7 Days  

This brother really, really, really wants a sister; and this professor really, really, really wants tenure.

Hey, that's my sister: Berkeley is famous as the only town in America with its own foreign policy. In that spirit, it boasts more "sister cities" around the world than any other East Bay locale. So does it really need another -- especially with an African port town that Oakland already claims as a sibling?

One Samuel Kwame Patterson has been trying to persuade the city that it does. And the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, which reviews all such proposals, hasn't yet told him no.

It may when it reads this.

Last year, Patterson began pushing a proposal to link Berkeley with the city of Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana. He promised all sorts of cockle-warming things: student exchanges, medical supplies for the African city, and shows featuring Ghanaian art. This new diplomatic relationship, he said, wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime, because his nonprofit would raise all the money privately. He assured the commission that many Berkeley residents -- he listed a Berkeley PO box -- were behind him.

It all sounded delightful, but commissioners sensed something amiss. "Every time they would ask for information," says commission secretary Manuel Hector, "it would get shaky."

Shaky indeed. Former P&J commissioner Sandra Curtis says Patterson was at one point selling tickets to a fund-raiser, telling people he represented an officially sanctioned sister-city group. Yet Patterson's nonprofit, Berkeley Protocol Committee Inc., doesn't exist, according to the California Secretary of State's office. Patterson also told the commission his organization is a member of the National Council for International Visitors. Reached by phone, however, the council had no record of any Berkeley Protocol Committee in its membership rolls. The Peace and Justice folks didn't know any of this -- until now.

If anyone had bothered to call Simón Bryce, who oversees Oakland's sister city program, they'd have heard a fascinating tale about Patterson, whom Bryce openly calls a "charlatan." According to Bryce, Patterson was once active in the Oakland-Africa Sister Cities International, a citizen group long led by Ahlerman Lewis until he died a couple of years ago. After Lewis' death, a power struggle ensued within the group over who would take his place. Once Bryce became head of Oakland's program, he discovered that there were two groups -- one of them headed by Patterson -- each claiming to be the legitimate Sekondi- Takoradi sister city liaison.

Things came to a head, Bryce says, when Patterson submitted to the city a $600 hotel phone bill for reimbursement after Sekondi-Takoradi's mayor came to town for a conference. "In an angry tirade," Bryce says, "Patterson eventually disclosed to me that he had formed a splinter group because he was angry that the [other] group had voted on an association president when he was out of town." Oakland, however, only recognized the original group, now headed by Oakland Post publisher Gail Berkley.

So Patterson turned to Berkeley.

Avie Pegues was one of the people originally listed as a board member for Patterson's nonexistent nonprofit. Pegues says Patterson misled him and others into thinking that Berkeley had already sanctioned the sister city relationship. Patterson, he says, doesn't live in Berkeley, and is homeless. Pegues says his acquaintance ultimately wants to do good for people in Ghana, but that his good intentions are overshadowed by his "personal agenda." It is widely known that Patterson wants to open up a business at the Oakland Army Base that imports goods from Ghana. But Patterson, according to Pegues, has no steady income and is always looking to find a way to travel to Ghana. "As far as I was concerned," he says, "he was working a scam to get to Africa."

And get there he did. Patterson was in Ghana last week during the US-Africa Sister Cities Conference. When 7 Days managed to reach him by e-mail, the traveler reacted furiously to our questions: "I don't give a damn about your fucking deadline," he wrote. "I don't know you, and if you're black you must be the biggest Uncle Tom of the Bay Area."

Patterson insisted he'd been elected president of the true Oakland-Africa association and had documents to prove it. Otherwise, he refused to answer any direct questions, or provide a tax ID number that could be used to check on the existence of his purported nonprofit. He also accused both 7 Days and the Peace and Justice Commission -- a veritable bastion of political correctness -- of racism. "So," he thoughtfully concluded, "fuck you, the commission, Mr. Bryce ... and the mayor of Oakland, California, who are all in trying to keep us slaves. The race relations in this country has [sic] not gone away, with no justice there will be no peace."

Tell it to the Peace and Justice Commission. -- Will Harper

Office with a view: "I'm totally sleep-deprived," said Cal assistant professor Ignacio Chapela on the fourth day of his vigil, where he was camped in front of California Hall with a cell phone and some folding chairs. In protest of what he considered to be the extreme delays and secrecy surrounding his application for tenure, the microbial ecology professor chose to serve out the final five days of his year-to-year contract holding very public "office hours" in front of the building that houses the chancellor's office and the Budget Committee of the Academic Senate, two of the nine units of UC Berkeley bureaucracy that must approve tenure choices. "The decision should have been reached a long time ago, and yet it has languished in this Kafkaian black box," he explained.

It's not the first time during Chapela's stint in the university's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management that the scientist has captured the public eye. In November 2001, he and graduate student David Quist published research in the scientific journal Nature claiming genetically modified genes were showing up in Mexico's indigenous corn crops. Their article called into question biotech companies' ability to control the spread of transgenic materials, and produced such heated criticism from researchers at Cal and elsewhere that the journal took the highly unusual measure of rescinding its support for the original article.

Although Chapela and Quist's results were later corroborated by the Mexican government, their work was roundly criticized as technically flawed and politically motivated. The pair had actively opposed the $25 million research agreement between Cal's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology and the bioengineering giant Syngenta (formerly Novartis), saying that taxpayer-funded research should not be affected by corporate interests.

The researcher thinks his outspokenness may have helped delay his tenure bid, which has been otherwise been largely supported by the faculty in his department. "I have been outspoken against the Novartis agreement, and done research that is not very favorable to the ag-bio industry when our campus is to some extent beholden to those interests," he says.

So Chapela opted to spend the last five days of his contract on the lawn, chatting about biotech issues with passersby, sometimes offering them tea and cookies. His outdoor office would be the very definition of "transparency" -- the virtue he thinks the tenure process lacks.

What began as one man and his chair quickly expanded as hordes of people showed up to visit, and e-mails of support poured in from around the world. "I'm being fed and taken care of by people around the clock; people come here either to keep me company or talk and stay until three, four in the morning," the scientist reported. And after several days with almost no sleep, he had this brainstorm: "If this building cannot be made transparent from the inside, how about from the outside? Let's just blast it with light." The result was a quickly assembled lecture and slideshow on the university's origins projected onto the exterior of California Hall and hosted by historian Gray Brechin, author of Imperial San Francisco. Chapela says the impromptu event attracted about one hundred people, but not to worry: He didn't have to rely on his cookie supply to feed the masses. Over the weekend, the all-organic Chez Panisse catered a lunch for the crowd, and in perhaps the most amusing twist of all, Nature magazine sprang for pizza.

The pizza wasn't the only sign that the winds may be shifting. UC Berkeley's five-year deal with Syngenta expires in November, and is not expected to be renewed. And although the ultimate fate of Chapela's tenure bid is still unknown, a temporary reprieve has arrived from on high. "After half an hour of putting my little chair outside," the scientist said, "I had an offer of a one-year extension." -- Kara Platoni

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