Author Archives: Guest contributor

Op-ed: Labor Commission should think carefully about $19 minimum wage

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There is no one on the planet who would like to see his fellow man and woman find productive and meaningful employment at wages that allow for the complete satisfaction of every need and want more than I do.

Over the arc of my life, I have spent my fair share of time thinking that the path to that goal could come from legislation. I even led a group in Portland, Oregon fighting against Wal-Mart in SE Portland, and did so … Continue reading »

Op-ed: Is the city of Berkeley getting more efficient?

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Maybe the headline should be “man bites dog” but there’s a bit of good news on council’s Tuesday agenda: a vast improvement in timely approval of contracts. Our performance audit “Most Contracts Executed Timely but Contract Project Managers Could Use Better Tools and Guidance” tells the story.

The bigger story here, to me, is the many more substantial improvements I’ve seen in nearly 21 years of auditing city programs and performance. Whether I look at our 2004 audit of contracts, … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: School board — Take action now on developer fees

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State law allows school districts to collect fees from new residential and commercial development projects to mitigate their impact on school facilities. New construction and new residents mean new students and new classroom space requirements. Most school districts in the state collect these fees. Berkeley does not.

Berkeley is losing out on money that is desperately needed to house its ballooning student population. Since 1998, approximately $10 billion dollars have been collected by various school districts throughout California from developer fees, according to a recent report by the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO). In addition to state funding and local bonds, the LAO calls developer fees one of the three legs holding up the stool of school construction funding. Without these fees and with state funding drying up, we are teetering on a one-legged stool in Berkeley. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Begging my neighbors for respect and affordability

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I am a 23-year-old music data analyst making a $42,000 yearly salary before taxes; 46% of my income goes to rent. Nobody at my income level can afford median rent in Berkeley.

I feel utterly disrespected by my older neighbors who oppose much-needed housing.

Berkeley needs thousands of new housing units yesterday, and the hypocrisy of those delaying the approval process is transparent and insulting. As a vocal critic of Berkeley’s housing shortage, I have resisted the temptation to stereotype … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley School Board must take action on sexual harassment

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In Berkeley, a topic of concern is “disproportionality,” the discrepancy between how often students of color are disciplined compared to their population. One of the greatest deterrents to the school-to-prison pipeline is prevention. Education, training, and a culture of respect lead to a safer school environment, which in turn leads to fewer incidents. Stronger, safer policies coupled with a consistent response to bullying and harassment of any kind, lead to fewer suspensions.

Years ago, the federal government decided that every school district needed a Title IX Coordinator to handle complaints about discrimination (which includes bullying and harassment). School districts that receive federal funding must be in compliance with Title IX. Shockingly, and despite the BUSD’s latest PR campaign touting its achievements, the district continues to be out of compliance with the most basic federal requirements, thus creating a precarious situation for our students, where job #1 should be ensuring their safety. … Continue reading »

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Aduro Biotech leases entire West Berkeley building

Wareham Development has rebuilt a historic building at 740 Heinz Avenue as part of its Aquatic Park Center, an 18-acre biotech campus in West Berkeley.
Photo: Wareham Development
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By Lisa Tsering

A biotech company that did the largest IPO in Berkeley history has leased an entire West Berkeley warehouse and will move its labs and offices there by 2016, helping to bolster the city’s reputation as a world-class life sciences hub.

Aduro Biotech Inc., led by UC Berkeley biochemist Stephen T. Isaacs, specializes in creating drugs designed to strengthen the immune system to fight off cancer. They work on some of the toughest-to-fight tumors, such as pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma.

The company went public in April, raising $119 million in Berkeley’s largest-ever initial public offering. It currently employs around 80 people in a smaller space on Bancroft Way. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley Community Fund helped keep my college dream alive

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The many recent stories in the media about college access and the challenges faced by first- generation college students have inspired me to share my own experience with Berkeleyside readers.

I’m one of those students. I came to the United States from Mexico when I was 5, was raised in Berkeley, attended Malcolm X Elementary and graduated from Berkeley High School in 2011. Neither my mother nor my stepfather went to college, but for as long as I can remember the family expectation was that my younger brother and I would earn a college degree.

Spending the early years of my youth with four family members in a cramped studio apartment and seeing what my parents sacrificed for us helped me set my own goals to create a better future for myself. My hard work during high school paid off. I was accepted into San Francisco State and I earned a scholarship from the Berkeley Community Fund. I felt nervous, but ready. My first semester was great. I enjoyed my classes and the challenge.

Life changed in early January 2012. I knew my state-sponsored health insurance would be terminated when I turned 19 later that month, so I was proactive and got a physical. I wanted to return to dancing with a dance company that I was a part of previously. I had stopped a few years earlier because it tired me out too much. I wanted to try again.

A lump I had above my collarbone my whole senior year in high school turned out to be thyroid cancer. I had my first surgery the day before my 19th birthday. The doctors insisted I take the semester off. But I refused. I reduced my class load from five classes to two classes. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Stop the delaying tactics; approve 2211 Harold Way

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The city process for the project at 2211 Harold Way is closing in on three years. In December 2012 the first application was submitted and the project is currently scheduled for another Zoning Board hearing on September 30, 2015.

I love Berkeley. I love its quirky charms and I love the passion that older generations have for their community. But enough is enough. The endless delays are amounting to a housing status quo that not only affects the ability of Berkeley to grow with the extant flood of talent and innovation, but is also a de facto barrier to cultural and economic diversity. I find it jarring that a community so proud of its history of fighting for rights of all people would then continue to obstruct the very instrument that will allow for population growth, new economic opportunities and increased community diversity.

During this three-year period the project has had in excess of 30 meetings, including many design review committee hearings where the project design was changed in order to accommodate requests and concerns of the City and the public. This includes the addition of new theaters, which was not a part of the original design. The fact remains that the reason theaters were not included in the original design is because the revenue received from the theaters does not compensate for the construction costs. The theaters will never be able to compensate the owner at a market rate. This point is even clearer when you consider the letter dated April 15, 2013 from Landmark Theaters that clearly states that the current theaters’ model is not financially viable. … Continue reading »

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Poet laureate Coolbrith: Did Berkeley shortchange her?

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2015 marks the centennial of the naming of California’s first poet laureate. In 1915, during the height of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the state named Ina Coolbrith, then 74, to become an ambassador of words.

Aleta George, a journalist and a part-time house manager for Berkeley Rep, has written a new biography of Coolbrith who was known as “the sweetest note in California literature.” George will be talking about her book, Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate, at Books Inc. in Berkeley on Tuesday Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.

Berkeleyside asked George to write about why Berkeley should stake a larger claim to Coolbrith, (1841-1928), who currently is more closely associated with Oakland, where she served as the city’s first public librarian, and San Francisco. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley Labor Commission’s $19 nightmare

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When President Obama proposed in 2013 to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, one retort designed to call attention to his flawed economic logic went like this: “If $9 is so great, why not $19?”

Less than three years later, the Labor Commission in Berkeley has taken this rhetorical device to heart and proposed making it a reality by 2020.

Such is the state of the minimum wage debate in 2015, where starting wage levels that … Continue reading »

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Scott Fitzwater: ‘Sketches in Slate’ solo show in Berkeley

A Prayer for the Earth. Mosaic artwork by Scott Fitzwater
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By Laura Paull

If the grey metamorphic rock known as slate could revert to the flow of its volcanic origins, it might resemble the dynamic new works of mosaic artist Scott Fitzwater.

Opening Sept. 19 at the Institute of Mosaic Art in West Berkeley, the Portland artist’s solo exhibition “Sketches in Slate” showcases Fitzwater’s year-long exploration of slate as a mosaic material. From the flowing lines and curtains of color in his early “Progress” to the chunky chaos and subtle color overlay in his most recently completed “Diversity Gradient,” “Sketches in Slate” provides the rare opportunity to see this body of work in one show.

Fitzwater is a largely self-taught artist who began his exploration of mosaics in 2008 after retiring from a career in software engineering. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley must restrict parking on narrow streets

It's difficult for emergency vehicles to pass through many of Berkeley's narrow streets. Photos: Bob Flasher
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The Berkeley Disaster and Fire Safety Commission is working on a proposal to restrict parking on what it describes as “the excessively narrow streets in the hills fire zone.” The commission has suggested this as a result of FEMA recommendations that followed the 1991 Tunnel Fire.

Wildfires have already scorched hundreds of square miles of California, long before the most threatening months of the fire season. Homes and lives have been lost. We need to prepare in advance of life-threatening fires to ensure that loss of life and property in Berkeley will be minimal.

While Berkeley’s fire department has made significant operational and equipment improvements since the 1991 Tunnel Fire, most of the additional neighborhood changes recommended by FEMA and the Hills Emergency Management Forum have yet to be implemented.

One of the most essential changes recommended is to limit parking on excessively narrow, winding streets in the Hills Hazardous Fire Area. These limitations would be crucial to allow 24/7 emergency access, not only during disastrous urban interface fires, but for everyday medical emergency runs. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: The Sierra Club’s eucalyptus management policy is the right approach for East Bay Hills

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Eucalyptus trees are magnificent and picturesque, but they are inherently dangerous and invasive, depriving native plants of the chance to thrive wherever they grow.

In some cases, exotic plants can co-exist with natives, but, in the case of blue gum eucalyptus, this is not the case. The species has evolved in the extraordinarily harsh, dry climate of Australia to grow and spread quickly to then be burned to ashes in catastrophic wildfires.

According to Jared Farmer, in his recent book … Continue reading »

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