Party Like It's 2009 

Elephant Pharm closes, Fox Theater opens.

Yes, Elephant Pharm died last week. It was a brilliant idea, applying the foodie sensibility of Whole Foods to drug stores, but the recession rains on the just and the unjust alike. In the space of one night, Elephant's stores shut down on the spot, and discriminating prescription-fillers will now have to patronize Pharmaca or make the walk of shame back to Walgreens.

But we don't have time to think about that: it's time to party! Oakland's Fox Theater, which has languished in decay for decades, was finally reopened last week with a gala celebration and much drinking. Once upon a time, there was this place called the Uptown district, and Oakland leaders thought they could remake it into an epicenter of arts and entertainment and middle-class housing, with the Paramount and the Fox as the twin glittering gods at the center. The recession's put a damper on that, but developer Phil Tagami and a host of Oakland's business and political leaders came out anyway, determined to see past the downturn to a time when 19th and Broadway is the place to see and be seen. Call us crazy, but there might be something to that.

UC Regents Get it Done

This wasn't exactly the best week for public education; in a public address, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell declared that the state's schools were facing a historic $10 billion budget deficit, and the only way out of it was to lay off thousands of teachers and slash nursing and other services. (Hayward was singled out as among the worst off in O'Connell's address, with leaders being forced to lay off some 10 percent of the teaching staff.)

Nonetheless, the UC Regents slogged through their latest meeting, trying to keep the University of California system running amid the crisis. First on the menu was the challenge of preserving student diversity in a post-affirmative action era. Now that the Regents can no longer admit students based in part on their ethnicity, they voted to tweak the eligibility rules to guarantee that the top 9 percent of the graduating class in every high school will get a spot on a UC campus. The thinking is that in an era of de facto segregation at the high school level, the top 9 percent of high schools in Watts or East Oakland will provide enough students of color to guarantee some degree of diversity in higher education. It's a clever idea, although in the process the Regents were forced to erode the promise that Clark Kerr made more than forty years ago, i.e., that the top 12.5 percent of all graduating students could find a place in California's public university system.

Then it was on to another noble experiment: making a college education possible for poor kids. Last week, the Regents approved UC President Mark Yudof's Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, a scheme to offer free tuition to all students who hail from families that make less than $60,000 a year. Cal Grants already cover much of the tuition, so the plan will only cost some $3.1 million to make up the difference.

Finally, and sadly, the Regents voted to require that UC employees start contributing to their pension plan for the first time since 1990. For years, the investment fund that finances UC employee pensions was so well managed that neither the university nor employees had to pay money into it. But two things have changed that equation. The recession you already know about, of course. But back in 2000, UC Regent Gerald Parsky led an effort to get rid of the university's stock traders and farm out handling the investment funds to Wall Street money men; his campaign took a fund that was earning almost 16 percent a year and slashed its profits down to 5 percent, costing the system billions in lost profits while enriching fund managers who don't do shit. UC employees must now contribute 2 percent of their paycheck into the fund, and the university will contribute the equivalent of 4 percent; both contributions are expected to rise in the coming years.

Berkeley Loves the Dead

No, not those guys: the real dead. Ever since 1910, it's been illegal to deposit and store human remains within the city limits, so if you're planning to die, do it somewhere else. But last week, the Planning Commission recommended that the city council kill the law, in order to allow a North Berkeley church to build a columbarium near a Native American space. So start stacking up those corpses, Berkeley residents, and get ready to party! Starry Plough, we're looking at you for some Irish wakes ...

Three-Dot Roundup

Barack Obama has tapped Haas Business School professor Laura D'Andrea Tyson to sit on his Economic Recovery Board; the body will advise the president on how to best steer the country out of recession, and will be chaired by former Federal Reserve head Paul Volcker. ... Deborah Edgerly, the former Oakland city administrator who was fired for allegedly interfering with a police investigation of a violent street gang, has filed a wrongful termination claim. Everyone else is wondering why she just won't go away.


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