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New: THE PUBLIC EYE: The Rape of the United States of America

Bob Burnett
Friday December 08, 2017 - 06:19:00 PM

2017 political news contained two preeminent images: Donald Trump and sexual assault. Trump's objective has been to be dominate the news each day. Nonetheless, beginning with revelations about the sexual behavior of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Trump tidings were pushed aside by reports of celebrity sexual misconduct. (Time Magazine recognized this by naming "the silence breakers" their persons of the year.) The two images are connected. Trump has been accused of sexual assault. And the Republican Party is engaged in systematic rape of American workers. 

A little over a year ago, Donald Trump's presidential campaign was momentarily derailed by the release of a salacious recording where Trump bragged about assaulting women: "When you're a star, they let you do it, you can do anything... grab them by the pussy." Amazingly, Trump survived this. His most ardent supporters came to regard the recording as "fake news." Mainstream Republicans adopted the attitude, "Whatever Trump may have done in the past, he's preferable to Hillary Clinton." 

During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party and, in the process, "normalized" sexual assault, for the Party faithful. We see this in GOP support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Multiple women have come forward with tales of Moore's sexual misbehavior -- one of the women was 14 when Moore assaulted her. The mainstream Republican response is, "Whatever Moore may have done in the past, he's preferable to the Democratic candidate." 

Republicans have adopted the dubious ethical maxim: "the end justifies the means." And they have gone farther; they've adopted the tactics used to denigrate sexual assault victims. We can see this in the Republican tax plan that passed the Senate in the early hours of Saturday, December 2nd. 

The first of the Republican tactics is the lie. Trump claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying. Alabama Senate candidate Moore also claims that the women who accuse him of sexual assault are lying. Similarly, when confronted about problems with their tax bill, Republicans respond with lies; for example, the tax cuts will benefit America's working families -- when actually the GOP tax plan will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthiest one percent. Republicans have also lied about the impact of the tax bill on the economy; they claim it will cause the economy to grow because of the "trickle-down" effect -- when actually there is little evidence that the GOP tax plan will have long-term positive impacts on the economy (to the contrary, there is a lot of evidence that increasing economic inequality will have long-term negative consequences). 

The second of the Republican tactics is to demean the victim. Trump and Moore have suggested that their accusers came forward because they wanted publicity. Congressional Republicans have argued that the rich deserve tax breaks because they've worked hard to make their money and, in contrast, the poor do not deserve tax breaks (or social services) because they have not worked hard (this conforms to the long-time Republican contention that the poor are shiftless). 

It's only a small step from the Trump and Moore statements to the classic rapist contention: "she asked for it." In court, rapists often attempt to discredit their victims by claiming the woman "asked for it," suggesting that the assault victim was a person of loose morals or "incited" the rapist by dressing in a provocative way. Similarly, Republicans in Congress are suggesting that working-class voters "asked for it" because they have not amassed enough funds to be able to pay for social services. 

A recent study of 41 convicted rapists found they had three dominant justifications for their behavior: 79 percent opined, "it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you." 51 percent described women as sex objects, "whose function is to be sexually available to men." And 44 percent "expressed feelings of entitlement, assuming that as a man they could take what they wanted from the woman." 

Sadly, these horrific sentiments are similar to those expressed by Donald Trump and other senior Republicans. Trump infamously never apologizes, stating that when he perceives he is under attack, he responds in kind. This is an expression of Trump's governing philosophy, "it is a dangerous world and you have to treat others as they would treat you." 

Furthermore, Trump historically has treated women as sex objects. And it's hard to imagine any American who expresses a stronger feeling of entitlement than does Trump. This is shown by his remark: "When you're a star, they let you do it, you can do anything... grab them by the pussy." 

With regards to their tax plan, the Republican leadership has expressed similar feelings of entitlement. Witness the statements of Trump, Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Ross, and Chief Economic Adviser Cohn. They've all made comments to the effect, "When you're rich, you can do anything..." 

During 2017, Donald Trump put his imprint on the Republican Party. In the process, he "normalized" sexual assault and encouraged congressional Republicans to rape America's working families. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Comment on Trump recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday December 07, 2017 - 11:31:00 AM

On December 6, 2017, President Trump, as expected, recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, fulfilling a campaign promise. However, the decision is really not the radical policy departure that critics claim. 

The process began in 1995, with the passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which required the U.S. to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by a set deadline, but permitted the move to be put off for six months at a time as long as the President “determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”  

The Palestinians want Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and want this decision to be determined in peace negotiations.  

In 2017, the potential consequences of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital remain the same: the risk of sparking protests in the Arab world and jeopardizing the standing of the U.S. as a mediator in any future peace talks. Already Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers on December 7 in Jerusalem, Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Last August, White House senior adviser, and President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner led a U.S. delegation on a Middle East tour that included Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. Alongside Kushner, the delegation also included envoy of international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, and national security adviser, Dina Powell to discuss the next steps to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. 

Many have concluded that such efforts were doomed to failure because the Trump administration does not have a clear vision for that peace and Trump lacks even the most basic understanding of what he really wants to achieve. In addition, it is unclear how he would sustain efforts to achieve a peace deal with so much instability in his own office. In order for Trump to succeed, he would have to make it clear that he is committed to the two-state solution and he needs to reject Israel's settlement expansions in the West Bank. 

And to further cloud the issue, Kushner, the leader in the administration’s efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, is a likely target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. 

While Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli's capital will not enhance the chances of restarting the peace process, it would seem that peace negotiations were already a non-starter. It is very likely that Trump will not "get it done."

Flash: Man Shot by Backpack Thief on Vine Street in Berkeley

Wednesday December 06, 2017 - 03:42:00 PM

A 32-year-old man was shot in the leg by two suspects after getting out of his car in Berkeley on Tuesday night, according to police. 

Officers found the victim in the 1900 block of Vine Street just after the shooting was reported at 9:32 p.m. 

Investigators determined that one of the suspects tried to steal the victim's backpack, but he resisted and they shot him. They dragged him to the sidewalk but he wouldn't let go, so they fired twice more and he ultimately gave up the bag. 

The victim was transported to a hospital where he was treated and later released. 

The suspects were described as two black men. One had a large build with a dark hooded sweatshirt and was between the ages of 20 and 30. The other had a thin build and a black hooded sweatshirt. 

Anyone with additional information about the shooting is asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5741.

New: Going To The Atrocious New Strip Mall In Concord

Jack Bragen
Wednesday December 06, 2017 - 10:48:00 AM

In the past ten years, I have witnessed the disappearance of benches in public places. I have also seen the disappearance of bookstores. Of course, payphones are long gone, and a young person might not recognize one if they saw one. 

In Concord, California, a town that probably never had a reputation for being tasteful, there is now something even worse. It is a monstrosity of a strip mall. Parts are still being constructed, and parts are open and doing business. 

I had occasion to go there because Cost Plus has moved into there, and I wanted to do some Hanukah shopping with my wife. The newer version of Cost Plus had disturbing, very bad music blaring. The employees may have been temp workers--I didn't recognize any of them. 

I had to get out of there because I couldn't handle that environment. I told my wife that I was going to go sit in the car. I got in the passenger seat of the car, (because at the time, my wife was the designated driver) and I began to smoke a cigarette. (I admit it; I'm dumb enough to smoke. When I was twenty-five, I put one in my mouth, assuming I would be able to quit.) 

Then I noticed that a security vehicle was present. The damn thing kept circling, and I wondered if they had their crosshairs of surveillance and harassment on me. I decided I was going to remain in the car, and not tempt security by trying to stand outside or walk around or anything. 

The vehicles that bordered me in the parking lot were either monstrous new trucks, Audi sedans, or other new and expensive cars that made me look poor in my nine-year-old, immaculate Camry. (Actually, I am poor and could not pay for my car myself.) 

People's headlights were so bright. People seemed oblivious to the stress of the situation that seemed to me to be intrinsic. I was becoming agitated. The security vehicle kept circling. The Cost Plus was supposed to close at nine, and people were leaving. My wife and her dog finally emerged from the store. 

The architecture of the new strip mall makes the buildings look very big, very modern, and to me, are clones of all of the other new buildings that are popping up everywhere, that are devoid of character, that bespeak forbiddance of mind and the total absence of imagination. And, of course, not a single bench was anywhere to be seen, and there was no bookstore. Of course; they don't exist anymore. 

The pricing and products at the Cost Plus were good, as they had been in the previous location. The Hanukah gifts, really a gesture, could be afforded on my and my wife's budget. (For the past several years, the theme is food.) However, I left with the insecure feeling that I am decreasingly adapted to the world--and wondering: is this really where we are headed? 

Jack Bragen's newest book is titled, "Understanding People with Schizophrenia," and is available on Amazon.

New: Is The Employment Disability Law Working?

Harry Brill
Wednesday December 06, 2017 - 10:44:00 AM

Among the serious problems that disabled workers encounter is that during difficult economic times they are among the first to lose their jobs. Their unemployment rate is currently in the double digits. As a result, the record shows, there has been a substantial increase in applications for social security disability benefits to replace their lost jobs.

Now it looks like the reverse is also down the road. President Trump's budget proposes a $65 billion dollar cut in the disability program. Undoubtedly, these cuts, which would limit the number of recipients, will appreciably increase the competition for scarce jobs among the disabled. Currently, only 41 percent of the disabled from ages 21-66 are employed compared to 79 percent of the non-disabled. And disabled persons who are fortunate enough to find work average about $9,000 less annually than other workers.

A major hurdle disabled people confront is that they are victimized by employment related discrimination. To address this problem Congress in 1990 passed the Americans for Disability Act, which was signed by President George H. Bush. The enforcement of this law has been a real challenge.  

It is widely assumed that the marginal labor force status of the disabled is due to the constraints that their impairments cause. However, the main problem that they confront is how their difficulties are interpreted by others, particularly by employers. The most appropriate words for understanding the misinterpretations are the twin problems of "business self- interest" and "prejudice". Business tends to assume that a disability is almost always a handicap to performing a job adequately and that therefore if a disabled employee is hired a lower wage is appropriate. 

But even such a serious disability as being paralyzed from the waist down does not necessarily rule out the ability to do a good job. Consider FDR's disability. During his entire presidency, and even before, he was paralyzed from the waist down. For those with a severe mobility problem, one important option that could benefit employers as well as disabled employees include the opportunity to work at home. Already, 24 percent of employed people do at least some or all their work remotely. Customer service positions and many technical and computer related jobs are among the paid tasks that can be done at home. Clearly, almost all disabled persons could hold a job and perform adequately if employers provide the opportunities. 

However, rather than assuring that the ADA is enforced, the majority on the Supreme Court has been a major barrier. Reflecting its pro-business perspective, the court ignored the intent of Congress. The Supreme Court on four occasions defined disability so narrowly that it virtually vitiated the law. As a result, according to the American Bar Association, employers won over 90 percent of the lawsuits. In one year, the Association reported, employers prevailed in 94.5 of the several hundred cases heard. 

As a distinguished law professor observed, the law served as a windfall for employers. The abominable results were widely publicized in the media which galvanized considerable protest. The political pressure encouraged Congress to add amendments to the law that would define disability broadly. 

But first, the additional amendments to the ADA, which although a significant improvement, also contains a serious shortcoming. Although business is required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, they are not compelled to do so if the employer believes it poses a serious inconvenience or expense to the business. But how much is a high expense? Since business interests were among those who crafted the revisions, it is not surprising that the final product is less than perfect. 

Also, it took a long while for the new legislation to take effect. The revised law, Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), was signed by President Bush in September 2008. But the EEOC regulations to guide the implementation of the legislation were not approved until March 2011. This postponed the implementation of the law for 2 1/2 years. It also has taken the courts longer than usual to handle the post-amendment cases. 

But despite the delays, the changes and additions to the law have had a major positive impact. In the district court cases decided by the judges, the decisions favoring employers dropped from 74.4 percent to 45.9 percent. For the first time employers have been losing over half the cases. Congress had approved the revisions almost unanimously. The impact of the new amendments combined with strong bipartisan support has resulted in improving the odds for the disabled appreciably. 

However, we shouldn't be trapped by a culture of low expectations. That business prevailed in 45.9 percent of the cases is still too high. As the record shows, the Democrats are more likely than the Republicans to rule in favor of disabled Plaintiffs. But President Trump has been nominating to the federal judiciary more reactionary Republican judges. On the other hand, since there are now over 850 federal judges appointed for life, Trump will only be able to replace a limited number. Also, for Trump to triumph by nominating reactionaries to the federal courts requires a majority vote of the Senate. Since the Trump administration is making so many unpopular decisions, the chance of the Republicans losing their majority status in the Senate is good. 

But to reduce the Republicans in Congress to a minority status will not happen by itself. Much depends on the active involvement of many citizens who care about making a serious difference. Are you among them? If so the opportunity to achieve major gains is considerable, which include increasing the job opportunities for those unjustifiably considered physically or mentally incapable of doing a good job. It is also essential to assure that these workers are not stereotyped to justify lower and unequal compensation.

New: An Interview with Lianna Haroutounian

James Roy MacBean
Wednesday December 06, 2017 - 10:41:00 AM

Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian, who made such a hit at San Francisco opera in singing the title roles in Tosca (2014) and Madama Butterfly (2016), gave her first USA recital at Herbst Theatre on Sunday, November 25. I reviewed this wonderful recital in the November 26 issue of Berkeley Daily Plane, where I lauded Ms. Haroutounian for her voluptuous low notes and scintillating high notes, delivered very naturally without a register break between chest tones and head tones. Following this recital I had a chance to strike up a dialogue with Lianna Haroutounian about possible new directions in her career. 

James MacBean:  

I was impressed in your recital at Herbst Theatre on November 25 by your performance of the songs of Vincenzo Bellini. You sang three Bellini songs --“Vaga luna,” “Malincolia, ninfa gentile,” and “Dopo l’oscura nembo.” They were very beautiful, either sweet and soft, as in “Vaga luna,” or melancholic and dramatic. You seem to have the vocal technique to handle Bellini’s extremely long melodic lines. Do you envision singing in the near future some of Bellini’s operatic roles for soprano? 

Lianna Haroutounian: 

The Bellini songs I performed at this recital were all new pieces for me, as were 90% of the pieces I sang here. I had never sung them before publically. But I love them dearly, and I plan to sing more Bellini songs in future recitals. Bellini’s opera roles are definitely challenging, as they require great breath control in long melodic lines. I have no invitations yet to sing a Bellini role; but I’m already preparing the role of Norma, and with great pleasure. If I have the opportunity, I will be very happy to sing Norma. I know it’s challenging, especially in length. Preparing for these Bellini roles requires great breath control over his long melodic lines, yet one must sing evenly over the entire length of the melodic line and endow them with all the melancholy they convey. It would be a dream for me to sing the role of Norma. 

James MacBean: 

What other roles are you hoping to sing? 

Lianna Haroutounian: 

I’m currently preparing the title-role in Aida for Teatro Real in Madrid. This will be a debut-role for me. In future I’d love to sing the title-role in Verdi’s Luisa Miller. Later in my career I’d love to sing the role of Lady MacBeth. It’s a very complex and interesting role, also very challenging. As for the near future, I’ll sing Nedda in Pagliacci in San Francisco, and I’ll sing Maddalena in André Chénier as well as Manon in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.  

James MacBean: 

What about Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin? 

Lianna Haroutounian: 

Eugene Onegin is my favorite Tchaikovsky opera, and I’d love to sing Tatyana in this opera.  


New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Rolling Snake Eyes in the Indo-Pacific

Conn Hallinan.
Sunday December 03, 2017 - 10:37:00 AM

With the world focused on the scary possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula, not many people paid a whole lot of attention to a series of naval exercises this past July in the Malacca Strait, a 550-mile long passage between Sumatra and Malaysia through which pass over 50,000 ships a year. With President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanging threats and insults, why would the media bother with something innocuously labeled “Malabar 17”?

They should have.

Malabar 17 brought together the U.S., Japanese, and Indian navies to practice shutting down a waterway through which 80 percent of China’s energy supplies travel and to war game closing off the Indian Ocean to Chinese submarines. If Korea keeps you up at night, try imagining the outcome of choking off fuel for the world’s second largest economy. 

While Korea certainly represents the most acute crisis in Asia, the diplomatic maneuvers behind Malabar 17 may be more dangerous in the long run. The exercise elevates the possibility of a confrontation between China, the U.S. and India, but also between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed countries that have fought three wars in the past 70 years. 

This tale begins more than a decade and a half ago, when then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith—one of the most hawkish members of the George W. Bush administration—convened a meeting in May 2002 of the US-India Defense Policy Group and the government of India. 

As one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement, India traditionally avoided being pulled into the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. 

But the Bush administration had a plan for roping Indian into an alliance aimed at containing China, with a twist on an old diplomatic strategy: no stick, lots of carrots. 

At the time India was banned from purchasing uranium on the international market because it had detonated a nuclear weapon in 1974 and refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). There was a fear that if India had nuclear weapons, eventually so would Pakistan, a fear that turned real in 1998 when Islamabad tested its first nuclear device. 

Pakistan also refused to sign the NPT. 

Under the rules of the Treaty, both countries were excluded from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. While the ban was not a serious problem for Pakistan—it has significant uranium deposits—it was for India. With few domestic resources, India had to balance between using its uranium for weapons or to fuel nuclear power plants. Given that India is energy poor, that was a difficult choice. 

When the Bush administration took over in 2001, it immediately changed the designation of China from “ strategic partner” to “strategic competitor.” It also resumed arms sales to New Delhi despite India’s 1998 violation of the NPT with a new round of tests. 

Then Washington offered a very big carrot called the 1-2-3 Agreement that allow India to bypass the NPT and buy uranium so long as it is not used for weapons. This, however, would allow India to shift all of its domestic fuel into weapons production. 

At the time, Pakistan—which asked for the same deal and was rebuffed—warned that the Agreement would ignite a nuclear arms race in Asia, which is precisely what has happened. India and Pakistan are busily adding to their nuclear weapons stocks, as is China and, of course, North Korea. 

The 1-2-3 Agreement went into effect in 2008, although it has not been fully implemented. 

Complicating this whole matter are on-going tensions between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, over which the two have fought three wars, the last of which came close to going nuclear. Rather than trying to defuse a very dangerous conflict, however, the Bush administration ignored Kashmir. So did the Obama administration, in spite of a pre-election promise by Barack Obama to deal with the on-going crisis. , 

It would appear that a quid pro quo for India moving closer to the US is Washington’s silence on Kashmir. 

In 2016, the Obama administration designated India a “Major Defense Partner,” made Japan a permanent member of the Malabar exercises, and began training Indian pilots in “advanced aerial combat” at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. 

The Trump administration has added to the tensions between India and Pakistan by encouraging New Delhi to deploy troops in Afghanistan. While India already has paramilitary road building units in Southern Afghanistan, it does not have regular armed forces. From Islamabad’s point of view, Indian troops in Afghanistan will effectively sandwich Pakistan, north and south. So far, India has resisted the request. 

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also rolled out a new military strategy called “Cold Start,” which allows the Indian military to attack and pursue “terrorists” as deep as 30 kilometers into Pakistani territory. 

The danger is that a “Cold Start” operation could be misinterpreted by Islamabad as a major attack by the far larger Indian army. Faced with defeat, Pakistan might resort to tactical nuclear weapons, a decision that Pakistan has recently delegated to front-line commanders. Since India cannot respond in kind—it has no tactical nukes—New Delhi would either use its high yield strategic nuclear weapons or accept defeat. Since the latter is unlikely, the war could quickly escalate into a general nuclear exchange. 

Such an exchange, according to a recent study by Scientific American, would not only kill tens of millions of people in both countries, it would cause a worldwide nuclear chill that would devastate agriculture in both hemispheres. In terms of impact, as scary as the Korea crisis is, a nuclear war between Pakistan and India would be qualitatively worse. 

During his recent Asia tour, Trump used the term “Indo-Pacific” on a number of occasions, a term that was originally coined by the rightwing Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Japan is currently in a tense standoff with China over several uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, and Abe is trying to dismantle Japan’s post-World War II “peace” constitution that restricts Japanese armed forces to “self-defense” operations. 

Abe is also closely associated with a section of the Japanese political spectrum that argues that Japan was simply resisting western imperialism in World War II and denies or downplays its own colonial role and the massive atrocities committed by the Japanese army in China and Korea. 

Asia looks like a pretty scary place these days. A rightwing Hindu fundamentalist government in India and a revanchist Japanese Prime Minister are allied with an increasingly unstable administration in Washington to surround and contain the second largest economy in the world. 

There are some hopeful developments, however. For one, following the recent Communist Party Congress, China seems to be looking for a way to turn down the heat in the region. After initially threatening South Korea for deploying a US anti-missile system, the THAAD, Beijing has stepped back and cut a deal: no additional THAAD systems, no boycott of South Korean goods. 

The Chinese also dialed down tensions in the mountainous Doldam region on the border of China and Bhutan with an agreement for a mutual withdrawal of troops. There has been some progress as well in finding a non-confrontational solution to China’s illegal claims in the South China Sea, although Beijing is not likely to abandon its artificial islands until there is a downsizing of US naval forces in the region. 

And in spite of the tensions between the two, India and Pakistan formally joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization this past summer, a security grouping largely dominated by Russia and China. 

The danger here is that someone does something stupid and things get out of hand. There are those who point out that in spite of similar tensions during the Cold War, all concerned survived those dark times. That, however, ignores the fact that the world came very close to nuclear war, once by design—the Cuban missile crisis—and several times by accident. 

If you keep rolling the dice, eventually they come up snake eyes. 


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










New: Play Review: 'This Wide Night,' Anton's Well Theater Co. at the Berkeley City Club

Ken Bullock
Wednesday December 06, 2017 - 10:36:00 AM

Midway through the show of 'This Wide Night,' a Bay Area premiere by Anton's Well Theater Co. of British playwright Chloë Moss' work, now running weekends at the Berkeley City Club, it occurred to me that it was fitting this spare two-hander was being staged during the holiday season ... 

Though a description of the play wouldn't reveal any holiday thematic resemblance at all to a kind of subgenre of downbeat, human interest Christmas entertainments, the whole feel of this slowly-spun, moody tale of two very different women who were cellmates in prison, meeting up again at Marie's studio apartment (she jokes that "studio's just a fancy name for a bed-sit") after her older, former 'mate Lorraine's released, reminds me of that old chestnut of TV movies--a little bit like, say, 'A Christmas Memory,' the Geraldine Page vehicle from Truman Capote's story that Frank Perry directed for ABC Stage 67. 

As performed by Mila Ashley (Marie) and Mary Jo Price (Lorraine), directed by Robert Estes, Anton's Well founder, a great deal of territory in mood and temperament is quietly covered in an hour and 45 minutes, in a series of scenes, all in the studio apartment, which both frames and ferments the emotional play within its walls. 

Estes writes in his notes about "the empathy of the other," and the playwright, who had an artistic residency in a prison in Rochester, England, from where the play toured other prisons, writes about how "freedom can actually feel like a very bleak and frightening prospect." 

The unassuming nature of the play and of its two characters can underline the shifts, reversals, even, the characters and their renewed, unfolding relationship undergo--who is the optimist, who the pessimist? Who's carrying who emotionally? Is either concealing anything from the other, out of malice or fear, attempting to manipulate, or simply trying to put up a brave front? 

It's a very humane look at an offbeat relationship that can cast light on more conventional ones. A good, sympathetic yet dispassionate scene to look in on during this holiday season. 

'This Wide Night,' running Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday afternoons at 2 through December 17 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, between Ellsworth and Dana. $17-20. antonswell.org

When Affordable Housing Meets Free Market Fantasy

Zelda Bronstein
Sunday December 03, 2017 - 05:12:00 PM

Why is housing in booming U.S. cities increasingly unaffordable to everyone but the wealthiest? In early September The New York Times published a provocative op-ed that answered this question from a market-oriented perspective. Drawing on their widely cited 2015 paper, “Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth,” urban economists Chang-Tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago and Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley contended that “[s]ince the 1970s, a property-rights revolution—what critics call Nimbyism, from ‘not in my backyard’—has significantly reduced the development of new housing stock, especially in cities where the economy is strongest,” thereby driving prices up to their current astronomical levels. Moreover, by impeding worker mobility and recruitment, “too-stringent housing regulations in high-wage, high-productivity cities” have resulted in “slower economic growth, fewer jobs,” “lower wages across the nation,” and ultimately “forgone gross domestic product” of $1.4 trillion. 

Hsieh and Moretti had reason to think that their op-ed would be well received. Since its publication two years ago, “Why Do Cities Matter?” has been routinely cited by influential purveyors of the market creed, including some with liberal credentials—among them the Obama White House, the California Legislative Analyst, Vox cofounder Matt Yglesias, and economist Paul Krugman. Two days before Hsieh and Moretti’s op-ed appeared, Krugman opined in his Timescolumn that “Nimbyism is bad for working families and the U.S. economy as a whole, strangling growth precisely where workers are most productive.” 

Although they mention Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York, Hsieh and Moretti home in on California and above all the Bay Area, where, thanks to challenges brought by “neighborhood groups,” the “main effect today” of the “well-intentioned” but ill-used California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is to “mak[e] urban housing more expensive.” The two economists applaud a controversial bill making its way through the California Legislature, SB 35, that “would significantly curtail municipalities’ ability to delay urban housing projects that meet certain planning and environmental standards.” With a closing nod to the “debate in Washington about the costs of regulations for economic growth,” they aver that the reformation of “[e]xclusionary land-use regulations in our most dynamic labor markets” would primarily benefit America’s middle class and thus deserves bipartisan support. 

Their contrarian tone notwithstanding, Hsieh and Moretti only advance the neoliberal agenda that has dominated U.S. public discourse for forty years. That agenda is often construed as anti-government, a view that the op-ed’s attack on zoning and CEQA may seem to confirm. But as indicated by the co-authors’ endorsement of state intervention in local land use, “supply-side” pundits are not against government per se, only government that hinders market forces. Today, they’re using the urban housing crisis as a pretext to roll back environmental protections, curtail local democracy, and deregulate, or more precisely, re-regulate land use in behalf of property and finance capital. The Times op-ed, however, isn’t just another neoliberal diatribe. It significantly extends the case against regulation through its contention that zoning, a municipal function, has national effects. 

Despite its currency among policy wonks, this argument fails on empirical grounds. Hsieh and Moretti conceded in their academic paper that their findings were highly conjectural. Nevertheless, they’ve presented those findings as justification for an aggressive, market-oriented, democracy-adverse approach to land use. Their disciples have followed suit, to considerable effect: in mid-September, the California Legislature passed SB 35 with bipartisan support. Two weeks later, an enthusiastic Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. In the interest of rational public policy, the blue-sky thinking that legitimates such politics needs to be brought down to earth, and down to California terrain in particular. 

First up for a reality check: the idea that over the past fifty years “increasingly draconian zoning restrictions” have significantly stifled housing production in “expensive coastal U.S. cities.” As Hsieh and Moretti noted in “Why Do Cities Matter?,” their cited source of this charge, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, provided only “anecdotal” evidence in its support. 

A lack of empirical traction also vitiates what the two economists call “the best available measure of differences in land use restrictions,” the Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index. For starters, the Wharton Index relies on data from only a short period at the turn of this century. Far more problematic: the sources of that data—a national survey of 2,649 municipal planning directors and chief administrative officers; fifty state profiles of residential land-use regulation based on judicial and legislative activity over ten years; and “measures of community pressure” registered in environmental and open space-related ballot initiatives—do not register on-the-ground outcomes. As sociologists Kee Warner and Harvey Molotch have observed, the “crudest approach” to identifying “‘growth control’ as a variable” is 

to simply lump together all places that have some new way of regulating growth or that have the words ‘growth control’ written into some legal measure or stated as part of a local policy by a staff person answering a questionnaire. . . . This approach blurs great differences in the content of various local policies, not to mention how well policies are carried through in daily administrative practice.
Implementation of public policy is always uncertain. Impervious to contingency, the Wharton Index is a dubious guide to the actual effects of local land use regulation.
Nor do Hsieh and Moretti’s allegations of CEQA abuse stand up to empirical scrutiny. The attack on California’s premier environmental law as a deterrent to growth, a stock-in-trade of the state’s growth elites, was refuted by the in-depth 2016 study commissioned by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. The researchers found “no evidence” to support the assertion that the law is “‘a major barrier to development.’” Moreover, a survey of projects undergoing CEQA review statewide since 2002 revealed a “surprisingly low” rate of CEQA litigation,” with an average of only 195 lawsuits a year. Meanwhile, “the vast number of CEQA projects . . . go unchallenged.” The researchers acknowledged that meeting the law’s complex procedural demands takes time and money. That said, “the cost of CEQA compliance [and] its impact on development projects” have never been quantified. Nobody has shown that, as Hsieh and Moretti assert, the law’s “main effect” is to increase the cost of urban housing. 

Instead, as planner and University of Southern California faculty member Murtaza Baxamusa has written, “regulatory hurdles are a bogeyman for the housing crunch.” Baxamusa backs up this claim with evidence from his own city of San Diego, where, downtown, “there is virtually no NIMBYism, and development permitting is mostly by right,” yet “private developers are building fewer units than the zoning allows, and avoiding building affordable housing altogether, despite a tower of regulatory incentives.” More affordable housing is “being demolished than [being] built.” Since 2015, the unsheltered homeless population downtown has spiked 60 percent. 

To explain this seeming conundrum, Baxamusa spotlights a blatant factor in the supply of affordable housing that Hsieh, Moretti, and their fellow supply-siders ignore: private developers don’t take advantage of permissive zoning or incentives to build affordable housing, because doing so doesn’t yield the profits that they and their investors demand. In the supply-side narrative, developers are at the mercy of local authorities. “Cities and counties,” writes California Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, “generally decide when, where, and to what extent housing development will occur.” That’s true, insofar as new construction requires entitlement and a building permit. 

What’s not true: the notion that cities and counties build housing. Developers build housing, and what they decide to build—and when and whether they decide to build it at all—depend on factors that over which local governments have no control: the availability of credit, the cost of labor and materials, the cost of land, the current stage of the building cycle, perceived demand, and above all, the anticipated return on investment. Because affordable housing doesn’t yield acceptable profits to real estate investors, the only way a substantial amount of it is going to get built is if it’s publicly funded. In California, as elsewhere in the United States, public funding is paltry. And California has an extra deterrent to housing production of any sort: Prop. 13, passed in 1978, severely limits property tax increases, impelling cities to favor commercial development, especially retail, with its sales-tax revenues, over new housing. These are the major constraints on the supply of affordable housing in California. None of them figure in Hsieh and Moretti’s analysis. 

The co-authors’ treatment of demand and affordability is also deeply flawed. Blaming the Bay Area’s exorbitant housing prices on a regulation-based failure to meet demand, Hsieh and Moretti disregard the stunning wealth effect generated by the latest flood of highly compensated tech workers. Between 2010 and 2015, the Bay Area added 640,000 new jobs. More than a third of those jobs—roughly 230,000 positions—were in the so-called knowledge sector, which includes technology. According to the 2017 Silicon Valley Index, in 2016 median wages for “Tier 1 occupations,” a category encompassing managers, professional positions (lawyers, accountants, and physicians) and highly skilled technical occupations (scientists, computer programmers, and engineers) were $108,700. Plan Bay Area 2040, the land-use and transportation “blueprint” approved by the region’s planning agencies in July, reported that between 1990 and 2015, the number of households in the region with an income greater than $150,000 constituted 80 percent of household growth in the region, jumping from 375,000 to 741,000. In 1990, such super-affluent households accounted for 17 percent of Bay Area households; in 2015, they made up 27 percent of the total. In the succinct appraisal of economist Steve Levy, who runs the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy: “This is a very, very hot area to live and work, and the wage growth is pushing up housing prices.” That boost is exacerbated by the fact that housing, especially housing in “very, very hot” areas, is now traded in a globalized speculative market. 

The inflationary impacts of what Jane Jacobs called “cataclysmic money” escape the authors of the Times op-ed. That oversight evinces the blinkering effects of their methodology. Like other mainstream economists, Hsieh and Moretti assume that, absent state “interference,” the economy is propelled by businesses seeking the most efficient means of production and consumers seeking the greatest utility—that is, personal satisfaction based on a trade-off among wages, costs, and amenities. Equipped with perfect knowledge about their options and enjoying the complete freedom to exercise those options, these putatively rational actors move at will, achieving a “spatial equilibrium” that maximizes both efficiency and “welfare.” High wages indicate high productivity; their wealth effect is indiscernible. 

In “Why Do Cities Matter?,” Hsieh and Moretti used the equilibrium model to come up with their estimated $1-.4 trillion-plus loss in GDP. Marshaling data from 220 cities, they argued that between 1964 and 2009, local restrictions on housing supply in municipalities with high productivity and high demand for housing—most notably, New York, San Francisco, and San Jose—kept workers from low-productivity areas from moving to the high-productivity locales. 

To portray the attendant losses in employment growth, they elaborated two counterfactual (what-if) scenarios. Counterfactuals are useful aids to evaluating proposed policies, but to merit serious consideration, they have to be based on credible assumptions and sound data. In their counterfactuals, Hsieh and Moretti hypothetically “reallocated” U.S. workers from low-productivity to high-productivity cities. In the more sweeping, “full adjustment” scenario, they relocated just over 50 percent of U.S. workers. As a result, New York experienced “a staggering 787% increase” in jobs; in San Jose and San Francisco, employment jumped more than fivefold. Flint, Michigan, lost 98 percent of its workforce. In the “intermediate scenario,” 20 percent of workers moved. In New York, employment increased by “only 179%”; in San Jose, it grew by 149 percent; in San Francisco, by 148 percent. Flint’s workforce shrank by 77 percent. 

The figure of $1.4 trillion cited in Hsieh and Moretti’s New York Times op-ed presumably represents the additional amount of GDP that would have been generated in 2009 if the “full adjustment” scenario had been a reality. I say “presumably,” because that figure, cited in the op-ed, appears nowhere in “Why Do Cities Matter?” Instead, the academic paper refers to a lost $1.95 trillion. In another discrepancy, the updated May 2017 version of the paper presents the additional $1.95 trillion as “the effect of changing the housing supply regulation only in New York, San Jose, and San Francisco to that in the median US City,” rather than, as the co-authors stated in 2015, the effect of changing the “spatial dispersion” of workers in “All Cities.” More precisely, or, as it turns out, imprecisely, Hsieh and Moretti write in the updated paper that the “net effect is that US GDP in 2009 would be 8.9% higher under this counterfactual,” adding in a footnote: “US GDP in 2009 was $14.5 trillion so a GDP increase of 8.9% implies an additional aggregate income of $1.95 trillion.” No, it doesn’t: 8.9 percent of $14.5 trillion is $1.29 trillion. The co-authors have gotten their own numbers mixed up. 

And there’s another, more notable discrepancy. The Times op-ed presents the figure of $1.4 trillion without qualification; the word “trillion” is even italicized. But in “Why Do Cities Matter?” Hsieh and Moretti cautioned that “the number [“of output and welfare losses stemming from an inefficient geographical allocation of labor”] we present should not be taken as precise estimates of the losses but rather as guidance on the general order of the losses, as they are based on a number of untestable assumptions,” including “perfect mobility” for workers: “The assumption of inter-industry mobility,” they concede, “is clearly false in the short run. For example, it would be hard to relocate a Detroit car manufacturing worker to a San Francisco high tech firm overnight.” Quite. 

Also admittedly problematic is the “extreme” nature of “the changes in the economic geography” in the “full adjustment” scenario. In Hsieh and Moretti’s own judgment, these imagined shifts “are massive and probably not realistic,” given that “less than 20% of workers change MSA every 10 years.” (MSA stands for Metropolitan Statistical Area, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as a place with “at least one urbanized area of at least 50,000 or more population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”) In light of these caveats, the two economists designated the “partial adjustment” scenario as the “more plausible” eventuality and indeed as their “benchmark scenario.” But the flaunted figure of $1.4 trillion dollars in lost GDP seems to derive from the less plausible scheme, in which more than half of American workers relocate. 

Not that their benchmark scenario is all that plausible. Volunteering that the employment numbers in their “partial adjustment” scenario “are not completely implausible,” the co-authors offer as evidence projections in the 2013 version of Plan Bay Area. That “formal economic development plan,” they write, “calls for the addition of enough housing units to increase the region’s population by 80% in 2030. This increase is smaller than the one [we estimate] for the San Francisco MSA, but not too far off.” 

Hsieh and Moretti don’t seem to have read the report very closely. In fact, they don’t seem to have read their own report very closely. The increase that they estimated for the San Francisco MSA under the “partial adjustment scenario,” a jump of 149.2 percent, refers to growth in employment, not housing units. Corresponding population growth, given their assumed labor share of 0.65, would reach some 230 percent. As for their misreading of Plan Bay Area: its projections span 2010 to 2040, not 2030; those projections refer to either the whole region or to specific cities; nowhere does the plan forecast growth for any MSA; and none of those projections—a 30 percent increase in population, a 33 percent increase in jobs, and a 24 percent increase in housing units for the entire region—come anywhere near an 80 percent increase in population, much less a 149.2 percent increase in employment. 

Last April, Glaeser, the superstar dean of neoclassical urban economics, commended Hsieh and Moretti’s calculations. “Whether these exact figures are correct,” he advised, “they provide a basis for the claim that America’s most important, and potentially costly, regulations are land use controls.” 

Yes, they do: a basis in a free-market fantasia whose speculative prognostications should have no place in the formulation of public policy. 

Zelda Bronstein is a Bay Area activist and writer, and a former chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission. This article first appeared in Dissent magazine. It has been updated to clarify (1) that California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 35 into law in late September, and (2) that Murtaza Baxamusa’s findings refer to downtown San Diego, not the metropolitan area as a whole.

Little-known Yimby-developer bills will have big impact on local planning

Zelda Bronstein
Sunday December 03, 2017 - 09:30:00 PM

Of the fifteen bills in the “housing package” signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on September 29, the one that got the most attention in the media was State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 35—and for good reason: SB 35 goes a long way toward “putting teeth” in California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocations, the number of housing units whose each city’s and county’s zoning must accommodate. Moreover, the bill’s provisions for “by-right” approval of certain multi-family, infill developments both circumvent the California Environmental Quality Act and eliminate negotiations with developers over community benefits.

But two other items in the package, SB 167 and AB 1515, that either got much less publicity (SB 167) or virtually none at all (AB 1515) will likely do much more damage to the democratic governance of land use in the state. Both amend California’s Housing Accountability Act, a once-dormant law now being exploited by Bay Area Yimbys. 

Passed in 1982, the HAA limits the ability of local agencies to reject or make infeasible housing developments without a thorough analysis of the economic, social and environmental effects of such action. It applies to all housing projects. Most important, the HAA allows a court to compel a city to take action on proposed developments. 

Analyzing AB 1515 for the State Senate Rules Committee, Senate staffer Alison Hughes observed that when a jurisdiction is sued under the HAA, 

the local government bears the burden of proof that its decision has conformed to all of the requirements in the law, including, if applicable, any findings that the development was not consistent with the city’s general plan or zoning standards. 


[I]n order to qualify for the Housing Accountability Act’s protections, a development must be consistent with a city’s general plan and zoning standards in effect at the time that the application was deemed complete. In land use cases, when the issue is such consistency, courts have tended to defer to local governments, unless the court finds that the local government acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or without evidentiary basis. 

In legalistic terms, a local government’s decision would be upheld unless no reasonable person could have made the same decision—a very high bar. AB 1515 effectively lowered the bar to the ground. 

AB 1515, Hughes explained, “requires courts to give less deference to a local government’s consistency determination. It changes the [evidentiary] standard of review by providing that a project is consistent if there is substantial evidence that would allow a reasonable person to find it consistent.” 

AB 1515 was sponsored the California Building Industry Association. The Legislature staff analyses list only one opponent: the California chapter of the American Planning Association. Given that professional planners are usually avid proponents of development, Cal APA’s opposition is striking. 

In a letter sent to the members of the Legislature on August 1, Cal APA laid out the harm that AB 1515 does to democratically accountable land use policymaking: 

Under current law, a city council or board of supervisors weighs the evidence and reaches a decision based on established principles of democratic decision-making—local governments are ultimately held accountable for their decisions by the local electorate. 

AB 1515 would replace the judgment of local elected officials with that of any "reasonable person," including the project developer who has a fundamental economic interest in the project. When fundamental land use decisions, like general plan consistency, are made by developers rather than elected representatives, local government accountability is compromised and the recourse available to the electorate is taken away. 

AB 1515 will allow the applicant, rather than the local agency or a judge, to determine consistency of a development with the General Plan and zoning by allowing the applicant to provide contrary reasons why the project is consistent. 

As a result, the issue will be whether a “reasonable person” could conclude that the project is consistent—not whether the city or county had substantial evidence to back up its conclusion. 

In response to my e-mailed query, Cal APA Ex. Director Sande George elaborated: 

Under this bill, a project would have to be found consistent with local plans if there's any evidence or interpretation supporting a finding of consistency, regardless of circumstances and evidence to the contrary. 

The existing standard is that the local agency’s finding is assumed to be correct unless no reasonable person could reach that conclusion. This [standard] retains the “reasonable person” phrasing in the bill but does not allow developers to begin making what are clearly local determinations, or to take a local agency to court over every finding. 

Cal APA asked that AB 1515 be amended to read: “the local agency’s finding is assumed to be correct unless no reasonable person could reach that conclusion.” Request rejected. 

The Legislature approved AB 1515 on September 15. On September 19, the League of California Cities sent Gov. Brown a letter requesting him to veto the bill. Like the APA, the League argued that AB 1515 “would deviate from longstanding judicial precedent” that generally deferred to local determination of a project’s consistency with a jurisdiction’s planning. 

But whereas the APA held that the bill authorized developers to begin making such determinations, the League contended that it 

would essentially allow a court to determine whether a project is consistent with local zoning and general plan [sic] by selecting the substantial evidence it wishes to rely on rather than reviewing whether the city council relied on substantial evidence. 

Instead, the League wrote, “[l]ocal governments are in the best position to determine whether a project is consistent with adopted general plan and zoning requirements.” 

The Yimbys Seize on the HAA 

Besides the California Building Industry Association, AB 1515 supporters included the Bay Area Council, the California Apartment Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, and Yimby Action. Every one of these organizations also supported SB 35. 

But the Yimby support for AB 1515 is particularly notable. 

To begin, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund or CaRLA, self-described as “the legal advocacy arm of the Yimby Party,” qualifies as a “housing organization” that can sue cities under the HAA. The law that made housing organizations eligible to sue under the HAA, AB 2584, is one of the eleven bills listed on the Yimby Legislative Report Card for the California Legislature’s 2016 session. Like AB 1515, AB 2584 was authored by Assemblymember Daly. 

Developers are reluctant to sue a city, because they are constantly negotiating with city officials over their projects. The Housing Accountability Act allows a developer’s surrogates to do the dirty work by authorizing as plaintiffs not only a project applicant but also a person who would be eligible to apply for residency in the development, and a housing organization. 

As state staffer Rebecca Rabovsky wrote in her analysis of AB 2584, previously “only the project developer or an eligible tenant of the proposed development [could] bring an action against [a] jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the HAA.” HAA added a “housing organization” to the roster of prospective plaintiffs. 

As amended by AB 2584, HAA defines a housing organization as 

a trade or industry group whose local members or primarily engaged in the construction or management of housing unit, or a nonprofit organization whose mission includes providing or advocating for increased access to housing for low-income households and have filed written or oral comments with the local agency prior to action on the project. 

In 2015 CaRLA sued Lafayette under the HAA and lost; the petitioners were Sonja Trauss and SFBARF (San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation). In 2016 it sued Berkeley and won; this time the petitioners were SFBARF, CaRLA, Trauss, and Diego Aguilar-Canabal. On November 2, CaRLA sued Sausalito; the petitioners are SFBARF, CaRLA, Trauss, and Sausalito resident and San Francisco property owner/developer Robert Tillman

None of these lawsuits concern affordable housing, and two of them don’t concern much new housing of any sort. The Lafayette case involved 44 single-family homes. In Berkeley, the issue was whether an existing single-family home would be demolished and replaced with three single-family units. In Sausalito, the city has denied an application to demolish and remodel a duplex and add a new single-family unit. 

SB 167 was drafted by prominent Bay Area Yimby Brian Hanlon. Hanlon runs CaRLA with SFBARF founder Trauss. 

Like AB 1515, SB 167 weakens local authority over land use decisions by changing the evidentiary standard for determining whether a proposed development is consistent with a jurisdiction’s zoning. The change is different, however. AB 1515 makes it much easier to challenge a city’s disapproval of a project by lowering the standard of evidence for mounting such a challenge. SB 167 makes it much harder for a city to disapprove a project in the first place by raising the standard of evidence for such a disapproval. 

Before SB 167, a city could disapprove a project based on “substantial” evidence in the record, which means requiring “more than a ‘mere scintilla of evidence.” SB 167 changed the standard to “a preponderance of” evidence in the record, which is to say, to evidence showing that the argument at hand is more likely than not to be convincing and accurate. 

SB 167 further strengthened the developer hand at the expense of local government by expanding the Housing Accountability Act’s provisions about attorney’s fees. Before SB 167, a court could award “reasonable attorney’s fees and cost of suit” to a petitioner. SB 167 mandates that a housing organization shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees if it sues a city under the HAA and wins. 

SB 167 also increased the size of fine that a court can impose on a city. If a court finds a violation of the HAA, SB 167 requires the court to impose a fine in a minimum amount of $10K per housing unit (in the Yimby first draft of the bill, the fine was $100K per unit). Money cannot be paid out of a fund already committed to affordable housing. Fines go into an affordable housing trust fund with the sole purpose of financing newly constructed housing units affordable to extremely low, very low, or low income households.” 

And if a court finds that a city acted in bad faith when it rejected or conditionally approved the housing development or failed to carry out the court’s order within 60 days, the court must multiply the fine by a factor of five. 

Like the other bills in the housing package. AB 1515 and SB 167 take effect on January 1, 2018. 

The Yimbys and other stalwarts of the California growth machine cast growth-resistant communities as a mighty political force. Yet AB 1515 and SB 167 made their way through the Legislature without grass-roots protest. That history suggests that the growth entrepreneurs’ portrait of a Nimby juggernaut is a caricature whose main purpose is to justify the machine’s ongoing assault on local authority over land use. 


Public Comment

Updated: Re Sunday New York Times Article: Yes on NIMBY street

David Carr, West Haven, Connecticut
Monday December 04, 2017 - 10:00:00 AM

I found this [article] interesting since affordable housing is an issue in Connecticut and NYC as well, something I follow and support, yet no housing is truly affordable without sustainable employment:


1310 Haskell St. in Berkeley is all about doing well for the neighborhood and the larger community.

The builder is not creating affordable housing selling three new units for $1M each. If the property was sold for $650,000 in 2015 needing work, the Investor will be the only big winner here. Would this have been a different story if the next-door neighbor bought the property to renovate it to a comparable quality neighborhood value? Or a Neighborhood Development Corporation renovating for an owner occupant with a deed covenant restricting resale for profit? Or an owner occupant using a FHA 203K rehabilitation loan? 

For a little price and value background, the HUD 2018 Fair market rent for this 3 bedroom residence is $4070/ month, with houses in the 94702 neighborhood comparably selling at $500,000 to above $1.5M. 12 blocks to the east is the Cesar Chavez and McLaughlin State Beaches, U. Cal. Berkley 12 blocks to the West, a desirable location. To a mortgage an $800,000 house at 4% over 30 years with $10,500/year tax, $1200 insurance and $6000 Private Mortgage Insurance would cost about $5300/month with nothing down, not much more than paying a comparable single family rent. 

New affordable housing requires deed covenants to control resale and match appreciation with Cost Of Living Adjustments. Existing landlords are profiting from lack of rent control. Rent control might be to be placed on rental units relative to Return on Investment. Companies that are seeking “affordable housing” for their employees may have to redefine their compensation practices, since affordable house means paying about 30% of your gross salary on housing. To buy this $800,000 property as described, household income would have to be $15,000/month 

Homeowners who choose to live in this mixed-use zone bought in at a discount, which is now being called by the market demand. Lot sizes, height, impermeable coverage and setbacks should be maintained, since cities have to obey their laws. Can laws be changed? Can residents call for new zoning, possibly alienating employers in the future? When it is suggested “low slung neighborhoods have to change to keep everyone from being priced out” that undefined change bears a cost which is payable to the existing residents, since their quality of life is being impacted. Neighbors who have their gardens impacted by shadows might consider compensation with creation of community gardens, greenhouses, hydroponics, grow lights and reflective lighting solutions, paid for by a shadow assessment levied on the offending property. 

It seems the tech industry is at fault for much of the Bay Area housing problem, since rental and housing prices go up based on demand, which is created by relocating people looking for high pay jobs in desirable environments. If pre-existing residents were being retrained and employed there might not be so many homeless persons, an ethical responsibility of the Bay Area tech industry. The industry and their shareholders should be financially responsible for the systemic effects, good and bad, of their presence and effect on the community. 

The tech industry is also uniquely suited to solving community based employment problems by expanding their presence into neighborhoods and communities across the United States, where jobs are needed and real estate is more affordable. One can regularly see the blue bulls eye of poverty surrounded by rings of red wealth in 2017 demographic, financial and political maps across USA. Emerging Tech Companies are accountable for choosing to locate in one of the most desirable and expensive locations in the USA. The San Francisco bay area is an idyllic combination of weather, beaches, vineyards, outdoor recreation and overall “California Lifestyle” that is coveted across our country. The tech industry has the logistical capabilities to transform struggling communities by supporting wise use planning, economic development that targets impacted demographics, and financial interventions. Employee home ownership programs, like Yale University has invested in New Haven, CT makes home ownership work. Current home seekers can explore alternatives, like owner occupying multifamily buildings to reduce their mothy costs. Possibilities abound! The need in re-shore, create jobs and seek systemic solutions for disenfranchised individuals is an ethical obligation of high tech, high profit employers, corporations and investors on the 21st century 

Rent control and zoning are issues that East Coast cities like mine have wrestled with since the housing boom of 1948 . Now would be the time to look at existing community development models to seek wisdom form the past and guidance for the future. If density is going to be increased, existing `land owners need to be offered the opportunity for relocation and compensation for price differentials, possibly with money supplied by the tech industry in a cooperative fund bank. It’s not fair for a developer to depreciate the value of a block, census tract or neighborhood for profit without the existing neighbors reaping the short term financial benefit. 

Maybe the neighbors of 1310 Haskell Street need to be the developers here, or partner with the current developer if the city is going to allow this to move ahead. Is there no community development model or agency in place to oversee this process with experienced citizen input? Maybe maintaining stability, not building up is one answer in the San Francisco Bay. New one and two-story housing that conforms to existing height limits needs to happen in previously less desirable parts of the city, while protecting existing citizens with life use, New York City style rent controls. We, as a nation, are going to need more housing where the opportunity is, and opportunity where the need for employment is. The tech industry is uniquely suited with financial and logistical capabilities to deliver solutions in community based manufacturing and home-based employment models. This can be the transformative workplace that has been envisioned.

Proposed Zoning Law Change Would Curtail Public Participation

Thomas Lord
Sunday December 03, 2017 - 03:53:00 PM

At the December 5 meeting, City Council will take up a matter continued from November 28: Item C titled 1 “Ministerial Approval of Zoning-Compliant Affordable Housing”. The item proposes that two public interests are at odds:

• early public participation in the land use entitlement process vs.

• the development of privately operated subsidized housing.

Item C proposes to sacrifice the former for the sake of the latter. This council item is admirable in its intent, which is to better facilitate the creation of housing offered at affordable prices. Unfortunately, the item is based on a misreading of the research it cites. It is also not supported by any analysis of Berkeley’s own conditions. My analysis suggests that the item is unlikely to advance its stated aim. Worse, as written, it is virtually certain to have negative consquences. I recommended that the item be amended as described below and then passed, but that it not be passed in its present form.

For the full analysis, click here.

Twisted Thinking

Steve Martinot
Sunday December 03, 2017 - 09:25:00 PM

Though it proclaims itself against police militarization, Berkeley City Council has renewed three militarizing federal relationships: the Fusion Center (NCRIC), urban surveillence technology, and Project 1033. It apparently does not see how these projects work together, nor that they are pro-militarist. And in its conceit, it thinks it can control them each separately. That is a mistake.

Police militarization

In his familiar twisted fashion, Trump briefly proposed lifting a ban (instituted by Obama) on obtaining trophy elephant parts. (The ghoulishness of that sentence just makes me shudder.) The "trompeur" opined that this would be a "conservationist" measure toward elephants, an endangered species, because the act of recognizing and honoring the hunters would obviate bootlegging. Transparency in destructiveness? Hunters don’t just hunt for fun. They do it for profit. Conservationism does not mean acquiescing to profit hunger.

Here in Berkeley, City Council and the Mayor proclaim themselves opposed to further militarizing the police. Yet on Nov. 14, 2017, Berkeley City Council renewed its membership in Project 1033, a program begun in the 1980s of bestowing military equipment on police departments. The Berkeley police department has been amassing military weaponry and military grade surveillence equipment for years now – assault rifles, grenade launchers, stingray technology, etc. 

The 1033 program is pro-militarist because it wants police departments to think of themselves as military entities. The Pentagon will maintain oversight and control on the equipment it distributes because its real purpose is militarizing the mind of the cop. The current police demand for absolute obedience to any officer’s command, which militates for civilian regimentation, is the social dimension of that process. Technology is the machinic dimension. Its political purpose is for social control, not for law enforcement. 

City Council thinks it can establish the right to oversee, and to confirm before the fact, whatever equipment the Berkeley PD will request from Project 1033. They evidently haven’t read the webpage of the DLA (Defense Logistics Agency which administers 1033) where it says that no civilian oversight of the program will be allowed for security reasons. The council’s enactment is thus pro-militarist because it gives recognition and credence to a militarist program and to its purpose, even while intending to limit it. By maintaining its membership in 1033, the City Council has actually approved the military’s purpose. 

The Surveillance State 

A few weeks earlier, the City Council affirmed a request by Berkeley PD to purchase “automated license-plate readers” from the government. When mounted on a police car, these LP readers record all the license plates of cars parked along the street. Those plate numbers then get put in a database, which then includes information that such-and-such a car, belonging to such-and-such a person, was parked at a particular location at a particular time. The owner of the car can be included in the data because City Council in its wisdom allowed Berkeley PD to maintain its connection with NCRIC (Northern California Regional Intelligence Center), a federal body for coordinating local police departments. NCRIC will provide car ownership information faster than the DMV. And somehow, the City Council thinks that renewing these agreements with the military and federal surveillence agencies is a first step toward demilitarizing the police. 

Trump, Trompeur, Trumpist. 


City Council Assumption #1 

City Council assumes that the LP readers are benign, and their databases can be controlled by civilian government – that is, that this kind of participation in a surveillence process has nothing to do with militarization. 

The rationale for buying the license-plate readers is to better control downtown parking. Taking its lead from its business association, which complains that parking violations are having a detrimental effect on downtown businesses (new arrivals can’t find space), the Council decided that better enforcement, with more efficient ticketing, would alleviate the shortage. That in itself is questionable. Downtown parking is limited to two hours for cars. But reading a license plate won’t tell the database how long into its two hours a car has been there. So someone will have to check again in two hours, or read the little permits on dashboards. The collected database, which will do neither of these things, will have to communicate itself by radio or otherwise, to metermaids to ticket any violators. Rather than just hire more metermaids, who will have to do the footwork anyway, the city buys into a program of sophisticated data collection and complicated communications between agencies. And Council actually thinks, through some fantasy splurge that equates these readers with cellphones, that this technology will provide better monitoring of parking space usage in downtown Berkeley. 

The PD contributed to this kind of twisted thinking by assuring City Council that none of the data collected by these LP readers would be passed on to the military, nor to NCRIC, even though some of the data will come from NCRIC. In other words, the police are running a number on City Council. And Council actually believes what the police say, that the feds will be denied access. 

Think about that. The readers are run on software provided by the manufacturer through the feds. The software will compile the data, and organize it (by zone, neighborhood, address, owner, day, month, state, etc.), some of which will come through NCRIC – like owner ID. (This explains why the NCRIC connection was made first at BPD request, back in June.) What the government is good at is putting backdoor capability into software, meaning that the government, with preset access codes, will be able to get into those databases without either the City Council or the BPD knowing about it. It is probable that the BPD would know, but since it has promised not to provide access to this database to NCRIC, it will not inform the City Council, in order to stay true to its alleged "promise." 

In effect, instead of just hiring more traffic control personnel, Berkeley has decided to join the surveillence state (a euphemism for “police state” – Cf. Edward Snowden), while thinking it is only enhancing downtown shopping. 

Reading license plates is an old game for the FBI. Back in 1959, they went around reading every license plate in a four block radius around a concert given by the Weavers in NYC, and passed their collected information on to the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC). When HUAC scheduled hearings in SF, it subpoenaed the Californians that were on the list. What brought the SF hearings to public attention was that a biology professor at Stanford (whose car had been in midtown Manhattan the night of the Weavers concert) committed suicide rather than undergo the humiliation of committee questioning (he was apparently totally apolitical, but believed in freedom of thought). [Cf. Fred Cook’s article in the Nation, 1960] This arounsed the interest of Cal students, and they appeared at the hearing in the hundreds, for which they got beaten up by the police and expelled from the hearings. That was the beginning of the student movement in Berkeley. Playing with this kind of database can be a question of life and death, even if one only wants to free up parking space. 

What the council’s twisted thinking does admit is that downtown development is already out of hand, though the major construction projects have not yet even started. It also admits that City Council is not interested in people "using" downtown, but only going there to shop, to quickly use time to buy things and then go home. Finally, it admits that if extreme measures are not taken to provide parking, downtown will wither. 

Clearly, the three measures that this City Council has passed this year, renewing its NCRIC agreement, buying license-plate readers, and renewing its 1033 membership, all work together. For council to pretend it has civilian control over police militarization is really the politics of the absurd. 

City Council Assumption #2 

In confirming and ratifying its agreements with the military under the 1033 program, the council is assuming that the military is going to be honest and honorable in the way it deals with the city. We have the police assurances that the military will not secretly use that database, nor will it be shared with NCRIC or other federal agencies. Yet the Berkeley PD has consistently resisted any accountability to civilian government, whether with respect to its “use of force” (the 2014 demonstrations), or its killing of Kayla Moore, or its persistence in racial profiling, or its acceptance of a police chief without public process, or its insistence on renewing all prior agreements with the federal government. What need has the military to be honorable and honest when it has the BPD mediating its relation to the city? 

The BPD even came to City Council with a request of pepper spray technology to be used for crowd control while promising the City Council that it wouldn’t use it for crowd control. And the City Council went along with this. 

The US military is part of a government that has violated every treaty it has ever signed, from the first one made with Native Americans in 1795, all the way to the present. For instance, there are international staandards banning torture, to which the US is signatory, yet the police torture people on the street using pepper spray and tasers without fear of criminal charges (under the Human Rights Treaties, and Article 6). And this City Council thinks that the federal government will honor the votes taken by the city with respect to militarizing the police? 

In addition, the US military, the most powerful military establishment in the world, is a military that has taken time and effort to repeal Posse Comitatus, which means it is now free to engage in law enforcement inside the US. What this means is that the boundary between the police and the military is dissolving; they are becoming one. And that implies that the boundary between the police and City Council is widening and becoming more impassable. 

Just as Trump’s proposed legalization of hunting elephants would be anti-conservationist, so the city’s agreement with the military is pro-militarist. 


City Council Assumption #3 

What City Council decided concerning its 1033 access was that it would maintain its connections to the military, amd that each PD request for military equipment it would have to passed by the City Council. The assumption it makes in establishing this procedure is that it has civilian control over the police. But it doesn’t. There is no accountability. 

What Berkeley City Council found it impossible to say to itself (perhaps because it has spent too much time looking in the mirror) is that this same council will be here 2 years from now, and 4 years from now, and on into eternity – so there is nothing to worry about. "We" will prevent Berkeley from becoming (overly) militarized, council says to itself. Somehow, this council is not taking future moments, future political situations, and future generations into account. And that is a great abrogation of responsibility. 

Anyone who has listened to the arguments in City Council has heard the councilmembers actually say that they think these measures are a step forward toward demilitarizing the police. That is not a con. They actually believe it. It is just straight-out twisted thinking. 

Technological militarization of the police has already been underway for years. If you want to demilitarize the police, the first step is break prior arrangements and agreements with the sources of militarization. Then reduce the level of militarization to what is democratically desired. That is, the second step is to establish autonomous and independent standards. The third step is to then see what is offered that one might use ethically from federal programs, and make agreements with the sources of that technology to get it if possible without violating one’s own standards. But this council thinks the their first step should be step three. Then they will work their way back up to step one. If that isn’t stupidity, it is at least complicity. 

December Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Tuesday December 05, 2017 - 09:33:00 PM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: This Is Your Intellect on Antipsychotic Meds: Use It Or Lose It

Jack Bragen
Monday December 04, 2017 - 10:17:00 AM

Antipsychotic medication can impair concentration. When concentration is difficult, we might be more tempted to do mindless things and we might not try to do anything that requires concentration. However, this is the first step toward what I will call "brain atrophy."

A large dose of antipsychotic medication can actually make it painful to concentrate. Concentration and focus are capacities that should not be relinquished. Fortunately, there are ways that we can retain our valuable mental capacities.

Just because an authority has told you that your brain has a defect, it is not a good reason to give up on your mind. While life circumstances and a psychiatric illness may dictate to us that we need to be medicated, we should value ourselves enough to realize that we still have a good mind. 

When authorities, such as mental health practitioners try to foist on us the assumption that they are superior to us, or the assumption that we don't have competence and smarts, then we must disbelieve mental health practitioners. It should be good enough to accept the treatment that at times may be forced on us--we needn't relinquish our entire value of ourselves. 

This is my understanding of what happens: When psychotic, apparently the brain goes into overload. When this happens for a long period of time, it can cause damage to the brain cells. Antipsychotics slow down brain activity. When the mind is in the "ballpark" of a normal amount of activity, it becomes easier to track reality, and the brain cells may no longer be overloaded. It seems to me that antipsychotic medication may protect the brain from damage due to overload.  

By slowing brain activity, antipsychotics, even while they are protection from the damage of psychosis, could introduce other damage due to lack of activity of the brain cells. 

Someone who suffers from a psychotic episode could be getting double whammy; the brain goes into overload, from psychosis, and is later suppressed by meds. This is like a double shock to the brain. 

The human mind has a multitude of types of capacities. For example, there is the capacity of adapting to various job environments, or other environments. If you take an antipsychotic and go for a long time without working, it could be a lot harder to try to go back.  

When I was interviewed for eligibility to receive Social Security benefits, the psychiatrist who interviewed me told me "If you are on medication, you are disabled."  

Remaining active and engaged in life may help prevent the loss of mental capacity that could happen through brain atrophy. When mental capacities are exercised, it can improve mood, and it can transfer better function to other areas of life. 

There are people with psychiatric diagnoses who have gone to school, obtained a degree, and have become a lawyer, an engineer, a health care professional, and more. You don't necessarily have to be young to do this, but it probably helps. 

When in my twenties, I went to school to do electronic repair, and then I worked in that field for several years. Had I not decided to do writing, I most likely would have returned to that field and would have become a techie.  

However, huge ambitions are not necessary. No accomplishment should be seen as small, and no accomplishment should be downgraded. With these conditions, achieving anything should be lauded. 

Any constructive or at least nondestructive activity that engages your body and/or mind may be beneficial in comparison to doing nothing. If you try reading while on antipsychotic medication, and if you find it to be painful because of interference of side effects, take a break and come back to it later. 

Sometimes we may find that the mind works best at certain times of the day. If you read, choose something to read that you enjoy. Exercising one's faculties is not intended to be torture. 

Physical activity may also be difficult, and may require more effort, due to being medicated. Physical activity also engages the brain. For example, if you are washing dishes, your brain works to tell you how to sponge the dishes with your hands, tells you how to adjust the temperature of the water, tells you where to put the dishes after they've been washed, and so on. If you are walking your dog, your brain is adapting to the outdoor environment, is giving you direction as to how to handle the dog, and might remind you to bring a bag so that neighbors don't get a surprise on their lawns. 

Activity can be a good antidepressant. This is not to say that when we feel crappy that the solution is to "get off that sofa and go jog around the block" or something. However, some type of activity that we feel ready for, or that we may actually want to do, could certainly do something to help your mood. 

We must not give up. Yes, our life situation may seem to be lousy because of having a psychiatric diagnosis. However, if that causes giving up on everything, and possibly resorting to drug or alcohol addiction, or some other form of escapism, this means that we have given up without a fight. Also, it is not of benefit to go on massive amounts of medication and be a zombie who can only watch television. 

This is not intended to knock people; if you do not feel able to do very much for the time being, it is fine to take a break from life, and postpone things that require effort until later, when you feel more prepared to make an effort.  

If you are reading this, presumably you are still alive. In that case, there is no reason to allow fate, the mental health treatment system, medication, and the presumed illness, take over your existence and erase all of your hopes. If you never try anything, it is certain that you will not get anything. However, if you do continue to put effort into life, while you might not get all you want, you could still create good things. 

ECLECTIC RANT: Senate Passes GOP Tax Bill

Ralph E. Stone
Sunday December 03, 2017 - 04:07:00 PM

On December 1, 2017, the U.S. Senate passed the GOP tax bill. Now that this irresponsible GOP tax bill -- with massive tax cuts for Trump and his wealthy friends and large corporations -- will now likely become law, ordinarily I would expect voters to punish those who voted for this shameful bill at the midterms and beyond.  

However, the Republicans will tout it as a "reform" bill. It will take some time before the large tax cuts for the rich and large corporations fail to "trickle down" to ordinary folks. And unfortunately, voters may not link this tax bill to spending cuts on vital programs in health care, education, retirement, and social services that will inevitably come to make up for the estimated $1.5 trillion loss of revenue for the next decade. 

Senate passage of the GOP tax bill is another shameful event in a long list of shameful events too numerous to list.

Arts & Events

Heldentenor Simon O’Neill’s Hertz Hall Recital

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday December 04, 2017 - 04:00:00 PM

On Sunday afternoon, December 3, New Zealand-born tenor Simon O’Neill gave a recital at Hertz Hall. He was accompanied by fellow Kiwi Terence Dennis on piano. Both O’Neill and Dennis are much decorated artists with considerable international experience. For this recital they were also joined by the Pati brothers, Pene and Amitai Pati, who also hail from New Zealand.  

Simon O’Neill opened the program with Beethoven’s lengthy song “An die ferne Geliebte,” Op. 98. Before singing this piece O’Neill recalled how much he was moved by hearing a recording of “An die ferne Geliebte” by the late Fritz Wunderlich. I too am a great admirer of the singing of tenor Fritz Wunderlich, who possessed what was possibly the sweetest-voiced tenor of all time. After hearing Simon O’Neill sing “An die ferne Geliebte,” I must note that O’Neill’s voice would hardly be called sweet. O’Neill, unlike Wunderlich, is a heldentenor, and O’Neill’s voice, though powerful, tends to be a bit shrill at the top. Moreover, his tone is a bit brassy except when he sings a soft passage. Thus, Beethoven’s love-song to a distant beloved came off as anything but sweet.  

Next on the program was Simon O’Neill singing “Gott! welch dunkel hier,’ Florestan’s soliloquoy in his subterranean prison in Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. For this great aria Simon O’Neill’s voice was fairly well suited, for here Florestan bemoans the solitude and silence of his unjust incarceration. “I dared speak the truth,” Florestan declares, “and chains are my reward.” Simon O’Neill sang a version of this aria that appears in Beethoven’s manuscripts for the opera he was going to call Leonore. The first two stanzas are the same as in the finished opera Fidelio, but the third stanza is quite different. Hearing this third stanza for the first time, I would say that Beethoven was right in switching to a new third stanza for the opera he released with the title Fidelio.  

Following this aria, O’Neill introduced young tenor Pene Pati, who sang two pieces in Italian: “Angelo casto e bel” from Donizetti’s Le duc d’Albe, and “Cujus animam” from Rossini’s Stabat Mater. Pene Pati, who sang a robust Duke of Mantua in last summer’s Rigoletto at San Francisco Opera, has a stirring tenor voice with great power. If I have one reservation about Pene Pati’s singing it is that he hasn’t yet learned how and when to harness his power. However, as he demonstrated in this recital, he is making progress in this direction. His Italian diction, as well as his Latin diction, were excellent.  

Simon O’Neill returned to sing “Brünnhilde! heilige Braut,” from Wagner’s Die Götterdämmerung. This was sung by O’Neill in heroic fashion, with just a hint of shrillness occurring here and there. Then O’Neill left the stage while pianist Dennis Terence played Siegfrieds Trauermarsch” from Die Götterdämmerung, as transcribed by Busoni. As the final piece before intermission, Simon O’Neill sang “Nur eine Waffe taugt” from Wagner’s Parsifal. This too was given heroic treatment. 

After intermission, Simon O’Neill sang a set of songs by Richard Strauss. “Ruhe, meine Seele” suffered from a shrill high note on the word ‘Sonnenschein,” and a similar shrillness occurred twice in the song “Ich trage meine Minne.” O’Neill’s best singing in the Strauss set was in the beautiful “Morgen!” Here O’Neill allowed himself to tone down his powerful but occasionally strident tenor, and he sang this lovely piece in mezza voce, with a finish in soft falsetto.  

Following the Strauss set, O’Neill introduced Amitai Pati, who sang “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, and the Italian aria, “E la solita storia del pastore,” from Cilea’s L’arlesiana. Here a comparison with Fritz Wunderlich would be most apt, for Wunderlich’s rendition of “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” is a classic, perhaps the greatest of all time. Amitai Pati held his own in delivering a sweet-voiced rendition of this aria. His diction in German was excellent. Next Amitai Pati sang a rarely heard aria from Cilea’s rarely heard opera, L’arlesiana. This piece too was beautifully sung. Amitai Pati sings with a sense of balance and sweetness that are quite different from his brother Pene Pati’s tendency to overwhelm everything with sheer power. In fact, Amitai Pati may well have provided the most balanced and consistently beautiful singing of this entire recital! 

To close out the program, Simon O’Neill sang Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and “Ein Schwert verheiss mir der Vater” from Wagner’s Die Walküre. Set to poems written by Wagner’s inamorata Matilde Wesendonck, the set of songs known as the Wesendonck Lieder were written for a female singer, but over the years several male singers have ventured to sing them, perhaps most notably Lauritz Melchior. Suffice it to say, however, that Simon O’Neill’s voice is not right for these tender, melancholic songs. In his renditions, only the song “Im Treibhaus” came across with the requisite sorrowful melancholy. However, pianist Terence Dennis performed the Eric Satie-like introduction and finale to “Im Treibhaus” with great feeling. The final aria in this program, Siegmund’s invocation of his father’s promise of a sword, was heroically rendered by Simon O’Neill, who may have saved his best singing for last. Along with the Pati brothers and pianist Terrence Dennis, Simon O’Neill accepted the enthusiastic applause of the Berkeley audience.  

New: Craneway Crafts Fair - 47th Annual Benefit For KPFA Radio

Jonathan Farrell
Tuesday December 05, 2017 - 10:05:00 PM
Artist Arbel Shemesh wearing her Fairy Crown.
Randy Johnson
Artist Arbel Shemesh wearing her Fairy Crown.
Artist Milton McClaskey making a mandolin.
Aeden McClaskey
Artist Milton McClaskey making a mandolin.
Artist Kim Nelson - Feltmaker & Hatmaker
Elijah Ray Nelson @nnoidea
Artist Kim Nelson - Feltmaker & Hatmaker

As the holidays approach, there has been much in the news about retail sales and online shopping. Yet, it is those shoppers who look for unique and special gifts that make an impact. And, this is where the holiday craft fair has an advantage over retail or cyber shopping. One of best and long-standing of such fairs in the Bay Area is the Craneway Crafts Fair. Now in its 47th year to benefit KPFA Radio, on the weekend of Dec. 16 & 17, it will provide the most diverse and beautiful holiday shopping experience ever.  

The Craneway Crafts Fair producer Jan Etre was eager to speak to the Berkeley Daily Planet about this annual event. The handmade work of 180 juried artisans alongside 20 Fair Traders and Non-Profits will be on display. This is something that she is very pleased about. As she said, "fair-goers may choose from outstanding wearable textiles to sophisticated ceramics. This includes luminous glasswork, innovative furniture and high design, yet practical housewares. There’s also evocative photography, original paintings and block-printed art, contemporary paper goods and an impressive selection of hand-made jewelry." 

Among those at this year's crafts fair who will be presenting handmade jewelry is Arbel Shemesh. "I make jewelry that is inspired by nature, said the Berkeley-based artist. But I am only trying to express the unique beauty of it, in a free from style," said Shemesh. She was very clear to say she does not attempt to replicate it in her work; or make something life-like.  

A bead-work artist since her early days, Shemesh, discovered the millefiori technique of bead, glass and textile making over a decade ago. "It is a technique that goes back to ancient times," she said. Shemesh is enthralled what emerges from the process, which takes considerable time and effort. It is the beautiful colors and one-of-a-kind aspect that has kept her making this type of art-craft and devoting more time to it.  

What she finds most rewarding is the interaction she has with customers as they discover her work. This is why she likes participating in the Craneway Crafts Fair. "This will be my third year at the fair and I am very selective about the fairs and craft festivals I participate in," she said. Craneway is a prestigious event, well-attended and I am a fan of KPFA." Besides, she added, "the pavilion is beautiful, so impressive it puts you right on the water, with a fantastic view." 

Former furniture-builder turned mandolin-maker, Milton McClaskey would agree, as he said, the Craneway Crafts Fair provides good exposure to artists and craftspeople." McClaskey stumbled into mandolin making rather unexpectedly. But like Shemesh, once he dedicated himself to it, McClaskey became engaged with it full time. "For me mandolins are fun to build and to be able to put one in a musician's hands and hear it played is sheer joy."  

He too loves KPFA. And as he said to this reporter, "I don't go to a lot of craft fairs because it requires a considerable amount of time and effort. Yet, the Craneway really takes care of its vendors and craftspeople. This will be my fourth time at the Craneway," said McClaskey.  

Etre was eager to mention a third artist who will be featured among the many at this year's fair. Her name is Kim Nelson. Like McClaskey and Shemesh she too is a Berkeley-based artist. This past June she moved her San Pablo Ave shop to her home. And, so having the opportunity to bring her varied textile works to the Craneway is an honor and something she cherishes.  

Nelson works with varied wools and new and vintage silks to make hats, shawls, scarves, gloves – and upholstery. She also makes wallets and bags. And, she even makes time to do paintings. This season she’s made a new line of hand felted and hand blocked hats. Kim also dyes wools and silks with indigo, and often teaches both felting and indigo dyeing classes in her south Berkeley studio and backyard. It is something she brings to the Craneway from her Raina’s Textile House shop.  

Not at all worried that this year's upswing in cyber-retail over the Thanksgiving weekend was at a record high. She does not believe online shopping will pull attendance away from Craneway. 

Etre has confidence the loyal KPFA fan base will turn out on Dec. 16 & 17, just like it has always been every year.  

As someone who appreciates finely crafted things as gifts, Etre is impressed with the vast array of jewelry at this year's Craneway Crafts Fair. She sees it as an auspicious opportunity to shop for that special someone in our lives, as she said. 

“A piece of jewelry can be viewed as sculpture in miniature, artwork that will enhance the beauty of the person wearing it. The range of jewelry is astonishing and all price points are covered, added Etre. So, shoppers in pursuit of a meaningful gift for friends and loved ones will be able to find something that suits both taste and wallet.” 

Proceeds from the crafts fair will benefit KPFA radio. KPFA 94.1FM is the nation’s original listener-sponsored, noncommercial, public radio station founded in 1949. KPFA’s mission is to encourage cultural diversity and pluralistic community expression. KPFA seeks to contribute to a lasting understanding between individuals of all nations, creeds and colors. KPFA is there to promote freedom of the press and to serve as a forum for various points of view, while maintaining an independent funding base. 

In addition to all original hand-made crafts and art work, the annual Craneway Crafts Fair on Dec. 16 & 17 will have food and live music.  

The Craneway Pavilion is 10 minutes by car from Berkeley, 5 minutes from the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge. It’s accessible by public transit via BART and AC Transit. Admission is $12 (Age 18-64) $8 Senior & Disabled; Youth are free. There will be plenty of free parking on site. A free shuttle from Richmond BART station during all hours of the fair on both days will be provided. The pavilion sits on the pedestrian and bike-friendly Bay Trail.  

For more information visit : www.cranewaycraftsfair.com 


The Berkeley Activist's Week: Dec 3 - Dec 10

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Sunday December 03, 2017 - 03:45:00 PM

Only two City Council meetings are left before the winter recess with important items on both agendas, December 5 (surveillance technology, community benefits) and December 19 (repeal pepper spray ordinance). City Boards and Commissions are winding down although this week is still busy. HAC meeting Thursday includes Brown Act training. 

Check the pictures in the link for the Film Queen Mimi.  

The Zoning Adjustment Board is publishing a draft agenda 2 weeks before the meeting to give the public the opportunity to review and respond. Zoning Adjustment Board draft agenda for Dec 14 is available for review and comment, Projects: 2355 Telegraph, 1805 Franklin St, 2100 San Pablo – requires zoning reclassification, 2538-2542 Durant, 2928 Ellsworth, 1050 Parker https://www.cityofberkeley.info/zoningadjustmentsboard/ 

Sunday, December 3, 2017 

Film QUEEN MIMI fundraiser for Consider the Homeless, Sunday, Dec 3, 3:00 pm doors open, 3:30 pm film, 6:00 pm dinner, 1901 Hearst, North Berkeley Senior Center 

documentary homeless woman who spent 20 years on the street before finding a home – Mimi now 90+ http://www.considerthehomeless.org/QueenMimi/index.html 

Monday, December 4, 2017  

Tax the Rich rally – Monday, Dec 4, winter hours 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater, 

City Council Agenda Committee, Monday, Dec 4, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor, agenda planning for Dec 19 last council meeting before winter recess: 25. West Campus open pool and shower year round, 36a. PRC repeal pepper spray ordinance, 36b (City Manager) keep pepper spray 


Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Outreach Subcommittee, Monday, Dec 4, 5:45 pm, 2001 Center St, Law Library 2nd Floor, http://www.cityofberkeley.info/rent/ 

Open Government Commission Lobbyist Registration and Revolving Door Subcommittee, Monday, Dec 4, 7:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, agenda: lobbyist ordinance 


Personnel Board, Monday, Dec 4, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center 


Tuesday, December 5, 2017 

Berkeley City Council - Regular Meeting, Tuesday, Dec 5, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers, agenda: A,B1,B2,allocation general funds, 23.a. surveillance technology ordinance, 24. Amend ordinance parking fines and fees to ability to pay 25. Strengthen Significant Community Benefits 


Wednesday, December 6, 2017 

Board of Library Trustees, Wednesday, Dec 6, 6:30 pm, 1901 Russell St, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch Library, agenda: recommendations to Acting Director organizational review, services evaluation 


Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, Wednesday, Dec 6, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 997 Cedar St, Fire Department Training Center, agenda: wildfire threats East Bay Parks, UCB lands, utilities undergrounding, disaster preparedness, Commissioner documents not included with agenda 


Energy Commission, Wednesday, Dec 6, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Meeting listed on Community Calendar, agenda: EV readiness requirements 


Planning Commission, - Cancelled 

Thursday, December 7, 2017 

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – IRA/AGA Subcommittee, Thursday, Dec 7, 5:30 pm, 2001 Center St, Law Library 2nd Floor, http://www.cityofberkeley.info/rent/ 

Berkeley City Council - Special Meeting - Worksession, Thursday, Dec 7, 6:00 pm, 2134 MLK Jr Way, City Council Chambers, agenda: Climate Action Plan, Traffic Pedestrian Safety 


Housing Advisory Commission, Thursday, Dec 7, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, agenda: Brown Act Training, Use U1 Funds, Berkeley Way Project 


Landmarks Preservation Commission, Thursday, Dec 7, 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, 

2740 Telegraph – Rose Garden Inn 

Civic Center Park- maintenance and repair 

2270 Acton – Berkeley Lawn Bowl Club Site 

1120 Second St – City Landmark Incinerator Site 


Friday, December 8, 2017 

City Reduced Service Day 

Saturday, December 9, 2017 

Mental Health Commission, Saturday, Dec 9, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, 1901 Russell St, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch Library, agenda: training Mental Health Commission responsibilities 


Sunday, December 10, 2017 

No city meetings or announced demonstrations