Seven Days 

West Berkeley blues; Richmond campaign mud; surfing championship goes on

_Galvins Goes Under: The pain of the economic slump has finally taken root in Berkeley, which recently lost one of its most lucrative and high-profile businesses. On October 1, the owners of Galvins Furniture announced that its massive West Berkeley store will close at the end of the year, prompting a series of panicky phone calls between City Manager Weldon Rucker and Office of Economic Development head Bill Lambert. "The economic downturn that began in April 2000 with the precipitous drop in stock values hit the Bay Area very hard and the office furniture sector even harder," wrote owners Barry and Patrick Galvin in a recent announcement. "The ensuing layoffs throughout the region have caused people to spend less than they have in years past. Above all, our Berkeley store lease and Emeryville warehouse carry too high a fixed cost relative to sales."

This couldn't come at a worse time for West Berkeley. This time last year, the area's office vacancy rate was at a comfortable five percent. Now, the vacancy rate has swelled to an alarming 18.6 percent -- almost one out of every five offices is empty. Downtown Berkeley's not much better; its office vacancy rate has grown to eleven percent. The housing and biotech sectors are surging ahead as if nothing has changed, but the real test will come in the next few weeks, when the all-important auto sales figures are released. Then we'll know which way the wind is blowing.

_Live and let...well, you know: Last Monday on Indigenous People's Day (formerly known as Columbus Day), 7 Days headed over to Oakland's Mosswood Park to soak up the, um, holiday spirit at the "die-in" organized by the Solidarity Committee, a Bay Area-wide activist coalition. As an announcer read off the names and biographies of individuals killed in the name of American political interests -- a Native American, a Vietnamese villager, the Sikh gas station owner gunned down in Mesa, Arizona after the September 11 attacks by someone with misdirected nationalist sentiment -- volunteers stepped into a candlelit circle on the grass and promptly expired. Another volunteer then covered them with a black sheet. There was an eerie moment of silence for all of the dead, and then they were revived by the rhythmic clapping of the several hundred audience members gathered around the circle. The die-in later morphed into an antiwar rally, with songs, drumming, and speeches condemning the US military's actions in Afghanistan, where no amount of clapping will bring back the civilians killed in last week's bombings. Said Solidarity Committee member Malkia Cyril, "We're working to demonstrate that people of color in the Bay Area are very clear that the war against brown people in Afghanistan is no different than the war against black people, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians here in the United States."

_Thank God We Can All Carry On: As news of US-led attacks in Afghanistan continues to keep us on edge, many questions and concerns have rippled through the newsroom. Chief among them was, of course: Will world championship surfing be canceled this year? Thanks to a timely press release from the Association of Surfing Professionals, we can report with a clear conscience that this vital contest, at least, is solid, dude. "Everyone's taken a hit, all elements of the sport, just like the rest of the world," concedes a top-ranking ASP executive known as Rabbit, "but we have come together from around the globe and the united commitment shown to the sport by all concerned is seriously impressive." Gnarly.

_No Ifs, Ands, or Butts: The first hit piece of the 2001 campaign season arrived in Richmond mailboxes last week courtesy of mayoral candidate Nat Bates. In the piece, Bates criticizes his opponent and City Council colleague, Tom Butt, for backing what he artfully describes as the "sidewalk liability ordinance" that puts homeowners at legal risk for crummy sidewalks. Bates, meanwhile, portrays himself as the true champion of the homeowner. "The mailer is completely inaccurate," Butt sniffs, "and Nat Bates should be embarrassed for either being so misinformed as to not understand the issue or for simply lying about the facts."

According to Butt, the sidewalk-maintenance ordinance "simply clarified the fact that the property owner, by California law, has both the maintenance responsibility and the liability for damaged sidewalks. The ordinance has actually saved the city's taxpayers money." Before the council passed the law, Butt says, "The city was spending taxpayers' dollars defending [legal] claims that resulted from damaged sidewalks that were not the city's responsibility to maintain." Butt adds that Bates himself initially voted for the ordinance on its first reading, but changed his mind on the second reading.

Bates, however, is sticking by the claims in the mailer. "All you got to do is read the ordinance and read the votes," Bates sneers. "I'm not going to get into a pissing match with Tom."

By the by, 7 Days learned of the imbroglio via Butt's favorite campaign tool: e-mail. Every day, recipients of the "Tom Butt E-Forum" can read about the candidate's prolific musings on any number of topics, from pit bulls to wastewater. Kevin Reikes, political consultant to mayoral wannabe John Marquez, signed up not too long ago to be on the mailing list for Butt's forum -- something he's starting to regret. "Every morning I get thirty e-mails from Tom Butt," he grouses, "saying somebody farted at the City Council meeting."

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