New: A BERKELEY ACTIVIST'S DIARY, week ending Jan. 29

Kelly Hammargren
Wednesday February 01, 2023 - 09:30:00 PM

This was a very difficult week with more mass shootings and the terrible beating and death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis Police

The special unit Scorpion, which stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods, is disbanded now, but I expect it was built on the myth that Black men, Black boys and Black neighborhoods require tougher policing than White, high resource (wealthy) neighborhoods, the kind of policing that grew stop-and-frisk and exercises in power, intimidation, harassment, fear and violence. It is all justified as stopping crime. It is ugly, described over and over in books on systemic racism and disparate treatment like White Space Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality by Sheryll Cashin, A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes, Walking with the Devil: The Police Code of Silence 3rd Edition by Michael W. Quinn and The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth by Kristin Henning.

Taking police away from traffic stops for minor infractions is in the talk show discussions again, along with how body cameras were supposed to stop police violence. Body cameras just give the public a record when and if they are released.

In the beating of Tyre Nichols, the police gave 71 confusing and conflicting commands in 13 minutes like yelling “on the ground” when Nichols was already pinned down on the ground, all apparently to create the narrative that Nichols was the aggressor and the police victims. It is sickening.

Berkeley Mayor Arreguin generated the concept of BerkDOT back in 2020. BerkDOT stands for a new Berkeley Department of Transportation, with the purpose of removing minor traffic violations away from policing as a method of addressingl biased policing. Months of meetings were devoted to creating BerkDOT, and then it stopped. California State law prevents implementation of BerkDOT, but that may change. -more-

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces: SmitherSlips&Slaps

Gar Smith
Monday January 30, 2023 - 05:33:00 PM

One Child's Magnetic Words

After two years of pandemic cloistering, we left the country for a Caribbean holiday visit with extended family in Trinidad. After over-indulging on Indian delicacies (dhal puri, aloo pie, pholourie, callaloo, roti, and doubles), we shared precious time with some lively and precocious Trini kids.

We gave 7-year-old Ethan a Christmas gift — a puzzle box containing more than 200 words printed on small, magnetized metal chips. He immediately went to work, separating them all for display on a dining table. Then he raced to the nearest refrigerator and began assembling his first two statements on the fridge's metal flank.

When he returned to the table to start assembling another string of words, I strolled over to the kitchen and was astonished to read what he had posted. His messages read:

"Kind things innovate you more than harder times. They improvise sweet."

And: "She can only have my joyful beautiful heart."

All the News That's Fit to Drip

During December's storm-fest of atmospheric rivers, the plastic bags intended to keep our morning Chronicles dry failed big-time. You could tell how intense each storm was by counting the number of wet pages inside.

When we returned, it was clear that one of the dampest days had been December 31. That day's edition of the Chron was so waterlogged that we had to hang the paper's saggy sheets on a clothesline to dry. Which lead to another surprise: it turns out that the ink in our "journal of record" is water-soluble! Details in a front-page story about Trump's tax troubles were lost to the ages: the ink had simply vanished, washed-away by the deluge. -more-

Public Comment

A Proposal to End Police Militarism
(The militarization of the police, part 4)

Steve Martinot
Sunday January 29, 2023 - 08:21:00 PM

We have been looking at the meaning of having people in uniform patrolling city streets with military weaponry. It is not a joke. It has led us to describe three levels of social violence, each one linked to police desires for a soldier’s attitude toward the people.

First, there is the violence that the insecurity of common ordinary life forces on people. Not all people, and not even many, but some, enough for the cops to use as propaganda about a “crime wave” by which to gain access to military weapons. They claim that, because there are so many weapons “out there” in people’s hands, they need fire-power equal to that. We hear about robberies, or beatings, or mass shootings by some guy who has lost it. And we have police brutality to serve as a role model for those people.

Second, there is the violence and the brutality of the police themselves. It emerges from their arrogance, and the power they have through their Command and Obedience Paradigm, which they use to set certain people up for execution. The Command and Obedience Paradigm brings a military style of presence into the middle of civilian life by making each cop a commanding officer, thereby providing every person with the threat of being charged with “disobedience.” It is a technique by which a cop can pick on someone, give them a humiliating command, and when the person refuses to obey, get violent with him or her. -more-


Kelly Hammargren
Sunday January 29, 2023 - 08:40:00 PM

Harry Brill once said he wasn’t much interested in local politics, it was just about real estate. He was correct. Much of local politics is about real estate. And real estate is about so much more: where we live, yearn to live, can’t afford to live, racism, classism, profit, greed and poverty.

Developers and the real estate industry are significant contributors to election campaigns, either directly or indirectly through PACs (Political Action Committees) often called dark money. For small direct and PAC investments in local elections, the public can be influenced into electing industry friendly city councils, mayors and other officials and voting for or against ballot measures. Industry friendly mayors and council members can be swayed into industry friendly legislation, discounts and exemptions. And this background makes local, state and national politics so very interesting.

There is a lot to cover and a great number of council actions were not good news, so buckle up. -more-

ON MENTAL WELLNESS: The Battle of Defending Ourselves from the Attacks of the Privileged

Jack Bragen
Saturday January 28, 2023 - 04:18:00 PM

When I left high school, I was saddened to discover that the group of sorry individuals who harassed, defamed, and bullied me in public school were still around, wanted more, and couldn't give it a rest. Much of the time, it seems as though bullies never relent, and often are quite tenacious. It isn't good enough that they humiliated me for years when I was in that prison system that we call public school; they needed more.

To this day it seems as though there are some who cannot handle the concept that I could become a success in life. To stop these boneheads from continuing to defame me and find other ways to disrupt my progress, at some point I will need to invent a deterrent. I'm thinking about it. Partly, I need a way of pinpointing the responsible individual(s). It seems as though many of the problems are delivered with anonymous methods. I won't be specific. You'll just have to take my word for it, or not. -more-

Time to Stop Funding Israel

Jagjit Singh
Sunday January 29, 2023 - 08:44:00 PM

Dr. Khalidi is a professor of modern Middle Eastern history at Columbia University. He has warned the Biden administration is in serious danger of violating International Law affirming former President Trump’s reckless decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This decision is a break from 70 years of established US policy. Biden should reverse Trump’s decision to build a new US embassy on stolen Palestinian land. Khalidi was able to prove that his family and other Palestinians had title to the land which was rented to the British prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. It is time to state the obvious, Israel has never been a democracy. It has become a far-right theocratic society. The current fragile coalition has no intention of reaching an amiable accord with the indigenous Palestinians but has every intention of expropriating more land in the Occupied West Bank. To any doubting Thomases, I would like to remind them, “occupied” denotes Palestinians are prisoners on their own land, and a two-state solution is just a cruel joke. Our tax dollars should not be used to prop up an apartheid, racist, society. -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
Saturday January 28, 2023 - 04:16:00 PM

Worth Noting:

Busy week ahead

  • Sunday: Equity Summit at 6 pm
  • Monday: The Public Safety Committee at 10:30 am reviews BPD extra duty (overtime) policy. THE GO TO MEETING is the Agenda Committee at 2:30 pm with two Droste measures on the agenda for review. Item-10 BERIPE limits legislative submissions from the mayor and councilmembers and item-11 limits public comments at City Council meetings by combining consent and action items into one public comment. From 6 – 7 pm Speaking Up For Point Molate will host a (ZOOM) presentation on the River Otter Ecology Project.
  • Tuesday: City Council starts at 4 pm with the T1 funding shortage followed by the regular City Council meeting at 6 pm. Agenda item-21 at the regular Council meeting is the appeal of 2065 Kittredge. The appeal is in regard to detrimental impacts to workforce and failure to provide community benefits. Also, the Police Accountability (PAB) Board meets at 6:30 pm.
  • Wednesday: The 4 x 4 Task Force meets at 3 pm with the demolition and evictions ordinances on the agenda. The Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) meets at 6 pm followed with a special meeting at 6:30 pm on long term goals. The Disability Commission meets at 6 pm with a disaster registry and IKE Kiosks on the agenda. The Homeless Services Panel of Experts meets at 7 pm with recommendations for Measure P funding of multiple homeless programs/services. The Planning Commission meets at 7 pm and will conduct a public hearing on the demolition ordinance and provide a scoping session for the Pacific Steel Casting site EIR.
  • Thursday: The Housing Advisory Commission (HAC) and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) both meetings are at 7 pm. The LPC will consider three demolition requests

Check the City website for late announcements and meetings posted on short notice at: https://berkeleyca.gov/


Sunday, January 29, 2023 -more-