A Week in the Life of the East Bay 

Cash for the homeless, no cash for housing advocates, no shelter for pot advocates

Perhaps they should have raffled a parking space:Never underestimate the capacity of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce to fret over boycotts, real and imagined. When temperamental jingoists, outraged by the City Council's resolution condemning the bombing of Afghanistan, vowed never to shop in Berkeley again, chamber officials countered with a holiday season raffle to drum up the shopping spirit. All you had to do was buy $100 worth of goods from chamber businesses, and you would be eligible for a drawing to award cash prizes of up to $1,000. It was a nice idea, except for one problem. Shortly after the chamber announced the campaign, the city attorney's office began investigating a citizen complaint that the requirement to spend a C-note comprised illegal gambling. As the city attorney forwarded the complaint to the district attorney's office, chamber reps pulled the requirement to spread some green around. Now, even the homeless can grab some chamber cash!

Speaking of boycotts, a quick glance at the Craigslist political forum revealed what the politics of shopping in Berkeley are really about. At first, forum participants were furious at the council vote and treated the boycott as a purely political issue. But as the conversation moved along, national affairs quickly devolved into more prosaic ones. Why didn't anyone really want to shop in Berkeley? The parking tickets are too high.

Berkeley prefers free advice:If the city of Berkeley were to not pay its power bills for eight months, whoever failed to cut the check would be out of a job as soon as the lights went out. But when the city doesn't honor its financial obligations to poor people on SSI, well, don't hold your breath waiting for heads to roll. Back in March, the city's Housing Authority set up a Resident Advisory Commission composed of nine disabled citizens just getting by on a few hundred bucks a month. Their job is to advise the Housing Department on issues such as rent control and Section 8 vouchers, for which they were to receive a monthly stipend of $80. But according to commissioners, the city hasn't exactly come through. "They were supposed to give us a stipend starting in March, but we haven't gotten a penny," says commissioner Gary Brown. "After this month, it'll be $720 they owe us. I'm on a limited income, so this money will certainly help."

Housing Department officials Steve Barton and Oscar Sung weren't available at press time, but Brown says city bureaucrats have stalled the impoverished commissioners every time they ask about their money. Now, it may be too late. Federal regulations stipulate that SSI recipients can only make $85 a month; the feds take half of anything over that amount. So even if the city comes through on its back debt of $720 per commissioner, the odds are they'll see less than $400. It's too bad, 'cause Brown could sure use that money. "I've been using the same bed for over thirty years," he says. "It would be nice to get a new one."

Rhymes with Rich: Remember the game of telephone? It's where one person whispers something to someone who then repeats the phrase to another person, and so on. By the time it gets to the tenth person the original phrase has morphed into an entirely different sentence. Clearly, the folks on the fifth floor of Berkeley City Hall were recently playing telephone when whispering about the heated exchange between Zoning Board member Dave Blake and mayoral chief of staff Jennifer Drapeau following a press conference on the redistricting referendum. A City Hall gossip swore to 7 Days that Blake called Drapeau "a bitch." Not true, both Blake and Drapeau agree (though that's about all they agree on). Here's the real scoop:

Blake was conspicuously lurking nearby as Mayor Shirley Dean's pals with Citizens for Fair Representation announced they had collected enough signatures to force the progressives to put their evil redistricting plan on the March ballot or rescind it and draw up a nicer one. Since Blake was the plan's coauthor, he had a personal interest in what his critics had to say about his handiwork. Afterward, while Blake was spinning to a Berkeley Daily Planet scribe, Drapeau interrupted to tell the reporter that Blake was not a disinterested source and, in fact, had just signed on as an aide to Councilwoman Dona Spring. Blake says he asked Drapeau why she insisted on rudely interrupting him, to which Drapeau purportedly replied, "I'm doing my job."

"Your job is making lies for the mayor," Blake snapped back. As Drapeau stormed off, he says he called her the "chief liar." Drapeau, however, recalls Blake calling her "a lying stooge," which certainly is infinitely more polite than the B-word.

By the by, now that the city clerk has validated the signatures on the referendum petition as legit, the progressive council majority has a tough decision to make at the Nov. 27 meeting: Put its plan on the ballot or scrap it and start over? The smart money is that the progressives will avoid a ballot fight by scrapping the old plan, which moderates said screwed over District 8 rep Polly Armstrong. Blake denies any insider knowledge, but concedes, "It would be an uphill battle to run a citywide campaign and get out the real story about the redistricting plan in order to win the election."

Smoked: Dennis Peron thought he had problems in California. Then he tried lighting up a joint in Utah. Last week Cedar City police busted Peron, medical marijuana activist John Entwhistle, and a third Utah resident in a motel room with what they say was nearly a pound of pot, enough for them to book Peron on a felony charge for possession with intent to distribute. Peron claims that he really only had a few ounces of pot, to be used as part of his therapy for alcoholism.

Peron was the author of California's highly controversial medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, which passed in 1996 by nearly 56 percent of the vote. A number of cannabis-buying cooperatives sprang up in its wake, but law enforcement agencies gradually have been shutting them down. (A unanimous Supreme Court decision in May on a civil suit filed against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative and five other Northern California pot clubs ruled that federal law provides no protections for people who smoke pot to ease pain or nausea caused by serious medical conditions, a ruling likely to lead to more co-op shut-downs.) Peron also made an ill-fated run for California governor in 1998 on the GOP ticket, taking on his perennial adversary, former California Attorney General Dan Lungren, in the primary.

Does Peron really abide by his own medical-use-only rules, or, as his critics accuse, was Prop. 215 one giant wink and nudge? In an editorial published in The Examiner on the eve of the 1996 election, Peron wrote, "I support all efforts against glorification of drug use, including alcohol and cigarettes. But do we want to imply to our youth that sick and dying people can't have a medicine because of them?" But on election night, as it looked like Prop. 215 was going to pass, Peron tweaked reporters by making announcements to his assembled -- and puffing -- supporters like, "Let's hang around, let's get stoned, and let's wait for more votes.'' We'll see if that plays in the Beehive State, where honey butter is the drug of choice.

Damn, fewer shopping stories: Self-congratulatory ads in the Columbia Journalism Review notwithstanding, it seems nothing can stop the San Francisco Chronicle's diversion of resources from its Bay Area backyard to the travel budget of its globetrotting foreign service. First they slash their local coverage to the bone ("7 Days," November 7); now comes word that the Chron is planning to cut the publication of its Sunday magazine from weekly to every other week. "Because of the very difficult economic circumstances we face, the number of editions of the magazine we publish next year will be reduced from 50 to 26," executive editor and former foreign correspondent Phil Bronstein wrote in a recent staff memo. The anguish we feel at the prospect of the region's dominant daily newspaper so drastically reducing its coverage is but partially mitigated by the fact that we never had much use for the Sunday magazine anyway.

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