Full Text



New: Berkeley City Council Resumes Oversight of Police Use of Military Hardware

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday November 15, 2017 - 08:53:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council has approved a resolution that restores the Council's oversight of transfers of excess U.S. Department of Defense materials, such as weapons and vehicles, to the city's Police Department. 

The resolution was authored by Councilwoman Kate Harrison, whose office said the Council approved the resolution on Tuesday night. 

That means that Berkeley is likely one of the first cities in the nation to reassert local control since President Donald Trump issued an executive order in August that allowed local law enforcement agencies to acquire military equipment without getting approval from local governments, according to Harrison's office. 

Harrison said earlier this week that Trump's order revoked an order issued by former President Barack Obama in 2015 to standardize procedures for local agencies in obtaining defense materials, limiting the scope of eligible materials, requiring training in civil liberties, after-action reports and that local civilian governments authorize the acquisition of such materials. 

She said Obama issued that order in response to concerns by people across the country about local agencies using military weapons and equipment in 2014 after police in Ferguson, Missouri, used such equipment to respond to protesters who were upset about an officer in that city fatally shooting Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man. 

Berkeley citizens are worried about the potential use of military equipment, such as armored and weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers and camouflaged uniforms, at the local law enforcement level, according to Harrison. 

She said the Berkeley Police Department is enrolled in the program under Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, which permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess defense material to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. 

The resolution requires that the City Council review and approve any military equipment that the city's Police Department wants to acquire. 

Harrison said she's not aware of the Police Department acquiring any military equipment recently but she would like to find out for sure so her resolution requires that City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley give the City Council a report on the dates, contents and uses of any materials that have been given to the department through the Department of Defense program. 

In addition, the resolution requires that the Berkeley Police Review Commission determine whether the city should participate in the Department of Defense program at all. 

The resolution takes effect immediately.

Berkeley Councilmember Kate Harrison Wants City Oversight of Military Hardware Sought by Police

Jeff Shuttleworth
Monday November 13, 2017 - 10:05:00 PM

Berkeley City Councilwoman Kate Harrison said today that she thinks the council should be given the power to review and approve any surplus military hardware that the city's Police Department seeks from the U.S. Department of Defense. 

Harrison said in recent years Berkeley citizens have expressed concerns about the use of military equipment, such as armored and weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers and camouflaged uniforms, at the local law enforcement level. 

Harrison said Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997 permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess defense material to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. 

But she said people across the country became concerned about local agencies using military weapons and equipment in 2014 after police in Ferguson, Missouri, used such equipment to respond to protesters who were upset about an officer in that city fatally shooting black robbery suspect Michael Brown. 

Harrison said former President Obama reacted to those concerns in 2015 by issuing an order to standardize procedures for local agencies in obtaining defense materials, limiting the scope of eligible materials, requiring training in civil liberties, requiring after-action reports and requiring that local civilian governments authorize the acquisition of such materials. 

However, Harrison said President Trump issued an executive order in August that revoked Obama's order and allows local agencies to acquire military equipment without getting approval from local governments. 

Harrison said she is asking the Berkeley City Council at its meeting on Tuesday night to approve a resolution requiring that it review and approve any military equipment that the city's Police Department wants to acquire. 

She said she believes that the City Council should be given the right to approve such requests on a case-by-case basis. 

Harrison said she also thinks the Berkeley Police Review Commission should determine whether the city should participate in the Department of Defense program at all. 

In addition, Harrison said the resolution asks that City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley to give the City Council a report on the dates, contents and uses of any materials that have been given to the Police Department through the Department of Defense program. 

Harrison said she hasn't heard of the Berkeley Police Department acquiring any military hardware recently but she said it's enrolled in the 1033 program and she would like to find out for sure. 

She said the resolution would take effect immediately if the City Council approves it.

New: Police Reform is Possible - and Crucial

Carol Denney
Saturday November 11, 2017 - 07:17:00 PM

Now and then you go to a city meeting and walk out afterward thanking your stars you were there. It doesn't happen often, but it happens; crucial information presented clearly, well-informed speakers treating the crowd and each other with respect, interested, well-informed attendees making powerful observations and asking powerful questions. And a clear map toward a more just world. 

Billed as a Police Reform Town Hall, the gathering at the North Berkeley Senior Center came about a week after a city hall effort at police reform was marred by an unwillingness to address obvious racial disparities in policing, a disparity which is easy to see in the numbers reluctantly provided by the Berkeley Police Department. Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Sophie Hahn, among other things, wanted the word "racial" removed from the language. Nothing says "I want to know more" like removing the word "racial" from an effort to track racial discrimination in policing. 

Councilmember Kate Harrison, the first speaker, stated plainly that what is missing is the voices of people who have the real life experiences of the police. 

"Protecting public safety is an important goal, but not our only goal," stated Harrison, saying that protecting individual rights is equally important. She cited the UCLA study on use of force and stop data with respect to racial disparity, saying that there is still a lot we don't know. Apparently there is a lack of reporting on use of force unless a complaint is filed or a weapon is used. 

"We need that data," stated Harrison. "That's one of my first goals." She said a report is expected early next year which she hoped would be more helpful; additional information may clarify and refine the data about the racial disparity obvious in the numbers so far. 

Harrison says "part of this is because we see the police as separate," pointing out that they're not. "The council is responsible for setting policy of the police." 

George Lippman of both the Police Review Commission and the Peace and Justice Commission followed up with one of the most frank assessments of the current state of police accountability I've ever heard. 

"You can pass a lot of great policies," he said, "but if they aren't followed there's not a lot you can do." He painted the broad picture of police review, beginning with the Black Panther Party in Oakland as well as additional efforts, such as Berkeley's creation of its Police Review Commission (PRC), once considered one of the strongest in the nation. His tone was almost apologetic as he stated plainly that in his experience, feedback from the black community is that they experience the police as a hostile force in some respects; "Attorneys tell their clients 'don't even go to the PRC.'" 

For the first time in my experience I heard a Police Review Commissioner describe in detail the traumatizing experience of going through the complaint process - its confounding deadlines, its secrecy, the improbability of effecting change through its use, and the way the deck is stacked against the complainant. "The current council (he excepted Councilmember Harrison) talks a good game," he stated, but pointed out that a majority of the council had passed additional police powers, some of them of questionable constitutionality, without even bothering to confer with the PRC just this last summer. 

Lippman then talked about options, such as a charter amendment, to strengthen the PRC and amend some of its weaknesses, and some short-term reforms coming to council in the next few weeks ( Tuesday, Nov. 14, and Tuesday, Dec. 5), urging people to come to the city council to support the efforts. 

Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director of Media Alliance, spoke next, a voice many of us remember from the community's successful uprising against Oakland's effort to situate a surveillance center in its downtown, a plan which seemed a fait accompli in 2012 but was halted by popular resistance. 

"When they talk about transparency, it pretty much becomes just that you know when they're lying to you. Which is pretty much all the time," she said of the prolonged struggle she's navigated along with community groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU. 

All three voices urged the crowd to show up this Tuesday, November 14th, for items #24., "Refer to the Berkeley Police Department to Address Disparate Racial Treatment and Implement Policy and Practice Reforms", and #25., "Referral to Police Review Commission to Write a Charter Amendment Ballot Measure." Community voices, after all, created Berkeley's admittedly imperfect Police Review Commission, stopped the surveillance center in Oakland, and can insist that racial disparities evident in current Berkeley Police practices be addressed plainly rather than at an oblique angle.[1] 

This crowd was fired up for change but deeply interested in the history, the legal foundation, and the practical. Councilmember Harrison agreed to make a request for a data analyst for the PRC, apparently a volunteer role at present. One audience member noted and George Lippman agreed that if the council refused the charter amendment to address PRC weaknesses it would only take 12,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. Ann Ginger of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute reminded the crowd of the power of a report to the United Nations in this year of requirement. Local activist Gene Bernardi discussed the militarization of the police, and Councilmember Harrison echoed her concern, saying "I think there's a connection between how policing works locally and these national programs." 

Winston Burton of the NAACP asked who wanted the word "racial" removed from the council's October 31st's wording. Councilmember Harrison stated that Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Sophie Hahn had done so, preparing a watered-down version of her original legislation just Tuesday afternoon, which had the votes to pass. She did her best to be generous while giving their rationale for doing so, but agreed that it "would be helpful" to call their offices. 

"I'm really concerned about the use of force on homeless people," stated a young woman incensed by the deregulation of the use of pepper spray. George Lippman let her know that the PRC had immediately responded to the deregulation by sending a letter to the council demanding that the original prohibition on the use of pepper spray in crowds be restored, adding that one Berkeley police officer had told him "our aim is not that good." 

Sharon Maldonado recounted seeing a homeless man sleeping in a doorway rousted by a the Downtown Berkeley Association's green-shirted "ambassadors", and that when a police officer showed up to force the man to move she was treated in an intimidating way for questioning the situation. 

Andrea Pritchett of the PRC pointed out that the Berkeley Police don't appear to have goals against which to measure progress. She said the PRC asked to see the police budget and were delayed for months, well beyond the council's actual budget process, so that the information, once provided, was for all practical purposes useless. "Metrics for progress, used in ordinary management, seem to be unknown." 

This, among many others, is not just true, it intimates a possibility. What if our police department had measurable goals? We could certainly, from year to year, enhance our ideas of public safety to include an experience of respect from the police, a reduction in disproportionate stops of people of color, etc., metrics at least as measurable as car break-ins. 

Mansour Ideen of the Berkeley NAACP recounted attending a PRC hearing on a young man's illegal search and having had to leave the room entirely, along with the complainant, at a certain point in the hearing. This absurdity is the new protocol in response to the August 29, 2006, California Supreme Court decision in Copley Press V. Superior Court which held that records of an administrative appeal of sustained misconduct charges are confidential and may not be disclosed to the public, preventing the public from having any information about the extent of officers' discipline. 

Councilmember Harrison, in response to an audience member's lament about Copley's state-level interference with local reforms, said "it is our firm belief that more is permissible under that law..." She stated that a "preponderance of the evidence" which is the civil suit standard, should be used instead of the more restrictive "clear and convincing" evidentiary standard in current use. "The City Manager could make that change," she stated. "What I'm looking for right now is more legal evidence." 

This, the intersection of the Copley decision with local police reform, has always been treated as a brick wall between local reform efforts and any possibility of change or improvement. But Councilmember Harrison is echoing other voices over the years. As policing swings more toward militarization, as more communities as dismayed by the lack of attention to community issues of discrimination in favor of weaponry, gadgets, and a tendency to treat citizens like an enemy force, the Copley decision which seems to force police review into a black bag needs to come under scrutiny. 

Councilmember Harrison noted that what BART did was set up a police auditor office which is independent, and which can review all records and make recommendations. "I'm looking for structural solutions," she said. 

Commissioner Lippman agreed. "Some things we can't affect because of state law," he said. "But some are weaknesses of our own making." He added that the PRC commissioners sign a non-disclosure agreement, that fifteen years ago this information was routinely shared, and that a charter amendment written by the PRC in the upcoming ordinance proposed for Tuesday, November 14th, would be the way to start. He noted that the police had been forced to disclose the disparity information and that "the PRC is going forward with the analysis." 

James McFadden, a local professor, recommended using budgetary pressure to gain "leverage" over the City Manager. Michael Diehl, a homeless citizen once employed by BOSS to do street outreach who now works with Street Spirit newspaper, expressed concern about the repeated right-wing rallies disturbing the peace for vulnerable populations. 

Councilmember Harrison stated that she is on a subcommittee with Councilmembers Davila (who was present) and Wengraf regarding NICRIC, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, often called the "fusion" center, which has a goal of presenting a "more integrated data picture" and is tasked with producing "suspicious activity reports." 

Director Rosenberg commented that the problem with having officers "double-sworn", in other words having technical allegiance to two separate agencies, is that they can be taking direct orders from another agency and "we wouldn't know." 

Councilmember Harrison added that "the vendors have a very large role" in NICRIC training, and that she was worried about that connection. "We're handing over a lot of our training to vendors." She told the story of one of the training exercises, a hypothetical setting which required the police to go recapture a dam from Hezbollah. "The daily reality we need to prepare for is earthquakes and fires," she said, saying that she supports training but questions the value of such an exercise, and that such training has no need to happen under the umbrella of Urban Shield, a remark which earned applause. 

Commission Lippman urged the town hall attendees to prepare for "a protracted campaign" to change the PRC. Director Rosenberg agreed, and ended the evening with this provocative observation; "the challenge with police reform is that it's piecemeal. What links it together is getting community control back. You have to challenge what 'public safety' really is..." by "unpacking the definition of public safety." 

[1] Seven months of data showed that 30.5% of police stops involved black motorists, even though black people make up only 8% of Berkeley's population, and the stops of black motorists are the least likely to warrant arrest or citation but the most likely to be subjected to a search.  



The Lexus Lanes and Why They Won't Work

Zelda Bronstein
Friday November 10, 2017 - 01:04:00 PM

One of the hallmarks of neoliberalism is the application of market solutions to market-generated problems. It’s an approach that’s bound to fail, because market-generated problems can only be solved by non-market solutions; but to the neoliberal mind, no-market solutions are anathema. Unfortunately, this approach is guiding city and regional planning in the Bay Area. 

48hillshotlanes 2.png#asset:8506 

Now you can drive faster - if you pay for it.  

A case in point is the October 5 hearing on “Job and Office Trends” at the SF Planning Commission. As Tim Redmond reported, the planners focused on the severe imbalance between jobs and housing in the city, and how that imbalance is making it impossible for many people who work in San Francisco—especially those of modest means—to live near their jobs. What the planners missed was the source of that problem: their own unending pursuit of new commercial space, especially new office space. In Redmond’s words: 

The entire presentation by the department staff worships at the altar of growth. When you look at the slides, it’s as if we are competing with the rest of the nation for who can grow faster, and have the most “healthy” economy, which means the fastest growing. 

It also means the economy with the highest prices. Never mind that the tech influx is the major source of the astronomical housing prices and the accompanying displacement of economically vulnerable San Franciscans. During public comment, longtime affordable housing advocate John Elberling noted that he hadn’t heard “the word gentrification” or anything 

about the human consequences of accommodating growth, which is clearly the current mission of the San Francisco Planning Department, even when the growth, the commercial growth, is clearly more than we can accommodate. 

The same “marketizing” growth mania is driving another misguided planning scheme: the installation of HOT (High Occupancy Toll) or express lanes on Bay Area highways. On October 9, new HOT lanes went into operation on I-680 between Walnut Creek and Dublin. Former HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes, twelve miles southbound and eleven northbound, have been converted into express lanes that will operate between 5 am and 8 pm. (In the Bay Area, the term “rush hour” long ago became an anachronism.) 

The difference between HOV and HOT lanes is that solo drivers are prohibited in HOV lanes but allowed in HOT lanes—for a price; thus the latter’s pejorative designation, “Lexus Lanes.” The price fluctuates according to demand. On 680 it goes from a fifty-cent minimum on up, with no maximum. The changing prices are displayed on signs mounted in the highway median. Drivers pay the price shown on the sign at the time they enter the express lane. 

At a press briefing last week, Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said that on the existing express lanes on eastbound I-580, the highest toll is typically nine dollars, occasionally rising to $10.50. The average daily toll on 580 is $1.80 eastbound and $1.60 westbound. According to officials, in peak hours and directions, cars in those Express Lanes travel 4-23 miles per hour faster than those in the general purpose lanes. 

Gary Richards, who writes the “Roadshow” column for the Bay Area News Group, has a different take, as indicated by his October 11 exchange with a reader: 

Q: Eastbound Interstate 580 over the Altamont Pass has become a complete disaster. My commute has increased by 20 minutes since the additional lanes were opened, but traffic folks said the new truck lane might shave 30 minutes off this trip. Rob White 

A: I know they did. But since the truck and express lanes opened last year our insane traffic has gotten amazingly more insane — congestion is up 9 percent over 2015 and 80 percent since 2010. 

All drivers in HOT lanes must have a FasTrak or FasTrak Flex toll tag to travel in the lanes between 5 am and 8 pm. To travel toll-free as a carpool, motorcycle, or eligible Clean Air Vehicle, drivers must have a FasTrak toll tag set in the 2 or 3+ position, as appropriate. Solo drivers can use either a standard FasTrak toll tag or a FasTrak Flex toll tag set in the 1 position. A car entering a HOT lane will trigger a laser-activated camera that will photograph the car’s license plate. The read points are situated about every mile of the HOT lane segment, which includes stations on the highway median where CHP cars can park and watch for cheaters. 

Until I attended the briefing, I thought that express lanes were intended to decrease congestion. Not so. Their purpose, said Caltrans Deputy District Director Sean Nozzari, is to “help us manage traffic congestion better” by opening “available capacity to solo drivers.” HOV lanes usually have room for more vehicles. HOT lanes encourage—in plannerese, incentivize—solo drivers to fill that room, when it exists; no solo drivers in will be allowed in the I-680 express lanes on weekdays between the peak of the peak hours, 4:30 and 5:30 pm. Associated rationales for the new lanes are “to give solo drivers a choice” and create greater “reliability” for people about their commutes. 

48hillshotlanes2 2.png#asset:8505 

If existing carpool lanes are almost at capacity, how will charging tolls help? 

What the official line doesn’t acknowledge is that HOT lanes ultimately worsen congestion, because they draw more drivers onto the roads. In fact, to pencil out, the HOT lines need congestion. More precisely, they need solo drivers, because the high-occupancy vehicles ride for free. As MTC’s 2008 HOT Network Study observed: “Where carpools fill the lanes, HOT lanes will generate little revenue and may fail to cover their operating cost” (p. I-3). 

Nevertheless, HOT lanes are supported by two prominent Bay Area thinks tanks-cum-advocacy organizations, SPUR and TransForm. SPUR, by far the more enthusiastic of the two, claims in its 2016 report Fossil-Free Bay Area that 

[e]xpansion of road pricing could quickly increase road capacity, reduce congestion, encourage modes of travel other than driving, speed up and improve the reliability of transit and goods movement, and reduce emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. (p. 32) 

Accordingly, SPUR would like to see tolls added to all lanes of Highway 101 and on bridges in the currently unpriced directions. By contrast, TransForm’s 2013 white paper, “Moving People, Not Cars,” urges MTC to convert existing, leftmost general purpose lanes to express. 

Both SPUR and TransForm condition their support for HOT lanes on two conditions: don’t expand roadways for new HOT lanes, and use toll lane revenues, as Fossil-Free Bay Area puts it, 

to support alternative transportation in communities that do not have reliable transit and are unlikely to receive it soon. In addition to walking and biking investments that benefit everyone, congestion management agencies could support mobility for low-income people through subsidizing car-sharing, carpooling and even private taxi services like Lyft Line and UberPool. 

The SPUR report also recommends “means testing, base on license plate capture, to allow low-income people to pay reduced or even zero fees.” TransForm’s 2013 white paper, “Moving People, Not Just Cars,” goes much further, arguing that MTC should 

  • Dedicate at least 50% of HOT revenues to provide new transportation choices—transit, vanpools, carpools, and other alternatives to solo driving—along HOT corridors and to mitigate the network’s impacts on low-income families.
  • Create a transportation choices expansion plan as part of the express lane network and include a commitment that with the opening of every new HOT lane, there will be a simultaneous improvement in transportation choices along the same corridor, over and above existing service.
  • Design and implement mitigation to ensure low income-families receive an equitable share of the benefits and do not bear a disproportionate burden of the HOT network.
  • Expand its environmental justice analysis of the HOT lane network to include a primary research question on the distribution of benefits across different income and ethnic groups, considering the differences in expected frequency of use of the HOT lanes.
But the Financial Assumptions Report for Plan Bay Area 2040, approved by MTC and the Association of Bay Area Government in July, states that “[o]ver the course of the Plan period,” the gross toll revenues for express lanes in Solano, Contra Costa, and Alameda Counties, “will be wholly dedicated to meet the operations, maintenance, and capital financing of the [Regional Express] Lane Network ” (p. 5). MTC and Caltrans hope that the new HOT lanes on 680 will yield $8 million a year from solo driver tolls. 

Compare that figure with HOT lanes’ enormous cost. The ones on 23 miles of I-680, funded with bridge tolls, cost $56 million. The ones being constructed on 52 miles of I-880, also funded with bridge tolls, cost $120 million. But those numbers are just drops in the HOT lane bucket: Plan Bay Area 2040, approved by MTC and the Association of Bay Area Government in July, allocates $6 billion to develop and operate a 550-mile network of express lanes on the state highway system (p. 50)—the largest such network in the U.S. There are no plans for HOT lanes in San Francisco or Marin. 

Future express lanes are going to be a lot more expensive than the ones just installed on 680, because they will involve expanding the highway itself, not just converting a former HOV lane. That prospect has elicited TransForm’s intense criticism. From “Moving People, Not Just Cars”: 

MTC plans to collect $6.5 billion in tolls from drivers and spend most of the money to build—or pay financing costs for—hundreds of miles of new highway lanes. There is no funding to expand transportation choices to support long-term congestion reduction. Nor is there funding for programs to ensure low-income families receive equitable benefits from this new transportation system. 

In short, 

Once billed as an innovative way to help manage traffic and provide a wide array of new transportation choices, MTC’s Express Lane Network has now primarily become a highway-building program whose main beneficiaries will be solo drivers who can afford to buy their way into new lanes. 

For all its costliness, HOT lane infrastructure has a short shelf life—ten years at most. The technology is provided by TransCore, the Nashville-based company that’s one of the largest toll operators in the nation. At the June 25, 2014, meeting of the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority, the joint powers entity formed by MTC and the Bay Area Toll Authority, MTC staff asked BAIFA to approve a five-year, $63 million-dollar contract with TransCore to provide toll system integration and maintenance services for BAIFA’s initial express lane projects on I-680, I-880, the westbound approaches to the San Mateo and Dumbarton Bridges, and I-80—ninety miles in all. As recorded in the meeting’s minutes: 

Commissioner Spering mentioned how technology changes quickly in five years and wondered to whom the property will belong and how we move forward with technology changes. [Staffer] Macrae responded that the Host System should last seven to ten years, and with contract extensions, TransCore would be able to maintain the system to the end of its lifecycle. At that time, BAIFA will be able to procure a new system. 

The BAIFA board unanimously authorized MTC Director Steve Heminger 

to negotiate and enter into a contract with TransCore to design, implement, integrate, and test the express lanes toll system on the identified roadways and maintain for a 5-year period with an option to extend annually for an additional 5 years… 

Then there’s the unfairness issue. Why should ability to pay determine who gets to use any part of a public freeway? When I raised that concern at the press briefing, officials shrugged it off, stating that studies showed that HOT lanes are used by people at all income levels. 

I haven’t read any studies, but I have looked at the Federal Highway Administration’s primer on Congestion Pricing. The primer considers the Frequently Addressed Question: “Isn’t pricing inequitable towards low-income motorists?” Its answer: No. Why not? For one thing, “surveys conducted for projects in operation show that drivers of all income levels use priced express lanes.” Plus, 

Although many low-income users don't choose to use the tolled facility every day, they support having the option. For instance, a low-income parent racing to avoid the financial penalty associated with being late for pick-up at a day care facility, or for work, is often pleased to have the option of paying a fee to bypass gridlock in the regular lanes. In fact, a high level of support for San Diego's HOT lanes comes from the lowest income users (70 percent). 

The child-care-pickup scenario was also invoked by Caltrans and MTC officials at the press briefing. 

None of these rationales changes the fact that HOT lanes place a greater financial burden on low-income drivers. The FHWA primer goes on to argue that “a well-designed value pricing plan can be less burdensome to low-income citizens than current systems that are based on regressive taxes, such as car registration fees, sales taxes, and the gas tax.” So what? “Value pricing” is also regressive, TransForm’s and SPUR’s proposals to make it equitable notwithstanding. 

So, let’s review:, HOT lanes encourage more people to drive and especially more people to drive solo; are fabulously expensive; use technology that needs to be replaced every ten years or sooner; and foster inequity by charging people to drive on nominal freeways. Why, then, is MTC pursuing them? 

The answer: Like San Francisco’s planning staff, MTC is hooked on market-led growth. Each HOT lane project has a website that, among other things, poses the question “Why Express Lanes?” In each case, the first factor cited is “regional growth,” illustrated by a bar chart showing that by 2040, the Bay Area is projected to have 2.4 million more people, 1.3 million more jobs, and 823,000 more homes. Those numbers come from Plan Bay Area 2040. During the contentious meeting at which PBA 2040 was approved, Association of Bay Area Governments President Julie Pierce stated: “This plan is a suggestion of how we might build out [housing] following market forces.” 

The main reason that driving on the region’s most heavily traveled freeways has become a hellish experience is that the Bay Area’s burgeoning tech industry has poured thousands and thousands of new vehicles onto the roads. Plan Bay Area 2040 marks the “record employment levels” reached “during a technology boom rivaling the ‘dot-com’ era of the late 1990” and the exasperating consequences for travelers in the region: “record levels of freeway congestion and historic crowding” on BART, Caltrain, and Muni. 

But to the region’s public officials, the crowding is, in the words of MTC spokesman John Goodwin, “by and large a good problem to have,” because “it’s tied to the strength of the regional economy.” For MTC, as for the San Francisco Planning Department, the defining criterion of economic strength is job growth. Job growth’s side effects, be they clogged roads or dissipated communities, are significant but unavoidable, not to say welcome, because job growth trumps all. And, for all their proposals to mitigate congestion and inequity, SPUR and TransForm also genuflect to growth. 

An economy premised on the market criterion of infinite growth in the service of maximum profits inevitably fosters inequity and degrades the environment. Such an economy is weak, not strong; destructive, not beneficial. Its proponents have mistaken the problem for the solution. 

And let’s be clear: what’s propelling the Bay Area’s economy are not inexorable market forces but decisions taken by the region’s policymakers in behalf of the market. The side effects of those decisions—steadily worsening commutes and astronomical housing prices—are now threatening the market itself, as start-ups are choosing to start up elsewhere and the people who keep the place running are forced to live far from their workplaces in the region’s central cities. 

To state the obvious, which continues to elude the local “deciders” and their foremost policy advisers: the solution to the problem is to stop worshipping market-led growth and to make fairness, environmental protection, and genuine livability the measures of economic strength. Consider, for starters, how many public buses and shuttles you could buy with $6 billion. 

Next year Bay Area voters will have a rare chance to weigh in on the uses to which tolls from all the state-owned toll bridges except the Golden Gate will be put. SB 595, sponsored by State Senator Jim Beall (Santa Clara County) and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 10, authorized MTC to put Regional Measure 3 (RM3) on the ballot as early as next June. The measure will ask voters to decide whether to finace $4.45 billion worth of new transportation projects by raising tolls by up to $3. The projects in the RM3 expenditure plan include $300 million for Bay Area Corridor Express Lanes. 

The Real Plight of the Homeless Told by Homeless

Mike Zint
Friday November 10, 2017 - 01:01:00 PM

Housing is not a reality. How many years do you have to wait? So, until then, you are a target. No stability at all. Keep your gear close. They are coming for you. No place to hide, no place to go, no choices left. Except drugs or insanity. 

The real plight of the homeless! 

During police sweeps you have a few minutes to save your belongings if you are lucky. Cities have no intention of preserving or keeping it for you. The intention is to purposely steal it as punishment for being homeless in public. To fight back is impossible. You need money to do that. Or lawyers. And good luck getting a lawyer. They want big bucks. 

Things I used to own: baby pictures, multiple warm sleeping bags, cell phones, computer, extra clothing, backpacks, inhalers, and a jewelry making set up that took years to develop. This has happened multiple times. 

Why do they do it? Because there is no room for poor people anywhere. Harass them, steal from them, abuse them, torture them, and maybe they will move along. 

Mental disabilities and drug use are often the end result. 

Class warfare waged by the Chambers of Commerce, commercial districts, business associations are the reality. And it won’t stop until enough people get screwed by the corrupt, greedy system! 

Homeless people get almost no choice. Shelter system, sleep on the sidewalk, hide a tent. 

Shelters are one step above jail. Abuse by staff, violence, lice, bed bugs, exposure to illness, these exist in shelters. So, is it really a choice? 

Sleeping on the sidewalk (exposed) is horrible too. Cardboard for meager insulation, no padding except for a sleeping bag, no privacy except what exists between your nose and the blanket you are hiding under. Yes, hiding is accurate. For mental stability, privacy and security are needed. When a blanket was what l had, that little space had to do. Fear never leaves either. Will I get rousted by cops? Robbed? Beaten? So, the longer you live this way, the worse your mental state becomes. 

So, hide a tent is left. This works until you are found. When found, your gear is usually confiscated. You are ticketed. And you spend the next few nights in a shelter, or on a sidewalk exposed. 

Think about that. Understand why a tent city is so important. And ask yourselves why we aren’t allowed to take care of ourselves? Changing that could end homelessness. 

Copyright © 2017 People's Tribune. Visit at http://peoplestribune.org

Why I don’t need a psychotherapist – even with Trump: the Pastry Plan

Marty Schiffenbauer
Friday November 10, 2017 - 11:59:00 AM

Many of my friends are in psychotherapy, perhaps a majority. And my guess is only a handful have never been to a shrink. As for myself, I’ve been to a psychotherapist twice in my life. Each session took place decades ago, in my 20s, and was at the insistence of my mom. To my mom’s dismay, both psychotherapists refused to take me on as a client following our initial session. The first declared my lack of ambition and aversion to work were untreatable. The second, a rabbi as well as a shrink, told me he was threatened by my atheism. From then on, I considered myself “non-shrink” material.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no rap against shrinks. To the contrary, a number of my close friends are psychotherapists as is my wife’s wonderful daughter. I’m sure most mental health healers are fine human beings, do much good for their clients and prevent even more violent mayhem by our gun-worshiping citizens. And, recently, 27 psychiatrists and mental health professionals felt duty-bound to publish “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” raising the alarm that our malignant, narcissistic president seriously endangers not only the United States but the entire planet. Hopefully, the powers that be will heed their urgent warning.

Yet, despite my nightmarish fears that our tweeter-in-chief poses a threat to all living creatures, not to mention being a lifelong hypochondriac, I’m still able to preserve my sanity without psychotherapy. That’s because I can allay my anxieties, dulcify my depressive thoughts and mellow my mood by employing a far less expensive, efficacious method to maintain my mental health: I make it my top priority to consume one yummy pastry every single day!

For those who’d like to try my therapeutic protocol, the list below will provide a head start. It highlights seven of my favorite pastries, one for each day of the week. But I definitely do not want to give the impression that only my listed pastry picks can serve as a substitute for seeing a shrink. The East Bay is blessed with a plentitude of delectable pastries and pastry purveyors and any pastry one loves is virtually certain to soothe a psyche in distress. 

With the above caveat, here are seven of my personal prized pastries: 


“Apple Tart” from Acme Bread: http://www.acmebread.com/ 

In the early 1980s I spent some weeks traipsing about Paris and on one of my meanderings I discovered Boulangerie Poilane. Poilane was then and still is most famous for its bread, which is also the case for Acme. But on my first visit to Poilane I parted with my francs not for their bread but for their apple tart. On first bite I understood why they call Paris the “City of Love.” Returning to Berkeley, I expected Poilane’s apple tart would remain a rapturous memory until my return to Paris. So I could hardly believe my eyes when, upon entering the Acme Bread shop, I spotted an apple tart almost identical in appearance to how I remembered Poilane’s version: a layer of baked apple slices resting in a large square pocket of nicely browned dough. And my taste buds immediately confirmed that looks were not deceiving. Founded in 1983, the lines are still long at Acme and their apple tart continues to be worthy of a “c’est formidable”! 


“Pain au chocolat” from Fournee Bakery: https://www.fourneebakery.com/ 

I won’t claim the excellent dark chocolate that fills Fournee’s pain au chocolat is superior to that used by a number of other local bakeries. But Fournee’s pain au chocolat stands out for its unique, buttery and flaky dough. It’s a far better match for the chocolate than the brioche-like dough used elsewhere, making for a more consummate pastry experience. Fournee is conveniently located a few steps from the Domingo Avenue Peet’s and its adjacent, pleasant courtyard. It’s the perfect spot for people watching while you contentedly munch your pain au chocolat and sip your coffee. 


“Scones” from Cheese Board Collective: http://cheeseboardcollective.coop/ 

Years ago I did a survey piece on Berkeley’s scones which began something like this: “I still remember the taste of my first scone. Like my first kiss, a little dry but still a thrill.” Cheese Board scones were then and still are for me the full monty! At least four different renditions are available daily: currant, corn cherry, oat and scone of the day. Each execution, I imagine, has its own cult sconeheads willing to go to the gallows defending their champion. But, dilettante that I am, I’ll regularly switch my allegiance, although probably going more often for the oat or scone of the day -- especially if it’s a blueberry or radiates chocolate chips. If you’re finding the choice difficult, I’ll repeat a tip I gave in my scone survey: Just grab the largest you spot on the shelf. 


“Bran Muffin” from Arizmendi Bakery on Lakeshore: http://arizmend.com/ 

There are now six Arizmendi bakeries in the Bay Area. Like Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective all are worker co-ops, the bakers being their own bosses. Since the Cheese Board shared its recipes with their fellow co-opers, in a blind taste test I doubt I could tell the difference between an Arizmendi and a Cheese Board bran muffin. Both are seeded with a generous supply of raisins and walnuts and get the texture and moistness right. However, if my muffin memory can be trusted, Arizmendi’s taste a little less molassesy. When I’m in a bran muffin mood I’m more likely to be in Berkeley. However, my wife regularly picks hers up at Arizmendi’s Oakland Lakeshore location. So, as a tribute to my wife’s expertise as a bran muffin maven, I’ve gone with the Arizmendi muffin for my list. 


“Cheese Danish” from Nabolom Bakery: http://nabolombakery.com/ 

When Nabolom bakery reopened in 2016 I braced myself for disappointment. It would take a miracle, I thought, for the new owners, Julia Elliott and Sabra Stepak, to actualize a cheese danish equal to my beloved Nabolom original. But St. Julia and St. Sabra performed that miracle! Not only are their cheese danishes as luscious as ever, their quality is exceptionally consistent -- consistency being a problem in the final days of the pre-Julia & Sabra Nabolom. Nabolom’s cheese danishes come plain and with rotating fruit fillings, ordinarily blueberry, blackberry, apricot and cherry. But, when available, my eyes and palate steer me to the prune variant (upgraded to Italian plum, still prune for me). I should note that the premium ingredients in Nabolom’s cheese danishes requires they be priced accordingly. But compared to the fee for an hour with a shrink it’s a pittance. 


“Portuguese Tart” from Sheng Kee Bakery: http://www.shengkee.com/en/location.aspx 

In Lisbon a few years back I made pilgrimage to one of the planet’s pastry palaces, Pasteis de Belém. My purpose at the shrine was to sin, that is to gluttonously devour as large a number of their sacred pasteis de nata my tummy could tolerate. No way could I have envisioned I’d find a decent imitation of the pasteis de nata at a Chinese bakery chain with a branch on Telegraph Avenue. At Sheng Kee, they’re simply labeled “Portuguese Tarts” and are priced at a very reasonable $1.50 each. The custardy tarts are teeny, so treat yourself and take home a few. And, as is my practice, put them in a toaster oven for a couple of minutes, sprinkle the tarts with a little cinnamon and it’s April in Portugal.  


“Almond Croissant” from La Farine Boulangerie Patisserie: http://www.lafarine.com/ 

Monday is typically my La Farine day. As my Monday walking group passes by La Farine’s Rockridge branch on College Avenue, I peel off from my comrades and enter the bakery. It’s now time for the day’s most important decision: Which of La Farine’s enticing creations should I choose? Frequently, it’s their almond croissant. Not overly sweet, the frangipane filling and croissant dough spangled with sliced almonds make for both a terrific looking and terrific tasting pastry. Almond croissant in hand, I walk it over to the nearby Cole Coffee where Nate and Rick have anticipated my arrival and saved me a seat at their table. I get my usual “small in a medium cup” of the Cole’s always reliable roast of the day and join my buddies for what is guaranteed to be a morning of being kind to myself. 


Reviewing my list, I imagine you’re pondering which of the seven delicacies I highlighted would be the pastry you’d pick if you had 15 minutes to live. I, as you might guess, have spent much time and brain power contemplating this question. After all, I’d like to die with no regrets. And, if pressed to make a choice this very moment, I’d settle for Nabolom’s saintly prune cheese danish.



U.C. Berkeley Puts Beans in Its Ears Again

Becky O'Malley
Thursday November 09, 2017 - 02:52:00 PM

It’s either the good news or the bad news that if you’ve been around as long as I have you get to say “I told you so” more and more often.

The good news is that it’s satisfying to find out that you’ve been right all along.

The bad news is how long it takes for being right to make a difference in what happens—and sometimes it turns out to be never. 

The first time I remember being right as an almost-adult was in May of 1960, when I joined a bunch of my fellow Cal students and others to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee. Yes, granddaughters, there was such a thing, and they witch-hunted a whole lot of patriotic Americans, including family members of some of my friends, for being some flavor of leftist. Even then critics of the committee were multiplying, but the final nail wasn’t put in its coffin for 15 years. 

I was prematurely right again in 1964 in Ann Arbor, when we started organizing against a war which was underway in Vietnam, a place no one had even heard of, and it was more than a decade before public opinion and ultimately Richard Nixon got the word. 

Lots more happened in between of more or less importance. Recently there’s been an “I told you so” moment which is of lesser importance but even greater annoyance. 

It turns out (who knew?) that the hugely expensive transmogrification of the football stadium at Cal (oh, excuse me, U. C. Berkeley) is a giant bust. For the gory details, read Nanette Asimov’s coverage in the Chronicle. 

Money quote: 

“The deal commits a vast amount of UC Berkeley’s future academic revenue to a nonacademic purpose: stadium debt. . . Cal unveiled its rebuilt and earthquake-retrofitted Memorial Stadium and brand-new Simpson Training Center in September 2012. Total debt on the complex is $438 million — a figure the athletics department doesn’t expect to pay off for more than a century.” 

And why would that be? Well, in the first place, it seems that no one really cares that much about football any more, it turns out. Or at least the fancy-schmancy premium seats are not selling. 

But even more than that, if you choose to make at least an attempt to retrofit an old edifice smack-dab on top of an active fault, it costs a whole lot, and even then the results are considered dicey by many. 

We told you and we told you and we told you that the project was a very bad idea. 

A google search on the words “Memorial Stadium” in the Berkeley Daily Planet archives from about 2007 and on yields more than 1600 hits, of which at least half, from stories by Planet reporters Richard Brenneman and Riya Bhattacharjee and many op-ed writers, document the community opposition to this no good, very bad, misbegotten boondoggle. 

Here’s a sample of my own snarky comments early in the discussion: UC Berkeley Continues to Embarrass Its Graduates. And it only got worse. 

Riya did a nice job of summing up the claims made on UC’s behalf in 2010, when a lawsuit by beleaguered neighbors settled out of court: 

“The UC Regents approved $321 million for the 87-year-old Memorial Stadium renovation and retrofit in January which is expected to be completed by the beginning of the 2012 football season. 

“Seventy percent of construction costs are directly tied to retrofitting and code compliance. 

“Mogulof said that the project will be funded mainly by sales of long-term rights to 3,000 of the approximately 60,000 seats in the renovated stadium. 

“This is being done through the university’s Endowment Seating Program, he said, acknowledging that it is something more common in professional football stadiums.” 

Dream on, Mr. Mogulof. That’s the thinking that got us where we are today. 

(Yes, that’s the very same Dan Mogulof, the flack who continues to make unfull-fillable promises on behalf of the corporate university which employs him.) 

It’s all right there in the Planet archives. 

The whole affair puts me in mind of an old ditty I used to sing to my kids: My Mommy Said Not to Put Beans in My Ears. At least the kids paid me some mind. Too bad U.C. Berkeley didn’t listen when we told them they were making a big mistake with the stupid stadium 













Public Comment

General Kelly

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday November 10, 2017 - 02:30:00 PM

The White House chief of staff, General Kelly, the administration’s so called disciplinarian, has been a huge disappointment defending slavery, the dark stain of American history. The Civil War was an effort to maintain the status quo, to preserve the enslavement of African Americans. Contrary to Kelly’s false depiction of General Lee as an “honorable man” Lee fought to preserve slavery. During the civil war, captured free blacks were incarcerated in chains. After the war ended Lee campaigned to evict black people from his native Virginia. 

General Kelly also made the preposterous claim that the Civil War resulted from a failure “to compromise” implying that there was nothing inherently wrong in enslaving blacks. Confederate monuments like General Lee have no place in contemporary America. They should be demolished and tossed into the dustbin of history. To do anything less, is to honor those who sought to dishonor the US Constitution that “ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.”

Texas Shooting

Jagjit Singh
Friday November 10, 2017 - 02:34:00 PM

Another mass shooting, prayers, flowers, sober speeches, lowering the flag . . . heaven forbid this is not the time to discuss gun control. After the Las Vegas shooting the consoler in chief, said “we are not going to talk about that today.” 

Curious of the shooters state of mind, Stanford Lab’s plans to examine the brain of the shooter to determine what could have motivated him to commit such a heinous crime. What an incredible waste of time! The shooter was convicted by the Air Force on charges of beating his wife and step-son (50% of mass shooters are guilty of domestic violence) , but they failed to enter the offense into the national database and voila Kelly was able to purchase a military style weapon.  

Perhaps, Stanford researchers could better invest their time examining the brains of lawmakers who enable such tragedies to occur on a daily basis. When will these legislators put the welfare of the public ahead of their careers? What will it take to move these people cursed with a stone heart to challenge the insidious power of the NRA? Are the rights of “sporting enthusiasts” who get their jollies chasing and killing God’s creatures (birds and animals) more important than the lives of innocent men, women and children? If Australia could initiate sensible gun control following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre that resulted in a dramatic decline in gun crimes why can’t we do the same or better?

re: Let's Move to Alamo

Dave Brower
Friday November 10, 2017 - 12:43:00 PM

Toni Mester, responding to Kevin Burke's comment on her earlier piece suggests that people in Alamo, "probably all have an opinion about Berkeley."

I live there now, liked living in Berkeley before. When I was looking to buy, we couldn't afford Berkeley and ended up in a Walnut Creek condo, then to Alamo. My opinion is that Berkeley is great, and in many ways preferable to Alamo, especially if you value culture.  

Alamo decided not to incorporate a few years back, largely to avoid trampling on "property rights", I think. Many don't like pressure to build "affordable housing" or higher density, which get influenced by zoning policy. 

The recent AB2299 has a 1200 square feet size limitation that seems to make multi-story buildings and their sunlight encroachment less likely than one might suppose. It ought to encourage more housing stock in Berkeley and Alamo, which is not a bad thing.

Trump Rejects Gun Control, Blames It on the Mentally Ill -- My Take on This

Jack Bragen
Thursday November 09, 2017 - 11:13:00 AM

Numerous friends and acquaintances whom I know are unhappy over President Trump's remarks about the Texas massacre being a mental health problem rather than a gun problem.

Only a small portion of gun violence in the U.S. can be attributed to a mental illness. Persons with mental illness, by and large, are good people with bad illnesses and are not out to do harm to anyone.

Trump is grasping at straws, and he is bullying mentally ill people, many of whom don't have a voice and cannot defend themselves against such trashing. Next, we're going to see Trump try to take away hard fought rights of psychiatric consumers.

If the shooter happened to be African American, or Jewish, or Latino, would it be fair to blame all African American people, all Jews, or all Spanish-speaking people? This is the same thing. Persons with psychiatric disabilities aren't officially recognized as a minority. However, the fact that many people in the general public vilify us, are afraid of us, hate us, and attribute all manner of evil to us, means that we should be recognized as a minority, similarly to LGBTQ people, and nonwhite people.  

Having a psychiatric problem doesn't automatically make you a "sick" person or a "depraved" person. It means you have a disease. Would you call someone depraved or sick for having colon cancer, diabetes, or heart disease?  

Psychiatric conditions are physical diseases, and there is no correlation between having a psychiatric condition and being a "bad person." We are probably the most misunderstood category of people, because these brain conditions, when not treated, can cause erratic behavior and speech, and this seems to upset people who lack knowledge of these conditions.  

Most people with mental illness want the same things for themselves as do most other people, such as a good career, a good relationship, a nice place to call home and a comfortable life. We should be allowed to pursue happiness as our Constitution promises, the same as anyone else. Yes, most people with mental illness are capable of happiness...and sadness, and pain, and joy, and all of those things that make us human.

Republicans' Benghazi

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday November 10, 2017 - 02:32:00 PM

A leading Africa analyst, Horace Campbell, shed new light on the role of U.S. Special Forces in Africa. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the U.S. and France are in fact protecting their commercial interests. The death of four U.S. Special Forces follows six years after the U.S., France and Britain invaded and destroyed Libya. 

Last year President Obama said that the attack on Libya was the biggest mistake of his presidency. In the same year the British Parliament released a damning report that admitted the invasion of Libya was based on lies. The morally challenged French developed an alliance with the terrorist group, al-Qaeda, to overthrow Gaddafi. More and more African countries are expressing anger and frustration over the presence of foreign forces. What the people of West Africa desperately need are funds for reconstruction, health clinics and housing to raise employment for their youth. It makes little sense for the United States to be spending $100 million to build a base in Agadez, in Niger, where France already has a military base. France is heavily invested in Niger which provides 75 percent of its electricity needs utilizing Niger’s huge reserves of uranium. Concerned over growing Chinese influence in the region, France orchestrated a coup d’état overthrowing Mamadou Tandja, the president of Niger. It is time for US citizens demand all US forces withdraw from Niger and surrounding African countries.


SQUEAKY WHEEL: Reprieve for Aquatic Park

Toni Mester
Friday November 10, 2017 - 06:43:00 PM
600 Addison Site
Toni Mester
600 Addison Site

Instead of holding an EIR scoping session on a proposed 475,000 square foot development on the north east corner of Aquatic Park, the Zoning Adjustments Board sent the property owner Jason Jones and his architect Joe DeCredico packing with instructions to come back with a more sufficient plan. Acting Chair Denise Pinkston called the submission “woefully inadequate” and not worthy of CEQA review.

600 Addison Street is the first time that the City has received an application under the current chapter 23B.36 of the Zoning Ordinance, the Master Use Permit, described as a building allowance somewhere between a use permit and a development agreement like Bayer. The applicable zoning is MULI, mixed-use light industrial, developed by the West Berkeley Plan that was finalized in 1993. Ms. Pinkston said that the application did not approach the level of specificity required for a use permit, and other Board members backed her up with a motion demanding building elevations and massing, pedestrian circulation plans and connectivity, topography, and the phasing of construction, which could take ten years: in other words, everything short of the architectural details of individual buildings that each would have to go through design review, which is a subcommittee of the ZAB. 

Presenting slides of two basic schemes, DeCredico said they were examples of an almost “infinite” number of possibilities for development. That didn’t sit well with the Board, who to a person showed unease at contemplating approval of such vague design potential given the size of the project. It was clear that Jones and DeCredico want to secure a “capacity entitlement” in order to attract a developer before a specific project has even been identified. The anticipated uses would be a typical R&D (research and development) split between laboratories and offices with 830 parking spaces. The ZAB action puts the owner in a bind because he admitted that developers are “skittish” at not knowing the square footage approved, while the Board members were equally skittish at approving a vague application. 

Before the Flood 

In the public hearing Charlene Woodcock, Curt Manning, and I emphasized impacts on the bird habitat, flood hazards, visual impacts and threats to park use. Board members echoed our concerns and spoke at length on these and other environmental issues. 

Patrick Sheahan said that Aquatic Park is a major stop on the Pacific avian flyway and Audubon should be a consultant. About 70 species use the park: both year round nesters and those who migrate here from both north and south. Impacts on biological resources should be anticipated as significant. Increased night lighting and human use can have a negative effect on the habitat and the egrets, herons, ducks, and shorebirds that feed at the lagoons. 

Sea level rise, anticipated to be at least three meters this century, will have an effect on the site as well as flooding within the park. Sea level rise and flooding are related. As the bay rises, high tides and storm surges push water into the pipes that drain much of the City: the Strawberry Creek culvert to the north and the Potter Creek culvert to the south. When the king tides of December and January coincide with winter storms, flooding occurs in Aquatic Park and much of West Berkeley. 

Water also drains into the park from the east-west street storm drains from Bancroft to Heinz in the West Berkeley watershed. It is impossible to predict the size and severity of future storms, but we can expect that they will increase in intensity with climate change and plan accordingly. Any buildings on the site should be placed on higher ground, which would also decrease the impacts on the bird habitat. The Aquatic Park Improvement Plan recommended a large bioswale along the shoreline. 

Although funds from Measure T1are available to repair the central tide tubes, the civil engineer who has been hired to oversee the task cannot promise that the repairs will prevent future flooding. Repairing the tide tubes is necessary to improve water circulation but may not be sufficient to ensure that the park will not flood in future storms. The hydraulic infrastructure of Aquatic Park is deteriorating, and some of the original tide tubes are derelict or occluded, reducing the tidal flow into the lagoons and the flushing of storm water. 

Without knowing the exact nature of the laboratories and their science, we can’t say what contaminants might be present on site, but the lagoons are public trust lands that are highly regulated under state and federal laws. The plans and the EIR would have to account for disposal and mitigation of any hazardous materials. Hydrology and water quality impacts may rise to the significant level in the CEQA review. 

Transportation and Cultural Resources 

The Board was concerned about the potential for 800 additional cars coming into the site across the “pinch points” of the two railroad crossings at Addison and Bancroft and their effect on the traffic patterns that are already problematic. There is growing lack of street parking in West Berkeley, and a BART shuttle has been imagined but not developed. The Board suggested reduction and even elimination of parking and the possibility of live-work units. The EIR consultant projects that traffic impacts will be significant. 

The other acknowledged negative impact would involve the remnants of the Ohlone Shellmound, which has proven to be a huge concern in the development of another nearby site, 1900 Fourth Street, which has stalled due to Native American objections. ZAB member Carrie Olsen thinks that the Shellmound might extend to Dwight Way. 

The 8.67 acre site and adjacent property to the south comprised Berkeley’s candidate in the competition for the second campus of the LBNL (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory aka “the labs”) in 2011. To aid the chances of the site being chosen, Mayor Bates tried to increase the height allowance of master use permit sites from 45 to 75 feet and put the MUP standards on the ballot in November 2012 as Measure T, which was narrowly defeated City-wide but hugely disliked in West Berkeley. Board member Sheahan said the current plans were reminiscent of the site depiction that was defeated in the election. 

Perhaps it was too early to discuss any community benefits, but a project this size usually includes some contributions to the community, and none were offered. The Bayer development agreement gained wide approval because of the many infrastructure improvements and subsidies to local non-profit and educational programs. 

The site lies at the gateway to the City, and its visual character will become a hallmark first impression of Berkeley. For this reason alone, more citizens should provide input and guidance. 600 Addison Street is on the agenda of the Design Review Committee on Thursday November 16 at 8 pm at the North Berkeley Senior Center, MLK and Hearst.  

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 






THE PUBLIC EYE: One Year Later: Ten Lessons Learned

Bob Burnett
Friday November 10, 2017 - 12:05:00 PM

On election day in 2016, Donald Trump surprised most of us by defeating Hillary Clinton (although he garnered only 46.1 percent of the popular vote). One year later, what have we learned? 

1. Trump is not a joke. There were some of us who dismissed Trump, gave him no chance to win. A terrible mistake. 

After the election, some observers hoped that Donald would "grow into" the presidency, begin acting presidential. Sadly, Trump shows no sign of doing this. He's continued the same erratic, self-centered behavior. 

As a result, Trump is "a clear and present danger" to the U.S. A recent CNN poll indicated that 71 percent of respondents believe that "politics has reached a dangerous low point." 

2. Trump's base has stuck with him. Just before the election, the Huffington Post "Poll of Polls" showed Clinton with a five point lead -- 47.3 percent to 42 percent. Last-minute voters broke mostly for Trump. A recent Center for American Progress study suggests that these were primarily white non-college-educated voters. 

Twelve months later, Trump averages 38 percent approval. 

Many of his adherents refuse to believe the negative reports on Trump's behavior; they dismiss it as "fake news." Others are focused on a particular issue and, as long as Trump supports that issue, they stand with him. Based upon the results of the recent Pew Research poll of political typology, Trump's supporters are those who share one or more of these opinions: Washington politics are fatally flawed and need to be "blown up;" Taxes are too high; Immigrants burden the U.S.; and Washington has taken away "religious liberty." 

3. Trump's base is driven by a level of desperation that most Democrats don't understand. Running up to the presidential election there was persistent polling indicating Americans were dissatisfied with the direction the country has been taking and felt the country wasn't working for them. 

Arlie Hochschild's book, "Stranger in Their Own Land," describes the viewpoint of Tea-Party / Trump voters. They feel that they have been unfairly denied their shot at the American dream. These voters don't trust government to do the right thing. They turned to Trump because they saw him as someone outside the government who could shake things up; "Make America Great Again." 

4. On election day, there was an enthusiasm gap. It was a very close election and there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost: bad campaign decisions; the Comey announcement; Russian subterfuge; Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters; disgruntled Bernie voters; among others. Nonetheless, the very few voters I know who voted for Trump tell a similar story, "I didn't like Trump but I couldn't stand Clinton." 

On election day, undecided voters broke for Trump; they saw him as the lesser of two evils. Trump's supporters felt more positively about him than Clinton supporters felt about her. In the latest Pew Research report this shows up: Trump is viewed favorably by 90 percent of his core supporters; Clinton is viewed favorably by 70 percent of her base. 

5. Obama was an effective President but a crummy leader of the Democratic Party. On the November 3rd PBS News Hour, commenting on recent revelations about the relationship between the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, Mark Shields observed, "It’s proof... of how little Barack Obama cared about the Democratic Party or about politics. He was great at getting elected... He was leaving the party $24 million in debt, therefore, vulnerable to Hillary Clinton’s coterie of big givers." 

One of the many reasons that Clinton lost was that the national Democratic Party was weak. The blame for this has to laid at the feet of the leader of Democratic Party, Barack Obama, 

6. Bernie Sanders probably has an important role going forward but it's not clear what it is. There's a lot of mainstream media attention given to divisions in the Democratic Party, primarily Bernie supporters versus Hillary supporters. I don't see this here (Berkeley). In 2018, there's so much work to do that Bernie, and his supporters, will be an asset to the resistance. 

7. Russia impacted the election but it probably wasn't the determining factor. There's little doubt that Russia intervened in the election: by hacking the DNC emails, by running malicious social media ads, and other activities. Nonetheless, I believe that, in 2016, if Obama had been running against Trump, Barack would have won. 

8. Trump has been a disaster for the environment. Trump is so terrible across the board that it's difficult to focus on particulars but here are two. Trump, by his statements and his political appointments, has set out to reverse everything the Obama Administration did to protect the environment. As one consequence, the U.S. stands alone in opposition to the Paris Climate Agreement. 

9. Trump has encouraged bigotry. Before the election, we believed that Trump was prejudiced; everything he's done as President has convinced me that he's worse than we imagined -- a white supremacist. Across the nation this has had a devastating ripple effect; Trump has encouraged hate. 

10. Democrats still don't have a message. Fortunately, in 2018, that won't matter. The November 7th results suggest that the midterm election will be about change, throwing Republican white guys out of house. Trump has given the resistance enough ammunition that it doesn't need one focused message. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Texas Church Shooter, Domestic Violence and Guns

Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 10, 2017 - 12:30:00 PM

Devin Patrick Kelley, the Texas church shooter, while in the Air Force was convicted at General Court Martial in 2012 on two charges of assault. He was convicted of fracturing his baby stepson's skull and assaulting his first wife. Because of the conviction, Kelley shouldn't have been able to legally own a gun. 

The assault case disqualified Kelley from gun ownership on two separate grounds under federal law. The first was pleading guilty to a crime with a maximum punishment of more than a year’s confinement; the assault on the stepson would have had a maximum sentence of five years. The second ground was pursuant to the Lautenberg Amendment. 

The Air Force acknowledged that Kelley’s domestic violence offense, clearly one that should have made him ineligible for a firearm, had not been entered into the National Criminal Information Center database. 

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban (often called "the Lautenberg Amendment" after its sponsor, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)) bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence. The law bans shipment, transport, ownership, and use of guns or ammunition by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, or who are under a restraining (protection) order for domestic abuse. 

Unfortunately, an online repository of active records maintained by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services shows that the Department of Defense had reported just one case of domestic violence as of Dec. 31, 2016.  

Nationwide, 27 states have passed laws curtailing access to guns by people convicted of domestic violence offenses or subject to protective orders. Unfortunately, of those, only 17 states have laws in place requiring them to relinquish their guns.  

In the U.S., anyone looking to purchase a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer must submit to a background check administered by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Since 1998, the NICS has facilitated over 245 million background checks. Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) are required to administer a background check before they sell a gun. Since 1998, more than 730,000 people have been denied by the NICS for their criminal history. 

However, FFLs are not the only way to purchase a weapon. Private sellers can also sell firearms, which are include online sales, gun shows, and person-to-person purchases. Today, it is unclear how many guns are purchased through these alternate vendors, but estimates may be as high as 40%.  

It is unclear where Kelley purchased the firearms used in the church shooting, but if he had purchased them from a seller not required to check the NICS database, then the Air Force's failure to enter Kelley's conviction into the system would not have prevented the purchase firearms used in the church shooting.  

Why, with these offenses, was Kelley, or anyone else barred from owning a firearm. able to buy one? Because the database is only as good as what goes into it. There is a loophole if the data is not in the system. Obviously, further legislation is needed to close these loopholes. However, I suspect any effort to close the loopholes will face NRA opposition. 


For an excellent discussion of gun violence in America, I highly recommend The Terror of Our Guns by David Cole.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Avoiding the Revolving Door

Jack Bragen
Thursday November 09, 2017 - 11:15:00 AM

Schizophrenia is a pernicious illness and should be treated aggressively. It is important to note that being "compliant" with treatment doesn't make a consumer immune to a relapse. I am currently dealing with a lot of depression, despite being completely medication compliant, and I am dealing with some psychosis. No one can be blamed for this. Depression, mania, hypomania, or a relapse of psychosis, can happen to any of us in spite of our best efforts.  

"The revolving door of the mental health system," is an expression for a commonly occurring scenario, of hospitalizations, releases, and relapses, only to be hospitalized again, and this happening on a repeated basis. Of course, it is to be avoided. And to successfully avoid this, a solid commitment to treatment is needed. My father once said that mental illness "does not go away by thinking it away." He also once said, "Judgment is the first thing to go."  

If we've gone a few years without a relapse, this success could be emboldening, sometimes leading to an attempt at stopping treatment. It might seem to us that we're fine, and that we are unnecessarily medicated.  

The memory could have faded of how awful, dangerous, and horrible it was to have a relapse. We may have forgotten how long it took to get back to a semblance of being able to function in society.  

The more repeat episodes we go through, the worse off we may end up in general. Repeated episodes of severe mental illness affect our life circumstances and liberty, they affect our brain condition, and they are a major setback.  

When a mental health consumer is doing better and has improved over time, that consumer, or even their treatment practitioner, might be tempted to put the consumer on less medication. This is sometimes a dire mistake. A psychiatrist once said, "Don't mess with success." If you are doing well, something was done right. 

Once the consumer is on less medication, symptoms could come back, and judgment could become impaired. As soon as judgment goes, the consumer is subject to losing the necessary insight that he or she has a mental illness and must remain in treatment. That is how it happens.  

How does a person avoid being bitten repeatedly by the same dog? In my case, I owe a lot of the credit to my wife, who said that if I stopped medication she would move out. 

However, when I had my most recent repeat episode of psychosis, which was in 1996, I realized that I had to stop this from happening again. I realized that my parents were getting too old to deal with me as a psychotic person. I realized I was getting old enough that the stresses of another episode might kill me. I realized that, up until that point, I had been very lucky to get through these relapses physically intact and uninjured, as well as not incarcerated. I realized that recovery was taking a longer amount of time with each successive episode, even though the episodes were about five or six years apart.  

Again, please note that a flare-up can occur despite our best efforts. It is important that we not get too self-critical--blaming ourselves if there is a relapse. Family, doctors, and ourselves, should not be judgmental if there is a relapse. 

Sometimes when things are beginning to worsen, we can halt the progression of a relapse before it gets to the point of requiring hospitalization.  

Yet, if we need hospitalization, we should go ahead and go in, since the alternative is that of being in society while psychotic, manic, or extremely depressed. If we need hospitalization and are not admitted, this could entail behavior that could cause injury or incarceration. And getting worse while delaying treatment could have bad long-term effects on the brain.

Arts & Events

See Opera Live in Berkeley This Sunday Afternoon and the Following Saturday Night

Thursday November 09, 2017 - 03:39:00 PM
Rodolpho (Salvatore Atti) meets Luisa Miller (Eliza O'Malley)
Ellen St. Thomas
Rodolpho (Salvatore Atti) meets Luisa Miller (Eliza O'Malley)

There’s probably no place in the United States except New York City that offers more live opera performances of all kinds than the Bay Area. The commendable broadcast presentations of the Metropolitan Opera in movie theaters have increased public awareness of opera, and now fans who are ready for the next step in the opera experience have ample opportunity to see this art form up close and personal, in small houses for reasonable prices.

The list of local companies is long and getting longer: Island City, West Bay, Verismo, West Edge and Bay Shore Lyric are just a few.

Now Berkeley Chamber Opera, a relative newcomer (third season) on the scene, is gearing up for its second production this year, following its very successful production of Menotti’s The Consul in August.

Verdi’s Luisa Miller will be performed in Berkeley’s intimate Hillside Club on Sunday afternoon, November 12, and Saturday night, November 18.

The title role will be sung by Eliza O’Malley, a company founder who is a veteran of many Bay Area productions and a fervent advocate of what she calls “locally sourced opera”.

Locally-sourced food has been all the rage for a while now, but locally-sourced opera?

Berkeley Chamber Opera hopes to provide just that—productions which showcase the work of the Bay Area’s wealth of resident professional talent in accessible settings, at a price which is affordable for a wide range of opera fans. 

Many who have been introduced to opera through the popular Metropolitan Opera films haven’t yet experienced the unique excitement of live performance. 

Berkeley Chamber Opera intends to change that. 

BCO is dedicated to presenting local professional opera singers in staged productions with a chamber orchestra in intimate venues in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Eliza O’Malley, who grew up in Berkeley, created BCO as an outgrowth of her work singing leading roles with such local opera companies as Verismo Opera, Handel Opera Project and Goat Hall Productions and producing concerts with the Dazzling Divas

The conductor will be a distinguished pioneer of the Bay Area opera scene, Jonathan Khuner, a longtime Berkeley resident who is now Music Director for West Edge Opera, the company which morphed from the original Berkeley Opera, which performed for years under his baton in Berkeley’s Julia Morgan Theater. He appears frequently with many Bay Area companies—he conducted Berkeley Chamber Opera’s Capuleti e Montecchi last season. This past summer at West Edge he led Thomas’ Hamlet and Frankenstein by Libby Larsen; next summer he will conduct their production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. This coming March he will lead Island City Opera in La Sonnambula.  

In addition to his participation in local opera, for decades Khuner has served as assistant conductor for San Francisco Opera, NY Metropolitan Opera, and Chicago Lyric Opera. Occasionally he works abroad, most recently conducting Arjuna’s Dilemma in Kathmandu (2016). 

Director Ellen St. Thomas has performed in concerts and shows across the Bay Area as a lyric soprano. She also cofounded two opera companies: Open Opera, dedicated to free operas in Bay Area parks, and Island City Opera in Alameda. 

Two of the male leads are recent transplants from the East Coast. Salvatore Atti, tenor, came to northern California from Boston, where the Boston Globe wrote that; “As Faust, Salvatore Atti was radiant in his cavatina “Salut! Demeure chaste et pure”. He performed the role of Alfredo in La Traviata in Busseto Italy (Verdi’s hometown) during Verdi’s bicentennial celebration. 

Baritone Geoffrey Di Giorgio most recently lived near Philadelphia, but this past summer he moved west to participate in the Dolora Zajick Institute. He has performed in many cities in the United States and Europe, and won numerous contests including the Metropolitan Opera Auditions. 

Maestro Khuner says this about the upcoming BCO show: 

Luisa Miller is a fairly early opera of Verdi (1849), but, like his next major work, Rigoletto, is already masterful, and even more impassioned. Based on a fiery early 19th century play by Friedrich Schiller, the opera's scenario highlights a tender love affair trying to bloom amid vicious class hatred and unbridgeable generation gaps. The explosive dialectics of the German author have been remolded into a rich vehicle for warm Italian operatic romanticism, with high-tension arias and ensembles, climaxing in a powerfully tragic conclusion.” 


Luisa Miller, by Giuseppe Verdi  

Opera in Italian with English supertitles, with chamber orchestra 

Sunday Nov 12th, 2pm, Saturday November 18th, 7pm 

Berkeley Hillside Club
2286 Cedar St. (at Arch), Berkeley

Tickets: $35 general, $20 Students/Seniors, Children under 12 free 

Buy online from Brown Paper Tickets, by phone, 1-800-838-3006.

Valery Gergiev Leads Mariinsky Orchestra in All-Russian Concert

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 10, 2017 - 02:51:00 PM

The Mariinsky Orchestra, formerly the Kirov, presented two concerts under the auspices of Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, Saturday-Sunday, November 4-5, with their General Director Valery Gergiev conducting. I attended Saturday evening’s concert featuring an all-Russian program. Leading off was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70. This symphony, written in 1945 as World War II was coming to an end, was hardly the epic victory celebration the Soviet Union’s musical watchdogs wanted. Instead, it was a cheerful, effervescent symphony that stands out as one of Shostakovich’s most accessible works. Initially nominated for a Stalin Prize, Shostakovich’s 9th Symphony was later banned from performance for a few years, thereby mirroring the on-again off-again treatment Shostakovich received over and over throughout his career from Stalinist-era bureaucrats. 

In five movements, the 9th Symphony begins with wry humor then takes on a more reflective mood in the second movement, which features a pensive clarinet motif over a pizzicato accompaniment in the strings. The third movement, marked Presto, offers an ironically dizzying scherzo. Next comes the heavily bass-inflected fourth movement, which also features a plaintive solo for bassoon, beautifully played by principal bassoonist Rodion Tolmachev. The symphony concludes with a playful Allegretto with a hint of irony underlying the good humor. Conductor Gergiev led the Mariinsky Orchestra in a taut, energetic reading of Shostakovich’s 9th Symphony. 

Next on the program was Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16, with Russian pianist Denis Matsuev as soloist. This was my first opportunity to hear Denis Matsuev, and he made quite an impression. Standing well over six feet tall, Matsuev is a broad-shouldered individual who towered over Valery Gergiev. Matsuev’s keyboard manner exudes power, and Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto offered Matsuev plenty of opportunities to show off his power. He was particularly impressive in the extended piano solo of the first movement. The second movement offered a brief, dizzying scherzo, and the third movement featured a loping rhythm throughout, making it sound as if pianist and orchestra were striding along side-by-side. The Finale offered shifting dynamics and a variety of moods, with wry humor predominating in the end. In response to the audience’s hearty applause, Denis Matsuev showed off a more delicate side in one of Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Preludes. 

After intermission, Gergiev returned to lead the Mariinsky Orchestra in the Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 43, “The Divine Poem,” by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. Having begun his career by composing many short pieces for piano, Scriabin later turned to writing symphonic poems. Influenced largely by Chopin in his piano works, Scriabin wholeheartedly turned to Wagner for inspiration in composing his orchestral works. Scriabin even fell for Wagner’s mystical wallowings, and after reading Nietzsche and dabbling in Theosophy, Scriabin began to view himself as the new Messiah, ready “to sound the final chord of our race, reuniting it with the Spirit.” He planned to introduce his musico-philosophical “Mystery” to the world by giving a concert in a globular temple by a lake in India, a plan that never saw fruit. Traces of Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Superman can be found in Scriabin’s 3rd Symphony, especially in the first movement’s struggles (marked in French as Luttes) as the individual strives to free himself from submission to a god and become a free man-god or Superman. In the second section, marked Voluptés in French, Scriabin tried to depict pantheistic man losing his identity in the pleasures of nature; and in the final section, marked Jeu divin in French (Divine Play), Scriabin sought to express the enlightened individual at one with the Universe and enjoying the free play of creativity. 

Musically, Scriabin’s symphonic poems are puzzlingly amorphous. In the 3rd Symphony, music repeatedly swells up, then subsides, then swells up again, only to subside once more, then go though the whole pattern again and again. One is reminded of Bruckner’s symphonies, except for the fact that Bruckner had a very solid and unique notion of orchestral architectonics, something utterly lacking in Scrianbin’s symphonies. Scriabin offers waves of sound and a vague sense of yearning, and that’s all he offers. The mystical underpinnings are puerile. Valery Gergiev led the Mariinsky Orchestra in a keenly sympathetic reading of Scriabin’s divagations, but to my mind this work went nowhere. 

Solid Singing in a Dreadful Staging of Massenet’s MANON

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 10, 2017 - 12:47:00 PM

After the brief orchestral prelude to Manon, the curtain rises on what is supposed to be the courtyard of an inn in Amiens, France. At this year’s San Francisco Opera production of Manon, all we saw was a bare stage and silhouettes of chairs lined up against a bare wall. So, we thought, this will be an abstract production. However, we soon found out that it was merely a bad, indeed, a very bad production. Its foibles were too numerous to recount, but one bit of absurdly miscalculated stage direction must be mentioned. It occurred in the opening minutes of Manon. Once Lescaut, sung by baritone David Pershall, has greeted his young cousin, Manon, sung by Ellie Dehn, and Manon has sung her delightfully breathless aria about making her first trip away from home, “Je suis encore tout étourdie,” (“I’m all in a tizzy”), Lescaut leaves Manon alone briefly while he deals with her luggage. An old roué, Guillot de Morfontaine, makes a pass at Manon and insinuates that his coach is at her disposal for an assignation. Lescaut reappears and puts Guillot to flight, warning his cousin to be on guard. Then off he goes once again. Alone, Manon daydreams about a life of pleasure. Then she pulls herself together with the aria, “Voyons, Manon, plus de chimères.” (“No more daydreaming, Manon.” She accepts, albeit with some remorse, that she must enter a convent. 

As Manon, Ellie Dehn exits stage right, leaving the stage bare. Enter from stage left young Chevalier des Grieux, sung by tenor Michael Fabiano. To a bare stage, des Grieux begins singing “I’m drawn to her by an irresistible attraction.” Are we supposed to infer that he has seen Manon from afar before coming onstage? In every other Manon I’ve attended, des Grieux enters, spots Manon sitting at one of the inn’s courtyard tables, and , dazzled by her beauty, can’t take his eyes off her. Here, however, in this ridiculous staging by Vincent Boussard, des Grieux never sets eyes on Manon, in our presence, at least, but already sings of being drawn to her. When he introduces himself to Manon, it is love at first sight for both of them. It’s what the French call le coup de foudre. Instead of resigning herself to the convent, Manon suggests that they commandeer Guillot’s coach and flee together. In the ensuing duet, “Nous vivrons à Paris, tous les deux,” the voices of Michael Fabiano and Ellie Dehn blended beautifully. So off go the young lovers. Manon even frivolously leaves a suitcase behind, which mysteriously pops open and a balloon rises from it as Act I ends on an absolutely silly note. 

Look. The music of Manon is too beautiful, too steeped in the Gallic tenderness for young love, to be spoiled by obdurately abstract and gimmicky staging. Thus, in spite of this production’s dreadful stage direction, Massenet’s Manon retains much of its magic. That it does so is largely due to the inspired singing of Michael Fabiano as des Grieux. Though Fabiano has impressed us before as Rodolfo in La Bohème, Rodolfo in Luisa Miller, and the title role in Don Carlo, his role debut as des Grieux was marked by a youthful timbre that fitted perfectly with the character of the ardent young lover. Fabiano’s high notes, sung pianissimo, were a revelation, beautifully redolent of the tenderness his character feels for Manon. 

In the role of Manon, soprano Ellie Dehn, who was also making a role debut, was solid, though hardly spectacular. Her voice is perhaps not bright and youthful enough to be perfect for this role, but her singing is technically sound. Still, one couldn’t help regretting the absence of Nadine Sierra, who was originally scheduled to sing the role of Manon. Having heard Nadine Sierra’s incandescent rendition of Manon’s “”N’est-ce plus ma main, n’est-ce plus ma voix?” which she memorably sang with Michael Fabiano in the David Gockley Farewell Concert last year, I had high hopes for a brilliant role debut for Nadine Sierra as Manon. For some reason, however, perhaps the sheer length of this demanding role, Sierra decided that Manon was not right for her at this stage of her young career, and she regretfully withdrew. It is to the credit of Ellie Dehn that she willingly took on the challenge of filling in for a Nadine Sierra who had so recently made such a huge impression in performing a major aria from Massenet’s Manon for local audiences.  

Act II takes place in the small apartment shared by Manon and des Grieux in Paris. Here too the staging and set design were disappointing. Having recently seen a Los Angeles Opera production of Manon with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in which the set for Act II was dominated by a huge bed where a scantily clad Manon and des Grieux engaged one another in titillating foreplay (or was it post-coital play?), this San Francisco Opera production was lame by comparison. Nor did it have the touching realism and local color of the old 1971 San Francisco Opera production that featured the incomparable team of Beverly Sills as Manon and Nicolai Gedda as des Grieux.  

Instead, we had more bland abstraction. Thus, what should be the highlight of Act II, Manon’s soliloquoy addressed to their modest dinner table, “Adieu, notre petite table,” somehow lacked the poignancy of this moment. Realizing how much she loves des Grieux and how much she will miss their domestic bliss, Manon also realizes that she will inevitably lose des Grieux to a planned abduction of her lover by his angry father, planned for that very night she is told by De Bretigny, sung by baritone Timothy Mix, who insidiously promises to lavish Manon with every luxury to make her the equal of an empress. Torn between love and a realistic appraisal of her chances, either with des Grieux or with De Bretigny, Manon hesitates. And all is lost. As des Grieux is abducted, Manon can only cry out with the heart-felt exclamation of “Mon pauvre Chevalier!” 

In Act III, Comte des Grieux, the Chevalier’s father, sung impressively by bass James Creswell, announces that his son has overcome his disillusionment at the loss of Manon and is about to take holy orders at Saint Sulpice. Manon overhears this news and wonders if her ex-lover has indeed forgotten her. She decides to find out for herself by going to Saint Sulpice and confronting des Grieux. At first, des Grieux is adamant that their affair is over. However, when Manon sings the utterly enchanting aria “N’est ce plus ma main?,” des Grieux turns to putty, and he ends up embracing Manon and passionately renewing their love affair. This key moment was staged by director Vincent Boussard in a rather hokey manner, with Manon lying flat on the floor of the church and reaching upwards to her resistant ex-lover.  

Act IV is set in a Paris town house where gambling is the main attraction. Manon and des Grieux arrive and she urges him to place his bets. He resists at first, then gives way. He wins repeatedly. But Guillot, who is still hounding Manon, accuses des Grieux of winning by cheating. Guillot calls the police, who arrest both des Grieux and Manon. The Comte des Grieux manages to have his son quickly released, but Manon is not so fortunate. She is incarcerated as a “loose woman” and faces deportation to Louisiana, still a French colony in the 1720s when Massenet’s Manon is set. The prison guards abuse their women prisoners, who fight back – a touch that has contemporary overtones in today’s world of police abuse and widespread male sexual abuse of women.  

Meanwhile, Lescaut and des Grieux manage to bribe the guards for some time alone with Manon, who is now gravely ill. The lovers recall past moments of happiness, and Manon asks des Grieux for forgiveness for her inconstancies. With musical passages returning from their earlier happy life together, Manon dies in the arms of her lover, as Massenet’s Manon comes to a poignant end. In this opera based on the popular18th century novel Manon Lescaut by L’Abbé Prévost, Massenet has drawn a musical portrait of an eminently fascinating Manon, a young woman endowed with a naïve joie de vivre who allows herself to be corrupted not out of venality but merely out of an innate ability for survival. Yet Massenet’s Manon never loses her capacity for heartfelt devotion to love, and this is her salvation, even as she goes to her death. In a production marred by dreadful staging, conductor Patrick Fournillier, a Massenet specialist, did yeoman duty keeping Massenet’s brilliantly Romantic music on track throughout. Hats off to Fournillier; and I hope we never have to see staging by Vincent Boussard and sets by Vincent Lemaire ever again.