News and Notes 

Empowering the young, planning the year, divining the future, removing the flag, patching the rust, painting the zebra

Is there special zoning for pizza? Berkeley politicians pay a lot of lip service to involving UC students in local government but, in reality, longtime city-dwellers historically haven't wanted these residents-until-graduation too involved. Students, you see, have imprudent youthful notions like building more housing around campus to alleviate the housing crunch -- something not too popular with established settlers, who think the neighborhoods around campus already are overcrowded. But it would be politically unwise to totally ignore students -- they are a major voting bloc after all -- so occasionally Berkeley councilmembers have deigned to appoint a bookworm to obscure city commissions where they would do minimal damage. However, never until now has a Cal student been named a permanent member of the city's most powerful land-use commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board. Councilman Kriss Worthington just named Cal pal Andy Katz to the zoning board, an appointed body that makes land-use decisions with long-lasting impacts on the town's low-scale urban landscape.

To an extent, it makes perfect sense that Worthington, who represents the south campus area, would be the first councilmember to appoint a student to the zoning board. Worthington regularly boasts about having put more students on city commissions than anyone else. But appointing a pro-development guy like Katz, a vocal proponent of more housing around campus, is a risky move. Worthington relies on regular support from neighborhoods such as Bateman, which always is fighting Alta Bates' latest expansion plans. Pro-development votes by Worthington's appointee might not sit well with NIMBYs.

And also consider this: Katz replaces Gene Poschman, one of the most notorious no-growth nabobs in zoning board history, who resigned last month for health reasons. Even Berkeley developer Patrick Kennedy, by no means a Worthington fan, applauds the councilor's new appointment. "Inasmuch as Gene Poschman was an amiable Visigoth when it comes to building affordable housing in Berkeley," Citizen Kennedy sniffs, "Andy Katz cannot but improve the situation."

Like others around town, Kennedy suspects Katz's appointment is a calculated political move by Worthington to suck up to his pro-housing student constituency. The timing of the appointment also is curious -- coming shortly after the redistricting debacle in which Worthington was accused of backing a plan reducing the number of students in his district. And even another Worthington appointee acknowledges, "Maybe Kriss has concerns about his own reelection."

But Worthington assures 7 Days he has no hidden agenda. He says he tried to find a student to serve on either the planning commission or the zoning board a long time ago, but none knew the land-use lingo of variances and setbacks. Katz, however, was active in developing a recent land-use plan for the neighborhood and even had served as an interim appointment on the zoning board before. "Andy has the potential," Worthington predicts, "to dispel the anti-student prejudice."


Still, adults are so much more responsible: This just in from Oakland City Hall: According to the City Clerk's proposed calendar for next year, the council will be giving itself fifteen weeks off in 2002. That's four weeks for summer vacation, three weeks for Christmas and New Year's, one week each for Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and spring break, and one week for both the spring and fall elections. For those doing the math, that adds up to almost four months' worth of time off -- and all of this in a year when voters will be asked to decide whether or not they should approve a ten percent salary raise for the council. Perhaps so they can spend it on their vacations.


Wake us when this generation is over: Last week, forecasters Lena and Jose Stevens rolled into town to present their annual look at the coming year -- or in this case, the next 25. An overflowing crowd at Emeryville's Four Points Sheraton took copious notes as the Santa Fe, New Mexico couple, who serve as metaphysical consultants to individuals and corporations, reminded everyone that they've long said the beginning of the millennium would be tumultuous. "Well, it's started," said Jose. "The Chinese curse -- may you live in interesting times -- has arrived."So what can we expect? War and more war from a warrior cabinet, consolidation among corporations, violence, crime, and plenty of bad behavior from a security-seeking populace. We'll either be very perceptive this year or pursue perception's shadow side, sentimentality.

The strife only intensifies for ten to twelve years, as the world experiences more fascism and massive population loss, mostly from virus-borne disease. After that comes a revolutionary period of approximately the same duration, followed by a new awakening. "But you're saying we're entering a dark age!" said one audience member.

That is exactly what the Stevenses were saying. The best plan for the old souls among us is to hunker down in communities and perform grassroots work. "It's not a good time for progressives," Jose said dryly. "But don't expect to go back to what was before. You can't." Those who want more signs and portents can contact the Stevenses at www.powerpathseminars.com.


Are plastic flags recyclable? Why did software giant Siebel Systems take down the giant American flag it had pasted along the eastern face of its Emeryville office? Was it that they were picking up flak from the neighbors? Was it, as rumored around these parts, that employees felt the enormous stars-and-stripes was making the building a possible terrorist target? Siebel's not telling. All they'll say is that the Emeryville flag lasted less than two weeks and that they've still got one up at their San Mateo headquarters, leading us to wonder: What's the proper disposal protocol for a flag decal the size of a building?


Rust never sleeps: The Oakland Museum of California finally is getting down to the grubby business of dealing with what it's put off, more or less, for twenty years: restoring its outdoor sculptures. A few years back, a survey concluded that several of the museum's forty outdoor works were crumbling quickly, and none faster than the mammoth "Balanced-Unbalanced Plank," a paint-on-steel abstract by Fletcher Benton, the acclaimed San Francisco artist.Benton's piece, installed in the early '80s, is peeling like an onion, and rusting at the hinges. Estimate to salvage: $40,000. When the artist dropped by to admire his work last year he left Oakland aghast, firing off a nasty little letter to museum honchos, giving them an ultimatum: Fix it, or tear it down. Benton told friends the dilapidated piece was "ruining my reputation."

"Benton raised his voice, and it got the ball rolling," says John Burke, head of conservation at the museum.

The museum turned to the city of Oakland, which, for the first time, earmarked funds specifically for restoring public art -- $60,000 -- and handed over an additional $25,000 just for Benton's rust bucket, the largest sum the city ever has awarded to restore a single piece of public art. The museum agreed to raise the remaining 15K for Benton's precarious metal plank.

"The city blessed us with the money," says museum director Dennis Power, who considers the city's restoration funding a one-time deal. "Fletcher Benton is an important artist and his piece is an important work. We wouldn't be in the museum business if we didn't have loyalty to our pieces -- not just his, but all of them."


In other art news: A few weeks ago drivers who whizzed past the zebra mural on Broadway underneath I-580 were taken aback by the graphic addition spray-painted onto our striped friends: male organs. Big ones. Ones with a snicker-snicker black 'n' white color scheme.The massive jocks didn't last long. Unimpressed locals, presumably, painted over the offending vandal work, leaving behind rectangular gray smudges. Employees at both Oakland's Public Works and CalTrans deny doing the patchwork. Zebra artist Dan Fontes hasn't yet witnessed the handiwork to his creation, but he isn't surprised. Fontes has touched up graffiti on the four-legged herd several times since the creature feature arrived in 1985. "Usually, it comes out of my own pocket. If I have a little bit of extra paint, and time, I can get around to it."

For now, Fontes' other mammal mural, the giraffes at MacArthur and 580, remained unharmed.

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