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Distance Learning: Berkeley Must Make the Best of It

Becky O'Malley
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 02:14:00 PM

Parents of school age children in Berkeley and elsewhere got the bad news this week: the kids will be at home for a while longer. There’s no question that this will be hard at times for all concerned: parents, students and teachers. But there’s also no question, for anyone who can understand the scientific reports, that this is the right decision.

I’m just glad that all my daughters and now even my granddaughters are grown, so it’s not my decision. I have one granddaughter, two grand-nieces and two more young family friends who are scheduled to start college in the fall, and they all must decide whether the offering at their chosen schools (probably some version of online, plus perhaps a modicum of in-person teaching) will be worth what it costs.

My guess is that most will take a year off instead. That’s disappointing, but it’s reality-based.  

However, it can’t be a traditional “Gap Year”, devoted to educational travel or to a job to earn tuition. Such options won’t be available in a quarantined world with a deepening depression. These students-to-be will have to devise their own programs for worthy activities, probably as volunteers if their families can afford to keep them at home.  

But it’s not the college students who are the problem. It’s the younger ones, those who can’t be left at home alone to do the best they can on a computer or even, god forbid, with books.  

Universal public schools are an innovation that blossomed in the United States in the 20th century. Earlier education was limited in various ways in earlier times and other places to relatively privileged segments of the population: boys, White people or other dominant social segments. Today’s parents, though, reasonably expect that some sort of government-run school will keep all their kids off the street and out of trouble for the better part of five days a week.  

A related but different expectation is that such schools will also teach these future adults something: at a minimum, to read, write, and figure. And the kids might even learn to get along with one another.  

Berkeley Superintendent of Schools Brent Stephens created consternation earlier this week when he released a letter reporting his conclusion that getting Berkeley public schools ready for safe on-site learning would not be possible in the near future.  

Here are some of the challenges he outlined:  

“We are already planning to spend millions of dollars to reopen schools, but there is still a long list of work that will require even more time and financial resources. We’re adapting our facilities with plexiglass, handwashing stations, and air filtration units; all of these supplies are in high demand and installation will be taking place in phases over the next weeks and months. Every square foot of our schools requires new procedures for social distancing and student cohorts.”  

And that’s just the beginning. Even with ample financing, which will not be available, just the physical changes to allow students to congregate safely in buildings will take a long time. Luckily or unluckily for the school authorities, the decision has been pre-empted by the state and county.  

On Wednesday night, Superintendent Stephens told the Berkeley School Board of Directors that re-opening schools and other congregate settings, according to state and county criteria, is contingent on Covid-19 cases decreasing. But instead they’re going up, so BUSD will not yet be allowed to provide on-site education.  

Stephens’ announcement has provoked a certain amount of outrage in the seething commentariat graciously maintained by local websites. Some Berkeley school parents and other concerned citizens appear to believe that this whole coronavirus thing is a dastardly plot by the teachers’ union. They seem to think that the teachers are just using the shutdown as a way to get paid time off.  

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  

Evidently they don’t know any of the dedicated teachers who have been frantically trying to shift gears from hands-on learning to computer-mediated instruction. All the teachers I’ve talked to, family and friends who teach everything from a Head Start program for the children of essential workers to university graduate students and everyone in between think it’s a very hard job.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t illuminate the discussion by putting out a self-righteous statement that children would be much better off attending school in person. Of course they would, but if you think it through “back to normal” just isn’t one of the alternatives. They’ve since walked that back a bit.  

So how does the Berkeley district expect to accomplish what is now being called “distance” learning?  

Experienced teacher Shameem Patel does an excellent job of reviewing the two genuine alternatives on the Medium site. She discusses two possibilities:  

Option 1: reopen schools safely or Option 2: full virtual learning.  

Her sensible conclusion:  

“[M] aking the argument that virtual learning didn’t work in the spring, therefore it is not a viable option any longer, is deeply flawed. It didn’t work, perhaps, on the whole, because we had no time to prepare, we had very limited resources, and it was born out of a completely unexpected national shutdown.  

It wasn’t virtual education, it was emergency learning.  

If we are given the resources and time, it can be much more impactful and effective moving forward.”  

The same discussion has been taking place all over the country. I talked to a friend in North Carolina, a state which has lagged behind California in shutting down and mandating masks and is now reaping the whirlwind. She watched her local school board discussing a plan where small groups of students (a “pod”) would attend school in person for a week at a time, distancing and masking, and then be out for several weeks to work at home while other pods take their place.  

One parent speaking at this meeting said that her pediatrician claims that kids are doing fine wearing masks in his office. But another parent commented that little kids couldn’t be trusted to wear masks for seven hours a day for five days at a stretch. There’s a major difference between one child in an office wearing a mask for an hour and a bunch of kids masked all day in a classroom.  

President Trump and his spokesmodel Kayleigh McEnany have put their heavy thumbs on the scale by coming out loud and clear for opening the schools all up all the way. With Trump now firmly on the wrong side of history, the increasing majority of those polled, in any kind of poll, who think he’s made a mess of the coronavirus emergency think he’s wrong on the school question too.  

Kayleigh has been somewhat unfairly tagged with saying that we shouldn’t let science get in the way of re-opening, though in context it seems that she was simply trying to claim that the science is on their side. Of course she’s wrong about that too—it’s not, if the relevant scientists are epidemiologists instead of pediatricians.  

Educators everywhere are reluctantly accepting the reality that putting kids in indoor congregate settings is just too dangerous at the moment. Now they’re redirecting their energy toward plans to make the most of the new opportunities offered by distance learning.  

Here’s what Superintendent Stephens says he’ll do in Berkeley:  

There will be structured daily and weekly schedules for students, required attendance, daily live instruction on Zoom, engaging remote learning content, assignments that are graded and reviewed by teachers, and consistent communication with families.  

Several of the parents stressing online in East Bay venues mentioned “structure” as something their own kids badly needed. Everyone’s different, but my own experience bringing up children in Berkeley in the ’60 and‘70s is that their friends being raised in highly structured homes needed to be watched carefully when they came over to play or they’d get into trouble, while the ones from looser family regimes could generally be trusted not to.  

Individual distanced learning could be seen as an opportunity for all kinds of children to learn at their own pace. Several engineers and scientists that I know have told me that they read slowly but absorb the material thoroughly, and primary school schedules often move too fast for kids like that.  

On the other hand, there are those that get bored if things move slowly in class. A high school student wrote an eloquent letter to the New York Times after her school had been closed for a month saying how much more she enjoyed being able to speed through the required material  

A friend, raised in Africa by American missionary parents, got most of her early childhood education from mailed correspondence courses, which she remembers with enthusiasm. However she asked someone else raised in the same way what they thought of the experience, and the memory was of intense loneliness.  

There are many, many young people in Berkeley and elsewhere who don’t have the technical resources or the temperament to educate themselves at home, no matter how hard the school district tries to do right by them. Live Zoom meetings in particular are dependent on up-to-date computer or phone setups.  

But the major problem with distanced (read at home) individualized learning is that schools also serve as child care, which is why, for parents who must leave home to make a living, school closing is a major worry. Another friend has a sweet 10 year old with learning differences who can now be left alone for an hour or two when Mom goes out for groceries, but can’t be relied on to make safe judgments about what to do for many hours of every day—let alone to persist at her own school work with or without a computer.  

It’s my belief, based on what I’ve observed in my long life, that most people who’ve missed some school will eventually catch up. A high school friend got tuberculosis, and in those days the only treatment was a year of isolation in a sanitarium. She used the time to get caught up on her reading, graduated on schedule, and later (I was pleased to discover today via Google) became a distinguished investigative pathologist.  

In a rational universe, taking care of students offsite should the simplest problem to solve. Parents who rely on employment income should be paid by the government to take care of their own kids at home if they want to, or to pay someone else to do it if they can’t or don’t want to take time off work. Most civilized countries provide a child allowance, but the United States of America in 2020 during the Trump presidency is not such a country.  

In the absence of a rational government policy, is there anything that all of us here in Berkeley can do to help with the education and safety of everyone’s kids during the coronavirus crisis? Well, there are more adults at home than there used to be. Some of us are working from home, and many retirees are aging in place.  

It should be possible to establish a volunteer network of available adults, even with social distancing, who could be called to help students working at home whose parents must be elsewhere. People with computer skills can often solve technical glitches over the phone or with screen sharing—it’s been done for me. High school students can often do this well. Early readers can read along with older partners, especially seniors, on the telephone, both in their own neighborhood and elsewhere. Those who've postponed college for a year could do a lot of useful services.  

Neighbors can provide a safety net for home-based students in case of emergencies. When our kids were growing up in the seventies and eighties, everyone on the block relied on our neighborhood “househusband” John Cecil for all kinds of help. John recently died after decades struggling with dementia, but his kindness is fondly remembered by the many he helped out who are now parents of young adults themselves.  

Anecdotes like mine can provide some guidance for educators in the absence of real data about what works best for students who must study at a distance. Volunteers are great, but we have to depend in the long run on government action to make sure that all our children get the safe and appropriate education they will need for a difficult future. Let’s hope someone somewhere is collecting enough hard information to guide the next national administration (hopefully Trump-free) in the development of a reality-based family policy which will make sure that the quarantined kids can catch up if they must.

Public Comment

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Changing the Role of Police in Mental Health Scenarios

Jack Bragen
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:38:00 PM

Police are probably having it a bit rough of late--there are a lot of people with whom police are unpopular. And this is because a few bad officers have committed horrendous, racist crimes, sparking public outrage. There is something intrinsically wrong with the concept of society needing to punish people through arresting people, especially when this leads to police beating citizens, harming them, and sometimes murdering people. This is not strictly happening to black people. Yet African American people are often assumed by police and others to be guilty of something merely through their skin color.

Much of the time, police perform essential roles in society. Most are very brave men and women and many of them are good people. We shouldn't hate all of law enforcement based on the behaviors of a few.

As a mentally ill white man with a history of some encounters with police, my feelings are mixed. I believe many police and sheriffs are callous and cruel toward people who do not deserve that treatment. I would like to see major changes in how police are hired, trained, and supervised.

Defunding police and eliminating them entirely would be a mistake. There are individuals in U.S. society, irrespective of race, who can and will take advantage of such a situation and will commit crimes because they feel they can get away with it, if there is no consequence of being punished. I hate to say it, but the repercussion of being jailed is the only thing that will work to restrain some criminals who would otherwise victimize vulnerable people.

On the other hand, in the circumstance of helping mentally ill people get help, the role of police needs to be given a major overhaul.

Let's not forget that a great number of persons with mental illness are inappropriately jailed. To put a vulnerable, ill person in that environment is an indescribably cruel action. You wouldn't incarcerate someone for having cancer or arthritis. Mental illnesses are biological conditions that happen to impact behavior. Any government entity, whether police or other, needs to be able to recognize whether the person they believe is guilty of something is actually symptomatic of a biologically produced mental illness.

Far too often, police, because they feel it is their job, ship mentally ill people into jail. And this is done in a heinous and cruel manner. It leaves the mentally ill person, at that point, a victim of the criminal justice system, and emotionally scarred for life.

Aside from that, many police seem to think their job is about punishment. And that seems to include punishing black people for being black. It also includes punishing mentally ill people for minor offenses that took place because the mentally ill person was confused, delusional, and/or disoriented.

Since police are at least partly about punishment, and are certainly equipped for that, with firearms, tasers, and batons, maybe giving them a role in mental health is a misappropriation. This problem may stem from those in the general public being afraid of mentally ill people.

Some mentally ill people become violent. Yet, one hopes this doesn't end in an officer shooting a mentally ill person to death. The overall predicament we face is not simple, and it should not be perceived in an oversimplified way.

In Children's Protective Services in California, a social worker has the power to protect children and he or she often has police backup. Maybe this is the best way to handle 5150's and other enforcement where mentally ill people are involved. You could have mental health workers present in all dealings between police and mentally ill, and the worker could supervise police.

When medicated and receiving treatment, mentally ill people like myself are responsible for how we behave, and we are accountable. However, if I foolishly went off medication, at some point I would become unable to properly assess reality. At such a point, while I might be ethically responsible for anything done while off medication, I would not be fully competent, and should not be dealt with as such. Again, things should not be oversimplified.

Unfortunately, many people and many things in today's world are seen in an oversimplified manner. Yet, the method by which we decide how and where to use police in dealing with mental illness should be reasoned in the complex and nuanced manner it needs. 

ECLECTIC RANT:On School Reopening's During a Pandemic

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:51:00 PM

Many states seem schizophrenic about school openings, especially states that have done too little too late about curbing the pandemic. Trump is pressuring schools to reopen without regard to whether it is safe to do so. And many red state governors are feeling the White House pressure to reopen in spite of the rising levels of new cases in their states, giving little or no consideration to the risk of infections to teachers, school staff, students and the families of these students.  

Teachers should not be responsible for the recovery of the economy, babysitting children or “getting us back to normal.” Why should the schools be used as guinea pigs for our federal government’s failure to act? School administrators and parents should wait until the health care experts, not the politicians, say it is safe to reopen schools. In most states, it is not safe to reopen. 

COVID-19 doesnt care about our shattered economy or the upcoming election or the age of its victims. The virus is gonna do what viruses do.  

It would seem to follow that the priority should be to contain the causative virus and reduce the deaths associated with it as quickly as possible before reopening the economy, especially schools. Instead, those in power are trying to have it both ways by continuing the fight against the virus while reopening our economy, resulting in a losing battle on both fronts.

Berkeley City Officials Should Follow the Law Re People's Park

Harvey Smith,People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:30:00 PM

The message below was sent nearly three weeks ago. We have not received a written reply from any councilmember or city department. We did email the city auditor before sending this letter. Her response was that she would "add this to the list of possible audits along with other topics to consider for future audits." I also spoke with Councilmember Davila who suggested presenting this to the city council during the public comment portion of the meeting. Otherwise the silence from the city is deafening. 

To: Mayor Jesse Arreguin JArreguin@cityofberkeley.info 


City Council Members bbartlett@cityofberkeley.info, cdavila@cityofberkeley.info, LDroste@cityofberkeley.info, shahn@cityofberkeley.info, kharrison@cityofberkeley.info, rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info, RRobinson@cityofberkeley.info, SWengraf@cityofberkeley.info Planning Department planning@cityofberkeley.info  

Planning Commission apearson@cityofberkeley.info 

Landmarks Preservation Commission FCrane@CityofBerkeley.info 

Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Department parks@cityofberkeley.info 

City Attorney attorney@cityofberkeley.info 

City Auditor jwong@cityofberkeley.info 

Former Mayors Gus Newport, Loni Hancock, Shirley Dean, Tom Bates 

I write to you on behalf of the People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group which represents Berkeley citizens concerned about the preservation of Peoples' Park as a cultural and open space resource. The park was designated a City Landmark in 1984 and is also surrounded by other renowned landmarks of local, state and national significance. This de facto historic district is endangered by proposed construction. The information below should make clear what we’d like to be determined. 

Two quotes from the mayor and council members clearly state their current position on high-rise, for-profit construction in People's Park instead of support for low-cost housing at alternative locations. This position seems to be in clear contradiction with the language of Measure L, the Berkeley Public Parks and Open Space Preservation Ordinance. We've also included information from the city's website which also indicates a conflict with Berkeley Municipal Code and preservation and landmark ordinances (although the code or those ordinances are not quoted directly). 

Our assumption is that the mayor and council should comply with what is mandated in city code and ordinances. We would much appreciate getting an opinion on this from the auditor's office or from any other appropriate department. 

Thanks for your attention to this critical matter. 


“Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said, ‘I strongly support the university's vision for the future of People's Park. We can honor its rich history while re-imagining it as a place where all people can come together and where we can shelter our homeless and provide needed housing for our students.’"  

Bay City News, Published May 4, 2018 


“We hope you will join us in advocating for a new People’s Park, one with permanent supportive housing, student housing, and open space that honors its heritage.  

“It’s time for a new People’s Park,” Op-Ed, S.F. Chronicle. By Rigel Robinson, Lori Droste and Jesse Arreguin, Feb. 3, 2020 




From the City of Berkeley web page for Planning and Development:  

The Landmarks Preservation Ordinance establishes criteria that the LPC must use when considering proposed landmark and historic district designations. They are as follows: 

1. Architectural merit… 

2. Cultural value... 

3. Educational value… 

4. Historic value... 

5. National Register listed property… 




Trump's Tripping

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:10:00 PM

Move over Shapiro (the ace test tacker hired by Trump to take his SAT test). DJT is ready to retake the SAT test he avoided many years ago before he achieved a “stable genius” status. But much like his other claims he remains coy about the results of the cognitive test. Unlike a SAT test, a cognition test is a simple test to measure your mental decline and not a test on how smart you are. 

A few examples on the Mini-Mental Status Exam or MMSE: 

What is today’s date? 

Spell TRUMP backwards. 

What is the meaning of CHEAT? 

Spell RACIST and explain its meaning. 

Make up a simple sentence, must contain a subject, verb and object. 

Riding in a golf cart, playing a few rounds of golf and gorging on hamburgers and tacos – watching FOX news and relentless tweeting into the wee hours of the morning doesn't bode for a healthy life style. Your recent unsteady descent from a ramp should be of concern to your adoring fans. Your prefrontal cortex, the ability to think strategically, the ability to sort out all the possibilities of your actions and control impulses are also in serious decline given your stubborn refusal to accept the dual impact of the Coronavirus and sagging economy. 

Sadly, your synaptic connectivity that correlates with memory loss also seems to be in decline. Mr. Trump, your war with the English language is legendary and a source of great amusement for late night comedians. 

A few examples for the history books - pointing to gains in the stock market -“Your 409’Ks (meaning 401K’s) are doing great.” "covfefe" to "bigly". Confused 9/11 attacks with 7/11, muddled the wrong city of a major shooting in Dayton with Toledo. Trevor Noah’s team at the Daily Show put together a montage of the president’s embarrassing verbal moments. “Tim Apple” to “slock rocket.” to "120 million" COVID-19 deaths when he meant "120 thousand. The winning entry in Trevor Noah's quiz was Trump demanding to know the ORANGE of Mueller’s investigation. 

Trump’s daily aversion to reading his daily intelligence briefings does not bode well. He has trashed our treasured Atlantic alliance, our northern and southern neighbors, China, WHO. . .and even trashed the nation’s preeminent infectious specialist, Dr. Tony Fauci. He ended his former infatuation with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un with angry words. His only remaining infatuation is with the crafty Vladimir Putin. And that will remain a mystery until perhaps, we elect a new President. For more go to, http://callforsocialjustice.blogspot.com/

Berkeley Homeowners Fight for Fair Taxation

Lilana Spindler
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:07:00 PM

Historically, Berkeley voters like equity, so they approved taxes with built-in equity. The City of Berkeley charges homeowners for city services through taxes calculated according to the size of their dwelling. Hence, a large home would pay more tax than a small home, theoretically ensuring that city services are paid according to dwelling size. But, recently, some homeowners have discovered that they pay more than their equitable share since they are taxed also for undeveloped understories, even those with a sloped dirt base where one cannot walk upright due to insufficient ceiling height. The tax code defines dwelling as “designed for human occupancy”, so the non-conforming spaces should not be subject to the tax. Many of the basements in the city are, in fact, not taxed. A group of 11 Harmed Homeowners, most of them elderly and a third of them black, wrote a letter to the city on July 1 asking for relief from the unfair tax overages. 

An opposite problem has also developed through the years. Construction addition square footage is often not added to the database, leaving the schools, library, fire department and parks with less revenue than is available. A recent survey of over 500 such underassessed homes by the public outreach group Berkeley for Assessment Tax Equity, http://berkeleytaxes.info, reveals $2.85 Million in lost city revenues and $931,000 in lost county revenues for the last 10 years. So, why does the city continue to overcharge some instead of correcting inaccurate assessments? So far, because it can. But the movement to persuade the city to reform is gaining momentum. Here are people pushing for change: 

  • A widow in South Berkeley who pays an extra $1575/yr because of a calculation error
  • A family in South Berkeley who pays an additional $1361/yr for nonlivable space
  • A longtime renter who buys a retirement home and finds he pays $774/yr for a sloped dirt space
  • A partially sighted widower in South Berkeley who pays $1181/yr for an understory less than six feet high
  • A South Berkeley couple wanting to house a disabled relative, who pays $968/yr extra for a dirt understory, permissible only with a $100,000 house lift.
As folks in Berkeley discover they have been overpaying for years, they feel cheated. Larger, remodeled homes are paying fewer assessments than they do. Many taxpayers in this city with a generous voting base, fear the lopsided tax burden they bear each year contributes to their households’ economic fragility. 

In contrast, there are artificially fortunate homeowners made financially more secure by the same city department, paying no new taxes after building a permitted addition: 

  • A Northside family’s $53,000, permitted 500+ sq ft second story should have had additional taxes of $1300/yr
  • An owner of a 3500 sq ft fourplex pays taxes on only 2300 sq ft, saving $1200 a year
  • A Berkeley Hills owner of a 3300 sq ft home saves well over $3000 a year in taxes after a non-reassessed $100,000, 1500 sq ft addition
  • A North Berkeley homeowner paid for a $175,000 permitted basement-to living-space conversion of 1000 sq ft but pays no increase in county taxes, saving at least $2000/yr
  • The owner of a North Berkeley architectural gem with $100,000, 500+ sq ft ADU built in 2004 escaped reassessment, saving thousands in taxes
These lucky homeowners receive unlawful tax discounts every year, although these tax increases should be the requisite contribution to the community. So, when a retired dentist in Northside doesn’t pay taxes on a third-story permitted addition and a few councilmembers don’t pay tax on a basement conversion and a usable attic, a second story and a sunroom, City services suffer. Affluent homeowners, who can afford to add square footage to their homes, must not be subsidized by financially fragile and disadvantaged members of the Berkeley community who are tricked into paying for non-livable space. It is well past time that the Berkeley City Council corrects this problem: city auditors have asked for reform since November 1994, but the city continues to discard their ethics and perpetuate inequity in taxation. Now the people are asking for reform. 

Lilana Spindler is a Berkeley taxpayer, UCB Alumni ‘90 MCB, and currently is employed as an Elementary School Environmental Educator 

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:57:00 PM

The Bombs Bursting in Error

So nice to finally have a rest from those nightly fireworks bombardments that rattled the Bay Area for hours every night from mid-June to July 4. 

Ironically, among the residents who suffered most from this "celebration" of American Pride, were combat vets who survived America's endless wars only to confront endless woes—like PTSD—back in the Homeland. The Homeland, itself, came under fire as skyrockets and flares triggered 200 urban and rural fires—just on July 4. 

How could the police be so helpless? According to one municipal tally, more that 6,000 complaints were received but only five citations were issued! (With fines of $50,000, you'd think the pursuit of serial pyromaniacs would pay for itself.) 

Perhaps, next year, a squad of undercover cops could infiltrate the ranks of these neighborhood rocket racketeers. 

If that happened, police in disguise could mean peace in da skies. 

Winnie the Poop? 

There's a wonderful learning place for kids on Hopkins Street called the Mustard Seed Pre-School. It serves children from 18 months to five years and divides its rambunctious population into four cohorts—The Roo Class, The Piglet Class, The Pooh Bear Class, and The Kanga Class. 

Recently the school decided to give away some excess furniture—a swivel chair and several wooden cabinets. Someone (let's presume an innocent youngster) was tasked to tape a "Free" sign over a street-facing banner celebrating the KANGA CLASS. 

The young helper dutifully placed the "Free" sign smack in the middle of the banner and, in so doing, created a message guaranteed to stop passersby in their tracks. The banner now declares: KANG[FREE]ASS. 

Speaking for the Trees 

All over North Berkeley, hidden messages are dangling in trees, courtesy of some anonymous tree-huggers identified only by the codes #ThankTrees and @ThankTrees. But one of these boreal "leaf-leaflets" contains what might be called an "eco-flub." Spotted on one sidewalk tree, this hand-drawn paper sign reads: "Humans Need Trees." And it goes on to list a tree's attributes: "Oxygen, clean air, clean water, shade, shelter, fuel, food…." 

Which of these items is not like the others? Right: "fuel." 

Burning trees for fuel just ain't eco. Deforestation, Global Warming and all that. 

If a replacement's needed in place of that shocking "F-word," how about "foliage," "flowers," or "fruit"? 

More Signs of the Times 

Before there was the Internet, before there was Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Tumblr, Keyhole, or Hootsuite, before all that, there was . . . the telephone pole. 

Today, come rain or shine, full-power or blackout, wooden power poles still reign as one of the most accessible and well-attended messaging devices ever created. 

So what's up on the Wooden Blackboard this week? We'll here's a nice notice noticed in the neighborhood recently: It featured several images of shoes and the message read: 

Wanted: Unwanted Shoes. Have too many shoes in your closet? Shoes in decent shape that you don't need, use, or want? I want them! One pair, many pairs, for children and adults —all of them. I am collecting shoes to send to my people in Sierra Leone (West Africa). Call me at 510-421-4260 and I will come pick them up. And, if you will, tell your friends, too! Thank you! 

The message was signed: Sheka Sillen (your Sierra Leonean neighbor on Milvia Street). 

Parking Meter Alert 

This may be the only benefit stemming from the pandemic: free parking. Covid-19 transformed the shopping experience—with masks, hand-spritzers, and long lines—but at least we didn't have to worry about plunking quarters into parking meters. 

Well, that's changed. 

I began to suspect the rules had changed when my Berkeley Main Post Office box started receiving envelopes filled with checks intended for the City's Parking Citations department. (My address is just one digit different.) 

I went online to check things out and here's an update for anyone (like me) who didn't get the message. On June 1, Berkeley's parking meters were reactivated (50-cents-per-hour, citywide)—but the City continued to give a pass to violators in "residential permit parking, school zones, time limits, and parking meters." 

On July 1, however, the City resumed issuing citations "for parking meters, time-limited unmetered spaces, and vehicles parked for more than 72 hours." As of this latest notice, no citations were being written for violations "relating to school zones or residential parking." 

If you didn't get stuck with a surprise ticket over the past several weeks, consider yourself lucky. But times change, so if you plan to spend some time downtown, plan to spend some change downtown. 

Don't Let Kenye Con Ye 

Kanye West recently stunned the galaxy with news he is running for president in the 2020 election. The stunt has been promoted as "an apparent challenge to go head-to-head with President Donald Trump" but that's just a big lump of "fake news." Everyone knows Kanye and Donald are best buds who like to hang out together in the Oval Office. West has regularly tweeted praise for Trump while sporting his own personal red MAGA cap. 

When asked to outline his campaign platform, West told Forbes magazine: "I don’t have a policy." Instead, he said, he planned to rebuild America in the image of Wakanda, the fictitious movie home of the fictional Black Panther. 

Asked about his foreign policy, West replied: “I haven’t developed it yet." 

Probed about his tax strategy, West responded: “I haven’t done enough research on that yet. I will research that with the strongest experts that serve God and come back with the best solution…. I have an earplug in and I'm going to use that earplug." 

West expressed his opposition to abortion but, unlike most pro-life conservatives, West's pro-life proclivities are consistent—he is also opposed to the death penalty. 


West's rhetoric echoes Trump's, when he states: "We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future." In a May 2018 interview with Charlemagne tha God, West said his platform would be "the Trump campaign and maybe the Bernie Sanders principles. That would be my mix." 

While Kanye's quest clearly isn't realistic or road-worthy, it could still work to sway the outcome of the November presidential contest. As the Daily Kos noted, most folk "aren’t buying rapper Kanye West’s recently announced presidential bid as anything more than a ploy to distract Democratic voters and help President Donald Trump win the 2020 election." 

Kevin Alexander tweeted: “Kanye is only trying to take votes away from (former Vice President Joe) Biden so his buddy Trump can win.” 

In 2018, West embraced Trump in a TMZ video, declaring: "I just love Trump. That's my boy." West also told TMZ: "When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” he told TMZ. “Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all?” 

In the May 2020 edition of GQ magazine, West praised the Trump regime, claiming: "It’s better now than when Obama was in office." 

It's clearly not a serious campaign. As CNN put it: "Getting on the ballot won't be Yeezy." It's already too late for Kanye's name to appear on the ballots in Texas, New York, or Illinois and, when he announced, West had only a few days left to collect 130,000 signatures to make the Florida ballot and another 12,000 names to qualify in Michigan. 

Clearly Kanye's quest is not a case of real-world politics. It's more an experiment in the power of the Celebrity Effect—a tool that has served Trump so well. The obvious goal would be to draw African-American support from Biden's campaign. Trump knows that Black Votes Matter. 

The question is: What did Trump offer West to prompt this diversion? If Trump is reelected (I cringe as I type those words), we might expect to see Kanye appointed to a cabinet position. Or perhaps a diplomatic post—as US Ambassador to Wakanda. 


Taking a Peek Inside Air Force One 

We're all familiar with Air Force One—the Flying White House—because we're always seeing Trump waving, saluting and tossing a small, clenched fist whenever he enters or exits the aircraft. But what's it like inside? 

Well, I happened to get a floor plan of the plane and here's what I found. 

AF1 is divided into 15 separate sections. The front of the plane features two floors. On the top level you'll find the flight deck (aka cockpit), followed by a bathroom for the flight crew, a crew lounge, and a large communications center. 

The layout of the lower level mirrors the same hierarchy of power that bedevils American society today. It begins with a grandiose President's Suite, a mini-Oval Office complete with a huge wooden desk that places the Reprimander-in-Chief closer to the nose of the plane than even the pilot and copilots overhead. 

The president's desk does not face forward, however: it faces in the starboard direction. This arrangement assures that Donald Trump is first-and-foremost when it comes to best-seat-in-the-house but it also means that whenever Trump signs an high-flying Executive Order, he does so while flying through the sky at 700 mph sideways

Behind the Suite is the President's Office, a lounge with several plush chairs. In between—a private Presidential Bathroom. (No details on whether the bowl is plated in gold.) 

Behind the POTUS Office sits the Medical Office, where Trump's blood-pressure can be monitored day and night. The next quarters contain the Galley, a small non-kitchen where Trump's preferred high-cholesterol pre-packaged fast-food treats can be warmed and dispersed. 

Next up (or next-back, as it were) is a similarly sized room that serves as a retreat for Senior Staff. Then comes the Conference Room, a sizable space with a large conference table surrounded by about a dozen upholstered chairs. Next down in the hierarchy of high-flying support staff is a large space set aside for Office Staff (containing both a conference table and a separate area that serves as a lounge area). 

After the Office Staff, the next cohort to receive recognition includes those special souls chosen to fill the "Guest Section." This appears to be the most cramped room in the layout (only slightly larger than the Presidential Toilet). 

Behind the Guests, a neighboring Security Section hosts members of the Secret Service. (Note: A small, mysterious part of the Security Section is walled off from the rest of the space and carries no explanatory identification.) 

Finally, who are the last passengers assigned to the seats in the "back of the Airbus"? No surprise. This is where you find members of the press. From the schematic of the Press Section, it appears that there are fewer than a dozen seats reserved for the media. It seems only fitting that reporters would find themselves cut off from the president by a roomful of palace guards ensconced in the Security Section. 

Defund the Pentagon; Defend the People 

Public Citizen's Robert Weissman has a question: "The United States spends more than $700 billion a year on the military. For every $1,000 we give the Pentagon, how much do you think we give the CDC to target new infectious diseases like COVID-19?" 

The answer? One dollar. 

"So here we are," Weissman grumbles, "utterly unprepared for one of the gravest national security threats in memory—a threat we can’t defeat with machine guns, tanks, jet fighters, or nuclear warheads. The coronavirus emergency is a wake-up call for the long overdue imperative of shifting spending away from the Pentagon and investing instead in priority human needs." 

And there's something we can do about this. In a couple of weeks, the House and Senate will ponder a moderate/progressive plan to trim the Pentagon budget by 10% and to use the liberated cash to fund critical health and anti-poverty programs. 

These proposals come from our own Rep. Barbara Lee, her House colleague Mark Pocan (D-WI) and from Bernie Sanders in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has expressed his support. 

"By all rights," Weissman argues, "the Pentagon budget—which is up more than $120 billion just since Trump took office—should be cut by a lot more than 10%. But 10% is a strategic choice: It’s enough to be real, but it’s not so much that anyone can reasonably say our national security would be at risk. The fact is, the US spends more on the military than the next NINE highest-spending countries combined. And there are hundreds of billions in easily identifiable cuts in the bloated Pentagon budget." 

One quick click can send a message to Washington: Cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and use that money to keep Americans safe and to reduce wealth inequality.  




Would Witchcraft Ward Off COVID?

Dennis Fitzgerald
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 03:28:00 PM

The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany has suggested that "The science should not stand in the way of…" in reference to schools reopening. Oh Dear, maybe it's time to get out our rabbits' feet and luck charms and hope that witchcraft can ward off the spread of COVID-19. 

How many people have to say that Science is the way to solve this problem, with hopefully the development of a vaccine before it will be accepted? The only advantage of students going back to school is that they will study Science and realize they might be best to stay home. 

President Donald Trump put forward meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier for the job of Science Advisor. Meteorologists study the weather and all I see is some storms on the horizon and a very cloudy future. Although he is a scientist, we need to turn to the words of Dr. Fauci for the moment for advice as this is a medical problem even if many people do feel "under the weather". 

Maybe the apparently Russian hackers could be hacked, and all the medical research could be shared around so that a solution can be found faster.

Arts & Events

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, July 19-26

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday July 18, 2020 - 04:01:00 PM

Worth Noting: 

There are 10 meetings in the coming week. 

City Council begins summer recess on July 29 and the coming week is jammed with City Council meetings. The Council Public Safety Committee meets on Monday at 10 am to take up ordinances on policing. The full Council meets Tuesday at 4 pm to take action on the proposed ballot initiatives for the November 3 election and Thursday at 6 pm to take action on the Use of Force Policy and Emergency Declarations and Curfew Policy. 


The planned City Council agenda for July 28, the last Council meeting before summer recess, follows the weekly list of meetings. Item 45 in the agenda under Information Reports - the Annual Pipeline Report includes tables of how Berkeley performs in meeting the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation. As expected by the number of people living on the street and advertisements for market rate units, Berkeley is significantly short of meeting the affordable housing allocation and overbuilt market rate housing: very low income units short 420 units, low income units short 425 units and overbuilt market rate units by 389 units. 


Sunday, July 19, 2020  

No City meetings or events found 


Monday, July 20, 2020 

City Council Public Safety Committee, 10:30 am, https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Home/Policy_Committee__Public_Safety.aspx 

Videoconference: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83460613816 

Teleconference: 669-900-9128 Meeting ID: 834 6061 3816 

Agenda: 2. Ordinance: Public Right to Identify Officers, 3. Resolution: No Police Revolving Door, 4. Request for Scheduling Presentation to Committee by Police Chief Greenwood on Berkeley Police Department’s Hiring Practices, 5. Recommendations on Use of Force Policy, 6. Improving Hate Crimes Reporting and Response, 7. Ordinance Adding Chapter 2.64.170 to BMC Regulating Police Acquisition and Use of Controlled Equipment, Unscheduled Items: Safety for All: George Floyd Community Safety Act – Development of Progressive Police Academy, 


Planning Commission – Adeline Corridor Specific Plan Subcommittee, 6:30 – 10 pm 


Videoconference: https://zoom.us/j/98505496865 

Teleconference: 669-900-6833 Meeting ID: 985 0549 6865 

Agenda: III. Outstanding Topics for Subcommittee Discussion No net loss of Affordable Housing, Sustainable Design, Ashby Bart Flea Market, Zoning Development Standards, Ground Floor Uses, Requiring Residential Above 2nd Floor Lot Coverage and Inclusionary Housing 


Tuesday, July 21, 2020 

Board of Library Trustees, 11 am 


Videoconference: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83717494897 

Teleconference: 669-900-9128 Meeting ID:837 1749 4897 

II. A. Workshop Regarding Board’s Process for Onboarding of Director of Library Services 


Berkeley City Council Special Meetings, 4 pm and 6:00 pm 


Videoconference: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89031983199 

Teleconference: 669-900-9128 Meeting ID:890 3198 3199 

4 pm Special Meeting – November 3 Ballot Initiatives,  

Agenda: 1. Charter Amendment Full-Time Status and Salaries for the Mayor and Councilmembers, 2. Charter Amendment Berkeley Fire Department a. conform eligibility requirements of the Redistricting Commission and change to gender neutral language, b. Repeal Berkeley Fire Department Residency Requirement for sworn members, 3. Special Tax Measure to fund Firefighting, Emergency Medical Response and Communications and Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness, 4. Adopt a Tax on Transportation Network Companies, 5. Tax Measure Increase the Utility Users Tax to Pay for General Municipal Services and Establish a Climate Equity Action Fund to Support Measures to Reduce Local Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Air Pollution from City Manager, 6. Ballot Measure to Create a Climate Action Fund in response to Fossil Free Berkeley from Energy Commisssion 

6 pm Special Meeting,  

Agenda CONSENT: 1. Berkeley Electric Mobility Roadmap, 2. Evaluation and Recommended Updates to the Building Energy Savings Ordinance (BESO) 3. Ordinance Amending BMC Chapter 7.52 Reducing Tax Imposed for Qualifying Electrification, Energy Efficiency and Water Conservation Retrofits, 4. Expanding community engagement within work to address Climate Impacts, ACTION: 5. PRESENTATION: Climate Action Plan and Resilience Update. 


Wednesday, July 22, 2020 

Joint Subcommittee for the Implementation of State Housing Laws, 7 – 9 pm 


Videoconference: https://zoom.us/j/94154190888 

Teleconference: 669-900-6833 Meeting ID:941 5419 0888 

Agenda: Action Items 9. Objective Standards for Density, 10. Objective Standards for Design, 11. Objective Standards for Shadows, 


Police Review Commission, 7 – 10 pm, 


Videoconference: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83624486066 

Teleconference: 669-900-6833 Meeting ID: 836 2448 6066 

Agenda: 9.a. City Council Referral to make recommendation on proposed ordinance to Regulate Police Acquisition and Use of Controlled Equipment, b. Consider response to July 28 City Council item on Implementing Core Police Accountability Board and Director of Police Accountability, c. Discuss whether to hold special meeting Aug 5 to consider probation and parole searches policy, d. Confirm participants for presentation of proposed Use of Force Policy 


Thursday, July 23, 2020 

Berkeley City Council Special Meeting, Tuesday, 6:00 pm 


Videoconference: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81015840931 

Teleconference: 669-900-9128 Meeting ID: 810 1584 0931 

Agenda: 1. Animal Services Contract with City of Piedmont add $180,134 total $441,984, 2. ZAB Appeal 1533 Beverly Place, 3. Police Review Commission (PRC) Recommendation on revised Policy 300, Use of Force, 4. Changes to BMC and Policy with respect to Local Emergency Declarations and First Amendment Curfews. 


Zoning Adjustment Board, 6 pm and 7 pm 


Videoconference: https://zoom.us/j/94661489901 

Teleconference: 669-900-6833 Meeting ID: 946 6148 9901 

6 pm Special Meeting,  

Agenda: Presentation by Christopher D. Jensen, Assistant City Attorney, Mission of ZAB, CEQA, Housing Accountability Act, Ralph M. Brown Act, Conflict of Interest Rules, 

7 pm Regular Meeting,  

2012 Shattuck – add service of distilled spirits incidental to food service at existing restaurant on consent 

1201 Second Street – Expand hours of operation at Berkeley Transfer Station on consent 

2750 – 2752 Prince – alter 5500 sq ft parcel that is over lot coverage, construct a 2-story addition to existing 1862 sq ft 1-story single-family dwelling, construct at front of property, construct a 198 sq ft addition to existing 906 sq ft 2-story single family dwelling at rear of property, add 5th bedroom on parcel, on consent 

2720 San Pablo – demolish former automobile service station and construct new 6-story 60” mixed use building with 25 dwellings (including 2 units to very low income), total 97 bedrooms, 963 sq ft of ground floor retail, 15 vehicle parking space and 50 bicycles, staff recommend approve 


Friday, July 24, 2020 

No City meetings or events found 


Saturday, July 25, 2020 

Cheryl Davila Open Office Hours, 11 am - 1 pm 


Teleconference: 669-900-6833 Meeting ID: 817 6668 2075 Password: 372587 


Virtual Town Hall on COVID-19, 12 pm 

There is no exchange with attendees. Questions must be sent in advance look for email from Mayor Arreguin. Watch Town Hall live at https://www.jessearreguin.com or watch anytime at Mayor's Youtube page 


Sunday, July 26, 2020 

No City meetings or events found 



The July 28 Regular City Council meeting is available for comment  

email council@cityofberkeley.info 


Videoconference: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83653444287 

Teleconference: 669-900-9128 Meeting ID: 836 5344 4287 

Agenda CONSENT: 1. 2nd reading Video and Telecommunications Ordinance, 2. 2nd reading Easements between 2009 and 2015 Addison, 3. Resolution Emergency Proclamation SARS-CoV-2, 4. Minutes, 5. 2021 Council meeting schedule, 6. Avast Foundation Grant $10,000 to Animal Services, 7. Grant CA Arts Council $10,500 for Berkeley Civil Arts Program and BUSD, 8. Formal Bid Solicitations $8,645,000, 9. Add $100,000 and extend by 1 yr total $317,000 with Youth Spirit Artworks for Transition Age Youth Case Management, 10. Grant Agreement accept $196,965 for COVID-19 from CDC for Disease Control and Prevention, FY 2021 11. Resolution City to fund $50,000 to RCD and $50,000 to SAHA, 12. Participation Agreement for Mental Health Services Act, Innovations, Help@Hand Project thru 6/30/2024, 13. Block Grant (CSBG) 14. Amend contract add $90,000 total $3,565,7657/1/2006 – 6/30/2021, 15. Add $72,000 total $559,300 with Rolling Orange, Inc for Website Redesign Content Management System (CMS), 16. Add $650,000 total $3,952,663 (4/1/2017-6/30/2023) with Tyler Technologies Enterprise Resource Planning System for software licensing, implementation and maintenance, 17. Add $367,500 total $1,555,230 (3/30/2017-6/30/2021) with Tyler Technologies for New World Public Safety Computer Aided Dispatch, 18. Contract $608,400 (9/1/2020-8/31/2025) with ePlus for Cohesity Backup Solution and hosted Cloud Storage, 19. Contract $405,000 (9/1/2020-8/31/2023) with Digital Hands for Cybersecurity Event Monitoring and Security Information and Event Management (SEIM), 20. MOU with “A Safe Place” Domestic Violence Shelter, 21. MOU with CA Dept of Justice accept grant for submission and testing of Sexual Assault Evidence, 22. Lease Agreement: 3 yr term 1001 University with the Berkeley Food Network, 23. Grant Application: Highway Safety Improvement Program multiple left-turn signalized intersection and Sacrament Pedestrian Crossings, 24. Contract add $25,000 total $75,000 with Ascentis Corporation 9274A for Biometric Time Card Services, 25. Contract $550,127 with McNabb Construction Inc for Codornices Creek Restoration at Kains Ave Project, 26. Referral Response: Action Plan to transition fleet vehicles to electric including infrastructure, 27. Amendments to BERA to prohibit Officeholder Accounts, 28. Oppose Nuclear Warfare marking 75th anniversary of bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 29. Support Berkeley Humane Society Adoption Event 9/29/2020, 30. Provide our Unhoused Community with Menstrual Products, 31. Resolution in Support of 1921 Walnut, 32. Adopt Resolution Implementing Core Police Accountability Board and Director of Police Accountability by July 1, 2021, 33. Resolution in Support of AB 310 Public Bank, 34. Oppose AB 2167 Insurance Action Market Plan & SB 292 Wildfire Risk Modeling and Mitigation, 35. Support SB 288 Sustainable Transportation COVID-19 Recovery Act, 36. Support SB 902 Authorizing Cities to Rezone for Density, 37. Support AB 2542 CA Racial Justice Act, 38. Support AB 2345 Density Bonus, ACTION: 39. Amendment Urgency Ordinance for Outdoor Commerce on Private Property, 40. Rezone Rose Garden Inn, 41. Ballot Initiative Amend Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance, 35. Improving Hate Crimes Reporting and Response, 42. Amend BMC 23C.22 Short Term Rentals, 43. Urgency Ordinance: Updates to the COVID Emergency Response Ordinance Request UC Berkeley voluntarily comply with local ordinances restricting evictions, delay rent payments and empower tenants to terminate leases without penalty, INFORMATION REPORTS: 44. Voluntary Time Off Program, 45. Annual Housing Pipeline Report, 




Public Hearings Scheduled – Land Use Appeals 

1346 Ordway, TBD 

Notice of Decision (NOD) and Use Permits With End of Appeal Period 

1823 Blake 7/21/2020 

1543 Buena 7/21/2020 

2319 California 8/4/2020 

1111 Chaucer 7/21/2020 

545 Colusa 7/30/2020 

766 Ensenada 7/30/2020 

1731 Fourth 7/28/2020 

979 Regal 8/4/2020 

2910 Seventh 7/22/2020 

1505 Shattuck 7/23/2020 

1120 Second (LPC) 

41 San Diego Rd (LPC) 



LINK to Current Zoning Applications https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Planning_and_Development/Land_Use_Division/Current_Zoning_Applications.aspx 





Sept 29 – Digital Strategic Plan/FUND$ Replacement Website Update, Zero Waste Priorities, Vision 2050 

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


Unscheduled Workshops/Presentations 

Cannabis Health Considerations 

Presentation from StopWaste on SB 1383 

Systems Realignment 


Previously Schedules and Unscheduled Items Removed From Lists 

Sept 22 – Navigable Cities, Crime Report (per Mayor Arreguin the Crime Report will be rescheduled to a regular City Council meeting, the date is not available. The last crime report was in March 2019) 

Ohlone Territory 



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 


If you wish to stop receiving the Weekly Summary of City Meetings please forward the weekly summary you received to kellyhammargren@gmail.com