News & Notes 

If Oakland bought its commissioners pens, maybe they'd come to meetings; local artists lose a prime venue, while El Cerrito gains a fixer-upper.

Pushing pens: When you're an inner-city school district awash in red ink every, ahem, pen counts, right? Call us pen-pinchers if you like, but it strikes 7 Days as a dubious use of public money when the Peralta Community College District -- which includes Laney, Merritt, Alameda, and Vista colleges -- spends $2.80 a pop on vanity writing instruments for its board members. Earlier this year, the district bought a total of one thousand monogrammed Bic Soft Touch Rollers (total $2,800) for Darryl Moore, the Board of Trustees' new vice president, and its president Brenda Knight. The trustees need their monikers and titles inscribed on the pens, we presume, to check the spellings of their names when signing declarations and commendations.

If trustees simply used the pens for writing, a box of five hundred would be a virtual lifetime supply, but Knight is already down to her last hundred, if not fewer. She uses them as her "calling card." Knight likes the classier touch -- dare we say Soft Touch -- of handing out a fancy pen instead of a boring old business card (trustees also get a box of those, of course). "If I go places," she explains, "I don't like to go empty-handed."

She doesn't like to leave clients empty-handed either. At her annual "Ladies in Red" party at Hs. Lordships restaurant in Berkeley earlier this year, the $50 cover charge (checks payable to her consulting biz, Brenda Knight & Associates) included special gift bags for some two hundred guests, each including one of Knight's personalized pens.

Moore, meanwhile, says he uses the pens more for writing than as a promotional tool. "When I run out," he explains, "I grab another." The trustee expressed surprise that the pens were so expensive: "I never asked anyone to order any of this." That's because for years the district has doled out the pens like calling cards. Sure, a box of five hundred business cards from Pip Printing only costs $36, but Peralta has more expensive tastes. It has a $200,000-a-year chancellor, the highest-paid junior college chief in the state, and has dropped close to $200,000 over the past few years on international junkets for executives and trustees.

Hey, could 7 Days get a few of those pens? We paid for 'em, after all.

Quashing quorums: It's all Dan Fontes' fault, it seems, that Oakland's Cultural Affairs Commission never gets anything accomplished. After last Monday's commission meeting, the muralist and gadfly -- who often criticizes Jerry Brown's administration for dragging its feet when it comes to the arts -- fired off an e-mail to Nancy Nadel, complaining that, for the fifth time this year, the commission failed to have a quorum.

The panel, which is supposed to have fifteen members, only has a dozen at the moment. A quorum of eight commissioners must be present at its monthly meetings in order to make decisions. And when the commissioners don't show up, art projects waiting for approval get delayed.

Everyone present at these meetings, Fontes told Nadel, is too polite to complain about the fact that some members are chronically tardy or regularly play hooky. He also noted that twenty people have quit the commission during Brown's term. "I don't think it's too much to ask people to show up to twelve meetings a year," he wrote.

Fontes, after all, has managed to attend most every meeting since late 1998 as a regular old citizen, so why can't commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor, drag themselves away from Fear Factor or Antiques Roadshow once a month to sit on the panel?

His e-mail, which was cc'd to various city officials, drew a brief, snippy response from Jerry himself: "Dan, if you were more supportive, more citizens would be willing to serve and stay on the commission. They all get tired of the hectoring. It is a very frustrating experience with mostly criticism as the reward," wrote the mayor.

So the ineptitude of our Cultural Affairs Commission sits squarely on the shoulders of a lone gadfly? If only life were that simple. But just in case ... um, Dan, ever watched Fear Factor? We hear it's quality television.

Vanishing vendors: Patrons at the upcoming Fourth of July festival at Jack London Square might notice a few changes this year. The festival, for one, will no longer be an all-day affair; it now starts at 3 p.m. And the East Bay Symphony will perform a lengthy concert. But the biggest change, perhaps, is what will be absent for the first time in years: arts and crafts booths.

Promoter Karen Hester, who coordinates the artists, discovered last week that she and the 45 artists who had signed up for the fest were not invited. The dis' came from the square's new property management company, CAC Real Estate Management, which took over operations on April 1.

Brian Lee, special events manager for CAC, said the company wasn't aware of Hester until she called recently. Hester, who has worked with the port for the past six years, found that hard to believe, especially since she and the artists participated in Portfest in May -- seven weeks after CAC entered the picture. The real motive behind the change, she says, is money. She says CAC marketing manager Rhonda Hirata told her over the phone that some of the gift shops didn't want to compete for dollars with the artists. Hirata could not be reached for comment.

"I'm just shocked that there's such a disrespect for the arts," said Hester, who already has spent $1,280 printing brochures for the event. "I feel like it's a very corporate, very bureaucratic decision with no interest in how it's going to affect living human beings who need to make their rent next month."

Lee said CAC is open to working with Hester in the future, but when asked if art booths would be included in future festivals, he couldn't say. "It's a new tradition," he says of the current lineup. "We totally support arts and crafts programs and invite people to see them on Friday and Saturday every week," he said, referring to the city of Oakland's artisan fairs at the Square.

While the fairs are nice, they don't bring in much for the artists, who sell far more at special events like the Fourth of July fest, Hester says. Plus, she points out, hosting the artists doesn't cost the Port a thing -- they pay fees to use the space and bring their own booths. This year they might have to bring picket signs.

Coveting cinemas: "Hooray!" reads the press release. "El Cerrito has just bought itself an old movie theater!" Indeed, that city cut a check on June 18 -- the very day its city council rubber-stamped a plan to acquire the inactive Cerrito Theater on San Pablo Avenue -- and took over the property from landlord Fara Pakzad. The sale price was $500,000, about the same as a home in the upward-bound Bay-shore suburb, says Lori Dair of Friends of the Cerrito Theater.

Dair and her fellow movie-minded residents lobbied long and hard for the theater, which they see serving a dual purpose: cultural magnet and commercial beacon. "I think the real story is the enormous public support," Dair opines. "Three thousand people came to the open house. For El Cerrito, that's remarkable. We all know we live in a community of talented people, but this has been a revelation. People here usually take their cultural pursuits elsewhere, but with this they're all focusing on El Cerrito."

Once the cheers die down, however, the city will find itself in the film business. And there's much to be done before the theater can actually open the doors and start showing movies. Among the options is for the city to lease the Cerrito to an established operator, such as Oakland's Parkway. Cinema West of Sonoma County has also been mentioned. Other proposals call for a nonprofit such as the Friends to buy and operate the theater on its own, or in partnership with the city. What the city doesn't want, says Dair, is to get stuck with the whole tab for restoration of the neglected building -- which will require preserving the antique murals, light sconces, and mirrors, putting up a new marquee, and installing new seats. The city's celluloid dream won't come cheap: Dair's group estimates that it's going to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million to restore the place and get it up to code. To that end, Friends of the Cerrito Theater ( ) intends to raise donations with a booth at El Cerrito's upcoming Independence Day fair. Look for the people with stars in their eyes.

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