Berkeley Community Media calls it a wrap, prepares for its sequel

Berkeley Community Media staff dismantle the green screen at its Berkeley High site, which the organization has to vacate by June 30. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Berkeley Community Media is packing up its cameras, taking down its green screen, and moving out of Berkeley High after more than 20 years on the campus.

The Berkeley City Council is set to vote next Tuesday on whether to allow BCM to store its equipment and broadcasting facility at Old City Hall, where the council meets, for $1 a month. BCM would continue running its two local cable channels and loaning out equipment to the public, but the move would spell the end, at least for now, of studio performances and green-screen projects, said director Brian Scott.

“We’ll metamorphosize to something new in the transition period, then hopefully create something that brings us back to our roots,” he said.

BCM has to be out of its site at Berkeley High, at 2239 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, by June 30, to make way for new and relocated classes. The school has a serious shortage of classroom space, and new “career technical education” programs — carpentry, stagecraft and robotics — must move into the extra-large BCM site, administrators say.


For many years, BCM has occupied the space for free, under an agreement with BUSD to broadcast School Board meetings and provide training and equipment to Berkeley High students. But the two entities largely kept to themselves, with only a few classes taking advantage of the resource over the years. Many people associated with BCM say the organization repeatedly tried to strike up a partnership with the school, whereas BUSD administrators say that wasn’t the case, at least not recently.

Scott said the district has not approached BCM about establishing a connection with the new broadcasting set-up, meaning next Wednesday’s School Board meeting could be the last that appears on local cable channel 33. The meetings would continue to be streamed on Youtube.

BUSD spokesman Charles Burress said the district is still considering how meetings will be transmitted to the public from here on out.

“We have not yet reached a final determination of what we’d like to see in terms of broadcasting and/or streaming of School Board meetings in the next school year,” he wrote in an email.

BCM also broadcasts city meetings, including those of the City Council, Rent Board, and Zoning Adjustments Board. Those contracts will remain in place.

“The city relies exclusively on BCM’s broadcast services for televising and web-streaming public meetings,” says the City Council staff report. “Relocating the headend [the device receiving incoming TV signals] to Old City Hall will enable this critical service to continue uninterrupted.” The item is on the Consent Calendar, a package of less-controversial proposals voted on with one motion.

The School Board has also announced it’s reached an agreement with the City Council to share BUSD’s West Campus meeting room, after months of renewed negotiations. The details of the agreement have not been released, but they could affect what and where BCM broadcasts in the near future.

That agreement stems from seismic safety concerns at Old City Hall. The City Council has long been trying, with some bumps along the way, to move out of the unstable building.

Under BCM’s potential new agreement with the city, the site would only serve as a storage space and a home base for the headend, according to the council item.

“Regular, full-time use of the building is not recommended due to the high degree of liability and exposure to torts created by the poor seismic condition of the building,” the staff report says.

Scott said BCM staff would sometimes be in the building to perform “basic station operations,” but the public would never come inside.

“The city has been working with us tirelessly to get this done and help us with this transition,” Scott said. BUSD has assisted with the move as well, he said.

Ruben Perez welcomed visitors to Berkeley Community Media earlier this year. The space will be converted into Berkeley High classrooms. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The city funds most of BCM’s operations, to the tune of about $240,000 annually, and this year the organization looks likely to receive a Berkeley Civic Arts Grant for $5,000 or $7,000. Other funding comes from donations and Comcast, which pays for some of the equipment.

BCM has also launched a fundraiser to cover moving expenses.

The organization employs six part-time staffers, who will stay on board after the move but take up new roles, Scott said. They will no longer need to work the reception desk or walk visitors through editing software, so they’ll be freed up to do more work out in the field, he said.

“It’s going to allow us to go out into the community to shoot,” Scott said. BCM filmed the last Sunday Streets event and plans to cover the downtown Berkeley BART plaza grand opening. All the content will go on the public access channels, and the archived videos will remain available to the public.

“People have not realized that we are the media library for Berkeley,” Scott said. “Anybody can come in and create content for the community — for information, for education, for transparency in government.”

Once members of the public take one class with BCM and pay a $60 membership fee, they gain access to high-quality equipment and other resources. The classes will continue after the move, including new courses on portable multi-camera production, Scott said, but the location is still being determined. The organization is also looking for a new place to set up its editing equipment.

Meanwhile, BCM will continue searching for a new permanent facility. The organization has submitted an application for space at the old Premier Cru site, but Scott said he’s hoping for another location in downtown Berkeley, closer to the headend and more accessible for members. In the meantime, BCM is in talks with venues like La Peña about occasionally borrowing studio space.

The eviction “was a real sad thing for our producers,” who’ve been airing their final episodes on BCM’s channels, Scott said.

One of those shows, Edmound Broussard’s “Education in Our Community,” has more than 1,000 episodes in BCM’s studio under its belt.

Scott said BCM will definitely keep Broussard around and find a new role for the contributor, possibly helping with the ramped-up field work.

Though BCM is mourning the loss of its long-term home — decorated with murals, scribbled broadcast schedules, and a pair of TV monitors that have been running nonstop for 20 years — Scott said his crew has finally embraced the possibilities of a new set-up.

“People are really looking forward now to our new direction,” he said.