Public Comment

A BERKELEY ACTIVIST'S DIARY:Week Ending Jan. 15, 2023

Kelly Hammargren
Tuesday January 17, 2023 - 12:40:00 PM

I’ve taken to keeping an eye on the battery status of my phone and iPad, knowing that at any point there might be another power failure. It was just a little over a week ago, when I was watching the late news with a map on the screen of all the power outages, when my house and the neighborhood dropped into darkness.

Most of us are probably in the middle of precipitation whiplash watching pictures of flooded land that until December were drying and dried up creeks and rivers after years of drought. It is difficult to absorb that the future may bring storms with twice as much water as what has already dropped, if we are to believe the impact of warming ocean and air on atmospheric rivers.

It may be difficult to grasp in the middle of back-to-back storms, flooding and mudslides that climate-driven weather disasters are not our biggest threat. The biggest threat is the loss of biodiversity and the collapse of nature. And each of us has the opportunity and responsibility to act. That was the message of Douglas Tallamy Wednesday evening at the Golden Gate Audubon Society. -more-

ON MENTAL WELLNESS: Disabled People Can Potentially Succeed In The Private Sector, If Willing To Try

Jack Bragen
Sunday January 15, 2023 - 08:13:00 PM

It does wonders for my self-esteem when I work alongside typical people with no disabilities in a job that is not subsidized by a special program, and when I do not disclose a disability. In my writing endeavors I do this today, and in my past, I've done it in entry level and skilled jobs. When I was successful in pizza delivery and television repair in the nineteen eighties, it made me feel 'normal' and to this day I believe there is no substitute for it. -more-

International Human Rights Organizations Call on Biden To Close Guantánamo Prison

Ralph E. Stone
Sunday January 15, 2023 - 07:54:00 PM

On the 21st anniversary of the first unlawful enemy combatants” arrival at the U.S. naval base base at Guantánamo Bay, more than 150 international human rights organizations in a letter dated January 11, 2022, called on President Joe Biden to close the prison. Around the world, Guantánamo is a symbol of racial and religious injustice, abuse, and disregard for the rights long-recognized under both human rights law and international humanitarian law. Arguably, the president has the Constitutional power to close the Guantánamo Bay prison without congressional approval. -more-


Berkeley's War on CEQA
Heats Up

Becky O'Malley
Monday January 16, 2023 - 09:32:00 PM

Almost all my life I’ve lived in walking distance of a major urban university. For most of the last 60 years or so I’ve been in Berkeley. As a Cal (that’s what we called it in the olden days) undergraduate I started out in a rooming house (aka “ a single family home”, i.e. a house with many more bedrooms than bathrooms or kitchens). It was a classic Berkeley brown shingle, vintage turn of the 20th century, on Channing near Telegraph, owned and inhabited by a classic hard-working immigrant, the proprietor of Anna’s Donut House next door, open as I recall from 6 a.m. until two a.m. Anna didn’t get much sleep.

My room was on the third floor. I shared it with a girl from a ranch in Walnut Creek (yes, it was still ranches in those days.) The one bathroom was on the second floor, so we took turns. The other tenants were girls from Taiwan, all science whizzes except one classical pianist. From them in the common kitchen I learned a bunch of nifty cooking tips, including how to cut up a chicken and fixing steamed eggs in a cup. Their first language was Mandarin, but they were eager to practice their English on me.

Anna played it close to the vest. Her first language was Eastern European of some Slavic variety. I didn’t understand it though I was studying Russian, and she had little interest in learning English, so we rarely talked. Her goal was making and saving the maximum amount of money to send home to the old country.

She was a penny-pincher. When we weren’t home she’d come into our room and unplug the radio and lamps because she thought they were burning electricity, even when turned off.

The house had no central heating, but our attic room had (horrifying in retrospect) a gas-fired wall heater with an open flame on which my roommate and I roasted hot dogs. But it didn’t burn down—it’s still there, now transmogrified into a Thai restaurant with a deck and a colorful paint job.

In those days, such houses were part of a neighborhood of similar establishments: older homes with several bedrooms built for families, some turned into woman-owner-occupied rooming houses by the 1950s, many run by faculty widows. In my senior year I moved to an apartment in the living room and dining room of a converted house—my next-door neighbor from that time is still my good friend.

I was in the class of ’61. We were just starting to exercise some political muscle, and UCB was fighting back. Back then, Cal was in Berkeley, though it was already starting to fancy that it was Berkeley.

Governor Pat Brown was our commencement speaker. We boycotted and picketed the event in our caps and gowns because he had allowed the execution of author Caryl Chessman.

Not so long afterwards I moved to Ann Arbor so my husband could go to graduate school, so we missed the 60s uproar here. The administration at the University of Michigan was much better than Cal at staying out of fights, even though there was plenty of political activity.

In 1973 we moved back so he could teach at Berkeley (the school) and looked for a house in Berkeley (the town) so our three daughters could go to the city’s excellent and diverse public schools. School bussing for racial integration had just started.

We benefited greatly from White flight. The old rooming house we had bought cheaply in Ann Arbor was seedy and small, on a busy street. We traded it almost even for an enormous house in Berkeley in excellent condition, also on a busy street. Undesirable elements (conservative White people terrified of school integration) were moving out to Lamorinda and points east, so real estate prices here were sliding downhill.

The busy street was a plus for us, because public transit was still excellent back then. The 65 bus stopped right at our front door; the TransBay E bus was at the corner, with frequent stops day and night. My husband could ride his bike to campus, I could take the E bus to The City for work, and the kids could take the 51 to Berkeley High—a perfect trifecta.

The big cheap houses on our busy street, including ours, provided homes for a great diversity of interesting people: communes of famous radicals, artists, musicians, journalists of various stripes, lots of students, novelists and even Eldridge Cleaver. Sadly, the neighborhood has re-gentrified in the last few years, adding dull novelties like investment bankers and even one rogue crooked convicted techie who ended up pardoned by the departing Donald Trump.

Why am I telling you all this? Because last week I watched the oral arguments about the appeal by a couple of neighborhood groups of a lower court decision which would have allowed UCB to evade California Environmental Qualiy Act (CEQA) requirements that noise impacts and alternative sites be studied before building an 1100 bed student dorm on a historic site at People’s Park.

That’s studied, not eliminated.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Tom Lippe, in his oral presentation pointed to language in California law that clearly included noise as one of the categories that an environment impact report needs to review. UCB had simply chosen to skip that step when it did the CEQA-mandated Environmental Impact Report. The university’s hired counsel suggested that human social noise, which students could be expected to make, shouldn’t count. The underlying premise of UC’s argument seemed to be that they could do as they please, Berkeley citizenry be damned.

As I review my lengthy history in and with Berkeley, that’s a claim that’s tough to challenge. But questions from the three appeals justices at the hearing I saw streamed indicated that the judges might not buy it this time. Though UC’s lawyer condemned the idea that students make a lot of noise as a baseless stereotype, both Lippe and the justices stressed the need for actual data on the topic, the kind of data that competent EIRs provide but UC’s didn’t this time,.

Some history: The university used eminent domain to take the land which is now People’s Park, which was then a big square block of houses southeast of my old rooming house on Channing Way, away from resident owners and their student tenants in the 1960s. There were rumors that UC bureaucrats disliked the tenants’ bohemian lifestyle.

The Big U tore those homes down, but failed to build anything to replace them. After some years students and citizens, without permission, took back the unused open space and turned it into a park. After a big fight, which park advocates hoped they’d won, the site was neglected for more than a half-century more despite occasional UC efforts to enhance it with amenities like a beach volleyball court and a primitive bathroom. -more-

Arts & Events


Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Sunday January 15, 2023 - 07:46:00 PM

Worth Noting:

A very full week

  • Tuesday: The Agenda and Rules Committee meets at 2:30 pm to finalize the Council agenda for January 31. At 6 pm the City Council meets. Item-19 is the status report on pension liabilities and infrastructure. Item-21 changes affordable housing requirements. The move is to calculate the in lieu fee by sq ft instead of the number of units. The in lieu fee of $45/sq ft is paid by the builder to get out of including the affordable units in the building, the units we desperately need.
  • Wednesday: City Council meets at 4 pm to adopt the Housing Element for 2023 – 2031. Also, on Wednesday the Commission on Aging takes up the Hopkins Corridor at 1:30 pm and the Commission on Disability has called a special at 3 pm on the Hopkins Corridor. The Civic Arts Commission, Commission on the Status of Women and the Environment and Climate Commission all meet at 6 pm. The Human Welfare and Community Action Commission meets at 6:30 pm.
  • Thursday: The Fair Campaigns and Open Government Commission meets at 6 pm. The Design Review Committee meets at 7 pm with two projects on the agenda, 3031 Adeline a 7-story project with 64 units and 3000 Shattuck a 10-story 166 unit project. The Transportation and Infrastructure Commission meets at 7 pm with an update on T1 funds which are coming up short for approved projects and Hopkins design from Gilman to the west end (not the section by Monterey Market and block of businesses).
  • Friday: The Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force program at 9 am is on Climate and the Economy.

Check the City website for late announcements and meetings posted on short notice at:


Back Stories



Berkeley's War on CEQA
Heats Up

Public Comment

A BERKELEY ACTIVIST'S DIARY:Week Ending Jan. 15, 2023 Kelly Hammargren 01-17-2023

ON MENTAL WELLNESS: Disabled People Can Potentially Succeed In The Private Sector, If Willing To Try Jack Bragen 01-15-2023

International Human Rights Organizations Call on Biden To Close Guantánamo Prison Ralph E. Stone 01-15-2023

Arts & Events

THE BERKELEY ACTIVIST'S CALENDAR, Jan. 15-21 Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition 01-15-2023