Hypocrisy in Berkeley? This past week the Berkeley City Council approved the Rental Housing Safety Program, a well-intentioned law that punishes negligent landlords who don't keep their properties up to code. But here's a significant question missing from the debate: What if the city itself is a screwed-up landlord?
By our calculations, the Berkeley Housing Authority counts among the bad bunch of scofflaw property owners (see "BHA in Chaos," July 11, 2001). As the Express reported, the BHA -- despite long-term warnings from HUD officials -- did not install smoke detectors in public housing units. Under the new safety program, such negligence would cost private landlords at least a $100 fine. The local housing authority is exempt from the new ordinance, so officials can continue to ignore such pedestrian problems and concentrate on other things -- like eliminating the rat infestation at the Ward Street project. We must credit Permanent Interim Acting Housing Director Steve Barton for at least conceding that BHA's exemption under the safety law constitutes an "irony."
Big Brother. The West Contra Costa County school board will install eight video surveillance cameras on the grounds of beleaguered Richmond High School. The idea is that the cameras can serve as extra pairs of eyes for the security team, thus nipping potential criminal acts in the bud. Opponents argued that the cameras would create a hostile climate at Richmond High, and pondered whether the money could be better spent elsewhere, like on counseling or violence prevention programs. But students should expect to see cameras -- or, rather, have cameras see them -- come September. By the way, the cameras are being partially funded by the money that Richmond High received for bringing up its test scores. Congratulations, kids -- here's looking at you.
Air wars. The debate over the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is just about as dirty as the smog-clogged air the district is supposed to clean up. For years, environmentalists have complained that the district board bows to industry pressure, refusing to place strict limits on the pollution that spews out from area refineries and ignoring suggestions for better public transit. After all, the Bay Area has failed federal clean air tests for 29 of the past 30 years.
Early this year, the EPA added its two cents by threatening to reject the district's latest plan to clean up the air. With the feds breathing down their necks, district staffers promised to work double-time to revise the plan, and enviros were all too happy to remind them of the many suggestions they've made over the years -- suggestions that the EPA reprimanded the district for failing to consider. But last week when the district voted to adopt its new plan, community organizers complained that no substantive revisions had been made to the document. In a noisy, contentious meeting, air board representatives insisted that they had to pass their plan even in the face of a rising tide of community and scientists' objections; the board pleaded that the EPA could withhold highway funding if the district didn't meet its deadline. But activists pointed out that the EPA timeclock hadn't even started running yet, and that the threat to reject the plan early this year was just that -- a threat -- with the official rejection not even recorded until next month.
Communities for a Better Environment -- a nonprofit with many members in the low-income communities most often disproportionately affected by refinery emissions -- charges that the air district failed to hold enough open public meetings. "They did absolutely the wrong thing," says CBE senior scientist Greg Karras. "They've got a plan that's clearly illegal, that the EPA says won't clean up the environment, and they're faced with this clear violation of the public process and an increasingly organized and motivated movement to protest it." After passing its plan anyway, the board agreed to hold public workshops. There's no guarantee that anything anybody says at these open meetings will make its way into plans of the future, but we're betting the district will get an earful anyway.
Hanging by a Thread. You may recall that three of KPFA's most hostile foes recently resigned from the Pacifica board of directors, whittling the anti-KPFA forces down to a precarious two-seat majority. Frantic Pacifica lawyers worried that unless they moved fast to beef up their numbers, they might lose control of the organization to the very people they've tried to disenfranchise for the last three years. So they plotted a last-ditch scheme to circumvent the rules by which replacement directors are elected.
Under an agreement stemming from the ongoing lawsuits against Pacifica, board members must give KPFA supporters thirty days' notice before appointing a new director, theoretically giving supporters a window of opportunity to challenge the candidates in court. But on July 17, Pacifica attorneys argued that a state of emergency existed at the foundation and asked Alameda Superior Court judge Ronald Sabraw to grant them "emergency" powers to appoint new directors immediately. Sabraw replied that there was no emergency facing Pacifica -- just the majority board members themselves.
A few days later, anti-KPFA board member Andrea Cisco resigned, bringing the board majority down to a gossamer 6-5. Amazingly, this could be the final battle in Pacifica's brutal, three-year-long civil war, with KPFA supporters on the verge of achieving a historic victory in their fight to preserve the station.
Even as Pacifica's lawyers were begging for a break, the board majority was busy searching for friends to pack onto the board. In what can only be a sign of desperation, the list of replacement candidates included such respected figures as former Washington, DC mayor -- and former crackhead -- Marion "Bitch, you set me up!" Barry. We hear that Mark David Chapman listens to WBAI from his jail cell -- if the board is this hard up for friends, maybe it could give him a call....
Heavy Hitting. Wish there was a local sports franchise that hired women to do more than cheer? Want to wear the black and silver? Then get out your helmets and mouthpieces -- the Women's American Football League is adding a new team, dubbed the Oakland Banshees. Team owner Kisha Frady, former offensive tackle for the Daytona Beach Barracudas, had wanted the team to be the Berkeley Banshees, but that idea was squelched after UC Berkeley wanted $58,000 to host five home games at Cal's stadium, and people began to complain about the possibility of nighttime games. "This is women's sports and there's really no money in it," says Frady exasperatedly; normally, she says, college towns are overjoyed to welcome women's football and the publicity it brings. Now she's looking to set up shop in Oakland, and has chosen team colors that are awfully similar to those of another football franchise. An exact game venue is yet to be nailed down.
The WAFL has been around since 1998, when it was founded by former Berkeley High School student Carter Turner; the league now has 26 teams. Games begin this November; in the meantime, those wanting to play, coach, or sponsor the team can check out www.theWAFL.com.
This just in: You know it's a slow news week when you get a press release from the Oakland Zoo inviting the media to watch keepers draw blood from Lisa, the pregnant African elephant, to see how close she is to giving birth. (For the record, elephants carry their young for a whopping 22 months, and Lisa is expected to give birth any day now to a calf sired by the zoo's late great bull elephant, Smokey.) Maybe elephantine progesterone levels aren't breaking news. Anyone know a good one about Gary Condit?
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