The largest typeface today on the front page of the SF Chronicle is: “$1.1 million Berkeley renovation nightmare.” Friends of Adeline is not mentioned by name, but without their support and involvement, Leonard Powell would be just one more elderly Black homeowner in a gentrifying area caught in receivership and an unrelenting city.
How does a renovation bill on a house near the Ashby BART Station run up to $1.1 million with the City of Berkeley at the bottom of it? Berkeley should have found a way out of this mess years ago instead of continuing the legal battle against Mr. Powell. None of this makes any sense unless the goal from the beginning was to take away Mr. Powell’s house. Since this started with the Berkeley Police Department and the City Attorney’s office, maybe that is the first place to look, but there are plenty of City hands in the pot or maybe more aptly the plot.
The twenty-seven-month wait is nearly over for the Bird Safe Glass and Dark Skies Ordinance—at least that is the hope. The Bird Safe Ordinance is #11 on the March 2nd Planning Commission agenda as a “discussion” item. This long wait could be a plus if Zoe Covello, Assistant Planner, starts with the model legislation from the American Bird Conservancy https://abcbirds.org/glass-collisions/model-ordinance/.
The model for legislation was written in December 2020, a little over a year after the Bird Safe ordinance proposal from CEAC was referred by City Council to the Planning Commission. Unfortunately, Covello’s presentation of options starts with problematic ordinances from neighboring cities that might have looked innovative years ago, but contain too many exceptions at a time when bird populations are in staggering decline https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/bring-birds-back/ To compound this problem, it looks like the recommendation may be guidelines instead of mandatory compliance with an ordinance.
Having attended years of Design Review Committee (DRC) and Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB) meetings, I can tell you for a fact, voluntary guidelines do not work. It is a very rare exception for a developer to commit to Bird Safe glass, and in those two rare instances observed in the recent past, the commitment from Bayer and 600 Addison was limited to the west facing facades not 100/100/100 as recommended by the American Bird Conservancy. The 100/100/100 stands for the first 100 feet ground to 100 feet high, 100% bird safe glass and 100% of the building.
The most significant outcome of Tuesday’s Agenda and Rules Committee is that neither Keith May, Disaster and Fire Safety Commission Secretary, nor Khin Chin, Office of Emergency Services, who staff the commission, nor commissioners knew that the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission recommendation finally made it to a City Council draft agenda. So of course, they weren’t present to support their measure that Council direct the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) to enforce existing Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) parking restrictions in all fire zones.
No one will see the recommendation for parking enforcement in fire zones at the council meeting on March 8th because the Agenda Committee members Mayor Arreguin and Councilmembers Wengraf and Hahn took it off the agenda and sent the recommendation on a detour to the Public Safety Committee.
Parking on narrow winding roads in the hillside fire zones has been a problem for decades with hand wringing, declarations and failure to act every year I can remember. The surprise was that the two councilmembers who just gave presentations on the fire danger in the hills for the ADU ordinance would send a parking enforcement recommendation in fire zones to a committee. Can those “meter maid” [Parking }Enforcement?] cars even make it up into the hills?
Henry DeNero, from the Hillside Fire Safety Group https://www.berkeleyhillsidefiresafety.org/ gave a presentation to the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission on the fire danger from eucalyptus trees with a map of eucalyptus groves in Berkeley including groves on private property. DeNero requested the use of Measure FF funds on private and public property for clean-up of ground debris and stripping eucalyptus bark to 15 ft on the tree trunk over the next three years followed with complete eucalyptus tree removal.
Commissioner former Mayor Shirley Dean asked for an opinion of the fire danger from the Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) members staffing the meeting to which the response was that BPD does not comment on the species of trees per instruction from the City. Commissioner Dean asked if the BFD in their vegetation management inspections could prioritize the mapped eucalyptus groves. It seems that doesn’t fit the vegetation inspections either. No decisions were made except to bring back further discussion of the eucalyptus at the next commission meeting. [insert map]
The Tuesday evening City Council meeting looked like it would run on forever with one UCB student speaking after another to express their support for the Southside Complete Streets Plan. The item had been moved from “Action” to “Consent” for approval, but that did not stop the continuous stream of speakers to add their support. It was one of those meetings where I wish we had the old rules in place where an item on the consent calendar would be pulled to action when the fourth speaker stood up to comment even if every speaker was in favor of the item. There was no opposition. There was the repeated request to end automobile traffic on Telegraph between Dwight and campus.
The report from the Berkeley Police Interim Chief on the implementation of the Fair and Impartial Policing Task Force Recommendations and the year-end Crime and Collision data was moved to the March 8th council meeting.
Thursday morning at the Budget and Finance Committee meeting Sharon Friedrichsen, the new Budget Manager, spoke to posting budgets so that questions could be sent in advance of meetings, giving staff time to research answers. This would be a very welcome complete turnaround from current practice of last minute/last hour posting.
Also under discussion was police recruiting. Hearing the City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley plan to expand the Berkeley Police Department to 181 officers was quite a shock when the presentation of findings and recommendations from the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR) and the Reimagining Public Safety Task force is still more than a week away. The nationwide search for a new police chief is ongoing. Despite these facts, there seems to be a rush to stack the deck and brush aside any counter-recommendations. In fact, there will be an analysis and report from the City arriving at some unspecified time after the NICJR and Task Force presentations on March 10th.
It is interesting how the reputation of artists and Donald Trump spill over into public art in Berkeley. The poem ‘In This Place’ by Amanda Gorman, the same Youth Poet Laureate who read ‘The Hill We Climb’ at President Biden’s inauguration, will be on the Durant side of 2352 Shattuck, the Logan Park building. Amanda Gorman has conditioned the commissioning of her poem on approval of an exception to the existing public art policy. Civic Arts Commission Chair Lisa Bullwinkel read the conditions from the agreement and explained that should there be a change in the reputation of the ownership of the building that would reflect poorly on the artist Amanda Gorman, she could request that the poem be removed from the building and donated to the city for placement at another location. This stems from artists wanting to disassociate themselves and their artwork from buildings where the Trump name appears. The Arts Commission voted unanimously in support of the requested policy exception for Amanda Gorman.
I took advantage of the President’s Holiday and did something I have never done: I tuned into what is supposed to be the most popular cable news shows. It was in full throttle Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity on Monday night. To contemplate that the most popular shows are a world where praise for authoritarians is peddled along with misinformation, fear and racism is profoundly disturbing.
People with a steady diet of rightwing media live in an alternate universe. And, this leads to this week’s books.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, published in 1953, is back on the banned book list which is so interesting since it is about book burning and censorship. The history of Fahrenheit 451 by Jonathan R. Eller and Ray Bradbury’s comments decades after publication that come with the 60th Anniversary edition are just as interesting, if not more so, as the novel. Bradbury discusses requests to rewrite the story and how words and lines removed or replaced for school audiences is also censorship. Bradbury has a passage in the novel about the forever wars, something we thought we might finally live without until this week’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
On Tuesday, the podcast “Why is this Happening” ran an updated episode with Dr. Izzy Lowell, who runs Queer Med, a private clinic that specializes in health care for trans youth and adults. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/treating-trans-youth-with-dr-izzy-lowell/id1382983397?i=1000551858078
Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt, published in 2015 about the transitioning of the transgender youth Nicole Maines, her family, and public response was our February book club reading choice. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/10/19/becoming-nicole/ The very next day after our book club meeting Governor Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to launch inquiries into parents and medical providers of transgender children, charging that treatment of trans youth is child abuse. Not to be outdone by Texas, the Florida House passed HB1557 the anti-LGBTQ bill dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The furor over Critical Race Theory, the classroom, banning books, anti-LGBTQ laws, voter suppression and gas pump stickers “blame Biden” for high gas prices, tells us where the 2022 elections are going. One caller on talk radio suggested we should be carrying our sharpies and cross out Biden and write Trump and Putin on those “blame” stickers.
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