Friday, June 26, 2009

bayarealureneb 340 - 359


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 20, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Gun enthusiasts fight new regulations”. East Bay officials were supporting new gun laws in 1994 in an effort to combat handgun crimes.

Then-California Attorney General Dan Lungren had released figures showing that the number of homicides in the state involving handguns had risen in 1992. These stories are too easy to write; it’s a story featuring the usual tossed salad of crime statistics, American political heroes and blood-soaked zombies from California’s history — like Charles Manson:

“Charles Manson and Richard Speck with a hatpin are against our beliefs. Jimmy Carter, a Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa or a Martin Luther King with an ‘assault’ rifle present no threat,” he [American Pro-Constitutional Association president Martin A. Easton] wrote.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 20, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley: Strict begging rules to be adopted”. Berkeley’s city council was split along the usual ideological lines when discussing problematic street behavior.

Ideological lines? With issues like this, it’s Berkeley’s far-left vs. the modern left of California, in my opinion. Most members of the 1994 Berkeley City Council would not have fit into the larger Democratic Party machine, just as heavily-observant Christians with the Republican Party in Alabama don’t fit with Republican conservatives on New York’s Wall Street.

Normally, Americans don’t need to pay attention to such divisions. But occasionally, the divisions erupt clearly. Right now, for example, May 23, 2009, we’re seeing a perfect example of this drama in the case with Nancy Pelosi, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area.

She is Speaker of the House for Democrats, but with her impulsive comments of the last few weeks regarding the Central Intelligence Agency and her trendy/cool trip to Syria in April of 2007, it’s hard to put her next to a “good schools” Democrat from Wyoming or Utah.

So, in 1994, we were seeing some of the same political dynamic operating in Berkeley regarding the poor, vigorous debate about the laws that should or should not be applied to them. It was a strictly local issue, however, unlike the issues into which Pelosi seems to redundantly mire herself.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 20, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Safeco Insurance Company gets restitution”. Story is about man who was, allegedly, speciously reporting his financial loss from the 1991 East Bay hills fire.

I am laughing when I review this story today. The headline could have been, “How NOT to file a phony insurance claim.” The insured was trying to claim damages for his burned attic, for example, for its bedroom and bathroom that he claimed were being remodeled.

Problem is, his former wife and friendly neighbors were telling Safeco’s insurance investigators the attic as it actually existed was only 2-3 feet tall in most areas.

So, sure, he might have been “remodeling” the attic, but for the cat. There were other mistakes the homeowner made with his claim, too. The biggest error was in the man’s not realizing that property insurance companies recognize these fraudulent fire damage claims with very little difficulty in California, a state where fire is as common as the sun’s shine.


Published news brief by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, May 2, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Landmark buys five East Bay theaters”. Text reports a change of ownership for Berkeley’s movie theaters.

“We’ll sell real, fresh brewed Peet’s Coffee,” said Gary Meyer, one of Landmark’s co-founders. “But we’ll also have the junk food that people like. If they want junk candy, that’s fine.”

If you don’t get the meaning of that quote, it’s this: Mr. Meyer is subtly acknowledging Berkeley’s uppity, elite facade when it comes to cinema.

The intellectuals see the films for the art house, and Berkeley’s simple herd sees the blood-and-guts garbage interlaced with the scenes featuring near-naked actresses with massive breasts.

All cities are the same this way, probably. When reviewing this small item on March 24, 2009, I can’t help imagining Mr. Meyer as an immensely successful stockbroker. The top movies for 1994 were Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and The Flintstones.


Published news brief by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 20, 1994, East Bay Journal, “‘First strike — you’re in’ a regional approach to crime”. Runs alongside photo by Photojournalist Chester King showing Berkeley Officer F.R. Onciano on his bike, in uniform, in downtown Berkeley. Story was about a new government plan for cleaning up the streets of the San Francisco East Bay through preventative policing, social networking between government agencies of the Bay Area.

This story both bothers me on Memorial Day of 2009, and gives me hope. It bothers me because I am unsure of the crime statistics I was then given by local agencies for the story.

It had been an election year, 1994, and East Bay leaders needed to be seen by voters as doing something about violent crime. It was in their interests, naturally, to highlight some statistics over others. I will always be suspicious of crime statistics, considering the sources one is forced to depend upon at every angle; you’re looking at numbers about accused CRIMINALS being presented by public employees and/or elected officials whose jobs are secure -- or insecure -- based on reactions of the voting public to those numbers. It’s hard to deeply trust crime statistics, in my opinion.

My favorite book of all time is probably How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff, which came out in 1954, however, so maybe I am biased.

The story gives me hope, though, because Berkeley had a pretty good police chief then, Dash Butler. He retired, but by the time he did, the African-American chief had developed a solid reputation for being rational in his work. He could face the realities of East Bay crime, as this 1994 quote from my story indicates:

The last portion of April and some of May was a particularly violent month in Berkeley with five homicides. A few of those crimes were “heinous, vicious, ugly” murders which were “almost diabolical in nature,” [Dash Butler] said. “There are a lot of people who are hard-core criminals and that’s that,” he said.

He could also be counted upon to deal solidly with some of Berkeley’s career protestors, however. Such crowds could occasionally make accusations of police brutality that were complete nonsense, in my opinion. In summary, the East Bay will always have issues with crime and the reporter needs to be cautious in several respects about the story.


Published news brief by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, May 16, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley budget busts financial reserves”. Berkeley had to review its spending, and update its sloppy accounting systems.

Last March, the city was embarrassed when the Oakland Tribune reported more than $4 million was missing from city coffers in uncollected fees, taxes and lease payments. City officials said it was a problem of outdated billing systems and inadequately trained staff.

Yet, in this proposed budget the Finance Department will share part of the load in reductions. Recommendations to cut some personnel from the Finance Department would save $46,015. The city is losing much more than that with archaic revenue-collection methods.


Published news brief by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, May 16, 1994, East Bay Journal, “1994 — Another dry year”. I wrote this story for Berkeley residents to read, but the story leans heavily on information from regional experts on the state’s water supply of 1994. California is prone to droughts. Water shortages adversely affect residents, crops, and the state’s revenue. California is prone to fires, too, so its firefighters fear droughts.

Tourists who come to California rave about the sun. But with the sun comes dryness, and with dryness comes fire.

That was the case in the 1991 East Bay hills fire which took 25 lives and destroyed $1.7 billion in property. Four years of drought preceded those flames.

Droughts are unique among natural disasters; they’re insidious.

“Unlike floods, droughts are not clearly defined. Identifying periods of drought in a statewide context is a matter of subjective interpretations, even in retrospect. Even at a given location, however, it is a matter of judgment whether a period of greater-than-normal runoff represents the end of a drought or just a minor interruption,” according to a 1988 report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Everything I’ve seen points to the fact that California is not a water-rich state. We’re dependent on things like snowfall and we haven’t much. Industry is dependent on water. The economy of California is dependent on water. What isn’t?” said Berkeley City Councilmember Shirley Dean, who has pushed for quick action to prepare the city for drought.


Published news brief by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, May 16, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Don’t drink the gray water”. This story related to adjacent drought story that I wrote for same issue. Gray water is water from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks and washing machines used for landscaping in dry areas of the state like Santa Barbara. It was a semi-popular idea by some groups in the state during the drought, but viewed as an unsafe idea by many others.

Only those interested in maintaining their landscaping with gray water would have to invest in water equipment, such as surge tanks marked, "GRAY WATER STUB-OUT, DANGER -- UNSAFE WATER."


Published news story by Lurene Helzer, July 4, 1991, El Cerrito Journal, “City considers big picture for funding; Ways to save not always obvious”. Story focuses on how El Cerrito’s spending or withholding of 1991-92 funds affects the city’s financial strength for the longer term. El Cerrito’s Al Miller put it this humorous way:

The CalTrans grant, if El Cerrito gets it, will be like “a free puppy,” [El Cerrito Parks and Recreation Commissioner Al] Miller said. After paying for vaccinations and sterilization, the dog ends up costing plenty.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 6, 1994, East Bay Journal, “The trees of Telegraph”. Story is another one about the costs of Berkeley maintenance, it’s landscaping in particular. It has lively quotes from city commissioners and merchants, so I had to try for a lively, comedic opening:

To understand why Telegraph Avenue is looking so shamefully naked these days, one has to understand a few basic facts about trees. Trees don’t grow on money, for one thing.

A full-grown tree would cost the city around $15,000, which the city cannot afford, and a younger tree takes 12-15 years to grow no matter how much people wish to spend. City commissioners who have discussed the issue say people sometimes expect the council to simply allocate money and fix the problem.

“It’s not like trees just appear fully grown somewhere. They have to grow,” said Rebecca Rhine of the Telegraph Avenue Merchants Association.

People who frequent Telegraph Avenue are accustomed to panhandlers, homeless people and all varieties of odd societal phenomena. But even the best grin-and-bear it Berkeleyans would like to see the trees make a faster comeback.

Then, this area of the story below stands out in May 2009 because it’s not how we expect compassionate Berkeleyans to describe their smallest, weakest residents, whether the city’s broke or not:

Rhine said some were unhappy with the young trees because they look stubby and pathetic compared to the full-grown trees that froze.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 6, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Women with AIDS — numbers are rising”. I interviewed Monia Perry and Kathy Stablito, who both had contracted HIV, for this article.

I knew Ms. Stablito, met her at the local gym years before she contracted HIV. She was blond, beautiful and loved exercising. In 1994, most of us were still thinking of AIDS as something gay men in San Francisco got. But after going with Paul for a decade, they split. She went out with new guys, was letting her guard down. This was 1994 now, and here I was interviewing Kathy:

She tested herself initially in January of 1991 — it came out negative. But in August that same year, she took another test at the clinic.

“I’ll never forget the day. Never, ever. It was a beautiful, hot day. The clinic where I got the test put me off for weeks. They kept saying the test was falsely positive, they weren’t sure the machines were working, and so forth and so on.”

One day they called her in. “They told me and I immediately started crying. All I could remember her doing is handing me a booklet of pamphlets and asking if I was going to be okay. I said, ‘No! I’m not going to be okay!’ and I couldn’t stop crying.”

“She (the clinician) was sympathetic but I felt like they should have stayed with me a little longer, not say, ‘You tested positive and drive safely…”

I still can’t find Kathy Stablito, or her kids, Jasmine Webb and Mathew Lyon (or Lyons). It’s a terrible story to revisit in 2009. I have many photos.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, April 18, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Cabbies hot over cheating competitors”. Story is about uninsured cab drivers in Berkeley. Photo by Chris Duffey shows proud driver Guglielmi leaning against her “No. 333” past-era taxi in Berkeley:

Toni Guglielmi operates Bay Area Checker Cab, which consists of a single 1969 Checker Marathon, a black and white car manufactured by Checker Motors.

Designed for the streets of Manhattan, the car has two jump seats and can fit eight people. It was a private car for 23 years, and looks like something out of an old gangster movie. Guglielmi bought it because she grew tired of “driving garbage,” she said.

While waiting in front of Berkeley’s Durant Hotel, Guglielmi, along with another independent operator, Steve Hamlin of Halcyon Taxi Service, complained they have spent hours trying to get the city to enforce taxi laws.

They said shady companies cheat on safety inspections, permits, meter inspections and, most of all, insurance.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, April 15, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley: Candidate seeks solutions to crime”. It was campaign time for Berkeley, and Carla Woodworth was seeking reelection to the District 7 seat on the city council. She shared a few memories for the story, which gave it some local, historical color:

In 1972, when Woodworth was not quite 18 and looking forward to voting for the first time, she decided to get involved in politics. She worked on democratic candidate George McGovern’s campaign for president against Richard Nixon.

The South Dakota politician [McGovern] lost the election and was branded by Nixon as the candidate of “acid, abortion and amnesty.”

Woodworth registered voters in Berkeley and East Oakland. She recalled piling sardine-style into a car with others her age to see the candidate at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

“Those are exciting times when you’re young,” she said.

She passed up an opportunity to brag now about her efforts for the man who ran against Nixon, instead, she played it down. “What did he win? One state? Two states?”


Published news briefs by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, April 15, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Sexual molestation suit settled”; “Chavez remembered”; “Berkeley: Schools boss retires”.

Key words and names of first news brief are Berkeley Unified School District; General Star Indemnity; Connecticut-based insurer; child abuse; attorney Pamela Y. Price; U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco; Title IX Civil Rights Act 1964; attorney Robert Lyman.

Key words and names of second are Berkeley City Council; Viva Chavez; North Waterfront Park; Cesar Chavez Park; Citizen’s Committee to Honor Cesar Chavez; University Avenue; labor leader; north and south bound portions of Interstate Highway 80; Federico Chavez, nephew Mexican-American labor leader.

Key words and names of third are LaVonia Steele; retiring; Berkeley Superintendent; funding; $6 million; budget; funding prisons; funding public education.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, July 15, 1994, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer and Svend Holst, “Two cities, two budgets, no answers”, regarding 1994-1995 budgets for Berkeley and Oakland, CA. In the summer of 1994, Jeff Leiter was Berkeley’s mayor:

Enter the council chambers of many Bay Area cities trying to pass a 1994-1995 budget and hear the sound of metropolitan discontent — numbers gnashing, social programs drowned by deficit, apologetic politicians.

Not so with Berkeley’s oddly tranquil budget night June 28. The room was filled with children in jeans and baseball caps holding green balloons. Compared to Oakland’s budget of $250 million, this one of $191 million surfed by, even with the $2.5 million deficit.

“What do we do? Do we lock our doors? Do we lead isolated and fearful lives? Or do we step out, collectively, to solve our problems?” said Berkeley Mayor Jeff Leiter.

The crowd, which filled the seats and occupied most of the floor space, listened carefully.

Reporter Holst wrote the Oakland section of this 1994 story, but I wanted to write something about that large city here. Oakland’s mayor that summer was Elihu Harris, who has not gone down as one of the city’s most inspiring leaders since its founding in 1852.

Elihu, as Oakland’s mayor from 1991-1999, is readily remembered by many locals for naming a building after himself, for being in office while Oakland considered recognizing Ebonics (black English) as a language-of-sorts for recognition inside some public schools, and for offering fried chicken to bring Oakland’s black voters to the polls.

Harris was succeeded as Oakland’s mayor by California’s Jerry Brown, who served from 1998-2006. Brown is the current California Attorney General in 2009. He was also the state’s governor from 1975-1983. But that’s not all when it comes to the Brown family of California.

California’s 2009 Attorney General Brown is the son of former California Gov. Pat Brown, who was in office from 1959-1967. The elder Brown is remembered as one of the state’s more dynamic leaders in a state that’s nearly impossible to govern.

Interestingly, Pat Brown lost one race to Ronald Reagan and won one over Richard Nixon while seeking California’s gubernatorial office. Few politicians can say that in 2009. In short, it’s almost a trigonometry course understanding the Brown family’s history inside California.

So, Oakland’s budget might not have been the big news in 1994, but Oakland’s history is far more than budget figures and crime statistics.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, February 7, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Hancock leaves, Berkeley mayor slot still open”. Mayor Loni Hancock resigned the mayoral post in 1994 to accept a position with U.S. President Bill Clinton’s new administration.

Bill Clinton was serving his first term in the White House. In 2009, his wife, Hillary Clinton, is serving as U.S. Secretary of State under U.S. President Barak Obama.

When I revisit this 1994 story today — read the lead, consider the later events which would ensnarl President Clinton — I feel like I am describing more than one job opening in the 1990s, though I am only discussing Berkeley:

Are you politically complaisant? Will you work long hours for low pay? Can you endure being publicly lambasted? If you like all this and more, the Berkeley City Council may have a job for you.

By the end of the decade, Mr. Clinton could well have said it was a good description of his job, too. He was the subject of impeachment proceedings that ultimately did not lead to his impeachment. He was acquitted in February of 1999. So, whether you liked him or not, you might agree that he was publicly lambasted in office.

Democrat Loni Hancock presumably saw less grief and is, in 2009, serving in California’s Senate, 9th District.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, April 4, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley breaks mayoral logjam”. The story, which reports Jeff Leiter is Berkeley’s new interim mayor, featured prominent political names and lively quotes from participants.

Photographer Chris Duffey’s photo of a smiling Mr. Leiter in a crisp business suit appears alongside the story, serving as a cheerful hint political playtime was over for 1994 Berkeley. Some areas of the story:

Several showed up at the meeting to oppose Leiter’s appointment. Calling themselves the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA), a group of Leiter opponents said the city did not need an unelected mayor.

“CNA is concerned over widely circulated, credible rumors that hard-nosed campaigns have been organized by City Hall insiders on behalf of one candidate or another …the process stiff-arms participation by voters and taxpayers of this city...” said John Denton, who led the group.

Linda Powell, head of Henry Hearst Neighborhood Association, barely recognizable at the meeting due to her disguise as Mae West, was disappointed after the vote.

“Is that a backroom deal in your pocket or an interim mayor?” she said.

Congressman Ron Dellums meddled in Berkeley’s affairs by pressuring the council to vote for Leiter, she charged. Powell also opposed Leiter because of what she called his tendency to place “social service programs without consideration for the impact on the community” in some neighborhoods, and to support programs which keep the homeless “in a state of dependency.”

Leiter, commenting before the vote on his opponents, said they were obstructing the process for political reasons. “That saddens me,” he said.

…He also said he will step down from the Downtown Berkeley Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and any city-funded groups.

He said he planned to discuss his activities with City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, to check for conflicts of interest.

…Leiter was sworn into office for the second time (since he went through the process the previous Friday) with the presence of his partner of 13 years, George Jang, a psychiatrist.

Jang held the Shattuck family’s 250-year-old Bible as Leiter went through the ceremony, smiling broadly...


Published news analysis, part one of two, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, July 15, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Analysis; Immigration — Tough issue for voters in November”. I had several sources for this story, perspectives. I was able to get my friend Uri Levi and his daughter, Galit Ben-David, to comment. Their comments genuinely improved the value of the story. Their comments were and remain difficult to get for publication:

In Uri Levi’s case, California’s debate on immigration is something more than a passing election-year flurry. His San Leandro roofing company employs recent immigrants.

Levi, although an immigrant himself, is unlike his workers in several respects. He speaks two dialects of Spanish, English, Hebrew, Arabic and can follow French and German. He is well-versed in the sciences, and in international affairs. He is also a property owner. His workers are predominantly poor and less educated.

Part of Levi’s success may be helped by his sensitivity to political hardship. To most Israelis — Arab or Jew — war is familiar.

“In Mexico, it more or less looks like a stable situation. But in those Central American countries, a coup is something that can happen any moment.” Levi employs two Salvadoran immigrants. “In El Salvador with the Death Squads, they’re cutting heads in the middle of the night,” he said.

Empathy aside, what keeps Levi in the market for immigrants?

“Two reasons,” he answered. “First of all, it’s cheaper to hire an immigrant. Secondly, they are ready to do what others are not ready to do. In other words, supply and demand matters. They want to work harder because they are new. Simple as that,” he said.

Levi starts his employees at $7 to $8 per hour. He said his employees may not be sophisticated, but all are legal. Illegal workers are more vulnerable, he said.

He has witnessed some getting paid as little as $1.90 per hour washing dishes, quite often by their compatriots.

“The Chinese will abuse the Chinese, an Israeli will abuse an Israeli, an Arab will abuse an Arab,” he said.

His daughter made an observation after she joined her father in the United States seven years ago. Much of the tension and elitism which existed between Arabs and Jews in Israel changed here.

Long-time Americans have a relationship of elitism with Latinos, similar to Jewish elitism shown toward Arabs in Israel, said Ben-David.

“The Jews wouldn’t work in the gas stations — what the Arabs do — because it would be degrading for them. But they’ll come here and do it. You know what I mean? Nobody knows them here. But back there, I never saw an Israeli (Jew) in a gas station,” she said.


Published news analysis, part 2 of 2, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, August 1, 1994, East Bay Journal, “The wealth of immigration”. Photo by Chris Duffey runs alongside my story featuring Kirpal Khanna inside his store, Bazaar of India Imports, on Berkeley’s University Avenue.

This second part of the story focuses on selected areas of Berkeley and Oakland, statistics released from U.S. cities in 1994 regarding immigrant populations, and the good/bad stories of immigrants from Asia:

The India Post, a publication for Indian-Americans, recently called Berkeley’s Economic Development Department to ask permission to refer to University Avenue as “Little India.”

Dave Fogarty, an analyst with the department, told them he had no objection.

“A very high proportion of the businesses on University are owned by South Asians, primarily people from India, but also a few people from Pakistan,” said Fogarty.

Fogarty said the effect of immigrant commerce has been positive, though an occasional mainstream-American resident complains that many of the shops cater only to Indian tastes — Saris for women, exotic spices common to Indian food.

Bazaar of India Imports, a variety store and café, is one of the businesses catering to those with Indian roots.

“There have been new Indian businesses that have opened up, but just as fast as they open up, they fold,” said Kush Khanna.

Khanna’s father, Kirpal Khanna, opened the business in 1971.

When the Khannas set up shop on the avenue, there were few other Indians who had preceded him. Now, the well-known corridor is host to restaurants, grocery stores, jeweler shops, clothing stores and music shops with the cultural pith of the world’s largest democracy.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, September 20, 1993, East Bay Journal, “Police chief comes home”. The story regards Oakland’s new police chief, Joseph Samuels. He was coming from the Fresno Police Department.

[Photo of Samuels runs alongside the front-page story, authored probably by photographer Chris Duffey. The clip is slightly damaged, so I can’t see the photo’s by-line.]

Samuels seemed like a pleasant, frank man. I remember the interview going comparatively well. [I only say this because I never adored covering crime.]

He was the first African-American to serve as police chief there. Oakland is not an easy city to police, though, no matter what your racial perspective or skill in law enforcement. According to reports by area newspapers, Samuels no longer holds the Oakland post. I am not very clear on why he moved away from Oakland policing, so I won’t speculate on affairs in that large city’s police department.

Oakland had 124 recorded homicides in 2008, and the issues with violence remain ugly as of this writing in June of 2009, according to police records I found on The San Francisco Chronicle’s website, sfgate.

I don’t know what kind of leader it would really take to improve the violent streets of Oakland, but some of the quotes by Samuels in late 1993 make sad sense in 2009:

Oakland’s new police chief, Joseph Samuels Jr., has the ability to tell the precise truth when asked a direct question. Flowery euphemisms are not his style. Take homicides, for instance:

“There’s very little that a police department can do about them,” Samuels said from his eighth-floor office in the Hall of Justice, “particularly when the motives are things like the inability to handle a personal disagreement or dispute, and the killing takes place in the home.

“It’s not like there’s a lot of random, stranger violence excessively occurring in the city of Oakland. I think the other part of that equation is we’re one of the few cities where the media actually keeps a scorecard, a running tally of all the homicides — number 99, number 100, number 101.”

bayarealureneb 320 - 339


Published news story by Lurene Helzer, May 3, 1999, Berkeley Daily Planet, “Court may redefine ‘disabilities’”. This lengthy story appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court made some changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2001.

Berkeley residents were nervous about the upcoming case in 1999. There was a sizable disabled population in Berkeley, including the then-serving Berkeley councilmember Dona Spring, who died in July of 2008. She is quoted in my story.

There are also quotes from attorney Gary Near, who was able to provide insight, given his experience with disability cases in San Francisco.

“Sometimes they are, by their very nature, unqualified,” says San Francisco attorney Gary Near, who has experience with ADA cases and monitors developments in the act. “What happens if the pilot loses his glasses in bad weather?”

“When they apply for a job, and the job has specific qualifications, there’s always a tension there, because the employer is in a squeeze between not discriminating and getting the job done right.”

The question for employers, Near said, comes down to, “If I hire this person, will I have other issues of liability?”


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Berkeley Daily Planet, April 16, 1999, “KPFA supporters rally.” Story, most of which is gone at moment and unavailable on the internet, regards fans of Berkeley radio station KPFA, their street gathering to support well-known station employees Larry Bensky and Nicole Sawaya.

Bensky and Sawaya were then in conflict with the Pacifica Foundation, confronting a possible termination of their contracts.

In the 1999 news photo running alongside my story (authored by an unidentified photographer), San Francisco area broadcaster Bill Mandel addresses the crowd of about 400 Bensky and Sawaya supporters. The crowd was gathered on Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Way with temperatures nearing 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They were calling for mediation.

Whatever your position on the various news events of the long Cold War era, Bill Mandel was one of the more colorful speakers called to speak during the McCarthy spree.

“This is a book-burning! You lack only the tinder to set fire to the books as Hitler did twenty years ago, and I am going to get that across to the American people!” Mandel said before Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1953, according to transcripts.

When in 1960 a member of the House Un-American Affairs Committee, then in San Francisco, asked Mandel if he was a member of the Communist Party, you can imagine Mandel’s response. Now, the House was in Mandel’s yard.

“Honorable beaters of children, sadists, uniformed and in plain clothes, distinguished Dixicrat wearing the clothing of a gentleman, eminent Republican who opposes an accommodation with the one country with which we must live at peace in order for us and all our children to survive…” began Mandel.

“...where a son of a friend of mine had his head split by these goons operating under your orders, my boy today might have paid the penalty of permanent injury or a police record for desiring to come here and hear how this committee operates. If you think that I am going to cooperate with this collection of Judases, of men who sit there in violation of the United States Constitution, if you think I will cooperate with you in any way, you are insane!” Mandel is recorded as saying in 1960 San Francisco.

You could not have paid me enough to live in the former Soviet Union, but I quickly concede McCarthyism in the United States was no fun. Communism revealed deep rifts within American society and Europe, fatal flaws with liberalism. I think the American left needs to be far more candid in portraying the Soviets as they were in those decades, but we may never quite see it.

Mandel himself is still around Berkeley. He will be 92 on June 4, 2009. So, covering Berkeley was innervating.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer, Berkeley Daily Planet, April 28, 1999, “Assisted suicide bill opposed.” The Berkeley council heard views on legal suicide at this meeting. Assisted suicide has always been a sensitive issue in the United States.

It was interesting to hear how afraid some disabled residents of Berkeley were of assisted suicide law, recognition of the act by law. It raised the ghost, for them, of governments starving or burying the retarded as socially undesirable, or of insurance companies declining to cover the cost of care for serious illness. That is, the insurance would theoretically refuse to cover cancer treatments, but would gladly cover the cost of a physician-assisted suicide.

They sounded to me paranoid that night in 1999 Berkeley. But in 2009, a discussion like this would gather far more public interest. It’s tragic because it’s not that people want to die, but that they refuse to die – or can’t stand death -- leaving their families with millions in medical bills. To be fair, it’s true throughout the world, not just the United States. It’s less of a problem in Europe and Canada, however.

Millions of people prefer European health systems because the cost of public health is shared. In 2009, it’s difficult to make predictions about where the American health system is going. Change seems likely by 2015, though. Major reform will be hard to put off for another decade, according to everything I have heard and read in the past two years.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer, June 26, 2001, Bay City News, “Two Suspects Sought in San Mateo for Armed Robbery.” San Mateo is a fairly quiet city near San Francisco, but, like all cities, has occasional crime.

The victim was walking on a downtown-area street very early on a Sunday morning, so he might have been taking a needless risk in deciding to walk to his destination in darkness. The summer crime was reportedly committed within two blocks of U.S. Route 101 in San Mateo. Residential streets near major freeways are almost always popular crime spots late at night, it seems to me.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer, July 26, 2001, Bay City News, “One Dead, One Seriously Injured in Castroville.”

Castroville, located in California’s Monterey County, rarely comes up in news that I ever notice. If Californians hear of it at all, it’s usually because it’s Artichoke Festival time. This city, agricultural in its character and financial history, calls itself the “Artichoke Center of the World.” In 1948, American film legend Marilyn Monroe (then-known as Norma Jeane Mortenson) was named “Artichoke Queen.” She was still relatively unknown then, but by 1950 would appear in Hollywood’s classic film “All About Eve.”

Monroe had to start somewhere. Why not Castroville? Singer Elton John’s tune comes to my head automatically as I revisit this old news story in May of 2009, but my brain warps the lyrics a bit:

“Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you…” PICKED!

Marilyn Monroe is my favorite symbol of old Hollywood. My 2001 story, though, is about teens involved in a horrific auto accident. One died and another was in a coma. California Highway Patrol officers raced to the scene after the high-speed wreck and wrote in their statement that they intended to file charges of vehicular manslaughter against the young driver who was allegedly responsible.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, August 15, 1994, “Punks hang at Gilman Street”, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer. Story is about some of Berkeley’s 1994 music culture.

I include the grammatically-incorrect opening paragraphs of my story (below) because they help today’s reader interpret the photo shown above:

“They came from Japan and called themselves the Blood Thirsty Butchers, one of the bands playing at the 924 Club in Berkeley on a recent Saturday night.

But who cares about them? It’s the victims, er, audience, that were really cool. It is a fashion show for punks – stiff hair with multiple spikes which create shadows on the wall, single magenta curls on bald heads, red skunk stripes.

Most of them are under 18, and look like something out of a 1950s monster movie. This particular Saturday evening the punksters were peaceful.

But, on May 8 of this year, Jello Biafra, lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, was beat up at 12:28 a.m. during what police call a “tense evening” at the club. Police car tires were slashed while officers were inside. According to Lt. Tom Grant of the Berkeley Police Department, club goers that Sunday evening were “hostile to police presence.”

The Blood Thirsty Butchers needed more practice, an amusing thought considering Punk’s a genre of music which depends on clashing chords and intentional disharmony. At Gilman Street though, there’s plenty of graffiti to read, even though it is officially proscribed.

“No drinking, drug use or vandalism in or around the club, and no stagediving or excessively violent dancing during the show,” read a card given to patrons at the door.

Some choice excerpts from the walls inside include:

● “I kissed Christian Beansprout and I’m Not Sorry.”
● “Shelf Life Loves You.”
● “Masturbation 14 Times a Week is O.K.”

*Photograph I have, taken years before story ran, by photographer Lloyd Francis. Photo shows The Dead Kennedys performing in downtown San Francisco’s Moscone Center. It shows Jello Biafra on stage as a fan is pushed back into the crowd after jumping onto the stage.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, July 5, 1994, “Outcry over renaming University Ave. grows” by Lurene Kathleen Helzer. Story is about rather spicy idea to rename Berkeley’s old University Avenue “Avenida Cesar Chavez”, the consequent debates in Berkeley. Merchants were generally against the idea of the avenue’s name being changed.

Thus, the avenue was not renamed after labor leader Cesar Chavez in 1994. However, Berkeley’s North Waterfront Park was renamed Cesar Chavez Park in 1996, two years after I wrote this story. The park is today a popular site for kite flying, dog walking, sightseeing and playing. Between 1957 and 1991, the lot was a municipal garbage dump, albeit a dump with a lovely San Francisco Bay view.

It’s interesting to discover where the old dumps are today in major U.S. regions, the history. You feel like you know where all the “dead bodies” are in town. In this case, we can say Berkeley loves its labor history, imagines Mr. Chavez’ spirit gloriously living on amid the unseen corroded wires of 1959 and rotting vegetables of 1972.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, July 5, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley eases landlords’ cost to evict”.

This brief story describes a common problem for The City of Berkeley. The problem is general maintenance of the less-wealthy area of town.

Berkeley is a fantastic city noted for academic excellence, science and even for its role in American history. This is known well.

It’s also noted, though, for an unaffordable liberalism. What does that mean?

It means that Berkeley has always had a voting bloc that wants to make life as easy and hospitable as possible for the downtrodden. There would be nothing wrong with this if the poor didn’t come with heaps of costly problems for Berkeley from the start. Let’s try a fair look at it:

The poor, typically, have many “first level” problems for which they’re not even remotely at fault. Chronic illness, lack of education, parental abandonment, for instance. American society seems forgiving of these shortcomings, in general. It’s genuinely not the person’s fault, and they need help immediately.

From those issues, however, spring the more costly problems that average people despise. What are these costly, embedded, “second level” problems?

The frequent problems with drugs and alcohol, the lifelong need for cheap housing, the need for eternal government money and – more than anything – a kind of legal laxity or ignorance coming from poverty that the rest of a metropolis will not tolerate.

This small story is a good example of how the problem works itself out at city hall.
Poor areas of town typically have drug dealers, loitering. With street-drug dealing arrives the violence, broken windows, etc. When it’s time for a city to evict the residents of a crack house or similar property, someone’s got to pay. It might be Section 8 housing, which is supported with federal tax dollars in the first place, and if the residents need to be evicted for their crimes, the city or county or state needs to pay the cops for their work at the property and/or in local courts, sometimes at time-and-a-half. It was costing Berkeley money they did not quite have to spare in 1994.

Members of Berkeley’s city council sometimes wanted to be forgiving of the poverty-stricken residents, their landlords, to keep the housing cheap and available for troubled families. Other city council members did not. They argued about it during this 1994 meeting.

The city attorney, Manuela Albuquerque, also present, finally backed away from the whole debate in slight exasperation. She reminded the politicians she was “just a lawyer” for Berkeley and considered ethical questions about who pays for what to be their problem.

Assuming there is no riot, this is always the conclusion of such debates because there’s only so much a government can do through law. At some point, the cops and lawyers leave the room because there’s literally nothing more they can or will do.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, July 5, 1994, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, “Berkeley sees traffic nightmare from Kaiser project”. The long story is about a planned medical development in the East Bay, the debates it generated.

I add text from either a second but related story that ran near my story in the same issue, or text I wrote that belongs with my original story. I believe I wrote all the text, but I see my by-line on only one clipping.

The story is about a proposed Kaiser medical development for Emeryville, California. Just the key words and names say much: traffic, Ashby Avenue, San Pablo, 7th Street, Environmental Impact Report, Berkeley Planning Director Gil Kelley, Oakland, BART, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Shattuck Avenue, sinkholes, 1970s, urban cores, jobs, Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio, shuttle, street-widening, 53rd Street, Park Avenue, Hollis Street, medical center, 1999, Madeline Stanionis, SON, Mall of America, NIMBY, Michele Molineaux, Saving our Neighborhoods, height, million, $15 million, Greg Meyer, writer, artist, San Francisco, 400 signatures, 3,000 cars, developer.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, July 5, 1994, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, “Dirtmovers sweep across Berkeley again”. Discussion about street-sweeping machines in Berkeley. Berkeley’s Shirley Dean, then on the city council, said the machines did nothing but “move dirt around.”

For the city, though, the machines had another clever feature insofar as revenue is concerned: moving money around. When the big machines would visit the residential block at 5 a.m., residents needed to move their cars or to not have parked in that convenient spot on the previous evening. If the resident did not consider the city sweeper’s appointed rounds, left the car at the usual spot, the resident could be cited/fined for parking illegally.

This is not just a Berkeley hassle. Cities everywhere probably use these dumb, ugly, loud, creepy, massive vehicles. The city council members were not discussing traffic tickets, however, as some residents of the world might have liked. They were, superficially, discussing sweeping as it related to copper pollution in the San Francisco Bay.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, July 5, 1994, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, “500 dollars a day for weed-clogged lots”. The Berkeley Fire Department made numerous complaints about residential weeds being a fire hazard. The city council now approved a fine, with the advice of the Berkeley Fire Department, for failure to comply with local fire codes.

Fire codes are tricky. After the terrible 1991 conflagration in the East Bay hills, California’s fire codes took precedence for a few years. By 1994, Berkeley was getting the law back to some semblance of metropolitan “normal,” and updating it for local “climatic, geological or topographical conditions.” In California, the first section of the preceding sentence has assorted interpretations from year-to-year, while the second is perhaps more meaningful to local firefighters from hour-to-hour.

Whatever the case, you were in 1994 California, the subject was fire law, and you would be in big trouble if you were not following fire codes as they related to your front yard.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, July 5, 1994, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, “‘Not in my back yard’ prevalent in Berkeley”. Area residents in 1994 were against a new social service facility for HIV/AIDS patients.

“It seems strange to me that they would choose a pleasant, well-kept neighborhood to build something like that in,” said Berkeley resident Catherine Bussinger in 1994 for my story.

In 1994, there were 25 social service organizations in Berkeley, located overwhelmingly in one area of the city, which was Councilmember Dona Spring’s downtown-area district. Other areas of Berkeley would not willingly accept facilities for the poor, the mentally ill, the addicted, or tolerate the various social needs in a facility close to home. Councilmember Spring had to object in 1994.

“Spring said the area including Martin Luther King Way, Addison Street, University Avenue and Berkeley Way has enough social service programs.” [Photojournalist Chester King authored the 1994 photo published alongside my story of the proposed site for the controversial facility.]

There’s no need to pick on Berkeley and its residents, though. I’m not calling it hypocrisy; it’s more the misguided essence of modern liberalism itself, the lack of financial “horse sense.” For this reason, many are compassionate in the abstract, but “NIMBY” at home. I only say this because I had to do tens of stories like this in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Published news story for East Bay Phoenix Journal, June 7, 1993, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, “State Farm deflects lowballing charges”. Allegations in this story that State Farm Insurance was shortchanging claimants after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which registered as 7.1 on the Richter scale.

The charges were brought to light during a wrongful termination civil suit brought on State Farm by former employees Levente Csaplar and Ina DeLong. DeLong began a consumer-interest organization called United Policyholders, which can be found today on the web.

Being an average reporter, I asked DeLong why she did not come out with her allegations against State Farm as an employee for the insurance company, which she was for 27 years.

“‘Being a consumer advocate doesn’t come with a handbook,’ DeLong said. She was fearful of lawsuits from the company, of [State Farm] trying to prevent her from going public with her allegations. ‘I knew that giving them to (CBS’) “60 Minutes” put me in a better position than giving them to a local paper. I could rest assured that the whole nation would know,’ said DeLong.”

I asked her to provide a solid example of the insurance company’s allegedly dishonest business style.

“‘They say the contractor had a ‘fluffy earth’ theory. And I don’t know where they got that. The contractor had a theory that the earth moved as a result of the 7.1 earthquake. State Farm has some problems with that. That shows their stupidity,’” DeLong told me in 1994.

DeLong also later shared her documents with the newspaper San Francisco Examiner, which published the allegations on Jan. 20, 1991.

When I revisit the story in 2009 for this library, I can’t help considering how much trouble some areas of the American insurance industry are in now, or perceived as being in by investors. I can’t say State Farm was wise or unwise in its business practices of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they vigorously denied DeLong’s allegations. California tracks complaints regarding the insurance industry.

Whatever one’s view of the insurance industry in the Golden State, though, some of Ms. DeLong’s quotes today still make the California resident laugh.


Published news story for East Bay Phoenix Journal, September 6, 1994, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, “Berkeley: Powell challenges Dona Spring for council”. Powell, who was slightly more conservative than Spring, challenged Spring’s position representing District 4 on Berkeley’s city council.

It’s interesting to revisit for a moment in 2009 because Powell was identifying herself as a Feminist, which Berkeley candidates were still often doing in 1994 during routine, local elections.

Today, the left often seems to keep a political distance from feminism in campaign statements. I think this is mainly because it’s considered a settled ideological issue, of course, but also because a large area of the left in the San Francisco area sympathizes with Islamic populations, and those Islamic groups are almost never identifying themselves or their concerns as feminist. It’s almost never openly discussed on liberal broadcast shows or in print news sources, either. Feminism has probably gone as far as it can/will in modern world.


Published news story for East Bay Journal, September 6, 1994, by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, “Berkeley: Nov. voting choices”. Berkeley’s loitering ordinance was appearing on the ballot after more than 7,000 residents signed petitions for it, along with several other items.

This U.S. House election, coming in the middle of President Bill Clinton’s first term, ushered in Republican Newt Gingrich as Speaker at the U.S. House of Representatives. He campaigned on his popular Contract with America set of reforms. For Berkeley, it was a Contract ON America, as local reporters occasionally joked. (Not my gag, but I laughed when hearing it during elections from Photojournalist Lloyd Francis.)

There were actually several issues confronting the East Bay city in 1994 other than those around panhandling on the city’s main streets. For instance, Berkeley was waving goodbye to Apartheid government in South Africa by asking voters to repeal ordinances prohibiting Berkeley from dealing with financial institutions which did business with South Africa, as South Africa existed in earlier years as a strict, racially segregationist government.

Apartheid was an important issue for Berkeley students in the 1980s, so it’s not stunning that Berkeley’s council reacted to the conclusion of Apartheid during this meeting. I was not an activist compared to others in those days, but even we who kept our mouths comparatively shut knew that Apartheid wasn’t working, no matter what the defense offered. I would talk occasionally to average people who had routine business trips to South Africa. They always said -- if they said anything -- they were glad to leave the area as it then existed with segregation.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, May 17, 1993, East Bay Phoenix Journal, “Insurance companies deserting disaster areas”. My story focused on Florida, as 34 insurance companies pulled out of the state in 1993, declining property coverage to residents. Up to then, it was one of the most bizarre financial situations I’d covered or heard of regarding property insurance in the United States. I show some of my 1993 story below, in italics:

In the first quarter of 1993 there were $2.8 billion in losses for the insurance industry. This figure includes the [February 26, 1993] bombing of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the “Storm of the Century” which hit the East Coast late this winter, said Gary Kerney of Property Claims Services, a division of American Insurance Services Group.

By contrast, in the first quarter of 1992, insurance losses were $810 million — a record amount at the time. By the end of the year [1992], after hurricanes Andrew, Iniki and the Los Angeles riots ran their courses, the insurance industry was faced with $23 billion worth of damage.

Kerney, who is director of catastrophe services for his company, hesitated to speculate on the immediate future of the industry. But he also said the industry as a whole was “confident.”

“Who knows what’s in store for us? They’re difficult questions to answer. If we have one (major disaster) this year, things will be difficult. But if eight (quiet) years go by, we could handle it,” Kerney said. “It may have been a run of bad luck,” he said.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, August 1, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley: Mayoral hopeful opposes loitering restrictions”. Don Jelinek was the only Berkeley candidate for this election taking a position against ordinances to control panhandling in Berkeley. Berkeley was going to vote November of 1994.

The candidate Jelinek, once an attorney working on Wall Street, had previously served on Berkeley’s city council. Maudelle Shirek and Dona Spring, both Berkeley councilmembers in 1994, also stood against the panhandling ordinance. For this interview, Jelinek shared an interesting memory about civil rights leader Martin Luther King, which I added to story:

In 1966, he found himself in a room with a group of civil-rights workers, including Martin Luther King Jr. Jelinek had an idea for a three-state march, and began outlining his idea to the crowd.

They all listened for about 15 minutes. Suddenly, King exclaimed, “Toilets?”

There was a silence in the room. “Medicine?” King said next.

King went on like that, Jelinek said, punctuating the silence with single words. King’s point was that Jelinek needed to plan his ideas out in detail, including how he was going to care for the participants, who were always in danger.

“I can tell you. I was fighting back tears. I felt humiliated, put-down,” Jelinek recollected. “The next day I came back with a plan that included towels, blankets, medicines, toilets…Only then would he listen to the plans I had for this march.”


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, August 1, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley steps back from panhandling issue”. Brief story about city council’s decision to put the issue of panhandling to local voters for the 1994 November ballot in Berkeley. It would be an advisory vote, thus non-binding.

Berkeley Mayor Jeff Leiter said he understood any proposed ordinance would be controversial, but that local merchants and voters were increasingly complaining to him about Berkeley’s main streets in 1994; the growing number of beggars on Shattuck, Telegraph and College avenues.

Even more interesting, Mayor Leiter’s family helped build the early Berkeley. Jeff Leiter’s full name was Jeffrey SHATTUCK Leiter. He was probably more liberal than his ancestors, but Berkeley’s founder, Francis Kittredge Shattuck, lived in the area from 1824-1898. He was active in California’s politics in that period.

Mayor Leiter did not often discuss his personal history in 1994 Berkeley, but he cared deeply about the city his ancestor put on the California map. In fact, another of the city’s streets is Kittredge, also named after the early founder. Mayor Leiter of 1994 Berkeley was gay, making him perhaps Berkeley’s first/only gay mayor.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, May 2, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley needs drug dogs & 31 cops”. Story involves a 1994 study on law enforcement in Berkeley.

The report by PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) pointed to the holes in Berkeley’s law enforcement patterns. Councilmembers were skeptical listening to the study findings during the 1994 council meeting. PERF, after all, emphasized the need for “community policing” in Berkeley, more cooperation and routine communication between the East Bay city’s residents and its police.

Community policing is typically successful is affluent areas of California, but an uphill battle for much of Oakland or Los Angeles. The reason? Minority and immigrant communities are generally extremely afraid and/or distrustful of police. This fear of authority is easy to put together when you picture a drug dealer in East Oakland or Richmond, CA. He does not want anything to do with police because he doesn’t want to get caught again.

The difficulties inherent in community policing do not as easily come to mind, however, when considering the Berkeley resident who is a native of, say, Iran or Ivory Coast. Those 100% legal immigrants do not put the concepts of “police” and “safety” in the same universe, and may never. If you’re the Iranian stopped by a traffic cop for going slightly over the speed limit, watching the cop walk over to your car door, you’re turning pale, scared stiff.


Published news brief by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 20, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley: Smoking while playing bingo OK”. Berkeley had outlawed smoking in public places in November of 1992. But in this case, Berkeley allowed a wall to stand between smokers and non-smokers at The Gilman Street Bingo Hall.

The bingo games helped support Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, D.E.A.F. Media, Inc. and the Japanese Services of the East Bay. All of the organizations, as well as the city, were under pressure by bingo players who would spend/lose their charitable dollars outside Berkeley if they could not smoke.

bayarealureneb 300 - 319


Published news story by Lurene Helzer, June 28, 2001, Bay City News, “Tunnel Idea for Service between SFO, Oakland Airport”. The story was about discussions for a high-speed ferry or rail service to link Bay area airports to other transport lines in the region. When I wrote this brief story, Lea+Elliott and URS Associates were presenting their ideas to the media in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

Reviewing this short item in January of 2009, it seemed like a set of brilliant but expensive public transportation ideas being discussed. As of now, many of the ideas even for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) improvements remain in need of public financing and completion. It at least demonstrates how long public transportation improvements take. If public transportation waits years for necessary structural repairs or upgrades, then the major roads and mass-transit systems remain vulnerable during California's earthquakes.

This is a big issue in the Golden State – transportation maintenance -- because earthquakes do not provide helpful hints beforehand. People think there are obvious signs preceding earthquakes, but there are not. You get an idea a massive one is approaching if you haven’t had one in a region for a century or so, but that’s not very helpful for your average politician. He/she can mention it after a quake and gain votes, but before the disaster, the warning is widely ignored.

People even want to find psychic miracles. It gets ridiculous. You might read about birds behaving erratically before earthquakes, for example. This is supposed to serve as notice. It’s comic to take this as useful insight, though. The train-riding man of January 26, 2009 on his way to work at 6 a.m. is not birding. He’s playing with his cellular phone on the platform or reading stock market quotes under the ground or water. In 1996, if you’d had a big quake and that poor man was under San Francisco’s bay, you might not have seen him alive again. California’s various transportation networks remain vulnerable to earthquakes, engineers warn.

On a more positive note, though, projects to improve the strength of BART’s Transbay Tube are today complete. The fantastic, detailed work has made BART safer, stronger for the commuter of 2009.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, July 11, 2001, "Toddler Struck By Car While Trying to Cross; 2-Year-Old Hit By Car”. The small boy was unattended, at least momentarily. He tried to cross the bustling El Camino Real in Millbrae. Police there said they were checking the sobriety of the unrelated driver involved, but otherwise only reminded parents to closely watch children when near streets.

It seems no matter how often police issue such warnings to the public, accidents such as this are typical. Even over-protective parents turn their heads for seconds. Their toddlers dart forward impulsively in those few.


Published news advisory by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, July 5, 2001, "Lanes Reopened in Concord by CHP after Fatal Accident”. This advisory is about a freak accident in Concord on Highway 242 early that morning. The female victim could have been on her way to work. A garbage truck somewhere near her on the highway ramp overturned, trapping her amid spewed trash. She was pronounced dead by the Contra Costa County Coroner before 6:30 that morning, the state’s highway patrol said.

One is tempted to picture this as a normal traffic fatality, but it’s not. A mishap with an overturned garbage truck can pose any number of hazards for the hapless victim. Consider the likely ingredients inside a garbage truck at 4:30 in the morning.

Rotting foods, broken glass, dirty needles, dog poop, toxic household chemicals, used condoms, stinking washcloths, beat-up shoes and soiled dentures; imagine the condition of the dead body facing the poor coroner. In these times of economic difficulty in January of 2009, even the homeless can be happy they’re not called for such work. Of course, all these possibilities were not in the original story. It was just a routine traffic advisory for that 2001 morning.


Published news advisory by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, August 9, 2001, “Cheese Spill on Interstate Highway 580”. This advisory reports the collision of two big rigs. The accident hurled “approximately 4,200 pounds of cheese across a half-mile stretch of highway pavement.”

It happened near Castro Valley around midnight. It would be a business commute that morning, so California Highway Patrol crews had to hurriedly sweep up a huge, gummy blob.

Average temperatures in the Hayward/Castro Valley area in early August are usually between 75 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit; you just can’t allow 4,200 pounds of cheese to melt on I-580 as rush-hour traffic begins at 6 a.m.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, July 21, 2001, “Search in Marin County for Elderly Alzheimer’s Patient; San Rafael Woman”. One of the things standing out in February 2009 about this brief story is the number of government employees who were asked to help in the search.

The Marin County Sheriff’s office led the search. Authorities from three other counties – San Mateo, Alameda and Sonoma – also joined in with boats and helicopters. Four rescue dogs played a role.

The same kind of teamwork is evident when other kinds of disasters occur in California. The dogs are trained for a variety of quick rescue operations. If you’re the victim, you’re more likely to be found today.

In 1956, this would not have been near possible except maybe on CBS’s then-popular “Lassie” show, which played on television from about 1954-1973. Today, it seems like the same dog is on a “reality” show at least once weekly.

Published Datebook by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, July 6, 2001. Datebooks were for other California news organizations about upcoming events. In this case, scheduled BART talks with local unions, and a suspension hearing for a Walnut Creek pharmacy that allegedly provided contaminated medicine to area clinics. California’s governor was then Gray Davis, and he was taking peripheral, mediative action in negotiations with BART unions.


Published Update on Advisory by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 23, 2001, “Update: Two-Alarm Blaze in Pacific Heights Controlled”. This minor blaze happened within two blocks of my then-address in San Francisco. There were no injuries. It was a three-story apartment building.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, July 26, 2001, “Area Kids Help Evacuate Fremont Apartment Complex on Fire”. This interesting, early-morning fire story not only seems like an action tale written just for 8-year old boys, but brings to me childhood memories of East Bay freeways as they were in past years and are still.

In this story, the fire is reported as being in a building close to an on-ramp for the “Nimitz Freeway.” This makes the story immediately clear because you know just where you “are.”

Mention of the “Nasty Nimitz” brings to mind the thousands of times I heard the words “Highway 17” on radio reports of tragedy while growing up. Highway 17 was famous for wild deer and mountain lion hits, reckless driving, truck pile-ups, sharp turns, poor visibility at sections and narrow shoulders at others.

This highway had it all when it comes to horror. At least one cop was fatally struck while setting traffic flares after an accident in 2005 closer to Santa Cruz. An area of the freeway running through Oakland was destroyed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989; you certainly didn’t want to show the poor taste to celebrate the earthquake, but you were tempted to laugh because this one had the good sense to wreck a portion of the East Bay’s blood-and-guts-loving 17.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 19, 2001, “Two Shootings Monday Night in Oakland”. Another set of the too-usual nighttime shootings in East Oakland. Because I had to write so many of these brief stories about shootings in Oakland between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., I came to consider gun control laws sad jokes.

These guys – usually alleged drug dealers -- are never walking around with properly-registered weapons. Area politicians and activists need to campaign directly and aggressively to residents in the high-crime areas as they exist, but never will. The general public and its elected leadership fear an honest discussion of East Oakland and the ungovernable violence among black men.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 26, 2001, “Hayward Police Arrest Man for Alleged Homicide”. The alleged suspect was 19. I did not follow the case, but if he was tried and convicted of a crime similar to that outlined here from the first reports (a fight over money, a slam on a head, video of him trying to unload a dead body outside the immediate commercial district), he is probably sitting today – February 2009 – in one of California’s 33 prisons.

Why is that of any note today? Because he’s doing one of two things in early 2009 that he was not able to consider or choose in June of 2001.

First, he’s awaiting possible release because of prison overcrowding. California’s broke. A federal judge ruled in February 2009 that the state must begin to thin out the population of California’s prisons by releasing some. It’s probably not the case that he’s awaiting release, however, if he was tried and convicted of this murder. Since that is the possible case, he probably won’t qualify for release in 2009.

What’s the second thing he could be doing, then, assuming the federal court’s 2009 order to release prisoners holds? Finding room to stretch in his prison cell.


Unpublished essay by Lurene Helzer, December 10, 1997, “Diplomacy under Netanyahu.” I corrected some obvious errors (lying, not laying) in this February 2009 review/inclusion of the essay that I wrote more than eleven years ago, but otherwise typed it in as it was originally written in late 1997.

Today, I could not write the same essay because I’m no longer politically active, and because my opinions have shifted substantially, have grown more conservative. I think the Palestinians are lost under Hamas, for one thing. They are losing economic opportunity with this leadership, and many, many other things.

I was still a member of JVP when I wrote this. It’s probably what motivated me to write it in first place. I don’t remember the essay generating much talk then, though, to be honest. I resigned from the group, Jewish Voice for Peace, by 1999 or early 2000, because my opinions about Palestinian actions and leadership then were growing increasingly dismal; I thought Israelis were negotiating with a brick wall by late 1999 or mid-2000. I thought they would get no further with Arafat at the helm.

Some areas of the essay bore me today, or are outright dumb and irrelevant. Other areas of it, like the mention of Hamas as it then existed and was increasingly repositioning itself, are interesting today. I write the word “enemy” in quotes in one section, which is never a good idea in political writing, by the way. It seems to mock one side or the other without cause. It should never be done in political writing.

That aside, my pointing to some of then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarks as worrying is interesting, since he is again, through 2009 election, taking a higher spot within Israel’s political leadership. I am calling some of his flippant (or hostile) 1997 diplomatic language unwise. I have no position on today’s Israeli elections, though. Today, I would wish them all luck, leave it alone there.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Berkeley Daily Planet, April 15, 1999, “ATM fee limits endorsed: Banking industry opposes city’s ‘ridiculous’ ordinance”.

The council was considering an ordinance to outlaw 1991 usage fees for some ATM machines/networks in Berkeley, or the fees for some ATM transactions. It was a vigorous debate and sheds light today on why banks are so little understood and sympathized with in their massive crisis today.

A local banking industry spokesman, Greg Wilhelm of the California Bankers Association, opposed the 1991 proposal in a subsequent interview. A student group, The California Student Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), portrayed bank policies as, essentially, commercially injurious to California’s smaller financial institutions.

The proposed ordinance was meant to protect the interests of the customer who, for instance, stops in the convenience store to get a soda, has no cash, uses the freestanding ATM there, and is charged an extra few bucks to withdraw his own bank assets. The customer in this case is essentially paying an “intermediary” who maintains the ATM, as well as his own bank, for the transaction.

On February 19, 2009, it’s interesting to revisit the discussions. Berkeley Councilmembers Diane Woolley, Kriss Worthington, Polly Armstrong, Maudelle Shirek, and Linda Maio were all part of the discussion, as was Berkeley’s Mayor Shirley Dean. The most frequent argument of councilmembers was that 1999 banks were misguided or insensitive in their ATM policies, and that they ought to be kind to less-prosperous residents of Berkeley.

It shows the 2009 reader how banks were viewed by San Francisco Bay area residents then. They expected area banks, like Bank of America, to be commercially servile. This is a reasonable expectation to some degree, of course, but at the same time, banks are not charities. They are profit-making businesses, key financial intermediaries inside an economy.

When the attitude displayed in this story begins to surface in a “mass” sense, as the law of the land, you will probably always have things like the massive financial bailouts of 2008 and 2009, the sub-prime crises, foreclosures and more. The financial world cannot, for decades and decades, routinely serve the poor and simultaneously promote a healthy, vigorous economy.

This story reports a typical action of the Berkeley council as it then was, though. At least in those years, the city’s council seemed to back a lot of financial positions that were a waste of city staff’s time. I was waiting for them to pass a resolution at the next meeting that would limit the cost of a cheeseburger on Shattuck Avenue.


Published letter to New York Times by Lurene K. Helzer, January 26, 1997. I’m encouraging the building of an “economically viable Palestinian infrastructure with a modern educational system.” I mention the Yitzhak Mordechai, then the new Israeli Defense Minister.

I still think the Palestinians need to build a stable economy and focus on their schools. They would make genuine progress because their neighbors would be eager to take part. World charity and sympathy, which is what they tap now, is unreliable, unpredictable, and has encouraged continuing bloodshed and instability in the territories up to today, February of 2009.

If they were able to make some kind of stable non-aggression pact with Israel, they would have direct access to fantastic economic and educational opportunity on virtually their own terms, in their neighborhoods. Peace would develop on its own.

This can be said regarding many of today’s adjacent nations, however. Compare the difference in relations between the United States and Canada, and the United States and Mexico. It largely lies in the respective educational standards and economic systems of the societies, however flawed they may be.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer for East Bay Journal, January 18, 1994, “Guns ‘n needles in Berkeley”. Berkeley’s city council was taking a stand in favor of needle-exchange programs and gun control. California’s then-Gov. Pete Wilson did not support gun control laws or needle-exchange programs, according to the council. Gun laws have been on the books like beached whales for years. They can only affect those who obtain guns through conventional channels, through legal paths. These laws don’t affect the thug of East Oakland who murders his gang enemy with an illegal weapon. The witnesses of the murder are afraid to speak. It’s a worn story by 2009.

But the needle-exchange programs in 1994 were relatively novel. Health care professionals still say the needle-exchange programs lessen the spread of AIDS inside poor communities of major cities. Washington D.C. is reportedly the city with one of the highest HIV infection rates of the U.S., according to multiple sources.

As of 2009, AIDS has become sadly common in poor, African-American areas and in non-U.S. cities across the continent of Africa. Much of the HIV’s spread in the U.S. is due to heroin use with dirty needles.

Those drug users then spread HIV through unprotected sex with multiple sex partners. The sex partners, often women, either use drugs themselves or do not ask their partners obvious questions. Even if they do ask questions, they foolishly believe whatever they’re told. If it’s not that, they are prostitutes. Or they are married to men who cheat on them. Or they are sleeping with men who were just released from prison, men who were raped inside prison by the HIV-infected prisoners. Then, at the end of the line, the infected women have kids. Those babies are born with the virus.

The thing is, it’s a far, far uglier pandemic than people realize. It increases each year in black America and in the black populations across Africa. Activists in areas like Washington D.C. still like to say that stemming the epidemic is a matter of “public education,” but this is false in the United States.

People know quite well what spreads HIV and have known since the late-1980s. This is not to imply we should ignore the illness or cut education programs, but it’s really not about teaching people to wear condoms in Washington D.C. anymore.


Unpublished letter to Lurene Helzer from Supervisor Dennis J. Oliver and Managing Editor Dick Rogers of the Hayward Daily Review, July 26, 1985. The positive letter was only confirming my work as an editorial (copy) clerk for the newspaper in 1984-1985.

I worked in the newspaper’s copy room with Lloyd Francis, Chris Arellano and Sandra Hoover. We ripped incoming items from the wire and delivered to editors. Then, we’d take news material/photos from the editors to the composing room upstairs. The editors had to the check work carefully for journalistic accuracy, legality and credibility.

Photographer Saul Bromberger stopped in sometimes to chat with Lloyd, along with Bay area photojournalist Howard Ford. (Hoover and Bromberger later married and had a family, I believe.) Francis probably helped me get my foot in the door. Ronald Reagan was then the U.S. leader, so many of the stories we ran were involving his decisions during the closing years of the Cold War.

I wrote some news for the paper and its related publications, but the letter couldn’t yet acknowledge this. I had yet to do the freelance writing work for them. I was still in college when I began working for them. I remember it being a fantastic place for a 21-year-old student to work in the mid-1980s.


Press release for the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco by Scott deCarrillo, written by Lurene Helzer, July 23, 2002, titled “Why Guadalcanal Matters for America Today”. Press release announced an event at the luxurious hotel and club for U.S. Marines featuring historians and participants of the 1942 Guadalcanal operation in the South Pacific.

I worked at the Marines’ club for a short time in their public relations office. I became too ill to continue working in the summer of 2002, but loved my time there. I was complimented that they hired me, especially since July of 2002 was only a few months after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York City.

The Guadalcanal presentation was made in cooperation with San Francisco’s Rotary Club on August 6 and 7th of 2002. Attendees could arrange a room at the Association’s immaculate downtown headquarters, and attend a private dinner at the club.

All U.S. Marines always feel protective of American security and integrity, of course, but will feel so profoundly following an attack on the U.S. This 2002 event was about a 1942 World War II battle, but the mood in San Francisco’s downtown was guarded in the wake of the attack in 2001 Manhattan.


Unpublished letter of reference for Lurene Helzer, June 7, 1990, from Bureau Chief William B. Ries, United Press International, Jerusalem office. UPI's office was then on Hillel Street in downtown Jerusalem. I was a visiting student at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem for 1989-1990, so volunteered to do light filing in the office.

I just wanted to "hang out" a few hours each week while I was in Jerusalem. They did not need me there. I did nothing of importance for them, but I was able to observe some workings of the small newsroom during the first Intifadah, read the daily work of reporters. What did I learn? I learned over the weeks that covering domestic militants gets routine as the weeks drone on. The actions of the militants would weekly injure and kill others, destroy property, but the words and slogans were stale. Arafat lacked political talent as the rebellion wore on, and created little of long-term value for the Palestinian people.

I thought it was a loss for them. This was/is only my own observation, though. The reporters and editors I met with UPI did not make such comments in the office, or share with me their personal opinions. They focused on the story at hand, were personally reserved.


Published article by Lurene Helzer, North Beach Now, San Francisco Monthly, August 21, 1991, about R. Alan Williams, political activist and artist.

The quotes today stand out because they are so candid. By the time I did this interview, Mr. Williams was elderly, growing weak. He was active in various battles associated with the Civil Rights era.

“One of my first memories is one of the last lynchings in Virginia and the faces on the people watching. It wasn’t so much the dead body as (the question of) what conditioning could produce someone laughing at the misery of that person that was being hanged. It was a tremendous shock to realize what the South was like,” Williams said.

But also, “I’ve worked for every minority you can think of. I’ve been in prison five times in my life. It’s all the same damned stuff. It could blow my mind. I would go to some event and they would make a terrible remark about another minority. I mean, when I first started I think I overestimated the human race. I used to think that through education and knowing each other we’d mellow out. Now, I think that the human animal was really overrated.”

“I lived in such a fantasy world. I didn’t want to believe that,” Williams said.

Williams also saw the White Night Riots up close after the infamous trial and conviction – on a lesser charge -- of SF Supervisor Dan White, who was found guilty in the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

“I think there are times when you have to say something…when a city does not represent 10 percent of the population, you have a right to burn the cars. You have a right to break those windows because nobody would listen to that minority,” he said of the 1978 gay community of San Francisco.

Williams was married and spoke of his departed wife with deep feeling. Her death, he said, was the most unbearable experience of all. It was around then that he stepped away from political activism, he said. It was an interesting interview.


Assorted items relating to Lurene Gisee inserted here for record only: Poem written by high school writing instructor, Ray Hanby, about my interests in writing and in poetry, “…she walks the windy beaches at night/searching the stones for seasalts”, circa 1980; Certificate of Merit signed by State Student President, State Faculty President and Executive Secretary from Journalism Association of California Community Colleges awarded to Lurene Helzer, Chabot College, Fourth Place News Story, April 19, 1985; News photo in Hayward Daily Review, circa 1984, regarding former employer Walt’s Productions; Report for Lurene Helzer from Fremont Unified School District, January 18, 1973, from routine hearing test at Harvey Green Elementary School in Fremont, CA, I was in the third grade and was found to be deaf in my left ear; Letter of reference for Lurene Helzer by Fitness USA gym, December 30, 1983, confirming my work as manager of the Hayward gym, and other positions I held for Grecian Health Spa, as it was once known.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer for East Bay Journal, January 18, 1994, “Emeryville responds to Kaiser’s relocation plans”.

In this story, Kaiser favored Emeryville as the site for a new medical facility, but residents organized an opposition group. Kaiser’s developers felt Emeryville was an easier site.

“‘I think that’s why Kaiser wants to come here, because Emeryville is such an easy get,’” [community activist Madeline Stanionis] said, adding that the city is so pro-development it embarrasses her.”

The residential activist had a point, to some degree. In 2009, Emeryville is a highly-profitable business location in the San Francisco East Bay. It has an Amtrak station, and a small marina. It was once an Ohlone village; the Ohlone tribe was Native American.

bayarealureneb 287 - 299

(Black/White photo of me in front of Spreckels Mansion around 1998 wearing grandmother Lois Strickland’s dress. It's grandma's favorite photo of me today. She will be 90 on her next birthday. Photo by Tina Dauterman.)


Published news advisory by Lurene Helzer, August 7, 2001, Bay City News, “Police Investigating Homicide in Pacific Heights.” This 1:36 a.m. brief advisory I wrote is about a homicide committed 3 blocks from my own 2001 address in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood.

My residence was small, but very quiet and safe. Apartments just one block west and two blocks north of me, however, when they existed, were generally far more expensive.

The address police gave was on Washington Street, next to the landmark Spreckels Mansion. The body was found in front of an apartment building late at night, though, so police could not yet provide information about the circumstances of the crime, or identity of the Asian, male victim. It could have been anything from a domestic dispute to a robbery.

This area is not much for crime and busted windows. The housing is for wealthier residents of the city, thus heavier with electronic security and the like. But an apartment building naturally tends to attract a variety of upper-middle class tenants and visitors. Having said that, I won’t guess what motivated the crime. I could only say it was not common for the area.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 6, 2001, “Cupertino Man Held on Attempted Kidnapping.” This small item is about an attempted sex assault involving a juvenile victim. It was typical because sex offenders pursue their targets in given areas, i.e., streets, parks, school athletic fields, juvenile crisis centers. This suspect was probably a street/park guy.

The thing that immediately stands out when reviewing the story in January of 2009, however, is the super-quick response by area law enforcement. It’s fantastic that local officials were that fast, but how was this rapidity possible in a large metropolitan area in 2001?

I don’t have precise detail, but I suspect part of the answer lies in the wealth devoted to policing Cupertino.

Cupertino is a wealthy community in the Silicon Valley. They can pay their law enforcement well, thus attracting and holding the police talent that other cities can’t afford. According to Wikipedia’s figures of early 2009, Cupertino’s median household income exceeded $100,000 in 2000 when I wrote this story. The population exceeded 50,000 residents. So, it’s not surprising that suspected stalkers are apprehended quickly.


Published news advisories/updates by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 14, 2001, “Metreon Shooting; Two Officers Injured”. This was a set of three advisories I put out from our office at Fox Plaza that morning. It regards a shooting late the previous Wednesday at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco’s downtown.

It was nearly 1 a.m. when I released the first advisory, and 4 a.m. when I wrote the third, more accurate and detailed story. The police and fire department officials gave slightly different versions of events because it was all they knew between 1 and 3 a.m. The first was based on word from a San Francisco Police spokesman. I was talking to him, likely, in the course of my usual duties around midnight.

It’s easy to quote police and fire officials, but as a reporter, you need to take a good look at that material before circulating it. Do the math in your head. Are the police making errors? Who will see this news and why? Is the public going to erupt in rage no matter what the facts?

To some extent, this is what we’re seeing for downtown Oakland today, in January of 2009; we see riots and destroyed commercial property because of serious errors by police. The public is not fully considered sometimes, or does not feel it’s being considered by local government agencies.

You saw an instantaneous revolt against law in 2009 Oakland. The revolt is over more than just one violent act, though. Oakland was a site of widespread criminal violence all through 2008. Oakland is starting 2009 the same way.

Back to this 2001 case in downtown San Francisco, you’re discussing violence on private property. It did not lead to riots, but you had a slight misunderstanding of events between various city employees in the first few hours. I was trying to get the story straight in the dead of night. The important task for the journalist is to cite addresses, names and times accurately.

Accurate reporting is key. All of these rules won’t apply with the foreign reporting, though. The source may be under no obligation whatever to speak truthfully. Riots go on every day. You triple-check facts, and possibly not report them at all. I am writing this on January 10, 2009, mind you, while hearing a mix of information and allegations out of the Mideast by partisans claiming to be journalists.

The thing is, you can’t let your information for the public get sloppy under any circumstance. It’s the rule to know everywhere and always.


Published news advisory by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 14, 2001, “East Palo Alto Double Homicide Wednesday Night”.

Like the story shown above, this regards a violent incident reported by law agencies early the morning of June 14, 2001. It involved what police were calling a double homicide. It was a married couple.

East Palo Alto was an unincorporated region of San Mateo County until 1987, but I still had to contact three different agencies for comment by 6:45 a.m. when I sent the story out to Bay City clients. News stories about the small city near Palo Alto are confusing. (This introduction to story had to be corrected on February 25, 2009 because East Palo Alto is now a city.)

For many reasons, these semi-attached, semi-serviced or unincorporated residential areas of counties are not big generators of public revenues, historically. They’re not average California cities. They are difficult to police. They are often discussed – if discussed at all -- as violent crime zones. They’ve been centers of both racial discrimination and racial controversy.

Washington D.C. is a similar case, but it is not, legally, an eastern version of North Richmond, CA or East Los Angeles, CA. Also, the District of Columbia’s status has changed slightly since 1960 with the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and is still in dispute in early 2009. Whatever the status, though, Washington D.C. does not have the same legal profile or history as superficially similar areas of California.

All of these residential areas have high rates of violent crime, but only the nation’s capital has a legal status specifically mentioned by the U.S. Constitution. The district was only meant to serve as a workplace for elected U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives and their staffs in the first place. When these residents of Washington vote, they do so as residents of whatever state “sent” them, not as residents of Washington D.C., per se. (Again, this is in debate, 2009.)

It’s confusing. The best way to explain some areas of the state is with a political cartoon. Imagine California’s 2009 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger drawn as he physically is today inside the editorial section of The Los Angeles Times. Beefy, rich, spectacular. In the cartoon, he represents international glamour combined with intellectual achievement; the great state of California!

Now, look down and see the governor’s right leg drawn as terribly damaged in the frame. That fictional leg is labeled “Unincorporated California.”

Of course, these were the good days when the story was written, the summer of 2001. Schwarzenegger was not yet serving as California’s governor. In early February of 2009, with the whole state financially busted, Mr. Schwarzenegger – poor guy -- is sketched as starving, selling beat-up tourist maps on Hollywood Boulevard.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 1, 2001, “Church Outbuilding Fire in San Pablo Thursday Night”. The church involved had been on the Contra Costa County parcel since 1864. What was happening in the U.S. when this church held its first worshippers? For one thing, California had only been a U.S. state for 14 years by 1864. California only became an American state after the Mexican-American War’s end in 1848.

When the church began services, the U.S. was still fighting its Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln was still the American president. The 16th president was assassinated April 15, 1865.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 9, 2001, "Police Responding to Gunshot Reports Find Marijuana". San Francisco Police found weapons and pot plants in the Visitacion Valley house. Neighbors called police the previous night reporting a sound of gunshots.

This story is brief, but being able to report residents of Visitacion Valley were reporting gunshots was the story in itself. In years past, neighbors would have been too terrified to assert themselves against neighborhood thugs. The police would not have been called, or might not have arrived promptly.

By the summer of 2001, though, you were seeing a new reality. In 1998, the Geneva Towers, which was a crime-infested housing project, was ripped down as it should have been a long time ago. Housing slowly took a more varied look. Instead of having a feared, inner-city, all-black, poverty-stricken, academically failing and isolated high-crime population, you had more of a Chinese, Vietnamese, Pacific Islander, Latino and African-American mix. Perhaps it was a more successful example of California redevelopment.

This area of San Francisco is still not the best. Public housing still rules, and the crime remains frightening, but it's safer in January of 2009 than it was in 1997.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 9, 2001, "U.S. Park Police Find Body in Tent Friday; Body at Presidio". I was not able to learn the identity of the man found dead by park police the previous Friday, but one can’t help considering the body’s elegant location. What a fancy place to die!

The Presidio is one of California’s most unusual and spectacular federal parks. It played many roles in history, beginning with 1776 when the Spanish used the land as a military site. Remember, California was not a U.S. state until 1850. It has a thick history.

Today, one can view the Golden Gate Bridge from this federally-protected area, or visit the Palace of Fine Arts or science-focused Exploratorium.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News, June 13, 2001, "Man in Custody after Vallejo Negotiations; Refused to Comply”. What stands out about this 4:30 a.m. story is how much effort the Vallejo Police put into the ultimately-successful negotiations with suspect. He had his hostage. He allegedly had a rifle at her head. The hostage his stepdaughter.

I was not able to report in this story how long the suspect may have held the 26-year woman at gunpoint, but police said negotiations dragged on for several hours. The hostage-taker, police said, was a Polish immigrant. The man “may have law enforcement experience in Poland,” police spokesmen then surmised. The Vallejo Police Tactical Response Team [SWAT] participated.

The short story leaves one with questions in 2009. Why did Vallejo officials assume the unstable man had a background in police work from Poland? What kind of police work in Europe? Was the man bearing arms in Poland before 1989? After all, Poland was part of the Soviet Union’s Eastern Bloc of Europe. By all historical accounts, Poland was a dictatorial nightmare very nearly like the one fictionally described in George Orwell’s famous 1984. Poland was one of Eastern Europe’s more triumphant stories of the Cold War, yes, but no matter what the heroism in Cold War Poland, it was still a nightmare state.


Published news advisories by Lurene Helzer for Bay City News regarding traffic and transportation, all brief: BART Reopens between Coliseum and Lake Merritt Stations, 6:15 a.m., Aug. 9, 2001; Traffic Blocked Northbound Lanes Golden Gate Bridge, 7:52 a.m., June 22, 2001; Update, Accident Cleared on Golden Gate Bridge, 8:00 a.m., June 22, 2001; Union City Police Ask Motorists to Avoid Section of Mission Blvd., 1:38 a.m., June 21, 2001; Accident on U.S. 101 at Great America Parkway, 5:27 a.m., July 7, 2001.

I only add these because they were normal news items. Trying to run a local newspaper, radio station or television station without accurately covering transportation is a good way to go out of business fast. It can make you laugh at times. You’ll be up at 3 a.m. listening to some foolish radio show about mummies supposedly hiding in Brazil. Then, you hear a quick station break. There’s traffic clogging the San Mateo Bridge. You then hear an advertisement for cold medicine this week at Walgreen’s on Market Street.


Unpublished postcard by Lurene Helzer to Sharon and Harry Stafford, my mother and stepfather, June or July 1989, from Jerusalem, where I was a visiting student at The Hebrew University for one year. The postcard features photo of main commercial street in Jerusalem’s old city, which is still a popular business zone for Jerusalem’s Arab merchants, and popular buying spot for foreign tourists.

People often purchase hand-crafted Arab/Palestinian merchandise or dishware. They can get expensive clothing and linens, too. It’s a matter of personal budget and postal patience for most. That is, a tourist from England may decide to purchase a fine rug for a relative. He needs to wrap it decoratively, carefully pack it then send it securely to London. He needs confidence in its handlers. For this reason and others, the humble post office downtown will always be central to both Palestinian commercial stability and the world’s overall perception of Jerusalem.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, February 7, 1994, East Bay Journal, “Berkeley bans new freeways”. Running alongside the story is a photo of California 580, the retrofitted structural support for it then in one section, by Photographer Chris Duffy. Alongside also is a text box with “earthquake preparedness tips” for local residents. The tips are about cooking, sanitation, tools and basic survival skills one may require after a large earthquake.

What the story is covering is Berkeley’s discouragement of poorly-planned transportation growth. They feared building on landfill. Landfill has the solidity of Jello. It's unsafe for major corridors.

The 1994 council was citing the Northridge quake in the Los Angeles region, which had occurred just weeks before. That measured 6.7 on the Richter scale and led to the collapse of not only several residential and parking structures, but rendered unusable several transportation routes. The major points damaged or wrecked were the Santa Monica Freeway, the Golden State Freeway, the Newhall Pass interchange of Interstate 5 and State Route 14.

Tragically, some of these areas had been rebuilt and strengthened after a 1971 Los Angeles earthquake, but it didn’t prevent the similar events of 1994. People in the East Bay, still rebuilding from 1991’s massive fire, were loading up on emergency supplies.

Not surprisingly, given the area of the country, Los Angeles, a movie about earthquakes came out in 1974 with Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and George Kennedy. We loved it. But did California’s leaders begin a new, more responsible era in structural design?

In some respects, yes. But there’s only so much you can do; freeways are like cigarettes, and there’s no such thing as a “safe” design. So, by February, Berkeley’s council was voting against new, elevated freeway sections.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, October 1992, East Bay Journal, “Transamerica bows out”. There is no date on clipping, but I’m reasonably certain it was 1992 because of wording inside the story. The small item’s about a major insurer announcing it will refuse fire coverage in future for some areas of Oakland and Berkeley. Other areas of the immediate region were affected, too, as were some in Southern California. These were areas with expensive real estate, too.

At the time, Transamerica was the first major insurance company to announce such a commercial decision for the East Bay Hills. At the time I wrote it in 1992, it seemed at first glance that Transamerica was being unfair in its decision to abandon these areas. Many wondered, “Don’t people with expensive homes in the East Bay hills deserve fire insurance with Transamerica? The homeowners have the money, so what’s the problem?”

The problem for Oakland and Berkeley was risk. These expensive neighborhoods were full of non-native, flammable, blue-gum eucalyptus, Monterey pine, and acacia trees. The neighborhoods also had narrow roads. The fire trucks could hardly get in when flames were moderate. By the time whole blocks were burning in 1991, there wasn’t much the experts could do even if they had the rescue equipment right there. California was expected to enter its seventh year of drought in 1993, too. Berkeley’s Fire Chief Gary Cates discussed this clearly after the massive 1991 fire, and was sensitive about the entire issue. We had to carefully check our 1991-92 reporting for any insinuation toward rescue personnel of professional disregard. The journalist had to be careful.

What makes it worse is that various interests/property owners in area agree on little insofar as fire prevention goes. One group fights for the removal of dangerous trees, and the next group glorifies the random environmentalist who sits on the Berkeley tree for several months. The local media innocently, meekly mentions the first group, but loves the second.

So, to be truly fair in January of 2009, Transamerica was probably acting with some degree of prudence in 1992; there is no haven for even the mightiest insurers. Since 1992, Transamerica was swallowed by the Dutch Aegon NV. By October of 2008, that European company was forced to accept large cash injections – some 3 billion Euros -- from the Dutch government. Their stock at the moment, like many other companies of early 2009, is practically being used as kitty-box liner in Amsterdam.


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, date about October 25, 1992, The East Bay Journal, “Fire survivors flee burning apartment”. The 25-story apartment building, which was the site of the 1992 fire, is on Oakland’s Lake Merritt, which is the city’s estuary jewel.

It was the first wildlife refuge in the United States since it attracts a variety of birds through the year. It’s a popular area for walkers and joggers. It’s rather an exclusive neighborhood to rent or buy living space in Oakland, much like Nob Hill is in San Francisco.