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Financing Affordable Housing in California

Bob Silvestri
Sunday February 09, 2020 - 03:17:00 PM

Part I in this series about the failure of Senate Bill 50, laid the groundwork for understanding underlying causes of un-affordable housing. As noted in that article, our “affordability” issues are not unique to housing nor to the State of California, and are, ironically, less acute in our major job centers than in places we generally think of as being more affordable.

In prior articles, I’ve examined why an increasing percentage of our population is having a harder time making ends meet, not just for housing but for food, education, healthcare, and everything else, and how the socioeconomic institutions that are driving these trends are leading to increasingly dire prospects for our financial markets, taxpayers, and our planet.

The data presented leads to an undeniable conclusion. If we really want to address housing affordability, we need to broaden our thinking. To focus on planning and zoning may seem obvious, but it’s precisely the wrong place to look for solutions.

Public policy by catchy soundbites is popular these days, but its “solutions” are dumbed-down to the point of being dangerous.

As H.L. Mencken once said,

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong.”

Endless bickering

The public discussion about affordable housing has become extremely difficult because it has devolved into nonsensical talking points, racist tropes, and distortion of data by state senators and high-paid housing advocates. All that is being offered to us is what I’ve termed the “madman theory” of growth, planning, and development.

But, contrary to what is politically fashionable to believe, our current “affordability” problems are predominately an income and wealth inequality problem, not a housing problem. They are a result of subsidizing investment returns at the expense of wage earners and prioritizing the interests of corporations over individuals and even local government.

This is principally driven by national and state income and revenue tax policies. The naïve deconstruction of our progressive income tax system, since the 1980s, combined with endless jerry-rigging of official inflation statistics and interest rates, since the 1990s, has contributed to the situation we are witnessing today.[1]

So long as we continue to allow financial and corporate interests to offload the burdens of their growth and their single-minded search for increased profits onto local taxpayers (the costs of schools, infrastructure maintenance, roads, public services, environmental preservation, etc.), our lack of “affordability” will only get worse.

Similarly, the more the state focuses on sucking private capital into its coffers by increasing taxes and fees to fund top-down “solutions” by inefficient, state mega-agencies, the less affordable it will be to live in California.

Today, affordable housing has little to do with planning and zoning and everything to do with addressing how to finance it by creating tools and incentives to tap private capital for public good. 


Show me what you’re doing with my money 

Every time politicians and housing advocates speak about funding affordable housing, the only thing I hear are giddy discussions about schemes to increase taxes and fees. Why is government’s reaction to every problem to add taxes and fees, to grow big government bigger, and attempt to take top-down control of everything? 

The confiscation of private capital through taxes and fees has proven to be wasteful and counter-productive because it adds disproportionate financial burdens on those most in need. So, why are bureaucrats and housing advocates so stuck on subsidizing big real estate investment and development interests through tax-funded “housing funds” or “redevelopment agencies:” things that have failed miserably in the past? 

Could it have something to do with who’s making all those campaign contributions? 

We’re going to need to make bold moves to address our affordability challenges. But, paradoxically, this is not a time for wide-eyed idealism. We need to focus on tangible, workable steps we can take right now. 

As I recently discussed, real solutions will challenge the way we currently define social and economic “success:” a measuring system that is just not working anymore for the majority of people. 

The truth is that the world is awash in stupid money. Yet, we can’t seem to summon much of it for social good and our tragedies of the commons. Other than the relative pittance that is provided by philanthropy (much of which comes with a huge price to the public from self-interested schemes, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) and the relatively small amounts private corporations offer local governments as bribes to get the growth approvals they need (e.g., the Amazon headquarters saga), the burden is increasingly falling on ordinary taxpayers and residents. 

Yes, our failure to tax the very rich (those with incomes over $1 million a year) and trillion dollar corporations is part of that. But California's wasting of our tax dollars on endless social engineering failures and by creating more and more unneeded state and regional agencies and paying themselves lucrative pensions and benefits are equally, if not more, to blame. 

California’s state government and its agencies are now a behemoth sucking up private resources at an alarming rate and providing fewer and fewer public benefits (on an inflation adjusted basis), due to their operating capital needs (e.g. unfunded pension liabilities). 

And we’re not building any more affordable housing than we used to, in fact, we’re building less. 

Meanwhile, funding for affordable housing is like Woody Allen’s character in the opening scenes of Stardust Memories, where the train car he’s in is filled with grim Kafkaesque characters, while the train car across the way is filled with champagne-drinking celebration. 

There’s a party going on in our economy, with everyone getting stupid drunk, but affordable housing isn’t invited to the party. 

Punishing already over-burdened local governments and individual taxpayers with more rules, less local control of planning, more mega-agencies to oversee them, more fees and penalties for noncompliance, and intricate schemes to funnel private capital into gigantic, unaccountable, politically controlled state “funds” is a counter-productive policy. 

At the same time, giving away the store to private profit-driven interests and embracing “markets solve everything” beliefs in the hope that this will somehow result in someone doing the right thing – an approach so beloved to YIMBYs and Senator Wiener’s cabal and one that has failed so badly since it was first adopted in the 1980s – is just as disastrous. 

Does anyone honestly believe either of these is a solution to anything? We need a better way going forward

We need to make "markets" work for us, instead of against us. 

Turning lemons into lemonade 

If affordable housing is a national problem then real solutions are going to take dramatic changes to national tax and socioeconomic policies and priorities. But Washington DC is stuck in dysfunction, so what can we do by ourselves in California? How can we bring private capital to the table to address affordable housing? 

Private capital will not participate in addressing housing affordability on its own, because investment capital (foreign or domestic) has no allegiance to any particular place or anything other than maximizing returns. It will go where the returns are and taxes and fees generally hurt returns. 

Well, the bad news is California has the highest taxed population in the country.[2] But the good news is California has the highest taxed population in the country. 

California is now the fifth largest economy in the world (more than $3 trillion per year in gross state product) and we have a population that ranks 35th in the world. Our base sales tax rate is the highest in the country at 7.25%. Our state top income tax rate of 12.3% is also the highest of any state in the country. 

This means that any state tax benefits offered to those investing in affordable housing could be a very powerful tool. Yet, this concept remains largely untapped because we are grossly deficient in one thing: creative thinking

Lessons learned? 

Following the federal government’s abandonment of directly building and operating public housing, in the early 1970s (see the story of Pruitt Igoe), they began to experiment with creative tax incentives to stimulate private sector participation in the development of affordable housing. In the 1980s, these experiments took the form of offering Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to low-income housing developers, and loan “co-insurance,” whereby the federal government guaranteed a portion of private banking loans made to develop it. 

Under these programs, developer profits were limited by statute, yet there was no scarcity of private developer participants. This was because significant risk was removed from the equation by federal guarantees of private sector loans and programs to support government subsidized, low-income tenants (e.g., Section 8) or outright project-based assistance. 

These programs relied on private capital and public markets for all of the required equity investment. But as is so often the case with top-down government, the programs were not managed correctly, the political winds changed, the government reneged on its contractual obligations with private developers (e.g., they failed to honor inflation adjustments on government set rental rates to cover operating expenses), and the programs became so corrupted by politics that most were abandoned, leaving only the LIHTC remaining. 

However, there are lessons to be learned. With the proper incentives, tens of thousands of units were built and tens of thousands of marginally profitable, existing market rate projects were converted into low-income Section 8 tenancy. 

That is unheard of today. 

Opportunity Zones 

In January of 2019, I wrote about the federal government’s launch of the “Opportunity Zone” program. The program allows high net worth investors to avoid capital gains taxes by investing in “development” in Opportunity Zones, as designated on maps drawn by state agencies. But it is not an affordable housing program or even limited to housing development. 

To sum up my appraisal of the O.Z. program is that opportunity zones are an opportunity wasted. 

Designating precise areas on maps, based on U.S. Census income data, paradoxically, results in a new form of discrimination and segregation. Instead of incentivizing the integration of income levels in all neighborhoods, the maps separate the wealthy from the poor, and the profits go to the largest private developers. Low-income neighborhood leaders have called it a new form of “urban renewal” that decimated low-income communities in the 1980s, leading to more gentrification and displacement of the poor. 

The government has proven to be very bad at picking winners and losers, or what and where to invest in real estate development. This is one thing the market does better. 

Drawing private capital to the affordability challenge 

It is axiomatic that as things stand, the only way private developers will engage in creating any affordable housing units is if the government showers them with free taxpayer money and zoning giveaways. History has shown this will end in disaster. 

Over the past five years, I’ve spoken at public forums and written extensively on ways to incentivize private investment capital to serve affordable housing and public policy goals. Some of these suggestions to promote affordable housing development have included: 

  • Opportunity “Types:” Create a new California tax incentive, similar to the federal O.Z. tax forgiveness program, but limit the tax benefits to apply only to the development of low-income (not just “affordable”) housing. Under this program non-like-kind capital gains profits (e.g., sales of securities) would be granted tax deferral and/or tax forgiveness if invested in low-income housing, regardless of where it is located. The tax benefits could even increase if used specifically for small to mid-size, infill development projects.
  • A public/private syndication entity: As a companion program to the Opportunity Types initiative, the state could work with established investment bankers to create an entity to pool tax credits into larger portfolios for syndication, to provide profits and liquidity for smaller and mid-sized developers. Existing, large tax credit syndicators will not work with smaller allocations. This “opportunity types” approach could bring tens of billions of dollars of private capital to the table.
  • Tax credits for small projects: Create a new California Tax credit (separate from the federal LIHTC requirements) focused only on financing small to mid-size development projects by local developers. Most of our existing affordable housing opportunities are infill development of less than 50 units. However, larger affordable housing organizations cannot build and manage these, cost effectively.
  • Administer tax-credits locally: Allocate low-income housing tax credits to local city and county agencies, based on population, to finally give local government the financial tools needed to negotiate with developers to address local affordable housing challenges.
  • Reconsider “in-lieu” provisions: Offer financial and tax benefits only for affordable housing units. Stop subsidizing market rate housing in the misguided belief it will produce adequate affordable units
  • Don’t spend taxpayer funds: Leverage them: Leverage is the basis of all real estate development, primarily because the capital requirements are so enormous. Having the State of California give taxpayer’s money directly to developers, through grants or loans, is the least efficient way to spend public wealth. Offering state government “co-insurance” to local banks and private lenders to cover a percentage of losses in the event of default on privately funded affordable housing project loans, instead, can multiply the financial impacts of public wealth. For every loan that can be made with “x” amount of taxpayer money, multiples of “x” private capital-backed loans can be insured.
  • Increase the state charitable tax deduction: Allow donors to write off a higher percentage of their donations, against ordinary income, if their donated funds are used to develop low-income housing.
All these suggestions are available to us right now, for immediate implementation with just the stroke of a pen. None of these proposals add layers of costs to local government, as they do now in order to comply with the state’s top-down schemes. And all of them would have critical economic multiplier effects that could generate business growth and tax revenues that far surpass their financial costs. 

But, I think we need to be even more creative than that. 


Increasing private investment participation 

In defending his recent legislative proposal, SB50, Senator Scott Wiener said, “I don’t care how much money developers make. That’s not my concern.” I would counter that by saying, “I don't care how much private individuals make.” 

With all the talk about funding affordable housing, the government, state agencies, and housing advocates never talk about individuals, the 30 million adults who live and work and pay taxes in our state, other than to think of them as a source of funding. 

But where is our seat at the table? How do we all benefit from the state’s housing plans? 

What if the state started to look at us as potential partners, potential investors rather than just someone to exploit? As a group, we control more wealth than the state could ever imagine raising through their nefarious, regressive tax schemes. 

The “white shoe” game for the Nike crowd 

Equity investing as a third party, in real estate development, has always been the province of investment bankers and their private equity clientele: so-called “qualified individuals.”[3] But public securities markets have become exponentially more sophisticated, for better and for worse. And with regard to the potential to attract private investment capital to fund affordable housing development, they should no longer be ignored. 

We now undeniably live in a world of “crowd-funding,” with online platforms raising billions of dollars a year for all types of business ventures. And online securities trading is now commission free and accessible to anyone. 

I’m not suggesting that the State of California go on GoFundMe or Kickstarter to raise money for low-income housing projects, but there are now opportunities to connect with individual investors, large and small, as well as corporate, institutional, and private equity investors, to seek capital, in new ways.

Working with the best minds in the investment world, in a public/private partnership, the State of California has the opportunity to create investment vehicles in the form of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS), partnerships, and/or publicly-traded securities that offer the general public a way to participate in the financial benefits of development of low-income and affordable housing projects, or "components" of those projects by private for-profit and nonprofit developers. 

This peer-to-peer public participation is not a wishful, trickle-down scheme. It's the exact opposite. It’s a level-the-playing-field proposal to allow anyone to participate in the financial benefits of affordable housing development: for all of us to have a stake in the program's success. 

The various tax credit and debt insurance proposals noted here would work hand-in-hand with this initiative to ensure the credit worthiness of project proposals. Developer’s profits would be limited and tied to investor returns benchmarks. And by creating investment pools represented by tradeable securities invested in property portfolios, the state would avoid engaging in previously discredited, high-risk ventures, such as single project-based bonds.

There is no time like the present 

Market cycles are inevitable, regardless of how many people now claim they are a thing of the past. But, apparently, government didn’t learn much from the 2008 debacle. 

Artificially low interest rates and endless money printing are now causing deflation, low savings rate, outsized debt, increased speculation in public markets, and a paucity of capital investment that those low rates were supposed to cure. The current record high disconnect between corporate revenues and profits and equity pricing is not reassuring. 

In the next downturn, the San Francisco Bay Area real estate may be hard hit and affordable housing will be even harder to build. 

This is all the more reason to act now. 

[1] Ironically, while Medicare raised its monthly premiums by more than 6% this year, social security payments rose by a paltry 1.2%, ostensibly because the government says there’s no inflation. 

[2] Californians pay the highest taxes when the cumulative effect of all types of taxes that impact the average resident are considered: sales tax, business taxes, property taxes (including bonds and fees), service fees, income tax, etc. 

[3] As defined in the U.S. Tax Code 


Bob Silvestri is a Mill Valley resident and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded only by individuals in Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. Please consider DONATING TO CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of Marin residents. 



It's Primary Time: Get on Board

Becky O'Malley
Monday February 10, 2020 - 05:36:00 PM

UPDATE on Valentine's Day: The New Hampshire primary didn't change much. The newsies, bless their tiny hearts, are desperate to turn the race into a two-team clash of cultures, but really the modest voting pools in two small White states are being wildly over-interpreted. I still recommend voting for the person best qualified to actually be president, and that's still Warren. 

A friend called me the other day to ask who I’m supporting in the state Assembly District Democratic delegate race. She’s going out of town and wanted to return her absentee ballot before she left.

Oops. The California primary has snuck up on us, hasn’t it? People are getting their ballots already and voting by mail.

My friend did ask me who I’m voting for in the presidential primary before getting my take on the delegates. Even though she was my compañera in our Get Out The Vote excursion to Akron in 2016, she wanted to make sure we were still on the same wavelength before she took my advice. She’s a smart lawyer, very political, but she doesn’t always track candidates down to the local level as I sometimes do.

Yes, of course, I told her, I’ll be voting for Elizabeth Warren.

Warren has the best mix of brains and experience of all the candidates for the Democratic nomination. Her goals are very similar to the worthwhile ones ably publicized by Bernie Sanders. But comparing the two of them reminds me of the old joke about Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, and she did it backwards and in high heels.

In case you missed it, Elizabeth Warren is a woman. She’s been one the whole time she’s been getting an education and then rising to the top in the several spheres in which she’s excelled: federal administration, the Senate, academia—while also raising kids as a single mother. That’s the political equivalent of dancing backwards in high heels. 

My inquiring friend and I both went to law school while we had small children, so we know that’s not easy, even though unlike Elizabeth Warren we both had supportive partners. The first time I applied to law school, at the University of Michigan, I was told by a dean that they’d never admitted a mother with little kids and weren’t about to start. That attitude had changed somewhat by the time Warren was a law student, but it wasn’t entirely gone. She needed to be tough to get through. 

But here’s the thing, as she would say: Even though she’d make the best president of the current bunch of aspirants, some of the others would be just fine too. 

There’s been a lot of tongue-clucking by the Very Serious Press, notably the NYT and the WP, over the relatively modest turnout in the Iowa caucuses. Occam’s Razor suggests to me that there’s a simple reason why a lot of Dems stayed home that night. 

These Iowa voters probably agree with me that in the general election against Trump, they’re ready to vote for any of these Democratic candidates, regardless. Since that’s so, why should they bother to go out for several hours on a cold Iowa night to support one or another? 

There’s analytic support for this hypothesis. I met someone at a holiday party who said he was related to a top pollster in the last generation, perhaps his father. He said that his relative often claimed that if he could interview potential voters at length, he could accurately predict who they’d vote for even before they’d made up their own minds. 

In my own experience doing door to door precinct work, I learned that there were very few genuine swing or undecided voters. Most who claimed to be independent were actually not very interested in politics and seldom showed up at the polls on election day. The regular Democratic voters knew what they wanted from the git-go, and my job was to make sure they could vote. 

A poli-sci professor at an obscure Virginia college has been getting a lot of digital ink lately with an innovative forecasting model for predicting election results. Rachel Bitecofer claims that she accurately predicted, within one congressional seat, how many Democrats would win in 2018 and take back the House. 

Further, she says that “By and large, I don’t expect that the specific nominee the Democratic electorate chooses will matter all that much unless it ends up being a disruptor like Bernie Sanders.” That’s a prediction for the November general election, not the primaries, of course. 

Her hypothesis seems to accord with my own observation: that there aren’t many swing voters, and it’s all about turnout, given a normal Democratic candidate. If all the people who hate Trump show up, the Democrat will win. 

If the professor is right—and she shows persuasive data—there’s not much point in individual voters like us trying to suss out which candidate the remnant of wavering centrists might prefer, because there just aren’t enough of them to affect totals. That leaves people like us free to decide on Super Tuesday which Dem might make the best president. 

I was pained, none the less, to hear a young woman who should know better, the daughter of a distinguished attorney mother, complain that Warren sounds too much like the former schoolteacher she in fact is. The problem seems to be that for many their childhood teachers were the strongest female authority figures in their personal background, so any woman who speaks up sounds like a teacher to them. 

But what’s wrong with that? Even women, even feminist women (and of course many men) don’t want to be told what to do, it seems. But voters must look beyond presentation to policies when deciding which candidate would make the best president. And they should not make the mistake of trying to decide which would make the best candidate—that's different. 

Though we can’t resist trying: 

Bernie Sanders? Too old, and perhaps too wedded to his edgy Socialist persona. Those who care about such things (I’m not one of them) point out that he’s not even a Gen-U-ine Socialist, but more of a Social Democrat. 

In schoolyard lingo, Bernie Doesn’t Play Well With Others. And he hasn’t really done much but serve as mayor of a small town and senator from a small compliant state. 

Warren offers similar ideas, sans the Socialist label, which could be unnecessarily off-putting to some. 

Amy Klobuchar? She presents well, thanks to her background as a trial litigator and her Minnesota Nice dialect. But as a former prosecutor she lacks Warren’s breadth of experience. Her policy ideas are vague at best. 

Mayor Pete? Another mayor of a small city. I’ve been surprised (and not pleased) to learn that he was a contemporary of Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard and has gotten staffers (and probably money) from the Facebook crowd. Probably okay anyhow. 

The best you can say about Biden is that he's forgettable, 

Which brings us to Bloomberg, Steyer and whoever’s left standing by November. If money talks as it’s reputed to, the billionaires could be sucking all the air out of the race to help their big bucks holler. 

Have I forgotten anyone? 

Yes, Virginia, I’d vote for any or all of them, if Trump is the opponent, and you should too. 

In March, in California, however, you can pick as you choose for Best in Show—so I’m picking Warren. And the “March” primary has begun. 

By the way, you’ll have heard a lot of hype in the meantime from media who like to cover politics as if it belongs in the green section with sports. Discussion of how the caucuses got so screwed up has attached significance to the failed caucus reporting technology which it doesn’t deserve. 

Iowa’s not much of a hightech place, so it’s not surprising that their Democratic honchos were suckered by a software system that was not ready for prime time. In my long midlife stint as a tech manager I learned to say that “anyone who believes a programmer deserves what they get.” It’s seldom possible to accurately predict how long software design and implementation are going to take, as amply demonstrated in Iowa. 

Which reminds me of another handy slogan, usually attributed to IBM: “A demonstration is an opportunity to fail”. There’s a world of buggy code out there just waiting to embarrass you on its first public appearance, so test, test, test before going public. And please, make sure everyone involved is at the necessary level of digital sophistication, which the Iowa precinct workers clearly weren’t. 

It’s tempting to extract global implications about the future of the Democratic Party from the Iowa foolishness, but don’t. It could happen to anyone, and it does. 

What’s important, still, is getting out the vote everywhere it counts. This year of all years the main job is combatting scurrilous attempts at voter suppression, in Wisconsin, Georgia and everywhere in between. There’s a variety of worthy groups working to support key local organizers, often mature women of color who know their neighbors and can help them get their fair chance at the polls. Find one and support it if you have time and/or money to spare. 

And of course for now don’t forget to vote for your own best choice in the California Primary, now underway at a mailbox near you. Whoever you might choose, one of them will win in November if no one screws up too badly. 

P.S. Another reason for me to choose Warren just came up today. 

Asked who would be her "Mike Pence” if elected, Elizabeth Warren quipped “I don't need one—I already have a dog.” 

A woman who’s ready with a snarky comment which makes me laugh out loud is my kinda gal. 



Public Comment

Proposed Southside Zoning Districts: An Open Letter to the Berkeley Planning Commission

Harvey Smith, Co-chair,People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 10:37:00 AM

It has recently come to our attention that discussion is underway regarding newly proposed Southside Zoning Districts for a potential Southside EIR Project Description, prepared by the City of Berkeley Planning and Development Staff. In response, the recently formed People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group urges the Planning Commission to reconsider any ventures that might up-zone the People’s Park block for future housing development. People’s Park is not only a designated City of Berkeley Landmark and Public Open Space, but it is a site distinguished by exceptional surrounds and public view corridors of designated City, State, and National Landmarks. 

It would seem hasty and, perhaps, detrimental to further up-zone the Southside at this time. It is relevant that the area has recently expanded with new population numbers and is, in fact, currently undergoing a period of remarkable new housing construction. Thus, in light of an already pending increased density, it would seem most relevant that the Planning Commission view People’s Park as the valuable Public Open Space that it is. 

It may be that the Planning Commission is not fully aware of “Measure L”, adopted in 1986 by the citizens of Berkeley. In consideration of the Southside both today and in the future, Measure L guides the City toward a policy of maintenance and improvement of People’s Park. Please note the guiding language: 

ORDINANCE No. 5785-N.S.  


Indeed, while People’s Park has suffered from many years of little or no positive “park” planning, as well as from a multitude of conditions reflecting the various social problems in the Southside, as well as in Berkeley and in California, such neglect should not prevent wholesome planning for the future of the area’s “town and gown” community. Again, we urge the Planning Commission to not up-zone the historic People’s Park block, but rather to engage in a vision entitled by ORDINANCE No. 5785-N.S., Measure L, providing for the planning of much needed recreational use and/or public open space in the Southside.

Open Letter to the Editor, Bay Area Reporter:

Robert Brokl, Alfred Crofts
Friday February 07, 2020 - 02:57:00 PM

Dear Editor:

Your Scott Wiener endorsement is not unexpected, but annoying and dispiriting, nonetheless.

Yes, Wiener has done good work on transgender and justice reform issues, and he should be commended for taking a lead on those issues. He is also one of the most high profile gay politicians in California.

But we would argue these popular, progressive positions (at least in most of this state) are fig leaves, and secondary to his relentless flogging of some variation of his more housing (of a certain sort) SB 50 bill every legislative session. But why would he give up, richly rewarded and underwritten by contributions by builders and developers? His ambitions will likely be fueled well beyond the State Senate. Transgender and criminal justice victims don’t pay the bills. 

Yes, affordable housing in the Bay Area is scarce, where we have huge disparities in income, reflected in villas for the super-rich and the squalor of destitute, sick, and pathetic people living on sidewalks, under freeways, and wherever they can pitch a tent, if they even have one. It’s telling that the press rollout of the latest version of SB 50 in Oakland, attended by Wiener and Mayor Libby Schaff, was an embarrassment for them—they were shouted down by low income renters who fear losing existing affordable units. 

If anyone for a moment thinks the working poor or the even less fortunate, the homeless, are really benefiting from this unprecedented building boom of market rate housing transforming swaths of SF, Oakland, or Berkeley, then they are simply wanting to be deceived.  

Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes? 

Even the YIMBY friendly East Bay Express in their recent article (Jan. 22-28, 2020) on plans for new housing at two Berkeley stations made explicit: “…California YIMBY, a statewide organization funded mainly by high-tech and real estate businesses, which argues that building as much housing as possible will lower costs by increasing the supply to match the demand.”  

This is a totally unproven theory, undercut by realistic estimates of what the real costs of providing ample, truly affordable low income housing would be. But Wiener isn’t part of that solution with his developer-friendly, build anywhere, zoning-be-damned approach. We need progressives who advocate for redistributing some of the incredible wealth of this area to helping provide basic needs. 

Your endorsement editorial also gets the shade reference exactly wrong. The article from the Dec.1, 2019, New York Times, not the Los Angeles Times, describes how low income communities are further shortchanged by the absence of shade-providing trees, not high-rises as you suggest. Los Angeles is undertaking an ambitious plan to plant 90,000 trees and appoint a City Forester. Existing mature trees are often sacrificed in the race to build lot-line-to-lot-line, high profit market-rate developments. 

Stepping back a bit and analyzing the Bay Area Reporter’s history of political endorsements, your venerable paper routinely picks the more establishment, safe, status quo candidate, of whom Wiener is a prime example. Or, for that matter, Breed and Loftus. The history of the gay movement, which has brought us to where we are today, has been one of struggle and resistance, with visionary participants, many unknown or lost to history. Of the well-known, we owe so much to Roger Casement, Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, or Bayard Rustin, who is eulogized ironically enough in your Wiener endorsement issue. If they were lucky they were just ostracized or humiliated; Milk and Casement were killed. To think their sacrifices and courage have brought us to the Scott Wiener moment.

Racializing the homeless

Steve Martinot
Friday February 07, 2020 - 03:13:00 PM

The cruelty of law

Torture, as a form of cruelty, is illegal. Yet it is practiced by police and government agencies, all over the country. Some people cannot stop themselves from being cruel to others. There are cops who have subjected persons to repeated shocks from a stungun (aka taser). We know it was done just to see them writhe and scream, because the victim was already in handcuffs. Some people have died from this treatment. Judges have been known to overlook obviously falsified evidence in order to convict a person. The list is long, and populated mostly by those with a graceful brown color to their skin. 

Racial profiling is also illegal, though it is practiced by police departments all cross the country. Racism itself is a form of cruelty because of the disparagement and deprecation implicit in singling out and discriminating against people of color. It is an especially bloated cruelty because it enacts a tradition of intentionally defining people as "other" in order to devalue them (via harassment, exclusion, denigration, etc.). To act in a cruel manner always means to define the victim of one’s cruelty as "other." 

What do we do, then, when we are confronted with a cruelty on the part of our own city government, who find it in their hearts to invent a form of discrimination, and to produce an arbitrary "otherness"? What do we do with a city government that can deploy a structure of racialization through that process? 

Where do we find our city government acting in this way? For one thing, it is in their attitude toward the RV dwellers, who are a fraction of the total homeless population of the city. 

The city of Berkeley has a little clause in a proposed ordinance banning RVs from the streets of the city that implements itself by banning sleeping in an RV between the hours of 2 am and 5 am. This is alightly inaccurate. No RV can be parked in Berkeley during that time, which amounts to the same thing since the RV is the "home" of a person who has to wake up to move it. Since RVs park in public areas and on public land, and are licensed by the state, this becomes a regulation about machines rather than people. But it is the person sheltered by these machines who is besieged, in order to induce them to leave the "polite" territory of this city. In the midst of a national crisis of homelessness, the selfishness of this kind of measure is outrageous. 

Its hypocrisy, of course, is that it refers to people who, though priced out of normal "housed" existence by greed, have been able to partially shelter themselves (more than the city is able to do). The city can’t shelter them, but when they shelter themselves, it punishes them for it. That is, the city has chosen to punish them for their accomplishment where the city has failed. The horrendousness of this lies in the fact (yes, the "fact") that the city has chosen to do this through sleep deprivation – a process internationally recognized as a form of torture, and thus of cruelty. 

In the extreme case of a cop torturing a person with taser or nightstick or constraint equipment, anyone with human compassion would see the wrong being committed, and the hypocrisy of doing so in the name of law and order. But how do you name it when it is being done subtly, in a hidden and back-handed manner? 

Government is chartered to provide protection for its residents against assault and torment. When government actually creates the stress and torment, where does one go to get protection? Where does one go when one has to protect oneself against the institutions charged with protecting one? 

We might not have pictures of the cop’s orgasmic face as he repeatedly presses the trigger of his stungun. We may have to imagine the corporate officers of large real estate companies smiling as they raise glasses of expensive wine, and toast each other for the windfall of dehumanizingly high rents. But we can see the self-satisfaction in the faces of our City Council when they think of their success in dealing with the economically-generated plague of RV dwellers. . 

Berkeley City Council has had 8 months to expunge this clause from its books and its record after it had been identified for them as a form of torture. They have not done so. An apology would be timely, since enforcement has not yet occurred. After enforcement begins, we could justifiably require these persons, our "representatives," to undergo therapy. 


But it gets worse

The genius of cruelty is that it can always figure out a way to make things worse. And so it is with the Berkeley City Council. In that same ordinance, they included a little expression, “priority population,” which will constitute the dividing line between those RV dwellers granted recognition as human (and given temporary permits) and those subjected to discriminatory behavior by the police (ticketing and expulsion from the city). 

“Priority population.” In the US, we know what that expression means. It brings enormous historical baggage with it through its invocation of a supremacy assumed by white people. That is, it refers to the arrogation of the power to define others as "other." 

Why attempt to turn some of the RV dwellers against others by proclaiming some to be a “priority population”? In a lame way, the city explains that it has been looking for places for RVs to park, and hasn’t been able to find places for all. What they cannot find, with the crippled consciousness they use, is the idea of letting them park where they are now, on the street. That would simply be outrageous. They are willing to spend money to lease lots for RVs to park, but not to hire gaurds to assure that the RV dwellers on the street are safe, and that they get the same trash pick-up and necessary services (pumping out) that regular houses get as “infrastructure.” 

Right now, most of these RVs are parked in industrial areas, or along parks, away from residents. They are not interested in clogging up anybody’s space, or interfering with parking by the public. They are conscious of their condition, and desire only a way of fitting in. Yet regardless of that, they are harassed by those who intentionally separate them from other city residents, and then divide them up against themselves through a multileveled process of privilege. 

As "other," they are, in a metaphoric sense, racialized with respect to the "housed." And then, among themselves, the city creates a hierarchy. To proclaim some people privileged is to reduce the others, excluded from that category, to a form of discrimination. Discrimination against those whose social status is defined as “other” is illegal. Yet the city finds an end run around that by focusing on those who drive licensed pieces of machinery. If you look only at the machinery, and at the markings you make on streets, then you don’t have to look at the people involved and affected by what you do. You don’t have to consider the cruelty involved. 



But what does "racialization" mean? Does it refer to race? Or is it the means be which race is created? Out of nothing? Is it a way of dividing something in which there is no division? 

"Race" pretends to be a division of human beings according to color (primarily, with other traits added in). The problem with human coloration is that it is continuous. There are no natural divisions according to color. Between any two people of different color, one can find a third person whose color will be between those two. European colonialism legislated the only division available to it, that between white and all others, based on the fact that the child of a white produced with a person of color from the colonized population would have a color different from both parents. In order not to share administration of a colony with its indigenous inhabitants, colonialism created a "racial" difference to insure that colonial rule remained white. That is not only how “priority population” came to be synonymous with whiteness, but also how the difference between “white and other” became the basis on which race was defined in the first place. 

How does racialization work? 

Race is defined in different ways in different cultures. Mexico has its own way, as does Brazil, and Japan. If race exists only by definition, then it matters who defines it, and who enacts the definition. Those who define it bring it into existence. That means that the race they define for others is imposed. It is something done to them, which implies that it is done from a position of power or control. In that sense, the concept of race is inseparable from originary colonial dominance, an overlordship which lives and breathes supremacism, as the “priority population.” 

In practice, this means that a black person isn’t born black. They are made black by white supremacist society. It is white people, exercising the power to define that they have arrogated for themselves, that do this. It also means that white people are not born white. They are made white by white supremacist society, imposing its power to define again.  

If race is not inherent in people, because it results from an act of social definition, then the word (“race”) is not a noun. There is no "thing" or attribute that it names. It is a verb. It is something that one group of people does to others. 

The verb is “to racialize.” When white society makes black people black, it is racializing them. When white society makes white people white, it is racializing them. These two forms of racialization may occur from the same origin, but they are different. Whites are racialized to be absorbed into racializing society, and black and brown people are racialized to be excluded and dispossessed of their humanity (to varying degrees). For white people, equality in society is an assumption. For black or brown people, equality in society is a constant struggle. Even today. 

There are white people who would not choose to be white if they had a choice. It is socially bestowed upon them by other white people. But there is no escape. Try as they might to abandon this imposed whiteness with its horrendous history of enslavement, segregation, domination of others, violence and murder in the name of race purity, and its inherent fallaciousness of the concept, they cannot give up their white identity. As soon as they walk out into the street, everyone there gives them their whiteness again. In an uninterrupted manner, it is socially bestowed. Only a cultural transformation will alleviate this situation. 

The term "racism," then, doesn’t pertain to the difference between groups produced as races. It names the systemic activities of some that result in the racialization of others as “other.” It is the name for the multiplicity of enactments that divide society into the racializers and the racialized. 

Isn’t this what City Council has done to RV dwellers, defining one group as belonging to those who will be protected by City Council, and another group that will be excluded and expelled from the society over which City Council presides? In dividing a diverse humanity, it obeys a white privileged power over it – like a structure of racialization. Indeed, its act of defining a "priority population" appeared entirely "normal" to it. 


RV dwellers

The full reality of this situation should be staring us in the face. The homeless are not born homeless; they are made homeless by other people. Being made homeless is something that one group of people does to others. 

The homeless don’t deprive themselves of homes. They are deprived by others. It is this division of society into the deprivers and the deprived that gives substance to the notion that housing is a human right. It doesn’t matter what the deprivers do or where they get the power to deprive others, it is the structure of deprivation (of human standing, through the deprivation of housing) that counts. And it matters that the structure by which some people are deprived of human standing is the same as the structure of racialization. 

The state of California has laws against racial discrimination, laws which the city of Berkeley supports. Yet that same city has a law on its books, written a year ago, that creates a distinction between people that has the same structure as racialization – a distinction between a “priority population” and those defined as "other." 

The real crime, in racialization, is the culture of white supremacy that empowers the racialization enacted. And the real crime committed by Berkeley City Council is its assumption of an elitism by which it can make "othering" rules because it makes them as an elite, without the participation of those the rules are about. 

When some white people in power get together and decide to disenfranchise black people, which has happened several times in US history, they do not ask black people to participate in creating that disenfranchising policy, though it will affect them. Black people would have vetoed the measure. Similarly, when City Council writes an ordinance barring sleeping in an RV between 2 am and 5 am, it does not include any RV dwellers in the making of that policy. They would similarly have vetoed that rule as cruel. Procedurally, white supremacy and City Council elitism enact the same anti-democratic paradigm. Those who will be affected by a policy are excluded from involvement in making the policy that will affect them. 

This is not a good way to run a city. 


Smokefree Dispensaries - A Labor Issue

Carol Denney
Friday February 07, 2020 - 02:51:00 PM

I was sixteen when I started playing music. Smoke filled clubs were part of the game. It took me years, and surviving cancer, to begin speaking up for smokefree air. Club by club I cleared the air for me, for the sound guy, for the other musicians and the customers. Profits always went up, not down, after the change. 

Many workplaces were smokefree, but governing law was hit or miss. And in certain professions the prevailing culture was that if you wanted healthy air in your workplace you shouldn't have become a bartender or waiter. Or musician. You shouldn't have become a dancer, or an actor, or a stagehand. There is still a theater exemption risking the health of hardworking, essential people in the state of California. But in many states the protections are very few. 

Marijuana-related industries are the fastest growing business segment in California. Berkeley's new dispensary regulations allowing indoor smoking don't just put dispensary workers and customers at risk. They undermine decades of hard-won labor protections, a stunning reversal of public health policy. No ventilation or air filtration exists which can address small particulates in ambient air, and any shared walls put adjacent tenants or businesses at risk. 

Not only do marijuana users in Berkeley have an exemption from the multi-unit housing restrictions on smoking, there are more than ten ways to ingest or enjoy marijuana without affecting the air, included patches, edibles, creams, oils, infusions, etc. 

Contact your city council, which is about to go down in history as one of the few putting smokefree workplace protections in the trash bin. No dispensary should endorse or use a policy which jeopardizes hard-won, essential public health protections.


Jagjit Singh
Monday February 10, 2020 - 06:28:00 PM

President Trump’s diatribes targeting his political opponents are another disgusting spectacle of his presidency. He continues his uncouth behavior with abandon. Buoyed by the spineless Senate Republicans who exonerated him in the impeachment trial he dives even deeper into the depths of depravity. 

The former T-V reality star continues his mendacious unrepentant behavior trashing anyone who defies him. He mocked the spirit of the White House prayer meeting, which has traditionally been a bipartisan affair, to attack his new enemies accompanied by much laughter and applause from his Republican supporters. 

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the national security official who testified against Trump in the impeachment hearings, and his twin brother suffered utter humiliation as they were escorted out of the White House. 

Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union suffered a similar fate. 

He continues to use the power of the presidency to enrich himself and his family. 

It is puzzling why so many white evangelicals support Trump who has violated every tenet of Christianity with his abuse of women, his multiple infidelities, Stormy Daniels being the last known victim. As a business man he stiffed his contractors and hired many illegals failing to pay many of them. His abiding friendship with America’s arch enemy, Vladimir Putin, remains a mystery. He continues to ignore warnings from US Intelligence Agencies of Russian intrusion allowing them to continue their digital spying and hacking comfortable in the belief they will tilt the 2020 election in his favor.

“Peace Deal of the Century”

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 12:17:00 PM

It was a sad day for America and the world when two political fraudsters slithered into the White House. Both have much in common. Trump managed to establish a “house of cards” business” with a massive infusion of wealth from his father. Harvard was successfully bribed by a large donation from Kushner’s father allowing this underperforming son to gain admission. Both are presenting themselves as “foreign policy experts” 

Trump’s ‘deal of the century ‘ (DOTC)is 80 pages of banality masquerading as a ‘peace agreement’. It is filled with mega doses of egregious indignities heaped on the Palestinians. 

It is replete with self-aggrandizing references to “visions.” 

Imagine if an American born in the US, is driven from his-her home by armed squatters and is condemned to exile. That is the fate of millions of Palestinians who have been driven from their homes, declared outcasts and refused the “right of return.” 

Farewell to Jerusalem which was been gifted to Israel by President Trump. The annexation of most Palestinian land in the West Bank will be “gifted” to Israel. Funding to the Palestinians through UNRWA has been suspended by the US. Israel has also been protected from multiple UN resolutions condemning its illegal occupation and violations of international law by US vetoes. 

As Gideon Levy of the Israeli daily Haaretz, stated, it is “the final nail in the coffin of that walking corpse known as the two-state solution. Israel has degenerated into an apartheid state” assisted by $billions from the US who are complicit in its many crimes.

Fact-checking Donald Trump's 2020 State of the Union address

Gar Smith
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 11:19:00 AM

Who says Donald John Trump hasn't accomplished anything of substance during his stint as Reprimander-in-Chief? According to the Washington Post's fact-checkers, Trump has managed to utter 16,241 false or misleading statements during his first three years in office. 

No surprise then, that DJT's State of the Union Address would be rife with fibs. As WaPo reporters Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Sarah Cahlan put it, Trump's address was "chock-full of stretched facts and dubious figures." 

Here is a short video recap of Trump's Top Five SOTU Lies—followed by a more comprehensive list of some of Trump's other flawed facts and flabbergasting misrepresentations. 


"I am thrilled to report to you tonight that our economy is the best it has ever been." 

Trump has "made a variation of this claim some 260 times," WaPo reports. The truth is, "Trump has never achieved an annual growth rate above 3 percent." 

"I moved rapidly to revive the US economy … enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts." 

"That's Four-Pinocchios false," WaPo responds. "Measured as a share of the US economy, Trump's tax cut is the eighth-largest in the past century." 

"We have created 7 million new jobs." 

The last three years of Barack Obama's presidency saw job creation averaging 227,000 a month, far surpassing "the monthly average of 191,000 [jobs] a month under Trump." 

"The average unemployment rate under my administration is lower than any administration in the history of our country." 

The WaPo sleuths note: "the unemployment rate average was lower in Lyndon B. Johnson's second term than it has been under Trump." 

"The unemployment rate for disabled Americans has reached an all-time low." 

The claim of an "all-time low" is a "big stretch," since the Bureau of Labor Statistics only started recording these numbers in 2008. 

"Under my administration, 7 million Americans have come off of food stamps." 

This is not because of Washington's largess. It's the result of states rolling back "recession-era waivers that allowed some adults to keep their benefits" and the Trump administration's immigration policies prompting frightened immigrant families to drop out of the program. 

"In just three years of my administration, 3.5 million people, working-age people, have joined the workforce." 

Trump ignores the Great Recession of 2008, which saw the loss of 800,000 jobs per month. Obama's policies prevented greater job losses and launched a recovery that brought Labor Force Participation Rate back to 62.8 percent. During the Trump administration the LFPR has only reached 63.2 percent. 

"This is a blue-collar boom." 

"The manufacturing sector is in a technical recession," the WaPo observes." Job growth has slowed in many 'blue-collar' sectors such as transportation, construction and mining." 

"Since my election, the net worth of the bottom half of wage earners has increased by 47 percent — three times faster than the increase for the top 1 percent." 

"Trump is just spinning here. . . . People in the bottom half have essentially no wealth — just 1.6 percent of the nation's wealth . . . . The top 5 percent hold more than 70 percent of all net worth in the United States." 

"All those millions of people with 401(k)s and pensions are doing far better than they have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 90 and even 100 percent." 

"There's no evidence of such huge gains," the WaPo notes. "An analysis by Fidelity Investments showed the average 401(k) balance increased less than 1 percent." 

The Poynter Institute's Fact-checks 

According to an extensive review by the Politifacts team at the Poynter Institute, Trump’s speech included a number of falsities that he continues to repeat during campaign rallies. The Politifacts team fact-checked Trump's SOTU for accuracy or missing context. Here is some of what they found: 

Health Care 

"I've made an ironclad pledge to American families: We will also protect patients with pre-existing conditions." 

"This repeated line is Pants on Fire. His administration is doing the opposite in court." 

Last year, "for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down." 

Mostly False. 


"We have now completed over 100 miles [of Beautiful Wall] and have over 500 miles fully completed in a very short period of time.  

The 100-mile reference is mainly about the replacement of older, dilapidated barriers with new fencing. The southwest border had 654 miles of primary barriers before Trump was elected. Three years into Trump’s term, that has increased by only 1 mile. 


"Our military is completely rebuilt." 

This hasn’t happened. Rebuilding the military would require new equipment that can take years to build and develop. According to Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, Trump’s claim is "hyperbole." 

"We have invested a record-breaking 2.2 trillion in the US Military." 

Politifacts reveals that Trump was lumping together three years of military spending and notes that: "On an inflation-adjusted basis, not one year of Trump's defense budgets has exceed the high point in 2010 under Obama." 

"Soleimani was the Iranian regime's most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq." 

Politifacts' correction: The last Pentagon estimate of US deaths by Iranian-backed militias was 603 

"Today, the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed, and the founder and leader of ISIS — the bloodthirsty killer known as Al‑Baghdadi — is dead!” 

In the words of Politifacts: "The US military warned, in a report issued the day Trump spoke, that the Islamic State remained a dangerous threat and that the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not degrade the group’s capabilities . . . . ISIS remained cohesive, with an intact command and control structure, urban clandestine networks, and an insurgent presence in much of rural Syria.” 

“Qasem Soleimani … directed the December assault [on the US Embassy in Iraq] and went on to assault US forces in Iraq, and was actively planning new attacks.” 

Politifacts responds: "Other than Trump’s assertion, there is no publicly available evidence that Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani directed the December attacks or that any possible attack was imminent." 


"After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast — and, wonderfully, they are rising fastest for low-income workers, who have seen a 16% pay increase since my election.  

"This is Half True," Politifacts concedes. Since 2016, the bottom 10% saw a 14.6% rise but in 2017 and 2019, earnings for the top 10% grew faster than for the lowest wage earners. Still, Trump’s statement was only true for one out of his three years in office. 

Trump says he enacted "historic and record-setting tax cuts."  

False. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the recent tax bill is the fourth-largest since 1940. And as a percentage of GDP, it ranks seventh. 

"America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration." 

This leaves out some important context. The number of manufacturing jobs for production and nonsupervisory workers fell by 12,000 in 2019. Also, the recovery trend began four years before Trump took office. 

"After losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration." 

Politifacts offers this correction: "The data Trump cited is not really about factories." Some 80 percent of these "factories" are actually "manufacturing establishments" that can employ five or fewer workers. Also included as "Trump factories"—brick and mortar bakeries, candy stores, custom tailors and even cottages that host home businesses. 

"Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the No. 1 producer of oil and gas anywhere in the world, by far." 

"Trump is taking too much credit. The United States has been the world’s largest oil producer since 2012 and the top natural gas producer for years. Both achievements happened before Trump took over the White House." 

"The unemployment rate for women reached the lowest level in almost 70 years." 

"This is accurate but the women’s unemployment rate began falling under Obama's administration." 

"The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement will create nearly 100,000 new, high-paying American auto jobs." 

"This is a dubious figure," Politifacts states, citing a government report that predicts the probably creation of only 28,000 jobs for autoworkers. 

"Our new [health insurance] plans are up to 60 percent less expensive." 

And there's an obvious reason, Trump's new short-term plans "offer skimpier coverage and thus provide less protection." 

“We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions.” 

The truth is, " the Trump administration is supporting a total repeal of the Affordable Care Act — including its guarantee that patients can’t be denied coverage for preexisting conditions" and his new short-term plans "are not required to cover preexisting conditions." 

"For the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down.” 

Sorry, the Politifacts watchdogs report: "Studies we found show drug prices have not declined, especially when it comes to branded drugs." 

“In the Senate, we have confirmed a record number of 187 new federal judges.” 

According to Politifacts: "It’s not a record. Trump has a long way to go to have appointed the most federal judges. Reagan has the record, with 383, followed by Bill Clinton with 378 and then Obama with 329." 

“Forty million American families have an average $2,200 extra thanks to our child tax credit.” 

Once again, Trump is claiming full credit for someone else's work. As Politifacts points out: "The child tax credit has existed since 1997, and it has been expanded since then, including in the recent tax law. In 2016, under Obama, 35 million American families took the tax credit." 





The Time is Now

Romila Khanna
Monday February 10, 2020 - 06:25:00 PM

It is our time to get involved in politics and get to know the candidates. We need to vote for those candidates who embrace human qualities and believe in eliminating disparities, suffering and the discrimination which still exists in our society. 

We are frustrated in the present political reality-shows, where the truth is buried and decisions are made for the wealthy. The poor and low income people are suffering. We need politicians who will act to reform the present climate of the government, and pay attention to the policies, and decide to put a full stop to wrong politics which creates more problems here in USA. 

I hear that our economy Is booming now under the current President. After the previous administration left, how did we get so much more money to divert to the military including the air-force and navy? Why are we creating an unfriendly environment with other countries? 

We are proud of our abilities as it relates to national security but why are we afraid that other countries might attack us? Why we are fearful all the time? By extending cordial relationship with other countries, we can do better, since America is the home of immigrants.  

This time is now to open our eyes and ears and voice our opinions by asking the candidates questions about how our tomorrow will reflect more justice, fairness, equity and empathy to all irrespective of color, faith, and socio-economic status. 

We need people who will fight for all and preserve our democratic values. We need to cast our vote for those leaders who will solve our problems, who will help to erase poverty, homelessness, reduce gun violence, and provide adequate funding for education and healthcare needs. 

I am urging to the community members to be more vigilant and persist!


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Presumed a Fool by Fools

Jack Bragen
Friday February 07, 2020 - 03:04:00 PM

There are many people who would never admit to being disablist, yet they carry hurtful, inaccurate assumptions about people with mental illness. And there is no getting through to disablist people that, although we've been labeled mentally ill, most of us are competent adults, we can do things that require intelligence, and we can think. Their assumption is that all mentally ill people are managed--or something to that effect, that all mentally ill people are incompetent, and that our levels of functioning and intelligence are always below average. 

A problem I've had with disablists is they don't usually put their cards on the table. When you see a mental health professional or other person in a position of authority, and they seem unreadable, it usually means they're hiding something. 

They hide behind a mask of pretending to take me at my word. But, at some point, the truth comes out. The person had been assuming all along that I'm an idiot, that I'm incompetent, that my accomplishments aren't real or don't amount to much, and that I am supervised by the mental health treatment system. 

Some disablists work in the mental health treatment system, while others are involved in mental health in other respects. Some are not involved in mental health, and do not hide their hatred and contempt toward persons with mental illness and/or persons with other disabilities. 

I can't force anyone to think the way I want them to think. The alternative to such a futile effort is to choose my battles. Secondly, I need to put up an emotional wall that insulates me from the derision of disablists.  

And disablist therapists will never admit their feelings toward those on whom they do their work. If confronted, they will use therapeutic, manipulative techniques to deflect the criticism, so that they can avoid being accountable. 

Therapists are taught multiple techniques to deflect being accountable. They may tell an angry person to "take a deep breath." They may psychoanalyze someone's upset feelings toward them. They will inevitably deny any wrongdoing, and they will assert that it is the client's mental illness that makes her or him feel that the therapist has done something wrong. 

And I must remember that, just because someone believes or assumes something about me, that doesn't make it so. 

Dealing with disablists is the same idea, albeit at a much milder level, that black people were subject to, before racism became socially unacceptable. However, unlike with black people, disablists do not do physical violence to disabled people, or if they do, it is relatively rare. The injustices that befell nonwhite people in the not too distant past, and to a subtler extent in present day, are far beyond the levels of injustices that those with psychiatric disabilities must deal with. 

We might get a stinging remark, or we might get discrimination in hiring. Or we could be dealing with people putting their false impressions in our charts. And the last example could affect court cases where we are suspect of something--but this is hypothetical from where I stand. Yes, we are dealing with ignorant people and their ignorant beliefs, people who may have a lot of power over how we live. However, if our feelings are not easily hurt, and if we are resourceful, we can probably overcome and/or outwit these things and these ignorant people. 

The quagmire we face is where we need the mental health treatment system more than it needs us. We can't survive without being in treatment. And if we overtly defy "the system" numerous things will go against us. Society is set up such that we don't have limitless choices. The illnesses are real and must be addressed with treatment. Because of the above, sometimes we must walk a fine line. 

However, we must never believe people's assertions and assumptions that we are less, that we can't, or that we are not. 

THE PUBLIC EYE:What I learned at the Dog Park

Bob Burnett
Friday February 07, 2020 - 02:47:00 PM

I didn't attend the February 3rd Iowa Democratic Caucuses, but I did hold my own version of the caucus at our neighborhood dog park. The results are probably as accurate as those from Iowa: Biden lost, Bernie and Buttigieg tied for first place, and there's an opening for Bloomberg. 

I live in West Sonoma County -- roughly 60 miles above San Francisco. Most days I take my Australian Shepherd to a well-equipped dog park. While my Aussie plays, I talk to a regular group of dog owners about dogs, life, and politics. 

There's one golden rule of dog-park behavior: take care of your dog -- clean up after him/her and don't let them abuse other dogs. If you meet this standard then you are accepted. And, your political opinion is tolerated. 

There may be a Trump supporter among this crew, but they've never come out. Over the past couple of years I've noticed that the dog-park crew are overwhelmingly Democrats. Some of them admit that in the 2016 presidential election they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, but they did not vote for Donald Trump; they either didn't mark their ballot or voted for Jill Stein. 

After the results of the Iowa caucuses were in, I queried the dog-park crew about what they thought the results meant. Here's what I learned: 

1.Any Democratic candidate is better than Trump but some Democratic candidates are better than others. (By the way: I never heard anyone say, "If Bernie doesn't get the nomination, I'm not going to vote" -- words that my stepson says he's heard from His "Burning Man" friends.) 

2. Some folks really don't like Bernie Sanders. He got the most negative comments of any of the Democratic contenders. But that doesn't mean these dog-park denizens won't vote for Bernie in a contest against Trump. 

3. There's no candidate that elicits universal praise. Most of the dog-park women like Elizabeth Warren but they are not "disciples" -- they don't have the fervor that we saw, from some women, when Hillary Clinton ran. 

4. My homies don't like Trump because of his poor character. Sure, they don't agree with many of his policies -- such as his denial of global climate change -- but this isn't what's driving their political behavior. The dog-park crew can't stand Trump as a person. They cite his lying, intolerance, adversarial approach -- "my way or the highway," and all-around ineptitude. 

5. For the dog-park denizens, this election is much more about character than policy. While from a policy perspective there is a liberal group and a moderate group of candidates, their ultimate choice for the Democratic candidate will be based upon their assessment of who would have the best chance of beating Trump -- and bringing dignity back to the oval office. 

6. Everyone was surprised that Pete Buttigieg did so well in the Iowa caucuses. (Buttigieg and Sanders tied for first place.) The dog-park crew likes Mayor Pete but they don't know that much about him. Some wondered if a gay man can beat Trump. 

7. No one was surprised that Joe Biden did not win. People like Joe but they don't believe he is strong enough to beat Trump. 

8. There was mild surprise that Elizabeth Warren came in third. The dog-park women have Elizabeth as their first choice. Some men feel that Elizabeth reminds them of a school teacher, who lectured them. 

9. I observed that the Iowa result might provide an opening for Michael Bloomberg -- who was not on the ballot in Iowa but will be on the ballot for the March 3rd California primary election. When I made this suggestion, nearly everyone around said, "I'd vote for Bloomberg." 

10. Most of the dog-park crew expect there will be a contentious Democratic Presidential convention in mid-July. 

Summary: From this perspective, it looks like the race for the Democratic nomination has narrowed to Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and Bloomberg. For the record, Buttigieg and Warren have dogs; Bloomberg and Sanders don't. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Trump: Acquitted but not Exonerated

Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 07, 2020 - 03:06:00 PM

As expected, the Republican Senators acquitted Trump at his impeachment trial. The acquittal will now be the centerpiece of Trump’s reelection campaign.  

The difference between former president Richard Nixon and Trump when facing impeachment: Nixon accepted the validity of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law and a bipartisan Congress was poised to hold him accountable, whereas Trump views the Constitution and the rule of law as impediments to overcome and has the lockstep support of Congressional Republicans. 

At the impeachment trial, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) gave the most honest Republican answer on why he voted against no witnesses and documents when he admitted that Trump committed all the acts set forth in the two Articles of Impeachment, but said these acts were not impeachable. And Defense Counsel Alan Dershowitz argued that a president can do almost anything because he is president and his personal interests are the nation’s interests. They have allowed Trump to turn the Constitution on its head and largely erased Congress’s oversight powers. 

The Congressional Republicans have sold their souls for two conservative Supreme Court Justices, 187 other conservative federal judges and counting, a tax “overhaul” favoring the rich, and, possibly, the overturning of Roe v. Wade

November 3, 2020, will be a chance for voters to remove Trump. It won’t be easy.

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 10:41:00 AM

Will the KPFA Building Be Up For Auction?

It is both ironic and tragic that an historic, anti-war media institution like the Pacifica Foundation should find itself repeatedly engaged in a war for survival. And, once again, Berkeley's own KPFA finds itself at ground zero on the media battlescape.

Dedicated KPFA members will soon be asked to respond to a ballot that would fundamentally alter the station's operational bylaws. Members of a listener group called Rescue KPFA are warning that the new bylaw changes will be "anti-democratic and dangerous"—the work of a "rogue KPFA management" seeking to overturn Pacifica founder Lew Hill’s vision of an independent, anti-war, community based operation. According to the RKPFA partisans, the new rules threaten to turn "KPFA into NPR."

Rescue KPFA believes the current face-off involves an "engineered financial meltdown" brought about through "deliberate fiscal mismanagement" to set the stage for "an imminent auction of the Berkeley building."

Adding to the growing concern: a violent seizure of the WBAI studio in New York during a successful fund drive and "repeated failure to submit timely audits, causing a loss of Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants." A statement from Rescue KPFA references "secret KPFA Foundation incorporation papers in 2013" intended to "enable a bankruptcy judge to order the WBAI license and other station assets to be sold for tens of millions of dollars, allowing KPFA to use the proceeds to pay down debts and operate KPFA under new anti-democratic bylaws."

"This is exactly what we successfully defeated in 1999," Rescue KPFA notes. "Are we moving backwards?"



The reference is to a long factional battle between Pacific Foundation officials and local KPFA staff that culminated in a July 1, 1999 police siege of the KPFA building and the physical removal of station staff—including Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein—while hundreds of station supporters gathered outside and blocked traffic from Martin Luther King Jr. Way. (In April of that year, KPFA broadcast icon Larry Bensky also was fired for daring to discuss the struggle on the air.) 

The Pacifica Foundation's violent take-over of the station followed the accidental release of an internal email from a Houston real estate broker who served on the Foundation's board. In the email, Michael Palmer wrote: "I was under the impression there was support in the proper quarters, and a definite majority, for shutting down that unit and reprogramming immediately." Palmer was among a faction of Pacifica boardmembers who was considering (in his words) "the possibility of selling one of the stations to put the national network in a better financial position." 

According to Rescue KPFA, all five of Pacifica’s Local Station Boards have overwhelmingly voted NO on the substitute by-laws. 

What Is at Issue? 

The concern is that the new bylaws would: 

  • Enable a self-selected board to accept corporate or major donor contributions, instead of listener support
  • Eliminate community-elected Local Station Boards and oversight
  • Eliminate staff representatives on the Pacifica National Board
  • Disenfranchise more than 200 affiliate stations.
Disaffected staff and listeners are also concerned that Pacifica’s anti-war mission is "under threat by continually airing the fake opposition politics practiced by mainstream media and both major parties." 

The Rescue KPFA activists charge that management "has canceled popular programs with no due process: Guns and Butter, Twit Wit Radio, Discreet Music, Work Week." Instead, it chose to fill precious air-time with repetitive "gavel to gavel coverage of what every other media outlet is covering." 

The closing sentence of the appeal reads: "Vote NO on the substitute bylaws and prevent the NPR model of corporate control so KPFA can once again become the leading voice in opposition to endless wars." 

Meanwhile, the situation is growing dire. Because the station's management has failed to pay $486,000 in property taxes on the Berkeley studio for the last six years, the Alameda County Tax Collector’s office has announced its intention to seize the property for public auction. 

For more information, you can click on Rescue KPFA. Media Alliance executive director Tracy Rosenberg also recommends checking out the Pacific Radio in Exile webpage

A public press conference is planned at noon on February 12 at the KPFA studio (1929 MLKJ Way) 

Reviews on Trump's 'Exoneration' and his State of Disunion Address 

Senator Doug Jones (R-Alabama) 

"I just voted to convict the President on both charges brought against him by Congress. I made my decision based on evidence. I didn’t consult my party or polling – I took my Constitutional oaths seriously. That isn’t going to make Mitch McConnell or the extremists he supports in Washington happy, but it was the right thing to do." Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) 

"From the start, Mitch McConnell did everything he could to protect Trump and block the American public from seeing crucial White House documents and hearing from relevant witnesses that could have provided us with important information. This wasn’t a fair trial at all. This was a complete sham."  

Senator Michael Bennet (D-NH) 

"Since Trump was elected, we’ve acted as little more than an employment agency for a legion of unqualified, partisan judges and other nominees." 

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) 

"Here’s the bottom line: This vote wasn’t just about whether Trump solicited a political bribe from a foreign leader in a corrupt abuse of power for his own personal gain (which he undeniably did). It was also about what kind of country we want America to be. My Republican colleagues just sent a message to the American people that their President answers to no one—even when he invites foreign interference in our elections. This exact situation was our Founding Fathers’ worst nightmare and why they established impeachment powers in the first place. 

"I still believe that this President should be—and will be—accountable to those he was elected to serve. The facts will come out. The truth will matter. And it will be because of the bravery of dedicated public servants who had everything to lose and nothing to gain by coming forward—and because of the free press doing the investigative work that Senate Republicans were too cowardly to face."  

Senator Mitt Romney (R-CO) 

The Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we each strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it . . . . To maintain that the lack of a codified and comprehensive list of all the outrageous acts that a president might conceivably commit renders Congress powerless to remove a president defies reason . . . . This verdict is ours to render. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfilled our duty. The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a “high crime and misdemeanor.” Yes, he did.” 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) 

Rip. Rip. Rip. Rip. Rip . . . . 

The Real Trump Super Bowl Ad 

Over the Super Bowl weekend, the feisty lefty documentarians at Brave New Films released a short video designed "to shine a bright light on the claims made in the Trump campaign's multi-million-dollar Super Bowl ad." BNF explain they believed it was “in our national interest” to address Trump’s ad and tell the truth. 

BNF has also released a longer "investigative video" titled Trump Inc: Lining Their Pockets: White House For Sale. As BNF explains: "#TrumpInc didn't drain the swamp, they flooded it. In this film we dive deep into how the Trumps are #LiningTheirPockets with taxpayer dollars." Check out http://bnfactionfund.org/ for ways to mop up government corruption. 


Free Speech Movement Cafe Marks 20 Years at UC Berkeley 

On January 26, the Daily Californian saluted the Free Speech Movement Café, which had recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Located in the Moffitt Library, the café was created to "publicly spread awareness of the movement to future generations." 

Lee Felsenstein, an FSM veteran and boardmember of the Free Speech Movement Archives noted that the Cafe came about because of a donation to the University Library by Steve Silberstein, a UC alumnus who wanted to honor Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement. 

A personal confession: As an FSM vet, every time I visit the FSM Café, I find myself thinking of contacting the concessionaire to propose the cafe consider offering complimentary java for FSM vets. (It should be affordable since we are a shrinking demographic and there are not that many of us within striking distance of an FSMC cappuccino.) 

Welcome to America — Kick! Punch! Jab! 

I recently took a friend down to be fingerprinted at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office on Edgewater Avenue near the Oakland Coliseum. The service was friendly and quick. We were in and out in less than 15 minutes. While waiting, I noticed the walls were decorated with portraits of American heroes—including foreign-born Alexander Hamilton (St. Kitts & Nevis). 

But there also was a DVD running on a single large-screen in the lobby. And what were all the aspiring Americans compelled to watch as they waited for their numbers to be called? The 2017 Avengers spin-off, Thor: Ragnarok—a full 130 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, running, yelling and jumping while kicking, punching, and jabbing fellow actors and a humongous CGI Hulk. 


Is this the best way to exemplify the "Spirit of America"? 

How about showing human-scale, inspirational flicks instead—like Rocky, Forest Gump, Selma, Rosa Parks or Harriet

Sticking It to AARP 

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) prides itself on providing useful tips for its older members to protect their health, avoid bad habits, and spot scams but they somehow overlooked the fact that they've been mailing out member gifts wrapped in carcinogenic envelopes. A close inspection of AARP's plastic gift-bags reveals a tiny sticker (about the size of two breath-mints stacked end-to-end) that reads: Warning: Cancer and Reproductive Harm. www.P65warnings.ca.gov. The warning is only displayed on shipments addressed to residents of California, where Prop. 65 requires the display of health warnings. 

While a legally required warning label is a nice gesture, wouldn't it be preferable to pass laws that simply outlawed cancer-causing products in the first place? 

OK, Boomers. It's Time to Update the Voters' Guide 

In advance of the March 3 Presidential Primary Election, California cities are mailing out a Voter Information Guide that continues to look like an artifact from the 1940s. I'm referring to the Sample Ballot on the inside front cover. The mock-up contains six names and a blank line for a "write-in" candidate. 

Problem is: the names in the box all reference celebrities many-generations-removed from the present. Most of today's voters would not recognize these candidates for the imaginary post of "Directors of Entertainment"—Billy Rose, Carole Lombard, George E. Jessel, Kate Smith, Isadora Duncan, and Edward "Duke" Ellington all belong to a previous, long-gone century. 

Isn't it about time we updated our Sample Ballot to reflect the century that we now inhabit? With this goal in mind, I'd like to propose the following updated list of faux candidates: Billie Eilish, Tom Hanks, Beyonce, Johnny Depp, Lady Gaga, and Dolly Parton. 

If the rule is that (to avoid balloting confusion) the sample list cannot include anyone who is still living, here's an alternate list of celebs—Florence Henderson, Marlon Brando, Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, Robin Williams, and Gwen Ifill. 

ACLU Statement on Charges Against Glenn Greenwald

On January 21, Brazilian authorities charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald with “cybercrimes” for his crusading reporting as head of The Intercept. Ben Wizner, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, issued the following statement in response: 

“The United States must immediately condemn this outrageous assault on the freedom of the press, and recognize that its attacks on press freedoms at home have consequences for American journalists doing their jobs abroad.” 

Salud and Adieu to the Great Kirk Douglas 

Kirk Douglas—the son of two illiterate Jewish migrants from Russian and Ukraine—died on February 5 at the age of 103. In addition to being a Hollywood icon whose roles ranged from Spartacus to Vincent van Gogh, Douglas was also an author (The Ragman's Son, Climbing the Mountain, My Stroke of Luck) and a fearless champion of political freedom. 

In 1960, Douglas challenged the Hollywood blacklist that targeted left-leaning writers, forcing them to abandon their careers or work under the cover of aliases or "frontmen." It was Douglas who insisted that Dalton Trumbo be named as the screenwriter of director Otto Preminger's Spartacus. When the film became a runaway box-office hit, it signaled the end to the blacklist. 

Douglas appeared onscreen over a 60-year career that saw him has a cowboy, a pirate, a prizefighter, and a hard-boiled reporter. (Former Chronicle film critic Edward Guthmann has written a fine piece on Douglas that you can read here.) In addition to his other leading roles, I fondly remember Douglas for his performance as a guitar-strumming deckhand in the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Government Employees Behaving Badly 

ICE has fired a contractor who frequently posted comments on a neo-Nazi site and tried to start a hate group. CoreCivic, a private prisons-for-profit firm that operates the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump, Nevada, fired shift supervisor Travis Frey after the disclosure that he had posted more than a hundred comments on a white supremacist website. 

Among Frey's postings: “God used the white race in Europe to build western civilization. You'd be bowing five times a day towards Mecca if not for the Church and her Crusaders.” Frey, a pro-Trump activist, also attempted to start his own chapter of a neo-Nazi group while working at another CoreCivic facility in Indiana. 

Meanwhile, over at the US Border Patrol, Carla Provost retired as acting chief after it was revealed that she had been a member of a racist Facebook site that mocked the deaths of migrant children who died in the agency's custody. 

Trump's new chief, Border Patrol official Rodney Scott, has run into similar difficulties when he was outed for being a member of the same "racist and hateful" Facebook group. According to a Pro Publica investigation, as many as 70 Border Patrol agents were found to have regularly participated in exchanges on the site. 

Government Employees Behaving Badly 2 

There's a porn problem roiling the ranks of our country's well-paid federal office workers. According to a January 7 report in the Judicial Watch Corruption Chronicles, the US is experiencing an "epidemic of government employees watching porn on taxpayer time." 

Investigators discovered employees at the Department of Agriculture were more interested in porn than corn and were exchanging pornsite content with DoA contractors. Some government veterans at the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management were discovered to be using their workstations to download child pornography. The "porn crisis" at the Securities and Exchange Commission involved not only dozens of regular employees but also a number of "senior officers with lucrative six-figure salaries." As Judicial Watch put it: "While the economy crumbled, the SEC was preoccupied with pornography." 

Over at the National Science Foundation, an audit revealed that one NSF executive spent "at least 331 days" engaged in "workday porn surfing," using his government computer for "chatting online with naked women." 

It is, of course, illegal for federal employees to engage in porn-oggling during business hours. The misbehavior has become so rampant that, several years ago, Congress introduced the "Eliminating Pornography from Agencies Act." But the problem still festers. 

Meanwhile, in another odd collision between government oversight and X-rated uncovered sights, the FBI has created an "Anti-privacy Warning" for the Internet that cautions that "unauthorized reproduction or distribution" of copyrighted videos risks punishment of "up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000." Bizarre as it may seem, this warning mainly seems to pop up on websites featuring porn films. 

Arts & Events

The Artistry of Susan Graham On Display at Hertz Hall Recital

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean James MacBean
Monday February 10, 2020 - 06:11:00 PM

On Sunday, February 9, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham gave a recital of art songs accompanied by Malcolm Martineau on piano. Drawing mostly on the French and German reportory, Susan Graham demonstrated why Gramophone magazine dubbed her “America’s favorite mezzo.” Graham’s vocal artistry is exceptional. Her voice is warm, and her delivery is expressive, imbuing each song with emotional depth.  

With Malcolm Martineau on piano, Susan Graham opened the program with a set of five songs by French composer Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947). Quand je fus pris au pavillon/ When I was lured to her love nest was a bittersweet lament over a love tryst. The song Si mes vers avaient des aiies/ If my poems had wings, with lyrics by Victor Hugo, was an ardent love song. Le rossignol des lilas/ The Nightingale in the Lilac Bush was a fervent tribute to the song of the nightingale. Infidelité/ Infidelity, with lyrics by Théophile Gautier, was a bittersweet memory which ends with the words, “Rien n’a donc changé que vous/ Nothing has changed except for you. Le printemps/ Spring was a paean of praise to the coming of Spring. Throughout this set, Susan Graham’s diction in French was flawless. 

Next on the program were the Rückert Lieder of Gustave Mahler. These five songs, set to poetic texts by Friedrich Rückert, are among the pinnacle of art song; and in the hands of Susan Graham they were nothing short of sublime. Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder/ Do not look into my songs! offers a warning to avoid scrutinising the creative process. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft/ I breathed a gentle scent of linden evokes the scent of a sprig of linden gathered by a lover. Um Mitternacht/ At midnight is a song of searching for meaning in matters of life and death. Liebst du um Schönheit/ If you love for beauty lists the ways not to love before settling on the right way to love. The fifth and final song of the Rückert Lieder is a sheer masterpiece. Ich bin der Welt abhanded gekommen/ I am lost to the world speaks of an artist who has withdrawn from the world. It closes with the words “Ich leb’ allein in meinem Himmel, in meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied/ I live alone in my heaven, in my love, in my song.” To me, this song is Gustave Mahler speaking through the words of Friedrich Rückert. There is sadness in this song, but there is also strength. Susan Graham conveyed it all. 

After intermission, Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau performed Les nuits d’été by Hector Berlioz. Having recently heard both Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été sung by recent Merola graduates Alice Chung and Laureano Quant, it was striking to discover how much these young singers have to learn from Susan Graham. Unlike Alice Chung, who took every opportunity to belt out a fortissimo high note, Susan Graham took a more discretionary approach. As a result, Graham’s voice never sounded pushed to the limit, as did Alice Chung’s. 

In Les nuiits d’été Susan Graham captured every nuance of meaning and emotional depth in these songs. The soft ending of Absence, with its repeated refrain, “Reviens, reviens, ma bien aimée, was utterly sublime. Likewise, the ironic ending of L’ile inconnue was delivered with panache by Susan Graham. 

The printed portion of the program closed with Handel’s Largo, “Ombra mai fu” from his opera Serses, and Mozart’s aria “Deh, per questo istante solo” from La Clemenza di Tito. Due to a hacking cough, I did not stay for encores.  

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, Feb. 9-16

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 11:14:00 AM

Worth Noting:

City Offices are closed Wednesday in observation of President Lincoln’s Birthday. Commissions with regular meetings falling on the 2nd Wednesday have been rescheduled except for Parks Commission, If planning on going to the Parks Commission meeting call Monday or Tuesday 510.981.6704 secretary Roger Miller to check if Commission is still meeting.

February 18 is the last day to Register to Vote for the March 3, CA primary. If you have not received your voting pamphlet check your voting registration https://registertovote.ca.gov (If you can’t find your registration you may need to add your middle name or initial with your first name) Mail-in/absentee ballots are already arriving.

Monday – Council Health, Life Enrichment, Equity & Community Committee 10 am, Agenda and Rules Committee at 2:30 pm proposed agenda for Feb 25 includes 5. contract for Zoning Standards and EIR for Ashby and North Berkeley BART developments,

Tuesday – City Council Regular meeting at 6 pm, 17. Overnight RV Parking, 18. Ballot Initiatives

Thursday – City Council Budget and Finance Committee 10 am, 3. Proposal for Cannabis Tax payments in bitcoin/cryptocurrency

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Event is full with waiting list - 350 Bay Area ½ day training (in Berkeley) on how to impact State of California critical climate legislation,


Monday, February 10, 2020 

City Council Health, Life Enrichment, Equity & Community Committee, 10 am, at 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Room, Agenda: 3. Listening Session on Homelessness, 4. Healthy Checkout Ordinance, 5. a.&b. Resolution Procurement & Sale Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, a. prohibits sale and serving in City meetings/events, b. “Recognizes principles” emphasize healthy options, 6. a.&b. Modify Policies Related to Enforcement of Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing Ordinance, a. Increase staffing, improve signage, make reporting less onerous, b. refer to City Manager for analysis. 


Agenda and Rules Committee, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, at 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Room, Agenda Planning for February 25, CONSENT: 3. Formal Bid Solicitations and RFP, $12,440,000 4. Contract $313,800 with Worldwide Travel Staffing for Nurse Registry Services March 1, 2020 – June 30, 2023, , 5. Contract $500,000 with Van Meter Williams Pollack for Professional Planning Services to Prepare Zoning Standards and EIR for Ashby and North Berkeley BART Stations, March 1, 2020 – July 31, 2021, 6. Amend Agreement with CA Dept of Transportation (Caltrans) for maintenance of the State highways within the City of Berkeley will address roadway and traffic signal improvements, 7. Contract $388,489 (includes 10% contingency) with APB General Engineering for Sanitary Sewer Rehab and Replacement, 8. Permit Fee Waiver for PG&E for Undergrounding existing overhead electrical facilities and electric service conversions in Utility Undergrounding District No. 48. (Grizzly Reak/Summit), 9. Asylum for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Affirm Berkeley’s Commitment to our asylum-seeking residents, 10.&11. Council donations, 12. Support S.2012(Feinstein) Restoring Local Control Over Public Infrastructure Act of 2019, 13. Support SB-431(Mobile phones), SB-801 (back-up battery packs), SB-802 (allow diesel-powered generators during declared disasters) support people whose lives would be endangered with emergency power shutdowns, 14. a.,b.,c. appeal 1582 LeRoy convert Hillside School to residential use, 15. ZAB Appeal 2422 Fifth St, 16. Surveillance Technology & Acquisition Reports, License Plate Readers, GPS Trackers, Body Worn Cameras, ACTION: 17. Issuance $38,000,000 General Obligation Bonds for Measure O Affordable Housing, 18. Refinancing 2009, 2010 General Obligation Bonds (Measure FF), 19. Issuance and sale of lease revenue bonds to refinance outstanding Refinance 2010 Certificates (originally issued to finance Animal Shelter Project), 20. Ordinance 1st reading Ronald V. Dellums Fair Chance Access to Housing, 21. Schedule Special City Council Meeting on Ohlone History and Culture, 22. Referral: Street Lighting Near Campus, INFORMATION REPORTS: 23. Audit report not in packet, 24. Regional Leadership and Goals for 2020, 

Referred Items for Review – 8. Prohibit Officeholder Accounts, 9. Potential Revisions Rules of Procedure and Order, 10. Update Telecom Ordinances, 11. Compulsory Composting and Edible Food Recovery, Revisions to Short-Term Rental Ordinance No. 7,521, Grant Writing Services, Kitchen Exhaust Hoods, 


Homeless Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 2180 Milvia, 1st Floor Cypress Room, Agenda: 5. Census 2020, 8. Support Emergency Outdoor Shelter, 9. STAIR Center, 10. Lifelong Street Medicine proposal, Homeless persons on Caltrans property, 16. Landlord Incentives for accepting voucher/subsidy holders (rescheduled to Feb 10 because of holiday) 


Public Works Commission – Utility Undergrounding Subcommittee, 4 – 5 pm at 1947 Center, 4th Floor, Elm Room 


Youth Commission, 6:30 pm at 1730 Oregon St, Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Services Center, Agenda: Gender Neutral bathrooms discussion and letter to BUSD School Board 


Tax the Rich Rally, with music by Occupella, 4 – 5 pm at the Top of Solano in front of the Closed Oaks Theater, Rain Cancels 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 

Berkeley City Council, Tuesday, at 1231 Addison Street, BUSD Board Room, 


4 – 6 pm, Closed Session, Pending Litigation, a. Clay v. City of Berkeley, Case No. 18897070, 1444 Fifth Street LLC, v. City of Berkeley, Case No. 19032434 

6 pm – 11pm, Regular Council Meeting, Agenda: CONSENT: 1. Approvals Development Agreements for 2012 Berkeley Way, 2. 2nd reading Cannabis Ordinance, 3. Appoint Lisa Warhaus as Director of Health, Housing and Community Services, 5. Add $235,000 (total $450,000) with Sloan Sakai LLP for Chief Labor Negotiator services, 6. Apply for CA Dept of Housing and Development (HCD) funds $1 – 5 million under CalHome Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program and agreements if awarded, 7. Apply for Infill Infrastructure grants for 2527 Blake (SAHA) and 2001 Ashby (RCD), 8. Modify Block Grant to use CSBG funds for mobile shower program, 9. Support HR 5038 – Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019, 10. Support HR 5609 – Homelessness Emergency Declaration Act, 12. Improve enforcement ordinance Wage Theft Prevention, 13. Installation William Byron Rumford Plaque, 14. Referral to City Manager Electric Moped Ride-Share Franchise Agreement, ACTION: 15. Recommendations Related to Code Enforcement and Receivership Actions, 16. Disposition 1631 fifth St, 17. Resolution Safe Overnight RV Parking at Designated City-Owned Parking Lots, 18. Discussion Potential Ballot Measure for inclusion in community survey, 19. Electric Bike Share Program Franchise Amendment, 20. Resolution Discouraging the Use of Cell Phones, Email, Texting, Instant Messaging and Social Media by Councilmembers during Official City Meetings, 21. 2-Lane Option on Adeline St between MLK Way and Ward. INFORMATION: Commission on Disability Workplan 

Commission on the Status of Women – Equal Pay Subcommittee, 6 – 7 pm at 2000 University, Au Coquelet, Agenda: 5. Equal Pay Workshop 


Mental Health Commission – Audit Subcommittee, 1:30 – 3 pm at 2180 Milvia, Bay Laurel Room, 1st Floor Center St, 


Wednesday, February 12, 2020 

All City Offices are Closed in Observation of Lincoln’s Birthday 

The Parks Commission is listed as meeting. Other Commissions that normally meet the 2nd Wednesday have rescheduled. Parks and Waterfront Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 2800 Park St, Frances Albrier Community Center, Agenda: 16. Adopt a Spot, 17. New Commemorative Tree Program, 


Thursday, February 13, 2020 

City Council Budget & Finance Committee, 10 am, at 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Room, Agenda: 3. Cannabis Cryptocurrency Tax, ordinance to allow City to accept stablecoin (cryptocurrency) tax remittance, 4. Council’s Fiscal Policies, 5. Utilize Substantial Portion of Cannabis Tax proceeds to fund subsidies under 1000 Person Plan (homeless plan) 


Community Environmental Advisory Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 1901 Russell St, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch Library, Agenda: 2. Cigarette Butt Receptacles subcommittee Report, 3. Gas Station CO2 Labeling, 4. Bee City Initiative Update, 5. Letter to State on Research of Environmentally Preferable Alternatives to Plastics (CEAC meeting date Feb 13, listed incorrectly on website home page) 


Zoning Adjustment Board, 7 pm at 1231 Addison St, BUSD Board Room, https://www.cityofberkeley.info/zoningadjustmentsboard/ 

1919 Oregon – Demolish rear 541 sq ft addition, convert building to duplex, construct new 2-story 1438 sq ft rear dwelling unit, 3 parking spaces, staff recommend approve 

2565 Buena Vista Way – Expand existing 1675 sq ft 2-story single family dwelling that exceeds lot coverage by excavating the lower level, staff recommend approve 

1533 Beverly Place – enlarge existing 1212 sq ft 1-story single-family dwelling with a non-conforming front setback by adding 1035 sq ft addition including a new 2nd story, average height 23 ft – 7 ½”, add 5th bedroom, staff recommend dismiss appeal and approve 

Friday, February 14, 2020 

Berkeley City Reduced Services Day  

Saturday, February 15, 2020 

President’s Day Long Weekend 

Sunday, February 16, 2020 

President’s Day Long Weekend 



Public Hearings Scheduled – Land Use Appeals 

0 Euclid – Berryman Reservoir TBD 

2422 Fifth St – mixed-use building 2-25-2020 

1581 LeRoy Ave – convert vacant elementary school property – LPC & ZAB 2-25-2020 

Remanded to ZAB or LPC With 90-Day Deadline 

1155-73 Hearst (develop 2 parcels) – referred back to City Council – to be scheduled 

Notice of Decision (NOD) With End of Appeal Period 

1872 Allston 2-12-2020 

910 Ashby 2-12-2020 

2212 Ashby 2-12-2020 

2336 Eighth 2-12-2020 

30 Roanoke 2-25-2020 

1914 Stuart 2-25-2020 

1508 Virginia 2-11-2020 





March 17 – CIP Update (PRW and Public Works), Measure T1 Update 

May 5 – Budget Update, Crime Report 

June 23 – Climate Action Plan/Resiliency Update, Digital Strategic Plan FUND$/Replacement Website Update 

July 21, Sept 29 – no workshops scheduled “yet” 

Oct 20 – Update Berkeley’s 2020 Vision, BMASP/Berkeley Pier-WETA Ferry 


Unscheduled Workshops/Presentations 

Cannabis Health Considerations 

Vision 2050 

Systems Realignment 



To Check For Regional Meetings with Berkeley Council Appointees go to 



To check for Berkeley Unified School District Board Meetings go to 





This meeting list is also posted on the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition website. 

http://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and in the Berkeley Daily Planet under activist’s calendar http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com 


When notices of meetings are found that are posted after Friday 5:00 pm they are added to the website schedule https://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and preceded by LATE ENTRY