Berkeley tags along, Students Study Pot, and Clif Bar Bids Alameda Adios 

Top East Bay news stories for the week of February 25-29.

For the first time in its history, last week the state Assembly elected a black woman to be its speaker. Karen Bass of Los Angeles was elected with the help of outgoing Speaker Fabian Núñez, according to the Los Angeles Times. The election of Bass, along with state Senator Darrell Steinberg as president pro tem earlier this month, also means the Bay Area will not be represented among the state's political leadership for the first time since 1974, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. Before being elected to the Assembly in 2004, Bass never held political office before. But she quickly rose to power after aligning herself with Núñez.

Berkeley follows: Part I

The city of Berkeley has long been in the habit of blazing trails — not following them. But all of the controversy in recent weeks surrounding state and federal officials' plans to conduct aerial pesticide spraying above much of the Bay Area prompted the Berkeley City Council to follow Albany's lead. The council voted last week eight to one to oppose the spraying of CheckMate, a chemical that critics contend has not been sufficiently tested. The council also directed the city attorney to explore legal options, according to the Oakland Tribune. Albany went on record in January opposing the spraying, which is designed to combat the invasive Light Brown Apple Moth.

Berkeley follows: Part II

Berkeley also is considering following Oakland's plans to hire more cops. The council is looking at proposing a property tax; police staffing is down from 203 sworn officers in 2001 to just 183 today, according to the Tribune. However, the Berkeley Daily Planet has already editorialized against the idea, citing the near bankruptcy of Vallejo due to public safety spending.

Prisons R Us

Along with being expensive, adding cops also usually results in more arrests, and putting more people behind bars. According to a new study, the United States has become an expert on the subject. The report, released by the Pew Center on the States, and reported by the AP, revealed that about one out of every 100 people are either in jail or prison — the greatest ratio in US history. State governments spent about $49 billion on correctional facilities last year, about six times more than what we spend on higher education, and an increase from about $11 billion twenty years ago. But the surge in the correctional population doesn't reflect a parallel increase in crime, or more cops on the streets, but rather because of tougher sentencing that results in longer prison stays.

"Higher education"

It's no secret that a significant number of people behind bars were arrested on drug charges. But this being the liberal East Bay, we take a slightly different view on things. In fact, one new trade school in Oakland is giving whole new meaning to "higher education." Oaksterdam University is offering classes and training workers for the medical marijuana business, according to the AP. The two-day weekend course for $200 plus the cost of textbooks teaches students how to "cultivate and cook with cannabis, study which strains of pot are best for certain ailments, and are instructed in the legalities of a business that is against the law in the eyes of the federal government." Started by pot-dispensary owner Richard Lee, the university aims to take advantage of the thriving medical marijuana industry, where "bud tenders" can make more than $50K a year, and owners and managers can pocket more than $100K.

Clif Bar staying

Clif Bar, the Berkeley-based energy bar company that's also the perfect answer to the munchies, apparently is not moving to Alameda after all. The company had planned to relocate to a rehabilitated warehouse at Alameda Landing, as part of a massive redevelopment effort to turn the former Navy base into a mixed use, waterfront, sustainable community. But Alameda blogger Lauren Do, who keeps a close eye on local politics, reported last week on her Blogging Bayport Alameda that Clif Bar has terminated its relationship with the developer, Catellus, because the project was moving too slowly.

Three dot roundup

It's official — there's no drought this year. California is expected to end the rainy season with above-average precipitation for the year, the San Jose Mercury News reported. It also means no water restrictions. ... The Mercury News also reported that Pleasanton-based Safeway plans to lay off about 400 people nationwide, including about seventy locally. ... And finally, Alameda County has added to its staff a new investigator to sniff out mosquitoes infected with West Nile Virus — a lively Labrador named Buffy. The county's Mosquito Control District affectionately calls her Buffy the Mosquito Slayer. The four-year-old dog detective picks up the scent of sitting water, a haven for the pesky bloodsuckers, in "covered utility vaults, crawl spaces of houses, and pipes half-hidden in hillsides," according to the CC Times. 

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