Berkeley blues: Back in April, 7 Days saluted Berkeley civil servant Tim Stroshane for accepting the thankless position of advance planning manager and secretary to the Planning Commission. He had every reason to be wary: his predecessor, Andrew Thomas, had defected to the city of Alameda, and Thomas' predecessor left the department for a long, restful leave of absence. But Stroshane stepped to the plate when his city needed him most.
Three months on the job was more than enough to make Stroshane nostalgic for his old sinecure. He'll transfer back to the housing department sometime in the next couple of months, thus leaving planning in even worse shape than it was when he took the job. The advance planning department, which works on the city's long-range development and infrastructure goals, is budgeted for two positions, but with Stroshane gone both will be empty. There is a chance the city could find a planner to fill his shoes before he leaves, but that is assuming that someone can be found to endure the low pay, long hours, and endless battles with development gadflies and city commissioners that is the Berkeley planner's lot.
Development is the most fractious issue in Berkeley politics these days, beating out even Afghanistan and used coffee sleeves. A determined group of citizens, many of whom are associated with the Berkeley Party, which advocates slow- to no-growth, has pledged to stop a number of new projects, ranging from an old-folks' home on Sacramento Avenue to Patrick Kennedy's big apartment complex at 2700 San Pablo Avenue. Berkeley Party members say that the city has grown enough -- actually, it shrank by 104 citizens between 1990 and 2000 -- and that further growth would imperil the quality of life in the city's neighborhoods. Some also whisper that city planners have a natural affinity for developers, will employ any trick to silence dissidents, and routinely engage in nefarious chicanery to ram big projects through.
The controversy has broken out of the Planning Commission and into electoral politics, with voters set to decide on an initiative that would reduce the allowable heights for new buildings throughout the city. This is not good news for Stroshane's soon-to-be ex-boss, Carol Barrett. Barrett was hired away from Austin, Texas last fall in the hope that she could broker a truce between the community and city staff. Her former colleagues say that she excelled at this when she was in Austin.
But Berkeley is a different kettle of fish, and Barrett must now deal with not only a reduced, unhappy staff and a relentless antidevelopment movement, but the knowledge that her office is becoming a marker to be played in the never-ending game of Berkeley politics. "We've certainly been aware that there have been a number of problems in the department for some months now," says Mayor Shirley Dean. "I had great hopes that the current director would be able to address them." Note the past tense.
Tickled pink: Every couple of years, East Bay politicians realize that Berkeley City Councilmember Maudelle Shirek is, you know, really old, and was working on progressive causes before they were even soiling their jammies. So it was again last week, when the Alameda Board of Supervisors conducted a ceremony honoring Shirek's 91st birthday and paying tribute to a life of activism that began with defending the Scottsboro Boys. But the supes had a special treat in store for Shirek. No less than our very own president, George W. Bush, signed a proclamation thanking her for her work. ""Congratulations on your 91st birthday," the president wrote. "Thank you for your community service and being a vital part of volunteerism in America. We wish you the best in future years."
Exactly what community service could the president have had in mind? Could it be the four-hour dinner Shirek had with Fidel Castro two years ago? Or maybe it was the numerous goodwill tours she took to the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia? Or the antiapartheid work she performed throughout the '80s, including cooperating with Chris Hani and the South African Communist Party? Or her marriage to Communist Party USA member Brownlee Shirek? Karl Rove must have been sleeping on the job, but Shirek's friends are tickled, um, pink that the White House has chosen to honor "Red Maudelle." As Shirek aide Mike Berkowitz put it, "We're working on her replacing J.C. Watts."
Seeing red: Six years ago, Metro Publishing of San Jose filed an application with the feds to trademark "Metro," the name of the company's flagship tabloid newsweekly. The feds rejected the application, however, because of its similarity to the similarly trademarked moniker, Metroextra. Metro's lawyer countered that there would be no confusion between the two brand names because, according to court documents, the common term metro was "weak." The barrister also pointed out that many other publications also used the word metro.
But that was then; this is a newspaper war now. Metro, which has enjoyed practically no competition from other tabloid weeklies in its seventeen years, is suing its fat-and-growing-fatter rival, The Wave, for infringing on its heretofore "weak" brand name. The Wave is owned by SurfMetro Media, which operates an entertainment Web site (www.surfmetro.com). The tabloid, a shamelessly news-free infotainment rag, burst on the South Bay scene a year ago with splashy color-filled pages filled with club listings and spectacular ads. Lots of 'em. And The Wave keeps growing, in spite of a flaccid economy. It now prints a reported 130,000 papers and has recently invaded the SF and East Bay markets -- something Metro strongman Dan Pulcrano has tried to do without much success. (To wit: the short-lived Metropolitan in SF and Oakland's anorexic Urbanview.) By the by, for the sake of full disclosure, four Express editors or writers once worked for Pulcrano.
Last week Metro won the first round of its legal battle against The Wave when US District Court Judge Claudia Wilken imposed a preliminary injunction prohibiting SurfMetro from using the name SurfMetro. Wilken said Pulcrano had shown persuasive evidence that advertisers, club promoters, and readers have confused SurfMetro with Metro, assuming the former was part of the Metro publishing empire. "Stealing Metro's trademark and using it to enter the market and gain distribution and readership just went too far. ... So we sought the court's help in stopping their behavior," said Metro's attorney, Duffy Carolan.
But the victory was short-lived. A few days later, Judge Lowell Jensen ordered a seven-day stay, allowing SurfMetro time to ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule Wilken's injunction. And even if Metro is successful, the company must put up a $450,000 bond until the trial is settled to make the injunction enforceable.
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