medium density zones should be adjusted, especially the height of the backyard house. Most people think that the existing scale of houses on their block is what’s allowed, but that ain’t necessarily so. 

In 1991 the City Council imposed uniform building height limits of 28 feet average, going to an average height of 35 feet with an administrative use permit (AUP) in the R-1, R-1A, R-2, and R-2A, regardless of where the buildings are located on a parcel. This allowance is irrational. What was the Council thinking? I spent two months and two public record searches trying to find out. What I discovered was that the idea of uniform building heights was not discussed at the Planning Commission at the time, so the Council decision wasn’t properly vetted in the community. I was active then, but I can’t remember this vote that allowed our neighbors to build a 40-foot house in their backyard. Who knew? 

That’s right, a backyard house can be 40 feet because an average height of 35 feet is the average between the height at the eaves and the height at the ridge of the roof. If you want to see actual building heights, go to the City website, enter an address of a recent project and check out the ZAB staff report. The height is usually in the first paragraph. 

Two illustrative projects underway in our neighborhood are 2439 Tenth Street, a chunky blue rear building, which rises to an average height of 24.5 feet according to the use permit. Another is a stacked duplex under construction at 914 Channing Way between Seventh and Eighth Streets that is 27 feet average height. Anything taller than these buildings would appear out of scale, even at the front of a lot. The first purpose of the R-1A zone is to “recognize and protect the existing pattern of low medium density areas characterized by reasonable open and spacious type of development….” 

Our group, the Friends of R-1A, recommend the maximum height of a front house be set at two stories and 24 feet average with a maximum of 28 feet, which exceeds the existing scale of most blocks, and one story for a backhouse with an average of 14 feet. These dimensions are ample, as can be seen in the two-condo project at 1016-1018 Jones Street under construction between Ninth and Tenth Streets. The front house has an average height of 24 feet and a maximum (the roof ridge) of 27, and the back house has an average of 12 feet and a maximum of 14. These are reasonable, substantial heights; the front house appears bulky because of its boxy design. If the second story were reduced slightly, the aspect would appear sleeker, less looming over the neighboring house. 

A common method of preventing such crowding of the mass is the daylight plane, used by many Bay Area cities including Albany, El Cerrito, Menlo Park, San Francisco, Antioch, Palo Alto, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. Others like Richmond and Fremont require a reduction of the second story. In Berkeley, the daylight plane could be part of a solar access ordinance. 

The existing pattern 

On some blocks of the R-1A, it looks like anything goes, but there are underlying patterns of development, some blocks more regular than others. 

Like most of Berkeley, the majority of parcels in the R-1A are developed as single-family residences. In Berkeley as a whole, 56% of the total parcels are SFR’s: 16,276 parcels out of a total of 28,870, including commercial and manufacturing zones. In the R-1A, the percentage of SFRs is 65%, 858 parcels out of 1322. Many streets in Oceanview, north of University, are low-scale, rows of tidy one-story cottages that would be overwhelmed by building to the current or proposed allowances. The Westbrae section of R-1A, an area around the beer garden on Gilman, has a mix of one and two story SFRs. 

The second most numerous building form is the duplex: at least 193 parcels. The zone includes other type of development including some apartments that were built prior to the 1967 down zoning, regulated by the non-conforming use chapter (BMC 23C.04). 

Because of the variety of development, we analyzed the existing pattern by floor area ratio, which is easy to do because the City’s parcel database includes the livable floor area as well as the lot size. FAR is derived by dividing the floor area by the lot size. The existing FARs for the dominant forms are .34 for the existing single-family homes and .37 for the duplex single building. We used FAR to promote building the duplex by allowing it a greater floor area. 

The Missing Middle Duplex 

After the ADU, the duplex is the least costly way to build extra units, either by adding a story by raising a small house, like 914 Channing Way, or with a residential addition to the side or back of an existing home. Because of the narrow lots, most additions are to the back. The differences between an attached ADU and a duplex addition are the size of the units, the right to sell the units separately as condos, and the off-street parking requirement. But the cost -saving factors are the same: shared roof, foundation, and compact arrangement of plumbing, gas, and electric systems. 

The great benefit of the duplex is that the cars can be parked in the front, leaving ample usable open space in the backyard for child-safe play area and family outdoor recreation like barbecue and gardening. A duplex in West Berkeley combines the best of suburban-style living with the benefits of a walkable urban neighborhood near transit.  

Bye Bye Backyards! 

Big condo houses, by comparison, replicate the dominant SFR but without a verdant setting. The footprints usually take up the maximum 40% and the required driveway and parking spaces gobble up even more, leaving usable open space to the minimum of 400 square feet for each unit. On the average 40-foot wide lot, that’s only a depth of ten feet for outdoor recreational use. The minimum in the R-1 becomes the maximum in the R-1A. 

Berkeley does not have landscape requirements like many other cities, which means a loss of oxygen producing shrubs and trees or food producing gardens. When people speak of the environmental benefits of urban density, they tend to forget how plants contribute to a city’s healthy ecosystem as well as the well being of its human inhabitants who are grounded by natural surroundings.  

Who needs housing? 

In Berkeley, the students desperately need places to live as the University continues to expand its enrollment. The ADU is perfectly suited to the needs of a student, providing privacy for academic concentration. With the 51 and the new 36 buses connecting West Berkeley to the campus from early morning to late at night, our neighborhoods are accessible to students without cars. The East-West bike boulevards on Russell, Channing, and Virginia are safe routes. 

The large condo-houses, on the other hand, can run four bedrooms, a set-up for mini-dorms, which are incompatible with neighborhoods of working families, as many conflicts on the Southside have shown. The mini-dorm ordinance is also difficult to enforce, so building them is just asking for trouble. 

The duplex can serve students as well as small families. Almost 80% of East Bay households are three people or fewer: 30% one person, 33% two persons, and 17% three persons, which is also the average family size. 

The overwhelming need for units would be one to three bedrooms. The zoning of the R-1A should allow but not favor large one-unit luxury houses. It’s hard to strike the right balance, to be fair yet affordable, but Berkeley should try. 

 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 

 

 

 

 

 


Arts & Events

Around & About--Theater: Anton's Well Opens 'Tender Napalm;' Closing Weekend of Actors Ensemble's 'The Chalk Circle' (Brecht) Outdoors at Hinkel Park--Free

Ken Bullock
Friday July 14, 2017 - 02:48:00 PM

In their third year of staging plays, Anton's Well has been both an intimate and an ambitious new company: straightforward but imaginative staging chamber plays with small casts produced in small local venues ... but now five plays in not quite three years, several of them (including a Sam Shepard two-hander) Bay Area premieres.

Their newest, opening this weekend, is another Bay Area premiere: Philip Ridley's 'Tender Napalm,' directed and introduced by their engaging founder, Robert Estes, and choreographed by Bridgette Loriaux, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 through August 5 at the Temescal Arts Center, 511-48th Street, just off Telegraph in the Temescal shopping neighborhood, Oakland. Tickets: $17-$20 https://antonswell.org 

--This weekend features the final two--free--performances, at 4 Saturday-Sunday, of Brecht's 'The Chalk Circle,' in the Stern & Stern with (W. H.) Auden adaptation, a parable on social justice, by Actors Ensemble. Anna Smith directs; the cast made the music. In the old WPA amphitheater once the home of Berkeley Shakespeare, in John Hinkel Park, 41 Somerset Place, just off Arlington, Berkekey hills. 

Next Saturday at 4, Berkeley's Inferno Theatre will open their imaginative production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the same location, also for free. www.infernotheatre.org