Author Archives: Judith Scherr

Two slates fight for seats on Berkeley’s Rent Board

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A June 2012 grand jury report that slams the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board is at the center of the two-slate race for four seats on the board that oversees the city’s rent control law.

Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness, TUFF,  joined forces over support for the report’s conclusions  that the board “lacks oversight and accountability,” and that it’s up to Berkeley voters to “change the direction of the BRSB.”

The Tenant Convention Slate, TCS, chosen by a nominating convention in July, blasts the report, saying it “relies on inaccuracies, half-truths and innuendo,” and is based on policy concerns rather than evaluating the board’s implementation of the rent control law. … Continue reading »

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Mayoral candidate wants a more business-friendly city

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Bernt Wahl is running for mayor.

He’s been all but invisible on the campaign trail, having just returned from a trip abroad, and doesn’t plan to spend time raising campaign funds or opening a campaign office.

But then the adjunct UC Berkeley professor’s primary goal isn’t to snag the mayor’s seat. Rather, Wahl, 52, hopes to use the race to talk about improving Berkeley’s business climate.

“I have a lot of ideas of how to make Berkeley a better city, mostly dealing with technology or efficiencies,” he said, arguing that city bureaucracy gets in the way of entrepreneurs trying to start new businesses.

Wahl knows the challenges first hand. He works with faculty, researchers and students at UC Berkeley, mostly in the engineering department, helping to start new businesses.

Wahl believes the permit process for new businesses needs streamlining. “I’ve had to register [a new business] a couple of times,” he said. “For these start-ups, there’s always something that gets in the way. If we had a center, small businesses could come and say, you know, ‘I’d like to do this,’ or just come for advice.” … Continue reading »

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Disability advocate challenges Max Anderson for council

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Dmitri Belser runs a program that makes technology accessible to disabled people, he chaired Berkeley’s Commission on Disability, he renovates dilapidated Victorian homes, and he has raised two sons.

Now he wants to be the District 3 city council member.

“I’ve been frustrated for a long time with how District 3 has been represented,” Belser told Berkeleyside in an interview conducted amid dangling wires, creaking floorboards, ladders and drop cloths at a 62nd Street Victorian he’s refurbishing with his life-partner and campaign manager, Tom White. The couple lives a few blocks south-west on Parker Street near Shattuck Avenue.

“I’ve heard from a lot of my neighbors and a lot of people in this district that they don’t get responses” from Council Member Max Anderson, he said, contending that Anderson, in office since 2004, has been ineffective in solving issues of crime and helping the struggling business district at Adeline and Alcatraz.

“If there’s one skill that I have, it’s customer service,” he said. “I know how to respond to people.”

Belser, executive director at the Center for Accessible Technology (CAT), pointed to his work helping to get the Ed Roberts Campus project built. The campus, above the Ashby BART station, houses nonprofits serving the disabled community, including the CAT. Belser chairs the Ed Roberts Campus board. … Continue reading »

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Progressive teacher challenges Bates for Berkeley mayor

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Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi, a middle school teacher in Oakland, is running for mayor of Berkeley. This is the second time he’s challenged incumbent Mayor Tom Bates.

It took a double homicide in his Derby Street neighborhood four years ago to push Jacobs-Fantauzzi, then a teacher at Berkeley’s continuation high school, to his first run for mayor. The murder victims were the father of one of his students and another man in his 20s.

“It shook me in a way to question my role,” Jacobs-Fantauzzi told Berkeleyside. “What could I do?”

Teaching, he said, offered only limited ways of making change, especially for the disenfranchised youth who were his primary concern. “I could change the ethos of that school… be an amazing advocate for young people,” he said. “But if the city did not provide programs for young people, did not address issues of crime and safety, issues of young people that were marginalized, that were taking out their anger and frustrations on each other, then my role and my job is not really being fulfilled as a citizen of this city.” … Continue reading »

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Beat poet joins crowded field for Berkeley mayoral race

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The iconic Caffe Med on Telegraph Avenue was the perfect venue for an interview with Mark Schwartz, a 21st-century beat poet and candidate for mayor of Berkeley.

The multidimensional Schwartz has 13 books of poetry under his belt and holds an engineering degree from Cornell University. (The new edition of “On Third Street Kerouac Revisited” is graced with a blurb by Noam Chomsky who says the book is, “For one of those rare moments of a little tranquility.”)

Schwartz grew up in a Jewish household in the Bronx and followed a boyfriend to the West Coast in 1978. Since then, he’s lived mostly in San Francisco, but came to Berkeley three years ago. He now lives in a cottage in north west Berkeley.

Schwarz suffers from mental illness, for which he’s been hospitalized and, comparing himself to Thomas Eagleton — a former senator from Missouri who suffered from mental illness — he says his disability won’t be an impediment in taking on the office of mayor. Asked if he’d care to elaborate on the nature of his illness, the candidate answered with a sense of humor that was evident during much of the interview: “I’m classified as a schizophrenic affective – that’s because I’m effective with people.” … Continue reading »

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Community examines state of Berkeley’s Latino residents

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Berkeley’s Latino community and allies came together Thursday evening to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the farm worker movement, memorialize United Farmworkers Co-Founder Cesar Chavez, and honor Dolores Huerta, the other UFW co-founder, a guest of honor in front of a capacity crowd at the Berkeley Adult School auditorium.

While the historical movement that empowered farm workers was not forgotten, speakers focused on the theme of the evening: “The State of Latinos in Berkeley.”

Latinos comprise just under 11% of the city’s population, but the community is underrepresented in its governance and overrepresented in impoverishment, speakers said.

“We’re here to celebrate the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez and reflect on what his legacy may mean to each of us,” Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguìn told the crowd. “Cesar’s legacy was a legacy of service, fighting for social change….While Cesar made a huge difference, many of the struggles he fought for are still with us today.” … Continue reading »

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Parishioners continue call for change at Berkeley church

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Some 50 St. Joseph the Worker parishioners gathered Friday night, but they weren’t at the century-old sanctuary on Berkeley’s Addison Street. Instead, they met at old Finn Hall on Tenth Street, because, they say, they can no longer freely gather at the church many attended for decades – and that some no longer frequent.

The group, which some refer to as Salvemos (save us), met to spell out concerns with the St. Joseph leadership – and to strategize on how to reform the church they loved when radical priest Fr. Bill O’Donnell and progressive successors and colleagues were at the helm of the church community.

“We now find ourselves confronted by challenges that test our faith,” said parishioner Raul Ramirez, who moderated the meeting in Spanish and English.

“We have heartfelt concerns… in three key areas of our parish,” he said. “The lack of vision, the lack of communication, and failed leadership.”

Tensions within the church community date back to July 2009 with the arrival at the parish of Fr. John Direen. The appointment was made by Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, a conservative bishop who had been one of the driving forces behind Prop. 8, California’s anti-gay-marriage law. … Continue reading »

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Occupy Berkeley remains, experiment is proving fragile

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While Occupy encampments across the nation are being forcibly disbanded, be it in Oakland, Manhattan or right here on the Cal campus, the tent-city in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, which was established in early October after gravitating from the Bank of America on Shattuck Avenue, remains. Its presence has been marked not by clashes with the police or loud demonstrations, but rather by its inherent low profile.

Over the past few weeks, it has quietly grown in size and, while showing no sign of leaving, it is nevertheless struggling with the consequences of its policy of radical inclusivity. Occupy Berkeley campers and supporters are engaging in loud and long disagreements and debates as they try to figure out the best approach to a world which opens its doors to all who walk in: decent people, as well as thieves and assailants. … Continue reading »

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Berkeleyans move their money, and small banks benefit

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On Friday at noon, Mark Coplan waited patiently for his turn to open an account at the Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union on Ashby Avenue. Thirty-eight people did the same on Saturday which was “Move Your Money Day”, also known as “Bank Transfer Day”, a concept promoted by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, MoveOn.org and other organizations.

The goal is to get people to transfer their money from large institutions to local banks or credit unions. “Invest in Main Street, Not Wall Street,” is their slogan.

“I want to be able to switch my account from Wells Fargo tomorrow,” said Coplan, spokesperson for the Berkeley Unified School District, but speaking for himself this time. Coplan, who has banked with Wells Fargo since 1984, said pressure on the big banks has already succeeded. Bank of America recently U-turned on plans to charge customers $5 a month in order to use their debit cards. “That’s a direct result of the Occupy Wall Street Movement,” Coplan said.

By closing time on Saturday, Gary Bell, CEO of Cooperative Federal Credit Union, was elated. “Good people are coming back home to the credit union,” he said. “Today a significant message was sent to the banks about the way they handle finances.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley joins 900 cities to condemn corporate greed

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Update, 10.16.11: A video of the October 15th Occupy march in Berkeley has been added at the foot of this story. It was created by Digital Asphalt/East Bay Media Center/Paul Kealoha Blake.

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Some 300 people marched, biked and rolled their wheelchairs through downtown Berkeley Saturday, adding their voices to the Occupy Movement calling for an end to the abuse of corporate power. There were rallies and demonstrations in more than 900 cities in the U.S. and abroad, with a turnout of some 2,000 in Oakland and 3,000 in San Francisco.

“There ain’t no power like the power of the people, ‘cause the power of the people don’t stop,” Berkeley marchers chanted, waving homemade signs such as “No Taxes for Star Wars,” “This is Not a Recession; This is a Robbery,” and “Free Market Makes People Unfree.” Marchers walked on the sidewalk, accompanied by a couple of police officers on bicycles.

Before the march, a few people spoke briefly in the manner that has become familiar to the Occupy Movement, with the crowd repeating the speakers’ words so that they are heard by all. Elizabeth Kessell listed a dozen corporate misdeeds – bank foreclosures, workplace discrimination, misuse of animals, abrogation of worker rights, media control and more. She went on to call for solutions: “Exercise your rights to peaceable assembly,” she said. “Occupy public spaces [and] create a process to address the problems we face.”

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City Council tackles housing development downtown

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With the passage of Measure R last year, Berkeley voters set the stage for a taller, denser, greener downtown.

While developers will be allowed to build one hotel and two residential buildings of 180 feet, a couple of office buildings at 120 feet and other buildings that are taller than in today’s downtown, what the city’s core will actually look like – who will live there, how much open space will be retained and how people will get around – is likely to be the focus of many late-night council and commission meetings over the next months and years to come.

The question the council debated at its Tuesday evening work session was whether paying a $20,000 per rental unit fee to an affordable housing fund would negatively impact the developer’s bottom line, affecting a proposed project to the degree that it would not to be built.

Developer fees are not taxes. They are intended to pay cities back for partial costs they bear for new development. Currently in Berkeley developers pay into a childcare fund, commercial developers pay into a fund for affordable housing, and condominium developers pay into a fund for affordable housing if they don’t choose to build lower-cost housing on site.

Berkeley formerly mandated that 20% of new rental units a developer built would be affordable, with an option for the developer to pay into a fund to house lower-income people in lieu of creating new affordable units. The 2009 Palmer decision by the state supreme court made that illegal.

The council is also likely to impose developer fees dedicated to open space and transportation, but that wasn’t part of Tuesday’s discussion.  … Continue reading »

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