RENT STALINIZATION BOARD:Credit Berkeley's Rent Stabilization Board for coming up with new and creative ways to spend the landed gentry's money. The board recently appointed a three-person subcommittee to look into funding a play -- for around $10,000 -- to educate the masses about rent control. Board members are also toying with the idea of offering prizes to school kids for writing award-winning poetry or essays on exciting universal themes like the Annual General Adjustment, maintenance of net operating income, and proper certification of rent ceilings.
The brains behind the unusual plan: Commissioner Sharon Maldonado, who sits on the board's community education and outreach committee. Maldonado told her colleagues at a June board meeting, "We thought that it would be another important way to reach people." She also thoughtfully added, "It is important for city agencies to support artistic expression." Board chair Maxwell Anderson pounded his silver gavel and declared Maldo's idea "innovative" and "imaginative." "It helps extend the reach of the ordinance and the regulations," he gushed. As might be expected, landlords and their ilk were not nearly so impressed. They have argued in the years since the state mandated a gentler, simpler rent control system in Berkeley that the Rent Board should slash its operations -- and annual fees to landlords -- dramatically. Former landlord-backed commissioner Bob Migdal says, "They [the Rent Board] really have nothing to do. They obviously don't know what to spend their money on."
DEPARTMENT OF OMISSIONS AND CORRECTIONS:Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan was none too pleased with our item last week on her feud with Board of Education member Jerome Wiggins. Jordan said we omitted four important words from Wiggins' alleged verbal assault at district biz manager Mike Lenahan, "Do you want me to go crazy? ... I'll make an appointment to see Sheila Jordan and go home and get my baseball bat and no one will have computers." Without the words "to see Sheila Jordan," the super fretted, people might think Ms. Sheila was being hysterical and blowing things out of proportion by getting the cops involved. Well, Sheila, don't blame 7 Days. We got the abbreviated Wiggins quote from Hayward Police Sgt. Gary Branson, who read us the police report over the phone. (Branson refused to fax us a copy of the report.)
Anyhoo, prior to last week's board meeting, Jordan says she got a call from none other than Sheriff Charlie Plummer himself, who told her he was taking the situation very seriously. Plummer proclaimed to 7 Days, "I don't want anything happening to a public official on my watch." The sheriff even dispatched a deputy to the board meeting to keep the peace, which turned out to be a relatively easy assignment because Wiggins was absent. District sources say Wiggins was traveling out of the country.
FINE-PRINT FOLLIES: When an agreement to keep the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in its UC-owned space was finally hashed out last April, everyone thought all sides were happy. The university was sated. CouncilmemberLinda Maio, who played a large role in getting the compromise, was triumphant. But apparently not all was calm at the Depot, which filed suit against the university in Superior Court last week, eschewing a compromise that would have extended the lease for eighteen months, and arguing that UC should honor a clause in the Depot's lease that would extend the agreement for another five years.
It all stems from three little words that neither the Depot nor their lawyer caught when the five-year lease was originally signed. There was an option to extend the lease for another five years, but only "with Landlord's consent" -- and UC is not about to give that consent. Now, instead of signing the new lease that would have given them at least an eighteen-month reprieve during which they could have looked for another, more permanent place, the Depot is in court going for broke.
The Depot's executive director, Linda Levitsky, says that the Depot currently has only two relocation options outside of this lawsuit, neither of them very promising. They've written a letter of intent to the owners of the former Straw into Gold site, which is less than a block down San Pablo Avenue from the current location -- a long shot, since Straw into Gold left because of high rents. They're also considering a move into Urban Ore's new Eco-Park, but that couldn't happen until the Ore retrofits its building. No hearing has yet been scheduled for the lawsuit.
SOLAR-POWERED SWEAT BOX: Last year, Alameda County spent over $1 million on electricity for Santa Rita jail, and the bills were expected to soar even higher this year. Luckily, the jail turns out to have a really big roof, so in a particularly eco-friendly move, the county agreed to spend $2.2 million for the installation of 4,700 solar rooftop panels, which, when the work is completed this month, will make Santa Rita the largest roof-mounted solar generator in the nation. The panels are expected to generate 650,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually -- or up to 20 percent of the jail's power needs -- and save the county roughly $300,000 a year on its electric bill. Now that's making crime pay.
NO, IT AIN'T HERTZ: It's been just four months since the San Francisco nonprofit City CarShare was set up across the bay, but city planners in Berkeley and Oakland are already looking to establish the program over here. City CarShare is based on the clever idea that while almost everyone needs a car sometimes, they don't need a car so often that they actually have to own one. The nonprofit has set up a fleet of a dozen cars (all with guaranteed parking spaces), which can be rented out to nonprofit members at a cost of $2.50 an hour and 45 cents a mile. Members buy into the program for a flat fee of $300 plus ten bucks a month, for which they get a magnetic card to access the car and putter around town on errands or joyrides. It's a compromise between universal car ownership, which is rather ghastly for the environment, and a society based entirely on public transit, which is a dream that's obviously light-years away. The program has been so lauded in the city that planners in Oakland and Berkeley municipal governments, as well as UC Berkeley eggheads, have started working with the nonprofit to establish little colonies of rent-a-cars here in the East Bay. But contrary to what one might think, Oakland has moved much more aggressively to establish the program, while Berkeley has yet to take it as seriously. Go figure.
VOTING WITH THEIR FEET:Now that the 2000 census is over, the redistricting adventure has just begun, and that may be awkward news for Berkeley City Councilmembers Polly Armstrong and Kriss Worthington. Both of their districts actually lost residents (rumor has it that the feds forgot to count an entire dormitory in District 7), and will have to fudge the boundaries a little to make up for the loss. That means Armstrong's district, which lost a whopping fifteen percent of its residents, will have to cut into Worthington's considerably more progressive voter base, diluting Armstrong's already tenuous constituency (anybody remember the Chris Kavanagh revolt of 1996?). Meanwhile, Worthington will have to either jump across campus and cut into Betty Olds' district (thus diluting his progressive constituency), or take a chunk from Maudelle Shirek's district, which actually grew this cycle. But Worthington shouldn't be too worried; after all, when he first challenged Carla Woodworth in 1996, he distinguished himself from what he considered a careerist incumbent by promising to retire after six years. His next election is 2002, which would make his career in public office an even six. What do you think he'll do?
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