Seven Days 

School Blues in Emeryville; Traffic Relief for Hayward.

Thanks but no thanks:

Hayward residents are heaving sighs of relief these days. For forty years, voters have been trying to get 880 traffic off their congested streets by creating a bypass through downtown. In 1986, when Alameda County passed Measure B, it allocated $111 million for traffic relief in Hayward. Caltrans and the Alameda County Transportation Authority were all set to go ahead with the bypass project, even completing designs for the five-mile stretch, when two grassroots groups sued the agencies. Seems that while the voters had approved a route that showed the bypass closely paralleling downtown Hayward's two main arteries, Foothill and Mission, Caltrans and ACTA planned to put the bypass up in the Hayward hills, through pristine grasslands, displacing homes and businesses and an elementary school soccer field. Citizens for Alternative Transportation Solutions and the Hayward Area Planning Association sued, arguing that since the county was going against voters' wishes with its bypass, it should not be able to use Measure B funds. Last week, an Alameda County Superior Court judge agreed. Will traffic relief ever come to Hayward? Maybe in the next forty years...

Back to School:

Ah, the neatly stacked textbooks, the freshly wiped chalkboards, the eager young faces. Or -- if you live in Emeryville -- the pitched battles, the high staff turnover, the campaign to recall the school board. As the district's three new principals and state-appointed superintendent met returning students, polls opened for the board member recall votes. Grassroots community group Save Our Schools had worked months to recall existing board members who, the group claims, were responsible for the district's dismal slide into debt and alleged fraud on the part of former superintendent J.L. Handy. S.O.S. candidates got some help from the powers that be in the form of Assemblymember Dion Aroner, who walked precincts the week before to drum up support for a changing of the guard. Now that the state has pledged to bail the schools out with a massive loan, things may turn around for the district -- but will it happen soon enough to help this year's graduating seniors, only fourteen percent of whom scored above the national average in math in recent STAR test results?

Litigious like the Wolff:

Oakland's already tense relations between renters and landlords worsened last week over the dismissal of pro-tenant representative Andrew Wolff from the Oakland Housing Residential Rent and Relocation Board. About forty protesters rallied outside of City Hall for his reinstatement. Wolff had served on the rent board since 1998 as one of the board's two tenant members (the board also includes two landlords and three "neutrals" who neither rent their homes nor own rental properties themselves), and his term was expected to expire this October. Wolff, who is also an attorney and a member of the Oakland Tenants' Union, has a lengthy background as a pro-tenant activist, including his leadership in the movement to establish just-cause eviction protections for Oakland renters.

In February, Wolff purchased a condo, which both the Oakland mayor's and city attorney's offices say is in conflict with his "tenant" status on the board. Both offices asked him to voluntarily step down. Wolff refused, and in late July MayorJerry Brown sent him a notice telling him that his position had been "vacated." Wolff refused to go, claiming he had been removed without a public hearing. When he attempted to show up for a meeting two days after receiving Brown's letter, the meeting was canceled, ostensibly because the board could not hold a closed session in the presence of a nonmember. Since then, Wolff has not been allowed to participate in rent board meetings and has been informed by the city clerk that he has no right to a public hearing.

Oakland's tenant activists suggest -- and Brown denies -- that the mayor simply took advantage of a legal loophole to replace Wolff with a less politically active board member. Last week, Wolff filed suit against Brown, rent board chairsKathryn Kasch and Rebecca Eisen, and the Oakland rent board itself. The suit alleges that Wolff has not technically been "removed" from the board and asks the court for a writ of mandate allowing him to return to his seat with full member rights and privileges, as well as damages for "severe emotional distress in the form of shock, humiliation, and embarrassment."

In the meantime, Brown has chosen NetFutures chief executive Ahmad Mansur to take Wolff's slot; Mansur's appointment has yet to be confirmed by the City Council, which is on summer recess, or by City Manager Robert Bobb, who is authorized to make confirmations in the council's absence.

Repertory reprieve:

Last week, the face of repertory cinema in Berkeley may have changed forever. The Contra Costa Times first broke the news that developer Patrick Kennedy plans to build a five-story, one-hundred-unit apartment complex at the site of the Fine Arts Cinema, complete with a new theater built for Fine Arts proprietor Keith Arnold. Kennedy, who recently opened the seven-story Gaia Building at Shattuck Avenue and Allston Street, will include both retail and a movie-themed cafe in his new project, which is designed to work in tandem with the Fine Arts Cinema and produce an ambience of vintage movies along the ground floor. "We hope to break ground in the spring, but developers are chronic optimists," Kennedy says. "We submitted the plans, and it's gotten incredible support from the city, because it's such an underachieving part of town. It'll be art deco in keeping with the renovation of the library, and it will have a beautiful marquee that's going to say 'the Fine Arts' in neon. We're gonna try to bring a bit of vitality to that bit of Shattuck Avenue."

The corner has been a location for vintage, foreign, and even blue movies since the '70s. Pauline Kael, who would later go on to become famous as the New Yorker's movie critic, first settled in the building after moving her Telegraph Repertory Cinema downtown. For a brief time after Kael's departure, the building achieved the dubious distinction of being Berkeley's only pornographic theater. A few stabs were made to re-energize the theater as a rep house in the late '80s, and as a venue for Bollywood Indian cinema in the mid-'90s. Arnold's own operation, while valiant, has struggled due to the building's seismic status, as well as its failure to meet ADA requirements for the bathrooms. Now that Kennedy is building a new theater on the site, the Fine Arts' future seems secure.

Docudrama, Berkeley-style:

The story of Berkeley in the '60s has been so thoroughly documented that most residents would just as soon never hear Mario Savio's famous speech again. But the history of Berkeley in the '70s -- when student radicals began to mature and turn their sensibilities to local politics -- is much less accessible, and that's a shame, since it has all the Sturm und Drang of an epic battle. David Mundstock, who lived through those turbulent years, has been collecting a trove of political posters and histories of the rise and fall of Berkeley Citizens Action. At his Web site (http://berkeleycampaignart.homestead.com/index.html), you can find fliers, posters, and literature extolling voters to sweep the April Coalition into power and give some crazy idea called rent control a chance. Links will also take you to Mundstock's account of two decades of radical progressivism -- including the tale of D'Armey Bailey, which is always good for a laugh....

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