Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The 'Other' Big One Awaiting California.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110117142512.htm

ScienceDaily (Jan. 18, 2011)
For emergency planning purposes, scientists unveiled a hypothetical California scenario that describes a storm that could produce up to 10 feet of rain, cause extensive flooding (in many cases overwhelming the state's flood-protection system) and result in more than $300 billion in damage.

The "ARkStorm Scenario," prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey and released at the ARkStorm Summit in Sacramento on Jan. 13-14, combines prehistoric geologic flood history in California with modern flood mapping and climate-change projections to produce a hypothetical, but plausible, scenario aimed at preparing the emergency response community for this type of hazard.

The USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Emergency Management Agency convened the two-day summit to engage stakeholders from across California to take action as a result of the scenario's findings, which were developed over the last two years by more than 100 scientists and experts.

"The ARkStorm scenario is a complete picture of what that storm would do to the social and economic systems of California," said Lucy Jones, chief scientist of the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project and architect of ARkStorm. "We think this event happens once every 100 or 200 years or so, which puts it in the same category as our big San Andreas earthquakes. The ARkStorm is essentially two historic storms (January 1969 and February 1986) put back to back in a scientifically plausible way. The model is not an extremely extreme event."

Jones noted that the largest damages would come from flooding -- the models estimate that almost one-fourth of the houses in California would experience some flood damage from this storm.

"The time to begin taking action is now, before a devastating natural hazard event occurs," said USGS Director, Marcia McNutt. "This scenario demonstrates firsthand how science can be the foundation to help build safer communities. The ARkStorm scenario is a scientifically vetted tool that emergency responders, elected officials and the general public can use to plan for a major catastrophic event to help prevent a hazard from becoming a disaster."

To define impacts of the ARkStorm, the USGS, in partnership with the California Geological Survey, created the first statewide landslide susceptibility maps for California that are the most detailed landslide susceptibility maps ever created. The project also resulted in the first physics-based coastal storm modeling system for analyzing severe storm impacts (predicting wave height and coastal erosion) under present-day scenarios and under various climate-change and sea-level-rise scenarios.

Because the scenario raised serious questions about existing national, state and local disaster policy and emergency management systems, ARkStorm became the theme of the 2010 Extreme Precipitation Symposium at U.C. Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment, attracting over 200 leaders in meteorology and flood management. ARkStorm is part of the efforts to create a National Real-Time Flood Mapping initiative to improve flood management nationwide. ARkStorm also provided a platform for emergency managers, meteorologists and hydrologists to work together to develop a scaling system for west coast storms.

"Cal EMA is proud to partner with the USGS in this important work to protect California from disasters," said Cal EMA Acting Secretary Mike Dayton. "In order to have the most efficient and effective plans and response capabilities, we have to have the proper science to base it on. Californians are better protected because of the scientific efforts of the United States Geological Survey."

According to FEMA Region IX Director, Nancy Ward, "The ARkStorm report will prove to be another invaluable tool in engaging the whole of our community in addressing flood emergencies in California. It is entirely possible that flood control infrastructure and mitigation efforts could be overwhelmed by the USGS ARkStorm scenario, and the report suggests ways forward to limit the damage that is sure to result."

The two-day summit included professional flood managers, emergency mangers, first responders, business continuity managers, forecasters, hydrologists and decision makers. Many of the scientists responsible for coordinating the ARkStorm scenario presented the science behind the scenario, including meteorology, forecasting, flood modeling, landslides and physical and economic impacts.

The ARkStorm Scenario is the second scenario from the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project led by Jones, which earlier created the ShakeOut earthquake scenario.
More information about the ARkStorm Summit is online(http://urbanearth.usgs.gov/arkstorm-summit/).
The ARkStorm Scenario, USGS Open-File Report 2010-1312, is also online (http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2010/1312/)
.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bates and Kamlarz Push Berkeley into Bankruptcy.

Original column here

Daniel Borenstein: Berkeley benefit debt at least $310 million
By Daniel Borenstein as published in the Contra Costa Times.

TWO YEARS ago, as Berkeley City Council members gave City Manager Phil Kamlarz a hefty salary increase, they credited him with running a fiscally sound organization.

"We are in better fiscal shape than virtually any other jurisdiction in the Bay Area and I would suggest even California," Councilman Laurie Capitelli declared.

But a report by City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan and new numbers from the California Public Employees' Retirement System show that the city has an unfunded liability for promised employee benefits of $310 million.

That's equal to more than two years of city general fund revenues. It works out to about $197,000 for every full-time city employee. Taxpayers must pay it off, at a cost of about $3,000 for every city resident.

The city has spent beyond its means, racking up huge debt that will be pushed onto future generations. They will be forced to choose between more taxes -- in a city that's already paying some of the highest -- and fewer services.

The biggest factors driving the debt are the city's unfunded liability for a pension plan that allows some workers to collect more in retirement than on the job; overly generous promises of health care coverage for police in retirement; and a ridiculous vacation and sick leave accrual policy that costs the city millions and enables employees to spike their pensions.

If anything, the estimates are conservative because the city's pension liability, the biggest part of the debt, is calculated by CalPERS. The state retirement agency's formulas don't yet include much of the investment losses of the past 21/2 years and make overly optimistic assumptions about future investment returns. Indeed, Berkeley's total debt might be as much as $200 million more.

As the full effect of investment losses is folded into the calculations, city benefit costs will escalate. They will also increase if the city begins to address its badly underfunded retiree health care program.

Hogan estimates those increases -- not the total annual payments, just the increases -- that are expected during the next five years will force the city to eliminate 63 full-time positions, or about 4 percent of the workforce.

Pensions

Because of the mounting pension debt, the city will be forced to divert more city funds to its retirement program in future years. For every dollar the city pays in police salaries, it pays another 36 cents for pensions. That number is expected to increase to 51 cents by 2016. For firefighters, the cost is 25 cents on the dollar, expected to rise to about 44 cents in five years. And for other city workers, the cost is 24 cents on the dollar, expected to increase to 34 cents.

Part of the blame can be placed on investment losses. But the cost is driven in large part by lucrative pension benefits that allow police and firefighters to retire starting at age 50 with 3 percent of top salary for each year of work. Thus the pension for a 30-year employee starts at 90 percent of salary and has an annual cost-of-living adjustment.

Other city employees can retire at age 55 and collect about 2.92 percent of salary for every year worked. Thus, someone who worked in government for 35 years can receive a starting pension of 102 percent of salary. That's right: That employee will collect more in retirement than on the job. (Kamlarz, the city manager, is one of those workers.)

Retiree health care

The city also provides retirement health care. The program for police is exceptionally costly because the city directly pays its retired officers with 20 years' experience an amount equal to the total cost of Kaiser coverage for two people, regardless of the rising costs of health care and regardless of whether the retirees have spouses or partners. That might have been affordable two decades ago, when the deal was first negotiated, but the rapidly rising price of health care has dramatically driven up the cost of the program.

Moreover, the payments continue at the full rate even after the retired officer becomes eligible for Medicare and could obtain a much less-costly Kaiser plan.

This poorly thought-out benefit is exacerbated because the money is paid to the retirees in cash rather than directly to the health care insurer, making the payment taxable to the retiree. In essence, a large chunk of the money is wastefully lost to state and federal taxes.

While promising these health-care benefits, the city has only set aside 13 percent of the money it should have to fund it. It's like promising a pension and not putting anything into savings in advance. As a result, future generations will pay for the health care of today's workers when they retire.

Vacation and sick leave

Berkeley city employees may accrue up to 320 hours of vacation time and 1,600 hours of sick leave. Firefighters and police can accrue up to 360 hours of vacation time and have no cap on accrued sick leave.

At retirement, they can cash out all vacation time and up to 50 percent of sick leave. Or, they can apply all their unused sick leave to service credit for calculating their pensions.

For someone with 30 years' service and the full 1,600 hours of sick leave that boosts his pension by about 2.7 percent for the rest of his life.

The accruals create two problems. First, they build up a liability that must be paid in the future. In 2009, the city paid departing employees $1.47 million for unused sick leave, vacation and related benefits. Second, they drive up pension costs. Both are bad.

And both are avoidable. Vacation should be taken each year and sick leave should only be for illnesses. "Use it or lose it" policies are common in the private sector. Berkeley should do the same.


Daniel Borenstein is a Contra Costa Times staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or email him at dborenstein@bayareanewsgroup.com

republished here under the fair use laws

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What a livable urban town should look like

A picture perfect example of why I'm against Berkeley's Measure R
click here and see what real livability looks like.
Vote NO! on Measure R.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

VOTE NO ON R

Stop Mayor Bates Wrecking Crew!
Measure R is a Trojan Horse that will bring many, many more enormous skyscrapers to downtown Berkeley. It is the nature of development to always push the boundaries. Every building allowed is far more valuable when its much larger.

There is no carbon neutral option when buildings are torn down and replaced. Even the most aggressive LEED standards don't compensate for carbonload dumped into the environment by these destructive practices. Carbon neutral development is creative reuse, not search and destroy development.

Tom Bates and the clown circus that calls itself Livable Berkeley are developer apologists who would happily bulldoze the entire downtown and replace it with canyons of steel for a few more shekels in their own pockets. Mark Rhoades, the former Berkeley Associate Planning Director and his wife are Livable Berkeley and he personally is now attempting to profit from his former position with the city by playing on the alliances he still has within that corrupt department.

Tom Bates and Mark Rhoades are pushing a green-washed developer scam that will destroy downtown Berkeley and severely damage the rest of our community. The Bates machine is trying to bulldoze the community into changing the very character of our lovely city and Manhattanize (Bates term) our small town into the sort of bleak skyscraper wasteland seen in downtown Oakland.

Already UC is adding a million square feet of building and the National Lab is adding another million square feet of building and we can’t do anything about that but we can stop R. The Yes on R folks are claiming their new monstrosities will be green but even a LEED Platinum building will net far more carbon waste over the lifespan of the building than creative reuse of our existing (vacant) retail stock.

Don't let "Chairman Tom" Bates choke a million more feet of non-retail construction into our downtown.

Stop Mayor Bates' Wrecking Crew. VOTE NO ON R

Vote Jasper Kingeter for District 1
Vote for Jesse Arreguin for District 4
Vote Kriss Worthington for District 7
and vote Stewart Jones for District 8 and VOTE NO ON R.

For RENT BOARD vote for the incredible Lisa Stevens of Spiral Gardens, my son Asa Dodsworth, the very committed Jessie Townley, Dave Blake, Katherine Harr, and Pam Webster. STEVENS, TOWNLEY, HARR, WEBSTER & BLAKE are incumbents ...

Regarding SCHOOL BOARD, I voted for Karen Hemphill, Leah Wilson, and Julie Holcomb, all endorsed by the Green Party of Alameda County. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers endorsed Karen Hemphill, Leah Wilson and Josh Daniels.(http://www.berkeleyfederationofteachers.org/campaigns/election-2010/home.chtml)

I met Josh, a local lad and a lawyer, and I came away very, very skeptical. He feigned ignorance about Measure R and he's been endorsed by Gordon Wozniak, the most conservative member of the city council and a major financial supporter of Yes on R, which will destroy Berkeley as we know it. That was enough for me NOT to vote for Josh.

Vote NO on R!! Save Berkeley from Tom Bates' Wrecking Crew!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dear Neighbors,

Berkeley’s pool bond will be on the June 8th ballot. It proposes to replace the indoor warm pool at the Berkeley High School (without identifying a new location), renovate the West Campus and Willard pools, and construct a new multi-purpose (competition) pool at King, at a construction cost of $22,500,000 PLUS annual maintenance of $3,500,000 indexed to the highest rate of inflation.

Berkeley has 15 pools located at schools, universities and membership facilities, not including the boys pool at the BHS. We Berkeleyans like to swim, and we generously support our city, schools and community recreational facilities. We approved $30 million dollars in new taxes in November 2008.  

We currently subsidize every warm pool swim by $20, NOT including subsidies from the BUSD and each regular swim by $10.  So let’s make reasonable choices that benefit everyone, including swimmers.

It’s the new pool construction -- by far the largest share of this bond -- that doesn’t make sense.
The greenest facilities are the ones already built; demolition and construction burn fossil fuels, choke landfills and waste resources. Rehabilitating all existing pools would require only 1/3 the cost of building new.

The BHS warm pool, as part of a nationally landmarked district, should be reused and not demolished. If rehab is off the table, let’s give those swimmers free passes to either the YMCA’s three pools- regular, (80-82 degrees F)  warm (84-86 degrees F)  and therapeutic (90-92 degrees F) or UC’s community program for the disabled--Cal Stars at the Recreation Sports Facility (RSF), which also operates a warm pool. Just like BUSD uses the YMCA warm pool for its own disabled students. Free memberships for Berkeleyans, who use the  BHS warm/therapeutic pool and need a therapeutic pool would be less than 1% of the bond’s maintenance cost, let alone the enormous construction cost.

The YMCA and UC pools are available to our community, meeting the needs of nearly all warm water pool swimmers: children, adults, pregnant, obese, arthritic, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy,  in accordance with the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA), the world’s largest certifying organization for aquatic fitness programming. *The AEA does not recommend the use of pools above 86 degrees except for limited functions, as there is a risk of overheating, stroke or heart attack. In fact, the AEA makes the following water temperature recommendations for these populations:

Competitive Swimming, 77-82.4 degrees F
Resistance Training, 83-86 degrees F
Therapy & Rehab 91-95 F (Aquatic Therapy & Rehab Institute/ATRI, Low function program, cooler temperatures may be more appropriate for higher intensity programs and specific populations)
Multiple Sclerosis, 80-84 degrees F
Pregnancy, 83-85 degrees F
Arthritis, 84-88 degrees F, (Arthritis Foundation)
Older Adults, 86-90 degrees F (Low function program. ATRI)
Older Adults, 83-86 degrees F, (Moderate to high intensity)
Older Adults, 86-88 degrees F, (Low intensity)
Children fitness, 83-86 degrees F
Children swim lessons--varies with age, 84-89 degrees F (when available)
Obese, 80-86 degrees F

Pools with a depth of 3-5 feet will accommodate nearly all heights of participants in a water fitness class. The AEA’s guidelines are incorporated into the City of Berkeley’s Citywide Pools Master Plan.

So who should be using a pool at 92 degrees, like the bond would replace? Very Few. And those few, can swim in the YMCA pools as they have in the past, when the BHS warm pool (more accurately, hot/therapeutic pool) has undergone repairs or during school closures or the UC warm pool.

If Berkeley needs an additional warm water pool, should it be at the proposed 2,250 square feet, a Jr. Olympic sized pool, kept at an energy-consumptive 92 degrees? If you answer yes to that question, why not make it a regional pool, sharing the costs as we did in the development of the Gilman sports fields? Palo Alto did just that. In 2007, Palo Alto’s warm pool received $5,274,346 from public and private partners. City taxpayers only paid $40,356. And we have invested in other regional facilities before, such as the BART and Tilden/East Bay Regional Parks.

As for the need to build a new competitive pool, one already exists at Berkeley High School, and Willard formerly served as one for middle school swimmers.
In the 50’s, our Civic leaders envisioned City and School recreational facilities would be shared. In the 70’s Berkeleyans approved Measure Y, a ballot measure which reaffirmed our rights to use school recreational facilities for recreation, outside school activity times. Nationally, all other school districts let the public use their pools during non school usage. Public funding equals public use.

Why can’t the middle school competitive swimmers use the BHS pool? It’s the very pool they will use in high school, and getting used to it now will give them a competitive edge then. Additionally, the Willard pool was designed as a competitive pool.

Rehabbing Willard to once again be a competitive pool would reduce the overall cost by approximately $2,500,000.

Our financials are already stretched too thin.
Berkeley’s unemployment is at a 10 year high of 11.3%.
Berkeley municipal debt is skyrocketing--$4 million this year, $15 million next year. Council proposes to raise fees to bridge the gap.
The BUSD will be asking us to support a capital bond measure of $208--$220,000,000 and possibly a  maintenance bond of about $45,000,000 this November.
This will cost approximately $130-170, per 100,000 of accessed value.
Federal, State and County governments will also be issuing new fees and taxes.
Can we afford this?

The City and BUSD need to rethink their priorities:

Maintenance for this bond has grown by 380%.

Our parks, recreation and waterfront programs are being reduced by 25% over the next two years due to staff increases, PERS obligations and loss of State funding, yet the maintenance fee on this bond represents a 38% recreational tax hike for just pools.
Our parks and recreation programs benefit everyone. Is it fair that they get a huge cut and that the pools get the lion’s share of our recreational tax dollars? The City still hasn’t acted responsible to prioritize our essential services first--services that are critically viable to our community’s very existence.
This measure needs to be re-written to better serve Berkeley’s needs.

Let’s keep Berkeley swimming with better, greener, sustainable alternatives. A legacy we can be proud of. Vote No on C.

We have less than a month to go and are down to the wire on the last, yet important aspects of the campaign. We need your help to educate our fellow voters on the many reasonable options available to support pools in Berkeley without sinking us further in debt or short changing our parks and essential services. We want recreation for all and fiscal responsibility.

Please go to berkeleycandobetter.com and volunteer/sign up to help. Financial contributions are always welcomed as campaigns are expensive. If you can make a contribution, please take a moment to do so on the site, at the Donate button, located on the home page, lower left hand side or mail a donation to: BCDB, P. O. Box 823, Berkeley, CA 94701.

Thank you in advance for helping to get the word out and to making this campaign a success.
Marie Bowman

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Actions Have Consequences: Ryan Lau part 2

While Berkeley City Council District 2 representative Daryl Moore says his aide, Ryan Lau, made a mistake in replacing an old funky garage with a larger living structure without obtaining permits or zoning approval, it appears the mistake is much bigger, more expensive and more problematic than simply paying a higher fee. Lau was ordered to cease construction on Monday, March 15, 2010, by Building Inspector Greg Heidenreich.

Berkeley’s building code specifically sets out ‘Development Standards for Accessory Dwelling Units’ that appear to prohibitively restrict the type of development Lau has already built. Deputy Planning Director Wendy Cosin was not optimistic that the city would be able to approve Lau’s project without a variance and in the city of Berkeley obtaining a variance is nearly impossible she acknowledged.

The first obstacle to issuing a permit is the size of Lau’s ‘Accessory Dwelling Unit. The estimated size of Lau’s nearly finished project is 432 square feet. According to the code (Section 23D.16.040), such structures are restricted to 300 square feet or less. The specific language of the code states: “No more than 25% of the gross floor area of the main dwelling in existence prior to the construction of the Accessory Dwelling Unit,” with an exemption that allows a building up to 300 square foot if the main house is smaller than 1,200 square feet. Lau’s main dwelling is less than 1,200 square feet but the building he has nearly completed is almost 44% over the upper limit.

Additionally the code specifically excludes building less than four feet from the property line. Apparently Lau has built the entire structure on the side property line
“In no case can zoning approve this if the setbacks are less than four feet,” said Deputy Director Cosin. “If he doesn’t meet the standards he’ll need a variance and it is very, very difficult to get a variance.”

Ironically, any person seeking a variance from local building codes has to get approval from the Zoning Adjustment Board. Ryan Lau is Councilman Darryl Moore’s appointee to that board.

While one local reporter stated that in attempting to resolve this issue promptly Berkeley’s Planning Department was expediting Lau’s permit, Cosin insisted that wasn’t the case.

“We’re handling this the same way we would handle any other violation,” Cosin said.
Any other treatment would be preferential and ethically improper. It is possible for Lau to pay an extra fee to expedite the permit process, which is available to any applicant, but Cosin said that Lau is “not at the building permit stage.”

As of Wednesday, March 17, 2010, Lau has not applied for zoning clearance which he must do before he can turn in a building permit application.

If Lau does not get a variance, the council-aide would have to tear the structure down, Cosin said.

While neither Lau, nor District One Councilman Darryl Moore, nor Mayor Tom Bates, nor City Manager Phil Kamlarz, nor Deputy City Manager Christine Daniel (formerly of the city attorney’s office) returned this reporter’s phone calls on Wednesday, other city staff expressed concern about the underlying issues this violation has exposed.

“I’m confused about how that can be allowed without him resigning his aide position. He’s a city employee. Seems like a conflict of interest,” said one Berkeley staffer by email. That person requested I not use their name. “In light of your discovery, it seems the only reasonable action is to remove him from ZAB (credibility shot and not fit to rule on similar situations) and he should be fired as an employee (violated the oath we take to uphold all rules and regulations).”

Another city employee, who also did not offer his name, suggested Berkeley City Auditor Ann Marie Hogan’s office should investigate Lau’s ethical lapses.

Hogan said all city staff except the mayor, council members, and their staff and appointees, are required to sign and abide by a code of ethical standards crafted by her office and the office of the City Manager that specifically requires they adhere to the laws and regulations of the city. The city manager administratively adopted that code of ethical standards for all city staff. Compliance with that code of ethics is not enforceable with the Mayor, the city council or their staff and appointees.
The mayor and council members, as elected legislative officers, do not report to the city manager’s office, nor do their aides or commission appointees, Hogan said.

“City council staff are hired and fired only by the City Council,” Hogan said. “They are ‘at-will’ employees.”

Similarly commission appointees only refer matters back to the city council, they actually don’t have any ‘authority,’ Hogan said. The mayor and city council must approve all commission actions.

“It’s never a bad idea to adopt a code of ethics,” Hogan said.

Regarding Lau’s lapses and his continued presence on the Zoning Adjustment Board, neither Cosin nor Hogan was willing to comment.

Councilwoman Linda Maio (her aide is Nicole Drake, Lau’s tenant and partner) was more forth coming.

“No,”Maio responded bluntly when asked if Lau should remain on the Zoning Adjustment Board. “I think not!”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rules are for Fools: ZAB Commish Ryan Lau builds without permits


Dear Reader.
There are two types of people in Berkeley: rubes like you and me, and there are the elite. The normal rules that rubes live, bleed, and die by don’t apply to the elite. The elite needn’t follow the well-established required procedures nor abide by municipal regulations. They’re special and they know what’s best for us, and what’s best for them.

One of Berkeley’s most onerous departments of rules and regulations is its Building Department. If the average citizen rube wants to replace a water heater, stove or even a light switch, the law says he has to pull a building permit. If the rube want to repair his front porch, he has to turn in working drawings and a lot map, and pay hundreds of dollars to get said building permit. I know from personal experience.

Heaven forbid after buying your 1,145 square-foot house for $435,000 less than a year ago, as Ryan Lau did, you should want to tear down your miniscule old and decrepit garage built in the 1920s and replace it with a lovely residential structure twice as large and located far less than the required four feet from the property line. If a rube wanted to build too close to his neighbor’s property he would have to get a ‘Use Permit,’ which would likely require a public hearing and cost the rube thousands and thousands of dollars. He might even end up in front of the Zoning Adjustment Board!

Of course if the person who wants to do such a thing is named Ryan Lau, Councilman Darryl Moore’s long-time aide and appointed Commissioner to the Zoning Adjustments Board, rules mean nothing.

Zoning Adjustment Board Commissioner Ryan simply tore down (without a demolition permit) all but the front of his funky old 10x20 foot garage and replaced it on the property line with an elegant residential-style structure more than twice as large (roughly 12x36 feet). Mr Lau left one wall of the teetering temporary front fa├žade of the old garage still standing precariously, the better to hide the massive construction project in-process behind it. The new building is lovely and substantial: taller, wider, nearly twice as long. It offers the proud owner lovely wide windows and double French doors in front, and what looks like a bathroom, rear entrance and bedroom in the back.



Mr Lau, the well-paid Aide to Councilman Darryl Moore from District 2, didn’t apply for a use permit for such a magnificent project according to Aaron Sage, Senior Planner at City of Berkeley. Mr Sage was manning the Zoning Department desk when I submitted my request for information. After researching the issue Mr Sage looked quite uncomfortable saying that no Use Permit, nor any other zoning permit had been issued.

It seems Mr Lau didn’t bother to apply for a building permit either according to two different Building Department employees who researched the question for me when I submitted my official written request at the building department’s information counter. Normally a building permit would require zoning approval, site plans, building plans, neighborhood meetings, and probably a zoning adjustment hearing (in front of Mr Lau and/or his friends on the board)!

When I went to Mr Lau’s house to speak with the owner and see and photograph this extravagant violation of the city’s building and zoning codes, a woman, who I assumed was Nicole Drake, Mr Lau’s significant other, came out of the house and screamed threats at me repeatedly and claimed she called the police. Unfortunately she refused to identify herself or to speak to me about the construction project. There was no work-card/permit posted anywhere in sight, as is required by regulation. Ironically enough Ms Drake is also employed by the city of Berkeley. She is District 1 Councilwoman Linda Maio’s well-paid Aide.

Like many in Berkeley, over the years I have become more than a little familiar with the workings of code enforcement. I have been red-tagged (an immediate work-stop-order) by the city numerous times, typically for doing minor repairs to my home, and once for work I wasn’t doing!

My son, Asa Dodsworth, has had Gregory Daniel, Berkeley’s chief code enforcer, and Maurice Norrise, Mr Daniel’s subordinate, at his home so frequently he wonders whether he could legally charge them rent. Through much effort Asa has managed to get the city to reduce the fines imposed against him for planting vegetables in his median strip and similar such extravagances reduced to only several thousand dollars from a much, much higher figure, but the city continues to bagger and harass him relentlessly.

Many years ago Berkeley’s building department cited me personally for most of the entire Uniform Building Code (according to Court Commissioner Jon Rantzman). All for naught, Commissioner Rantzman dismissed every citation. When this mayor’s wife was our mayor, I was again cited for new laws they were making up almost as quickly as they were writing the citations. Again for naught, the city promptly rewrote its new laws several times before deleting them entirely.

I attempted to contact Mayor Tom Bates regarding Mr Lau’s violations, especially in light of his position as a city council aide and a zoning adjustment board commission member. One of the Mayor’s Aides spoke with me, and then with the mayor, and then came back and took my phone number. I heard nothing more. I also attempted to speak with both Councilman Moore and Councilwoman Maio regarding their Aides’ involvement in this violation of the public trust. Neither called me back but I wasn’t surprised. The voice on Ms Maio’s telephone answering machine seemed to belong to Ms Drake.
I also spoke with Gregory Daniel of Code Enforcement. He insured me he would treat this matter with the same professionalism he gave to every other code violation in Berkeley. Mr Norrise said ‘Hi.’

It’s a real shame I’m not an important person in Berkeley. If I was important I’m sure the city would treat me and my son as cavalierly as the city treats Zoning Adjustment Board Commissioner Lau. It would be fun to just do whatever I liked without regard to the laws and regulations of our community. Much more likely because of this little report I expect someone from the city will soon be knocking on my door or my son’s door looking for forbidden flowers and vegetables or evidence of new paint and repairs. Berkeley’s that kind of place.