Sunday, July 26, 2009

327: The look and cost of generational poverty in U.S. cities

[Photo by Lurene Helzer of North Philadelphia slum, 1987. Photojournalist Lloyd Francis driving car.]


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.

326: Berkeley's University Avenue debate of 1994


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.

325: Blood Thirsty Butchers of Japan play 1994 Berkeley


*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, 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.”

324: Monterey County and memories of Marilyn Monroe, 2001


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.

323: San Mateo armed robbery, 2001


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.

322: Assisted suicide bill opposed in Berkeley, 1999


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.

321: Radio controversy for Berkeley's KPFA, 1999

Photo by Lloyd Francis of Rear Adm. Poindexter, Beckler during Iran-Contra Hearings in 1986. Not the subject of text below, but heavy coverage of such events are standard programming on KPFA radio in Berkeley. Ronald Reagan was then U.S. President.


Published news story by Lurene Helzer for Berkeley Daily Planet, April 16, 1999, “KPFA supporters rally.” Story regards fans of Berkeley radio station KPFA, their street gathering to support well-known station employees Larry Bensky and Nicole Sawaya. (See this entry also with other, similar KPFA stories posted on this blog as a group.)

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

In the 1999 news photo running alongside my story, 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.

A second photo by Berkeley Daily Planet Editor Rob Cunningham runs inside. That photo shows the crowd that day from a different angle. Most at the demonstrators held signs:

As the rally was going on, KPFA was simultaneously celebrating its 50th year on the air with the rebroadcast of many of its most memorable shows since 1949, including writer James Baldwin and labor leader Cesar Chavez.

It added a strange, historical feeling to the protest. One could have been at the rally and put a headset tuned to KFPA on to hear, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” in beat poet Alan Ginsberg’s scratchy 1957 broadcast of “Howl.”

Larry Bensky was there to speak. Rally organizers had constructed a kind of stage in the bed of a small truck with microphones. He stepped up into it.

“I’ve been known for a lot of things in my life, but now I seem to be known as the person who was fired for speaking freely on free speech radio,” said Bensky.

There was a large variety of homemade signs at the rally. “Lynn Chadwick and corporate mind-set have to go,” read one.

“While Clinton attacks Yugoslavia, his friends attack KPFA,” read another, drawn up by Aaron Aarons of Berkeley. He said he had made seven or eight signs. Some other attendees, lacking a sign with a slogan, had dipped from his cache of placards.

Laurie MacKenzie, a sample of the small but fiercely dedicated core group of financial do contributors that keep the station afloat, came from San Francisco with her 8-month-old son, Duncan Rocha to attend the demonstration.

She said she had been listening to KPFA for the last 20 years.

“It shouldn’t be run like any other broadcast corporation. The staff and listeners should have a say in the programming – especially the staff,” said MacKenzie.

But who were some of the attendees in the crowd? That was almost the whole story. You had Bill Mandel, after all, who is best remembered for his famous words during the Cold War 1950s.

Whatever your position on the various news events of the long Cold War era, 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, either.

Communism revealed deep rifts within American society and Europe, but also fatal flaws with liberalism itself. With all respect to KPFA, I think the American left needs to be far more candid in portraying the Soviets and the American left as they honestly were in those decades. We may never quite see it, though.

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

320: Berkeley residents nervous about disability laws in 1999


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?”

319: Emeryville and Kaiser's plans for 1994


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.

318: Assorted library items


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.

317: Memories of Virginia's lynchings, the sounds of laughing; 1991 interview in San Francisco


Published article by Lurene Helzer, North Beach Now, San Francisco Monthly, August 21, 1991, about R. Alan Williams, political activist and artist. See blog in this group: North Beach Man.

316: United Press International, Jerusalem, 1990


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.

315: Marines Memorial Club and Hotel of San Francisco, 2002

Marines Memorial Club and Hotel of San Francisco. Leatherneck Steakhouse.


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.

314: Hayward's Daily Review in 1985; Copy Clerk letter


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.

313: Guns and Needles in 1994 Berkeley


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.

312: Letter to New York Times, 1997


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.

311: Berkeley and Banks, 1999


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.

310: Unpublished 1997 essay, "Diplomacy under Netanyahu."


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.

309: Hayward murder suspect, 2001


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.

308: East Oakland gunfire in night, June 2001


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.

307: Boy heros evacuate burning apartment building in Fremont, 2001


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.

306: Two-alarm blaze in San Francisco's Pacific Heights, 2001


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.

305: BART talks with unions, 2001


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.

304: San Rafael woman with Alzheimer's lost in 2001


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.

303: Big cheese blob in Castro Valley, 2001


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.

302: Concord traffic fatality, 2001


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.

301: Toddler struck by car in Millbrae, 2001


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.

300: Tunnel to connect SFO, Oakland Airport, 2001?


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.

299: Oakland's Lake Merritt apartment building fire 1992


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.

298: Transamerica Insurance bows out of fire-prone East Bay regions in 1992


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.

297: Berkeley "bans" new freeways in 1994 council action


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.

296: Small postcard from 1989 Jerusalem


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.

295: Golden Gate Bridge and other traffic zones in 2001


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.

294: Vallejo man takes hostage in 2001


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.

293: U.S. Park Police find dead body in San Francisco's Presidio in 2001


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.

292: San Francisco drug bust 2001 in Visitacion Valley


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.

291: San Pablo church fire 2001


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.

290: East Palo Alto double homicide 2001


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.

289: Metreon complex shooting in 2001 San Francisco


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.

288: Cupertino kidnapping attempt 2001


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.

287: San Francisco Police investigate 2001 murder in Pacific Heights


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.

Friday, July 24, 2009

420: El Cerrito 1991 local election....Kerr family history

Photo from UC Berkeley collections, Bancroft site, Clark Kerr at Greek Theater during Free Speech movement of 1964


Published news story/draft version by Lurene K. Helzer, July 17, 1991, The El Cerrito Journal. This news brief reports Jane Bartke is confirming her candidacy for the November, 1991 city election. Two other residents, Norman LaForce and Sandy Kerr, were still considering a try for the El Cerrito City Council:

The two city council seats open will be vacated by Jean Siri and Bob Bacon, who have said they do not intend to run for reelection. The other councilmembers, Mae Ritz, Norma Jellison and Mayor Cathie Kosel are not up for reelection until 1993. Bob Bacon currently serves as the redevelopment board chair as well as a councilmember.

Sandy Kerr was known in California, though never for such unusual achievement in the state as was his legendary father; Sandy Kerr was the son of former University of California president Clark Kerr, who died in December of 2003. The elder Kerr was known for reforming the basic structures of California’s higher education systems. A good history of Clark Kerr’s life, with some of his fantastic quotes, is found at UC Berkeley’s site here:

419: El Cerrito City Council candidates, 1991


Published news story/draft version by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, July 20, 1991, The El Cerrito Journal. This news brief reports the El Cerrito City Council on July 15, 1991 approved a new liaison, Eileen Duffy, to work between the council and the city’s residents. It also mentions the city’s redevelopment agency is hearing/considering proposal for a new Sav On Foods grocery store on San Pablo Avenue. Tri Equity Investments was presenting the idea to the city’s agency.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

418: El Cerrito 1991: Should we be spending $43,961 for this new employee?


Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, July 6, 1991, The El Cerrito Journal, “El Cerrito expands its workforce”. This might not be the final version of the story, because it’s on regular paper, but any difference between this version and the final version was probably minimal.

Story is short one about El Cerrito’s council wanting to hire a liaison to act as a communication link between the city’s residents and its elected leaders:

El Cerrito wants to hire an employee to act as a liaison between the government and residents, but the city council is divided on how long this job should last and what the nature of the job should be for the $43,961 yearly salary.

Councilmember Bob Bacon, supporting a cautious approach to any new positions in the city staff in lean times, wanted the position clearly specified as temporary and a more precise job description.

“Frankly, I view the liaison position as our job,” said Bacon, implying that city council members are obliged to act as community liaisons themselves.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

417. Spenger's in 1993 Berkeley for working fish....


Published news story by Lurene Helzer, date unavailable on clip but estimated to be about 1993-1994, Berkeley Daily Planet, “New owners for Spenger’s; Former employees inquire into job opportunities”. When I read this work again today, I think of two things.

First, it seems like a labor union ad in itself, propaganda for the table staff of a popular restaurant, Spenger’s. That does not mean the quotes are not genuine and such, but it means those quoted seem like they’re talking from Chicago rather than Berkeley. I did not often get a chance to write stories like this, so it was different for me. I really liked the short assignment.

Second, it reminds me of the editor who sent me out on the story, Rob Cunningham. In 2009, I can’t say my memories of him are terribly detailed, but they don’t need much detail. I remember not clicking with him. He seemed to have what I call the Frustrated English Major syndrome. As a writer, I dislike working with these guys.

I don’t know how many news writers may ever read or need these comments, but let these words serve as notice: Many of those with degrees in English, a few years after finishing college, can’t get a cool job, can’t sell their great novel, so consequently are ready to pick an old class fight of some kind. They always stand near you with an unmistakable tone of resentment in the newsroom. They seemed to carry an air of intellectual superiority.

And who are you? You’re the dog.

Not that this is part of the old Berkeley story, but see the frustrated English major’s body language/posture as a message in itself, the acidic message that is granting you – out of sympathy -- gainful employment. Hear it this way:

“You happen to be writing for our newspaper right now, yes. But, if I had my way, you’d be dressed appropriately. That is, as the illiterate DOG with COSMETICS you ARE in this town, delivering the news between YOUR TEETH at 6 a.m. with the rest of your little friends on Bancroft Way….”

Monday, July 20, 2009


[Photo above shows Stephen Dunifer, 1993 Berkeley, taken from his website, address below.]


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 21, 1993, East Bay Phoenix Journal, “Radio Free Berkeley fined $20,000”. Story about underground Berkeley micro-power broadcaster Stephen Dunifer, founder of Free Radio Berkeley, being in big trouble with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission because of his illegal broadcasts. Why would Dunifer have been the subject of so much local attention in 1993?

The broadcaster was doing protest shows from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, Berkeley’s City Hall and far-left radio station KPFA’s offices in downtown Berkeley. (Dunifer said he felt KPFA was compromising its original, leftist ideals born in the Cold War/Vietnam War years. Of course, this is both impossible and amusing; many in the Bay Area still joke in 2009 that Berkeley’s KPFA remains somewhere to the left of Karl Marx.)

Whatever his platform, Dunifer was risking sizable financial penalties from the American FCC in 1993 because of his so-dubbed “pirate” radio broadcasts. The FCC said illegal broadcasts risked jamming aircraft navigation systems, for example, so the airwaves had to remain strictly regulated.

Pirate broadcasters like Dunifer argued that there was plenty of open broadcast area of the AM and FM bands of 1993, that the costs of radio broadcasting were needlessly prohibitive to the broader community. Pirate broadcasters believe this to be an opportunity cost, that it essentially contradicts the goal of free speech, ultimately serves to gag the opinions of those on pirate shows.

Who was being allegedly gagged? Black Liberation Radio in Chicago was one group that became relatively known in illegal broadcasting.

Such media earned this tag originally because illegal radio broadcasters often worked their controls off the European coasts of World War II. They worked in stealth in order to embarrass or influence their target populations, i.e., the Germans trapped inside Germany during the Nazi years. In later decades, pirate radio broadcasts could be heard by enslaved populations of the Cold War.

Today, it’s a far different debate because of the internet’s ubiquity. Mr. Dunifer, though, continues to strongly support regulatory reform for radio in 2009, and can be found online at “”.

In June of 1993, when I was sent out by the paper to meet Stephen Dunifer for this story, I could hardly believe the happenings right before me. The events weren’t staged. Some people were indeed excited about an illegal broadcasting movement in the Bay Area:

Amidst a background of leftist posters from the Cold War era, a man in Khaki shorts shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“I just came to buy your $35 transmitter, but if I have to sit through the whole meeting, that’s okay, too,” the man blurted.

Dunifer replied he could not sell him an assembled kit, because it would only put him in further trouble with the FCC.

“Well, take a couple knobs off,” the man answered impatiently.

Dunifer said it would still be illegal.

No longer able to control himself, the man picked up the equipment, slapped $40 on the shelf as a “donation,” and made for the door, saying if he couldn’t legally buy the stuff, he’d ‘steal’ it.

Radio transmitters for illegal broadcasting are hot right now and getting hotter, it seems.