News & Notes 

Four area coordinators, three important words, two maligned paintings, one budding politician

East Bay crime wave: We hope you North Berkeley residents have insurance, 'cause you're about to get robbed. The Berkeley cops have reported an alarming wave of burglaries in the foothills of North Berkeley and, to a lesser extent, the flats just north of University Avenue. (The blockbuster day was January 11, in which three burglaries and an armed robbery occurred in Councilmember Miriam Hawley's usually placid neighborhood.) Sounds like a perfect time for the city's well-oiled community-oriented police force to spring to action and put an end to this crime wave!

Whoops -- Berkeley doesn't have a community-policing program. At least, that's the contention of Brad Smith, a North Berkeley resident and former aide to Councilwoman Linda Maio. For the last six months, Smith has been complaining that the city community-policing program has been dying a gradual, silent death. Thanks to a cushy new cop retirement plan, Berkeley's most experienced officers have taken their leave of the force and hightailed it to Florida; roughly 120 cops have retired since 1996. As a result, Berkeley has suddenly found itself with a bumper crop of rookies who know nothing about community policing and expect police work to be responding to 911 calls. The staffing crisis has forced the department to reassign many community-policing officers to other duties. It also has killed off its vaunted "beat box," a recorded message that allows residents to call the department and be apprised of recent crimes in their neighborhood.

"The department went to considerable effort to train people in community policing and put in a lot of two-way communication," Smith says. "I remember them saying over and over, 'Don't worry about whether this is significant information, just call us and tell us what you've heard.' There was a real sense of openness. With the turnover, given that it is just not the natural kind of policing, you're shy the complement of officers who are used to it, and it just slipped off the priority stack."

But never let it be said that Berkeley's neighborhoods don't know how to get things done. After receiving a host of complaints from residents around town, Police Chief Dash Butler recently convened a meeting of neighborhood watch block captains, at which he acknowledged that community policing had slipped down a notch and promised to do better. He even introduced a new generation of four "area coordinators" assigned the task of overseeing crime trends on a broad scale throughout the city. Score one for the squeaky wheels.

Whats in a name? Much time, energy and money are spent by candidates every election to figure out how to describe their occupations on the ballot in three words or less. It might sound silly, but ballot designation can be a critical factor in deciding the outcome of an election, especially some obscure nonpartisan local post pursued by obscure politicos. Take the upcoming judicial election for Alameda County Superior County to replace retiring judge Judith Ford. One candidate for judge, Lise Pearlman, paid someone to sue her opponent, Pleasanton attorney Judson Scott, to prevent him from calling himself "judge pro tem," which Pearlman's campaign gurus thought could mislead voters into thinking Scott was a real judge already. Before going to court, Scott agreed to ditch the judge pro tem designation, the judicial equivalent of being a substitute teacher. But the two sides still disagreed about a suitable replacement title. Scott wanted to use "Admiral/Bar President," but Pearlman's proxy objected because the president of the bar is just a volunteer position and Scott's only a rear admiral in the naval reserves. James Richman, who is a real superior court judge, ruled in Scott's favor, meaning voters will have to choose between an admiral/bar president, an ethics consultant/mediator (Pearlman) and a superior court commissioner (Trina Thompson Stanley). Only underdog candidate, Michael Goldstein, a state public defender, didn't use all of his three words. He simply listed himself as "attorney." Good to know that at least one of the judicial candidates is actually a lawyer.

Look before you leap: At "Taking the Leap," a six-month course for visual artists, students learn the ins and outs of the business side of the art world. Halfway through the Emeryville-based course, the artists display their work in a group exhibition. That's where San Francisco artist Niki Lee learned a lesson in how very easy it is to offend.

Two of Lee's four pieces in the show have been taken down because someone took offense to them. A formal complaint was lodged against one piece, and the program asked her to take it home. With the second piece though, someone kept secretly taking it down and turning it toward the wall. Lee finally took that home too; the painting was damaged with marks that won't come off.

"I was outraged and felt very violated," says Lee, who hung up censored signs in place of her art. (Those too were mysteriously removed.) "I just felt like a woman of color trying to say something and having her voice being cut out."

Program director Cay Lang says that every two years or so, someone gets in a tizzy over a piece in the annual show. Lang herself is a photographer whose own work has been thrown out of shows. (Some people just can't deal with photos of nude men pressed against Plexiglas.) "Every artist who is doing their job is going to be censored at some point," Lang says.

The artwork doesn't hang in a gallery, but in Bucci's Café and the hallways of two office buildings on Hollis Street. Rich Robbins of Wareham Properties (which owns 6121 Hollis St.) and Francis Collins of Proper Management Corporation (which owns 5900 Hollis St.) have donated their hallways to the show for a decade, and Lang, eager not to ruffle any feathers, has agreed to remove any bothersome art. "If people are going to work every day, they have a right not to look at something that disturbs them," Lang says.

Still, she doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. Lee's work, which hung at 6121 Hollis St., is not realistic at all but rather abstract, and at times, even cartoonish. "Another Woman," the piece that was physically moved, is a line painting of a nude woman in profile. "The Masters," the first piece taken down, is painted on a heavy door and depicts a skinny vertical rectangle, topped by a rounded dome shape with three lines in a row above it. The complainer thought this looked like a penis ejaculating. But it could also be a semi truck barreling down a highway as viewed from above. Or how about this: a rectangle and some lines.

"It's basically three or four lines, that's what the person is objecting to," Lang says. (An image of it runs on page 24 of this week's Express)

Who knows how a phallus got into the equation? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the paintings were placed right across the hall from the restrooms.

Go East Young West: Clean-shaven Marin Taliban man John Walker has a team of lawyers behind him, all of whom happen to be former prosecutors. The latest addition as seen on TV: Tony West, the handsome Harvard-educated ex-U.S. attorney and Friend of Bill (Lockyer, that is). Readers should get used to his mug because he could be running for a public office near you in the not-too-distant future.

Just a couple of years ago, the overachieving West made an unsuccessful bid for the Assembly. His problem: He ran in San Jose where the demographics don't favor an African-American candidate (especially one running against Manny Diaz on the Latino-heavy east side). The fatal blow during the 2000 Democratic primary campaign came in the form of a shameless race-baiting hit piece paid for by the Latino Caucus picturing West wearing a football helmet under the words, "The Oakland Raider." Even though West is a San Jose native, he had been living in Oakland until he packed his carpet bags and headed south to run for office.

Representing Walker would seem a clear indication West has no plans to run for office again -- in San Jose. South Bay voters wouldn't take too kindly to a lawyer representing a traitor. But in the East Bay, the case could even win him support. A longtime political adviser to West said don't be surprised if the Taliban attorney resurfaces on the political scene again in a couple of years when Oakland Assemblygal Wilma Chan gets termed out of office.

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