Friday, July 9, 2010


Photo by Lurene Helzer, unpublished, late 1980s, Oakland's Diamond Park.

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There is no news story to go with this picture. I was just walking around with my camera, had it loaded with 400 speed black-and-white film. Stumbled into Oakland's Diamond Park, saw this small group in playground.

I post it here today, July 9, 2010, because Oakland saw more rioting lastnight. This photo was not out to predict anything, of course, but with the shadows of chains on man, the grim girl in his lap, the man posed as what seems like a guard in rear, the photo, to me, speaks plenty about the problems of African Americans in Oakland, CA.

Again, this photo was not staged. I just asked if I could snap a photo on that sunny day. I did not see the shadows of chain on man's arms until in darkroom later, developing pic.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, partial clip is undated, but probably published after February, 1990, The El Cerrito Journal, “New Development Commission Nixed By Time-Frugal Council”. (Photo of me, 2007)

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This, I hope, is the last entry for these two news blogs, bayarealurene and bayarealureneb. I can concentrate on other areas now, some editing.

I was tempted to finish last week, but decided to throw these last few old news stories in at end. I like this last story because of Mr. Abelson's funny remarks. The Bay Area has lost its tolerance by 2010 for frank local leaders like Abelson, takes itself too seriously today:

With the El Cerrito city staff two to four weeks behind in their work, redevelopment agency members scoffed at the prospect of forming a new commission to help attract developers to the city, saying it would further burden the staff.

Redevelopment agency Executive Director Pat O’Keeffe said an economic development commission would require additional staff and “would cause a significant decrease in my effectiveness.”

Councilman and Redevelopment Agency Chairman Charles Lewis, IV, said Monday night El Cerrito business leaders on the proposed commission could help the agency promote El Cerrito and provide feedback from El Cerrito business leaders.

One of the disadvantages of a commission, according to a staff report released at the meeting, is that the commission’s duties would overlap with duties of existing city departments.

“I hadn’t intended that this would be a mini-planning commission,” said Lewis, who brought up the idea at the February 17 agency meeting. “El Cerrito business leaders are a resource we’re not currently tapping.”

Another point brought up in the report was the current overload of work. The report said the processing time for policy and development plans would be “doubled as a result of staff having to move proposed projects and plans through two policy bodies for decision.”

The report said “some of the projects we have already established are not being given proper attention.”

Councilmember Howard Abelson also criticized the council for contributing to the staff’s overload of work.

At a previous council meeting, staff members were directed to study the city of Richmond’s request for $1,100 toward the Richmond Rescue Mission.

Abelson said at the earlier meeting, “Instead of spending staff time studying the issue, we should just give the funds to the one homeless person in El Cerrito. It would be more economical.”

During an interview Abelson said, “I get the impression that these requests for reports take staff time away from things that are more important to the city. Council members ought to be able to make a few phone calls themselves.”

During the Monday night meeting, Abelson asked City Manager Ronald D. Creagh how much money and time had been spent studying the issue.

Creagh said the study took 10 to 11 hours of staff time, or from three to five hundred dollars to complete.

O’Keeffe and Creagh both refused to comment when asked to give more details on the backlog of work. But Creagh complained at an earlier meeting that he didn’t have time to prepare a report on homelessness.
Lewis and Howe were the only council members who supported the idea of an economic development commission. Most said O’Keeffe was doing a god job and the commission would be a waste of city resources.

The staff surveyed 10 Contra Costa cities in making the report. They found that Concord had a commission similar to what El Cerrito might require.

The Concord commission advises the Redevelopment Agency on redevelopment plans and policies, budget matters, and advises the agency on its potential for participation in redevelopment projects, the report found.

El Cerrito’s Land Use Committee, similar to what an Economic Development Commission would be, was disbanded after initial redevelopment planning for the city was complete, according to the report. –end--

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475a: San Francisco State, Angela Davis, History of the African-American Woman, 1991

There are so many course notes I've lost. I've never been able to cite them, for this reason. I took course by Angela Davis, who was teaching at SF State around 1991. Ms. Davis is quite famous in her own regard. (Photo by HK, 2006, found on Wikipedia.)

Angela Davis was an American communist in the 1970s, activist on a number of issues. She'd been in trouble with American federal authorities in the 1970s, but was able to prove herself innocent with a team of attorneys. It's a detailed story, but a fascinating one in American history.

So, here she was teaching. I was (and am) not a leftist radical at all, but could not pass up opportunity to hear her views on American history, whatever my disagreements might have been.

The class went well for me, though. Some good history about Black women in the days of American slavery, other subjects. I wanted to learn something about women as they were under American slavery, the days of Jim Crow, and she was able to bring some light to that little-studied subject for us.

What was she like? I remember she relied on reputable scholars and documents, and spoke in moderate tones during lectures. So, I never really knew the radical Angela Davis of lore, of 1972. She was more mature by the early 1990s, spoke only briefly on her experiences of the 1970s.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

475. El Cerrito, Redevelopment, IBEX, 1990

Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, December 6, 1990, The Journal, “EC moves to obtain IBEX project area; Angered businesses on target site may face legal action”. Only a portion of this clipping is available.

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Photo above, from is from interior of abandoned building in Detroit, not El Cerrito. When cities begin redevelopment programs, they are usually trying to avoid growing urban or suburban blight. Once blight's rooted, it's expensive for a city to fight. People leave in droves.

EL CERRITO – The Redevelopment Agency may have to slap lawsuits on some El Cerrito and business property owners to make way for the IBEX project.

“It’s going to hurt my business tremendously. I’ve got a lot of walk-in business here and now I’m going to a place where I’m not even known. It’s going to take time for that walk-in traffic to build up,” complained Shirley Levias, who leases office space for her insurance business at 11722 San Pablo Ave.

Levias said she will move to 12962 San Pablo – and pay rent three times higher than the rent she is now paying.

“They’ve had me on hold for almost two years,” Levias said. “They have given us the month they’re going to tear us down so many times…Do you know what that does to a business?”

The agency passed four resolutions Nov. 25 authorizing the agency’s staff “to acquire the properties and leasehold interests by eminent domain.”

The agency is required in its agreement with IBEX to acquire the site for development.

The four parcels of land which are being acquired through eminent domain are all on San Pablo Avenue, where IBEX Group plans to develop housing and retail shops.

Raphael and Maria Sosa, who ran the former Bert’s Place Bar, Ramillaben and Gidda S. Patel, who own the Bay Bridge Motel, Shirley Levias, who owns the Levias Insurance Agency, Eugene and Vivian Agnitsch of the Silver Dollar Restaurant and Jean Wightman of the Wightman Bookkeeping and Tax Service are all named in the resolutions.

Acquisition and relocation are separate matters, Redevelopment Agency Director Gerald Raycraft said Friday. Addressing the issue in general, he added, “Sometimes being in a redevelopment project area scares people.”

“I think her type of business can relocate in a relatively easy fashion and still maintain contact and continuity with her clients,” said Raycraft.

Levias complained the agency offered her no compensation for the relocation other than moving assistance. But Raycraft said the agency has limits set by law.

“We have to be very careful,” Raycraft said. “If we offer her something that she’s not entitled to, it could be construed as a gift of public funds.”

Another business owner who leases space in the same building as Levias is Jean Wightman.

“In my lifetime, I didn’t want to move this office again,” Wightman said.

But Wightman, who was planning to retire or sell the business within five years, said she would begin moving her office to 12960 San Pablo on Dec. 3.

“I’d just rather not move,” Wightman said.

Although she is satisfied with her new Richmond location, she dreads losing clients and tolerating the inconvenience.

The IBEX Group intends to build 136 apartment units and a 19,000-square-foot retail complex on San Pablo Avenue. The development agreement, signed with the agency in July of this year, requires the agency to adhere to a timetable in delivering the site to IBEX. – end of clipping –

474. El Cerrito Childcare Center's Neighbors, 1990

Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, November 8, 1990, The El Cerrito Journal, “EC council sets a limit on home childcare center”. Only a portion of this clipping is available.

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When reviewing all these old news items from the East Bay, I remind myself that groups of people will always find new things to argue about because it’s just what people do, day in, day out; chasing “world peace” is actually pointing to a dog chasing his tail, defining it as “progressive.” (I'm sure I've heard this joke elsewhere.)

EL CERRITO — Home childcare center owner Patricia Cooper was seething with anger after the City Council last week decided to limit the number of children she can watch in her home.

Cooper, who runs Rainbow’s End Childcare, said she would take legal action to keep the center open for 12 children, rather than only six, and complained bitterly about the “ugly neighbors” who complained to the city council about her business.

She said her neighbors didn’t consider traffic from the nearby El Cerrito Del Norte Bart station, and only complained about noise from her center even though other children live in the neighborhood. She also said a rock band frequently rehearses in the Harper Street neighborhood.

Area residents appealed an Oct. 3 Planning Commission decision granting Cooper a permit to operate the center. The council voted unanimously in favor of the residents’ appeal.

Councilmember Cathie Kosel, who said before voting that she was sympathetic to Cooper since she is a single parent herself, said a smaller childcare center was best for the neighborhood.

“This vote is in no way an indictment of your childcare facility,” said Mayor Bob Bacon. He also said the ordinance allowing operation of home childcare centers in El Cerrito was “not written broadly enough” to consider the concentration of other neighborhood facilities.

Many who complained about the center said it did not meet the street-width and backyard space requirements of the ordinance.

The center is just slightly short of the requirements, so the Planning Commission had originally passed the shortfalls off as “minor” discrepancies.

But most City Council members agreed that the center should met the minimum space requirements exactly. Councilmember Jean Siri said the discrepancy in the minimum street-width requirement should not be compromised.

Several neighbors complained about the existence of the center on 2008 Harper St. before the council meeting through letters to City Hall.

“To award the permit is to reward illegal actions,” Dr…..—end of clipping—

Thursday, April 8, 2010

473. El Cerrito Plaza, 1990

Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, December 13, 1990, The El Cerrito Journal, “El Cerrito Plaza redevelopment more than another quick facelift”. 

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Only a portion of this clipping is available:

EL CERRITO—A Bay Area developer laid out a dramatic plan for rehabilitation of the El Cerrito Plaza in a proposal in the Redevelopment Agency.

The developer said it is designed to “make everyone happy” — even Emporium-Capwell owner Carter Hawley Hale.

But happiness may not be quick or cheap for the agency. The estimated $50 million plan, as presented at the Dec. 3 meeting, would include building new sites for Lucky’s and the Emporium, demolishing some existing buildings and attracting new tenants for the revamped plaza — more than a simple facelift.

The San Leandro-based Brookmat Corporation also proposes to build apartment units in the final stages of construction, which Brookmat President William Mathews Brooks said would leave less room for retail, but give the plaza a “focal point.”

The project, which would be implemented in phases, could take up to two years to complete, if a contract is signed between the agency and the developer. “What we have tried to do is create a plan that’s conservative, practical and presents the best opportunity of going forward,” said Brooks, who spoke before the agency.

Brookmat “expressed interest in purchasing the interests of Columbia Savings and Carter…--end of clipping--

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

472. Bob Winslow of El Cerrito, 1991

Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, September 19, 1991, The El Cerrito Journal, “Candidate likes local flavor; Winslow favors preserving small businesses in El Cerrito”. Photo by Tina Dauterman.

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Mr. Winslow was feisty, was at El Cerrito’s City Council meetings each time I was there to do a news story. Today, I think his ideas were sensible, but nearly impossible on the political level. For example, he wanted Contra Costa County’s cities and neighborhoods to work together, for elected leaders to attend meetings outside their districts. This idea seems rational, but the councilmember of Richmond will find relatively little of common interest with the councilmember from El Cerrito or San Pablo.

Winslow was correct about scare tactics, though. California’s politicians rely heavily on appeals to the public regarding budgets, frequently threaten to lay off police and firefighters. Of course, California is so broke in 2010 that the elected officials are telling the truth; Californians know the state is begging when even the illegal immigrants of Mexico are returning home:

EL CERRITO — City Council Candidate Bob Winslow, 69, began working when he was 8-years-old. “I’m the oldest of 10 kids. I was born on a farm, and we worked our way through life. We didn’t sit in an armchair and let the world go by,” said Winslow.

Winslow was born in Bluesprings, Neb., but has lived in El Cerrito for 47 years. He entered the Navy in 1939, two years before the U.S. entrance into World War II. He married his wife Angie, an El Cerrito native, in 1944 and has been married to her since. The house in which they reside is the house where his wife was born and raised.

He worked at Sealand Service, a shipping company, for over 19 years as a port engineer. He retired in 1981 and continued running his El Cerrito carpet-cleaning business, which he started in 1978, until 1986, when he sold it to retire completely.

Winslow is running for the council seat for the third time. He only lost last time, he said, because he was helping some other candidates with their campaigns. But he is confident he will win this time.

“When I lost last time I said I would never run again and I thought I was getting too old to be tied down. We like to travel. My mother’s back in Nebraska and we go back there three our four times a year,” he said.

But Winslow said he was persuaded to jump into the race by people on the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce and other friends who encouraged him to run. “El Cerrito’s been good to me. It’s a good city, and I would like to see it get back that way.”

Winslow criticized redevelopment, recent staff raises and the recent hiring of additional staff members.

He disliked the Target store deal and a redevelopment agency’s decision to move the local bowling alley. “There’s nothing wrong with the Target store, but they don’t belong in the middle of town…I’d rather have seen the bowling alley where it was an (the building of some) apartments and small stores,” he said.

Winslow prefers smaller, private enterprise over large developers. He said fighting for his vision of what El Cerrito should look like doesn’t intimidate him. “I’m a Pearl Harbor survivor. I’m ready for a good fight,’ Winslow said.

Winslow said El Cerrito has been unwise in its spending for city improvements. “We’ve got a few new buildings, but we’ve paid dearly for them through redevelopment,” said Winslow.

“Every time something comes up where they say they’re short of money, we’re going to layoff fire and policemen. I don’t like scare tactics. I don’t scare too easy,” he said. “They never mention laying off staff, which should come first.”

Winslow is bold and assertive during city council meetings, which he attends regularly. “That’s the only way you can operate where they’ll listen…I think they listen to me.”

“I’m confident I’m going to win,” said Winslow. He plans to campaign door-to-door in the neighborhoods of El Cerrito. He says he spends much of his time visiting people in El Cerrito, anyway.

Winslow thinks it would be necessary to attend the council meetings of other cities in Contra Costa County to solve some of El Cerrito’s problems.

“I think the counties and the cities are each going to have to start working together instead of separately, and the cities are going to have to start working together — Richmond, Pinole, Hercules, El Cerrito, San Pablo. They’re going to have to work in larger forms to get more done,” he said.--end--

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Friday, April 2, 2010

471. Black Chambers of Commerce, 2001

Published news stories by Lurene Helzer, August 22-23, 2001, Bay City News. Story here is “Black Chambers Of Commerce Gather This Week”. 

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(Photo of Michael Jordan on golf course, January 17, 2007 from Creative Commons/Wikipedia. Mr. Jordan would not have been a member of California's business clubs. I presume he would have been involved with the elite clubs of Illinois.)

I post material regarding the SF Black Chamber here today, not the others, because I estimate the other two items are of little interest in 2010.

A lot of news reporting work is of this nature; stories of only some public interest for a limited time, a given geography. This is how most journalism differs from, say, a lot of 20th Century fiction.

There's cultural history in the folds, however.

For example, the SF Black Chamber in 2001 is the SF African American Chamber in 2010. Both organizations, however, give the observer a good picture of the SF Bay area’s black intelligentsia of the day, their respective agendas.

Notice the members were gathering at a golf course in 2001, as many elites did. Their meeting spot might be less hoity-toity in 2010, given current economic conditions.

The other stories not appearing here are “SF Police Look For Armed Robbery Suspect”, “No BART Service On Richmond Line Between Colma And Daly City”:

SAN FRANCISCO--Members of two black chambers of commerce are gathering today for the start of a three-day San Francisco convention aimed at promoting black businesses.

The groups planned to tee off the annual gathering at Novato’s Stonetree Golf Club today, before swinging into more serious discussions at San Francisco’s Cathedral Hill Hotel Thursday and Friday.

The California Black Chamber of Commerce s and the San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce will feature speakers like Ray Wilkins, president and CEO of Pacific Bell/SBC, Gwen Moore, president and CEO of Gem Communications, and Tim Hanlon, president at Wells Fargo Bank.

Workshops organized as part of the “Connecting the Dots for Business Growth and Development” conference will cover franchise ownership, business with state and federal governments, personal wealth, and international trade.

“The CBCC and the San Francisco Black Chamber, the oldest black chamber in the state, intends to provide you with all the information you need to improve your bottom line,” said Aubry Stone, resident and CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s convention also will award six scholarships for youth in nearby communities who might not otherwise have access to college funding, according to the organizations.

CONTACT: San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce (415) 291-8818

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

470. Sex, Violence and Islam, 2001

Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, August 22, 2001, Bay City News, “Saturday Benefit For Clinic Serving Prostitutes”. 

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I include here the edited and unedited version for the benefit of journalism students. Also, the subject is prostitution in California, so the story draws eyes in general. Photo above is of my cat, who's obviously not showing off her talents as a working girl in this 2010 photo.

Incidentally, I must mention that Margo St. James, the leading figure in this 2001 news story I wrote, was married to San Francisco Chronicle journalist Paul Avery, the leading reporter on the "Zodiac Killer" case. Avery even received a threat from the Zodiac, a card. The Zodiac was never caught, and Avery died in December of 2000.

Outside that interesting note, the reason I use the story’s original and edited form is to let people understand some of the mechanics of the American print media. The edited version includes the work of editors at BCN.

The reader should try to notice that there is no special set of editing rules for stories about prostitution, murder, fraud, or whatever. Whether the subject is prostitution, terrorism, or city budgets, the rules are similar. This is an important point, however obvious it may seem.

Why is it important? On too many occasions to count this April 1, 2010, I’ve read or listened to commentators from the Mideast. It’s often the same, tired saw: “The American media depicts us unfairly, like we are all backward, all terrorists.” Such critics are under the impression the media use different standards when reporting on issues involving Moslems.

This thinking displays only Islam’s pompous nature, as far as I’m concerned.

What the American media needs to answer back to Islam is this: “We are not your PR agents. If you blew up a subway this week in Moscow, you blew up a subway this week in Moscow. If you want a business to depict you in a flattering light, you’re knocking on the wrong door."

Nevertheless, I see Islam starting (again) now with Russia. My guess, as an American, is that Islam will obtain poor results. By 2013, they’ll wish they’d chosen a more sensible course:


Margo St. James, the founder of an infirmary for sex workers, well-known for her advocacy of issues related to prostitution, was on the steps of city hall today to publicize a clinic fundraiser this weekend and to speak against prohibition laws.

“They haven’t done anything except what guys paid them to do,” said St. James of the women she has been trying to help since the early 1970s.

St. James began COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) in 1973 to promote health care, political representation and legal rights for prostitutes. She says that because of its prohibition, prostitution is as stigmatized and dangerous as alcohol consumption was during the years of the 18th Amendment, passed in 1919 and repealed in 1933.

“It’s the whole stigma,” said St. James. “Every woman’s afraid of being called a whore.”

Her 7th Street clinic, called the St. James Infirmary, provides services not only to women, but also to transgendered and gay male prostitutes.

She said the trauma, disease and violence typically found in prostitution is associated with its illegality in the first place, rather than the profession alone.

Also, she pointed out that there is a societal push on men to seek sexual gratification, regardless of the cost to society. She used the aggressive promotion of Viagra by the pharmaceutical industry as an example. Meanwhile, she said, the women having sex with these men – quite often not the wives – are punished.

“Most current services for prostitutes are offered in the context of the correctional system. The St. James Infirmary is different,” she said.

The clinic looks at the normal range of issues a patient may have, not just STDs and wounds caused by violence, she said.

Patients come into the clinic with everything from back problems to urological complaints, she said. “Some Asian masseuses have never seen a doctor in their lives,” St. James said. It is poverty seen often in immigrant women who do such illegal work, she said.

A benefit for the clinic is taking place this Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Lost City 23 Club at 23 Visitacion Ave. in Brisbane. There will be about 11 performers, some prizes, a barbecue and a no-host bar. Tickets at the door at $25. – END –


The founder of an infirmary for sex workers stood on the steps of San Francisco City Hall today to publicize a weekend fund-raising event for the clinic and to speak against prohibition laws.

Margo St. James said her Seventh Street clinic, called the St. James Infirmary, provides services not only to women, but also to transgendered and gay male prostitutes. She said the trauma, disease and violence typically found in prostitution cases is associated with its illegality and lack of candor among victims who fear prosecution.

“They haven’t done anything except what guys paid them to do,” said St. James of the women she has been trying to help since the early 1970s.

St. James, well known for her advocacy of issues related to prostitution, began COYOTE -- Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics -- in 1973 to promote health care, political representation and legal rights for prostitutes.

She says that because of its illegal status, prostitution is stigmatized and dangerous, somewhat like alcohol consumption during the years of prohibition between 1919 and 1933.

“It’s the whole stigma,” St. James said. “Every woman’s afraid of being called a whore.”

She said there is also pressure for men to seek sexual gratification, regardless of the cost to society. She cited the aggressive promotion of Viagra by the pharmaceutical industry as an example.

Meanwhile, she said it is the female prostitutes, not the male customers, who are most often punished.

The St. James clinic, now celebrating its second anniversary, aims to help sex workers address their health needs in a less judgmental setting.

“Most current services for prostitutes are offered in the context of the correctional system. The St. James Infirmary is different,” she said.

The clinic looks at the normal range of issues a patient may have, not just sexually transmitted diseases or wounds caused by violence, she said. Patients come into the clinic with everything from back problems to urological complaints, she said.

“Some Asian masseuses have never seen a doctor in their lives,” St. James said, noting that many prostitutes are struggling with poverty as well as health ailments.

The benefit for the clinic will be held Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Lost City 23 Club at 23 Visitacion Ave. in Brisbane. There will be about 11 performers, some prizes, a barbecue and a no-host bar. Tickets at the door at $25. – END –

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

469. Bay Cablevision's 1991 Tea Party for El Cerrito's City Council

Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, June 27, 1991, The Journal, “Cable company opposes utility tax”. This small story, below, running with photo of Bruce Molloy by Tina Dauterman, ran alongside 1991 story on the city’s budget. I can't locate Ms. Dauterman's photo today to use here.

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There seems to be a problem with the date cited in this story, June 24, 1991. It was either a cutting room error, or some other, because the story seems written for a previous issue of The Journal. I don’t know. It’s a bit late for correction, but I couldn’t help noticing it in 2010; “…plain as the nose on your face,” as Grandpa Jim used to say:

EL CERRITO – The City Council is expected to pass the Utility Users Tax in its final form June 24. The local cable supplier, Bay Cablevision, has been opposed to the tax since it first came up for discussion.

There was a question as to how much revenue the Utility Users Tax would bring. The budget assumes $1.2 million in revenue, but if the city extends the utility tax to international calls in addition to interstate calls, Randall said it may bring about $100,000 yearly more into the city, a rough estimate.

Bruce Molloy, vice president and general manager of the local cable supplier, which is affiliated with Cable Oakland, said, “We may have to take legal action” to oppose the tax. “These taxes are way, way out of line,” he said.

Molloy argued that cable companies already pay franchise fees and right-of-way fees. Subscribers may have to now pay not only El Cerrito’s new tax, but also an eventual state tax of 6 percent.

Bay Cablevision users may eventually have to pay a total of 28 percent for taxes, he said.


468. City Hits Reserves To Maintain Budget, 1991 El Cerrito

Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, June 27, 1991, The Journal, “City hits reserves to maintain budget; Council avoids further cuts in tight budget”. This newspaper went to readers in the East Bay communities of Albany, El Cerrito and Kensington. Photos by Tina Dauterman.

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I admit this story is not a tempting diversion today, but I enjoy revisiting these old East Bay city budget jobs. I sometimes find the current budget for the concerned city, compare costs. I did this quickly today, March 31, 2010, and was delighted to see El Cerrito had continued many of its redevelopment programs, even improved them.

Budget stories might seem terribly boring, but municipal finance can sometimes require skills of sports reporting or comedy writing. Readers/journalism students can find their own examples, given U.S. financial events of the last few years:

EL CERRITO — The City Council passed the proposed 1991-92 budget June 17 without raising the Landscape and Lighting Assessment fee or making substantial cuts. Some citizens, however, spoke against the funding plan.


The council decided to leave the Landscape and Lighting Assessment at its present rate of $72 per year, but is expected to impose a new Utility Users Tax June 24.

The idea of a higher assessment for landscape and lighting enraged some of those at the meeting, but received support from others who said the money was needed for park improvements.

“Are you going to tax me right out of this city?” asked an angry John Sawers of El Cerrito. Sawers, pointing to council members, promised not to vote for them again.

But comments in support of the increase surfaced. “It’s necessary. We need to hold the gains we’ve made (in our parks),” said Dan Feudenthal of El Cerrito.

After hearing comments, all council members voted, somewhat reluctantly, against the increase. “I will vote against this one measure this year, because it seems to have caused a lot of enmity,” said councilmember Jean Siri.

With no cutbacks, the city will spend more than it receives in revenues. El Cerrito will dip into reserves once again to balance the budget.

Before the June 17 meeting, department heads were asked to show where they would cut in budgets if needed. Flipcharts were brought out during the meeting to show how 7 to 10 percent cuts could be made in each department of the city and what the advantages and disadvantages would be of each cut.

Police Chief Dan Givens proposed eliminating two traffic officers to save $122,000. He gave a detailed explanation of how the cut would hurt the city. For example, fewer officers might increase overtime and violate minimum staffing requirements, Givens said.

The fire department proposed closing one of El Cerrito’s fire stations, but warned that it would mean an increased response time to fire calls.

After all department heads made their recommendations, Pokorny, while reserving his opinion, said he couldn’t truly recommend any of the cuts. “This is a lean organization,” he said.

After the presentation on cuts, community activist Sandy Kerr addressed the council. He began by saying he had prepared for his speech by researching the words of “great philosophers.” Then, he quoted 1930s film star Mae West. “When choosing between two evils, I like to choose the one I never tried,” Kerr said, referring to cuts in the budget.

Kerr then began hurling angry remarks at the council. He said the city manager was “loose with numbers and dollars” and said the city had not made a reasonable effort to look for ways of cutting the budget.

Council members and city staff members, already angry about previous public comments Kerr had made about the city’s management, sat silently. Minutes later, as Kerr began to “challenge” Mayor Kathie Kosel to make cuts, Councilmember Bob Bacon retorted that Kerr would “challenge anyone,” and tersely criticized his confrontational tactics.

The council then closed the public hearing and decided not to make cuts, although they agreed some of the suggestions – like closing El Cerrito’s public pool during the winter – could be followed some time in the future.


Council members discussed the budget in a meeting on Saturday preceding the council session. “What I would like to see on Monday night are some options…with the goal of reducing the deficit,” Bob Bacon said then.

“If you suppress salaries synthetically below the market rate, you end up with a community that’s getting something for nothing and doesn’t appreciate it,” Bacon said.

City Manager Gary Pokorny said during that meeting that sales tax revenues are subject ot fluctuations more than other sources of revenue.

The 1991-92 budget, after the previously estimated salary increases are subtracted, totals $14,457,553. Last year, the budget totaled $11,681,483. Over half of the $2,776,070 increase is because the redevelopment agency’s budget is now included with the city’s budget, city officials pointed out. However, the agency’s budget, listed as $1,499,277 this fiscal year, does not depend on normal city revenues.


One of the most dramatic cost increases is in insurance costs, which went from $164,000 last year to over $400,000 this fiscal year – an increase of over $200,000, Administrative Manager Jim Randall said.

But salary increases originally written into the budget, which were rough estimates, were removed, shaving about $80,000 off the final budget.

-- end --

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

467: Berkeley Mayoral Candidate Shirley Dean, 1994

Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 6, 1994, The East Bay Journal, “Shirley Dean foresees real changes for Berkeley.” 

Lurene's email in 2014:

Dean was then a Berkeley mayoral candidate. She won that election:

Berkeley City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Shirley Dean shows a love of details during council meetings. She pulls numbers out of staff reports and grills city employees on how and why particular facts were chosen.

This tendency carries over into her other civic duties as well. A year ago Berkeley’s Planning Department made a claim which caught her attention.

“(They said) we were losing something like $6—$10 million annually because of rent control. I would really like to see those numbers documented and see where they got those numbers.”

The fiscally moderate Dean does not “particularly support rent control. I haven’t seen rent control work. But we have it, so we need to make it work,” she said.

Rent issues in Berkeley are handled by the rent board, but as Dean says with everything, either it works and needs slight improvement, or it doesn’t work and needs slight improvement.

“I like that ten-year approach to the budget, for example,” said Dean, expressing appreciation for the South Bay city of Sunnyvale. “I’ve suggested it for a year, and got rather laughed at by my colleagues, who said a ten-year budget horizon is good for a city like Sunnyvale where there’s lots of growth.”

“That’s silly. We really do have to look down the line. If we don’t, we’re going to continue to be in this state of crisis all the time.”

Dean attended Berkeley High School and UC Berkeley, where she graduated with honors in Social Welfare.

Dean is married to Dan Dean, a counselor at Berkeley High, and has two children, Dan and John. The candidate is a full-time budget officer at UC Berkeley.

She became involved in local politics when she was raising her children at a house on Benita and rose streets.

“My kids were little. It must have been the ‘60s, because there was a lot of tear-gassing going on in Berkeley. I lived in North Berkeley and it’s possible to live on one side of the town and not be much involved,” said Dean.

“One morning I woke up and the Army was in the street. They had set up the end point (near her house) of where a control point was, and they were there with their guns and everything, and I said, ‘Oh boy, now I gotta get involved.’”

After working on these immediate issues, she moved into routine community issues. “It was a big step from tear-gassing to zoning, but it was easy,” she said, laughing.

She ran for City Council in 1975, and again in 1979.

By 1982, she decided she was ready to run for Mayor of Berkeley, but lost to Gus Newport. She made a comeback to the City Council in 1986 as a District 5 councilmember. She has been on the council ever since.

Claiming a three to one public-approval advantage over her closest competitor for the mayoral post, Councilmember Fred Collignon, she is trying again for Berkeley’s top seat.

“I don’t want to be Mayor in just the ceremonial way,” said Dean. “I want to be mayor to make some real changes. The mayor’s just one vote on the council. It’s going to be more by the statements that the person makes, the leadership that they can offer around the issues. You can’t do that as a councilmember.”

Dean said the city has been over-spending trying to help all who have problems.

In 1994, proposals to control panhandling and aggressive street behavior have been contentious, and Dean has taken criticism along with other councilmembers for not opposing a proposed Problematic Street Behavior ordinance.


Monday, March 29, 2010

466. Bay Area Transportation Politics, 1991


Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, July 13, 1991, The El Cerrito Journal, “New BART Parking Garage.” Photo is of Golden Gate Bridge on its opening day in 1937. (Photo is from 1937 archive, was not running with this 1991 story.)

Lurene's email in 2014:

This story is about area parking near El Cerrito’s Del Norte BART station:

EL CERRITO – Commuters have taken advantage of the new parking garage at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station with no delay, and with few complaints.

“Instead of parking half a mile away, I can park in here and still come to work later,” said Andrew Graves, a Hercules resident who works in san Francisco. Graves was returning to his car about 7 p.m. on Friday, July 19.

Some commuters have changed their habits because of the new parking structure, which officially opened July 12 and now makes it possible for 2,516 cars to park at the Del Norte Station.

Christa Cavanah of Richmond used to park near the El Cerrito Plaza BART station. Now, getting to work in San Francisco is faster since she doesn’t have to hunt for parking spots near the El Cerrito shopping hub. But would she pay a parking fee for the garage if fees were imposed?

“No,” said Cavanah resolutely. “We pay enough for BART.”

“I would seek parking elsewhere if it were available,” said Fletcher Alford of Hercules when asked if fees would prevent him from using the garage.

Whether commuters like it or not, however, the goal of local and regional transit officials is to encourage commuters to get to the city by use of public transportation. Recently, it was reported that traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge has decreased by five percent, and ridership on Golden Gate Transit has increased, since the new $3 toll was introduced. The eventual implementation of parking fees at the Del Norte garage might have a similar effect if they were to be imposed.

The new parking structure is the first part of BART’s $90 million program to streamline public transportation. The Urban Mass Transportation Administration, a federal agency, provided 75 percent of the funds for the new garage, which cost some $9 million.

Starting July 22, Key, Kearney and Hill streets adjacent to the Del Norte station will have four-hour parking limits reinstated, according to El Cerrito’s Community Development Department. The limits existed before the construction of the garage began.

“I personally have some questions about developing large parking at BART stations. I would personally prefer to promote the use of feeder system from the residential communities to the BART stations, such as AC Transit. However, there are circumstances where commuters can’t use the feeder systems. Those parking areas are needed,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor Bob Schroder, who serves on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

Schroder says the MTC, which must frequently approve regional transportation projects and channel money from state and federal sources to local transportation agencies, has not discussed whether they would support a BART board decision to implement parking fees. “If paying for parking would discourage BART ridership, I’m sure the MTC would be opposed to it. However, if it was showed that it would not discourage ridership and the increased revenues would enhance BART service, I feel MTC would give consideration [to lending support],” said Schroder, adding that the final outcome would be decided by BART directors.

BART directors have not had to come to a decision on whether fees will ever be implemented, but the garage is built to accommodate a garage attendant near the entrance.

“I hear they are considering that. The East Bay directors feel that there should not be a fee charged. The West Bay directors feel that there should, obviously, because it’s not their constituency,” said Schroder.

“The bottom line of this whole scenario is twofold. It’s to encourage people not to drive their cars to save energy and to enhance air quality. The fewer automobiles on the road, the better air quality we have,” he said. “We have a lot of mental health problems in this society and I would venture to say that many of them are encouraged by the heavy traffic we have.”


465. Berkeley Firefighters Blast Chief, 1994; El Cerrito story about firefighting, 1990


Published news story by Lurene Kathleen Helzer, June 6, 1994, The East Bay Journal, “Berkeley; Firefighters blast chief.” It seems I did several stories of this nature during my time with this paper. Also here, “Fire chief looks back, prepares to step down.” This second story dated November 11, 1990, written for El Cerrito Journal. Photo of Lurene in Los Angeles, Summer of 2007.

Lurene's email in 2014:

As I’ve said before, I think reporters need to be careful doing labor-related stories; labor writing is not work for political activists. This story involved Berkeley’s fire fighters, their relationship with the City of Berkeley, negotiations, touchy feelings of all concerned following the massive October, 1991 fire in the East Bay hills.

The reason I distinguish labor reporting is this: many people in the San Francisco Bay area imagine themselves journalists because they have political opinions about whatever president is in power, whatever U.S. foreign policy is, etc. In fact, one needs to cover city budgets and labor debates to get a genuine feel for news reporting. Reporters end up having to do any number of weather reports, which, unlike this story, can be blindingly dull:

During the October 1991 East Bay fire, firefighters risked their lives together as they tried to control the conflagration which in the end took 25 lives and 3,000 homes. Now, in a painful and bitter split, the Berkeley fire department and its chief can barely share the same negotiating table.

What went wrong, and why?

Berkeley firefighters feel they have been pushed to the edge during negotiations that have dragged on since April 1993. Now, they are complaining about the leadership of Fire Chief Gary Cates.

A 27-year veteran of the Berkeley department, Cates has been in office since 1990. He and Berkeley’s acting city manager Phil Kamlarz, strongly denied union allegations of unjust discipline, of disregard for the concerns of women and African-American firefighters, and they denied responsibility for firefighter resignations from volunteer committees.

Richard Watters, president of the Berkeley Firefighters Association, said firefighters felt they had run out of alternatives when 100 of the department’s 125 voted “no confidence in Cates.

“When you break trust and you break confidence with your fire chief, it’s a major decision,” Watters said, “and I guess we kind of felt like we needed to make the statement that there’s something wrong with this department.”

“Punitive” disciplinary actions

Watters accused Cates of “unjust disciplinary practices.”

“He’s very heavy handed. Anytime there’s an infraction or violation of rules, you’re looking at days off,” said the 42-year-old lieutenant, who has been with the department 15 years. He said forcing firefighters to take time off for minor infractions has steadily weakened department morale.

The chief might have chosen less stringent measures, like written warnings, Watters said. “They don’t use that anymore. It’s more punitive than corrective.”

According to Watters, the fire chief cannot suspend an employee for more than three days without approval from the city manager.

Watters doubted the city manager would have approved all of Chief Cates’ disciplinary actions if he has been informed of them.

“My experiences with Chief Cates are as long as you agree with him, everything is going to be okay,” Watters said. “If you disagree with him, then you get into conflict. I think in a lot of ways he’s arrogant.”

Kamlarz defends Cates

Kamlarz disputes the association’s allegations.

“After reviewing this list of allegedly improper practices, I have concluded that the union appears to request that Chief Cates be criticized for doing his job, especially as the city’s representative at the bargaining table,” wrote Kamlarz in a letter rebutting the union’s allegations.

“The union has responded to the city’s rejections of its demands by urging its members to refuse to do parts of their job and other illegal tactics,” he wrote.

Kamlarz was referring to one of the major complaints of the union, that Cates discouraged firefighters from making contributions to department policies through volunteer programs.

The union alleges firefighters have shown less interest in upper level positions because of Cates’ “autocratic style.” They said only four of 19 lieutenants applied to take the March 1993 captain’s exam, that in March 1992 only five of 10 captains participated in the assistant chief’s exam, and that the lack of volunteers forced Cates to promote a captain into a “high paid staff position.”

The union charged Cates with being insensitive to the needs of female firefighters, with hiring few African Americans and with failing to develop a recruiting program for minorities.

Kamlarz maintains promotional opportunities still generate interest. “In fact, the Personnel Department received 19 applications for the recent examination for lieutenant.”

Regarding female firefighters, both Kamlarz and Cates argue most discrimination toward female firefighters comes from the rank and file.

Kamlarz also dismissed charges of a poorly-run affirmative action program. He said more than 41 percent of Cates’ promotions had gone to minority candidates, and of 13 recruits hired by Cates, three were minorities and three were women.

For Cates, business as usual

Cates, appearing at the May 24 Berkeley City Council meeting showed no signs of the pressure he has been under during the past year to settle contract disputes with firefighters. “I’ve got a job to do. I still look forward to coming to work every day,” Cates said.

Cates characterized the union’s allegations as tactical, and said Watters was trying to “discredit my dedication to the city.”

Watters said, in spite of everything that had been alleged, he could not question Cates’ competence as an experienced firefighter.

Firefighters are going to Berkeley voters for a charter amendment requiring binding arbitration to settle police and fire pay disputes.

If firefighters get 11,036 valid petition signatures by May 27, the issue will be on the November ballot. As of May 30 the City Clerk was still expecting the petitions. Voters must approve of binding arbitration by majority approval.

– 30 –

NOVEMBER 8, 1990

EL CERRITO – Nearing retirement after 26 years with the Fire Department, Chief Pete Barraza’s hair is ashen, like the light grey remains of a smoldering fire. But with his enthusiasm for the job still burning, he has the inertia of an untapped fire hydrant.

“The scariest call you can get is an infant choking. (But) the more you’re in this job, the more you’re impressed by human beings. I have not seen a lot of panic,” Barraza said.

Barraza will retire at the end of the year, along with Battalion Chief Larry Armstrong. Three El Cerrito firefighters have applied for Barraza’s job and are now going through a variety of tests.

When Barraza started in firefighting, it was a less complicated profession.

“The whole idea that hazardous and toxic materials present a hazard to people and the environment is a new concept,” he said.

Barraza said emergency services have been restructured since he started in 1964, and resources to handle the wider scope of responsibilities are scarce.

“If there was a valid need to obtain a resource (then) you could do that. Now, there’s a wider scope of responsibility and a shortage of resources,” he said, adding that the number of calls to the department has increased fivefold since he has started.

Like many starting new careers, Barraza learned some lessons the hard way.

Asked about his most vivid memory, he began talking about a call he was sent to as a rookie firefighter. Arriving at the house late at night with other firefighters, he saw neighbors standing about in front of the…

-- end of available clipping --

464. Partial sections of writings and news clips by Lurene Helzer


Various writings by Lurene Helzer, some only fragmentary.

Lurene's email in 2014:

Quick photo of Lurene taken in 2005 near Palm Springs, CA:

1. What Your Cigarettes Can Otherwise Buy, #2, San Francisco, October 22, 2002;

2. Cigarettes #3, October 23, 2002;

3. Redlining, second section of story, East Bay Journal, June 7, 1993;

4. State Farm, second section of story, East Bay Journal, June 7, 1993;

5. Letter to Grandmother Lois Strickland by Lurene, October 23, 2004;

6. Redevelopment News, El Cerrito Journal, by Lurene K. Helzer, July 9, 1991;

7. State colleges need more JC transfers, December 11, 1986, Lurene Helzer, San Francisco State University’s Golden Gater;

8. Hills family settles with Transamerica, Lurene Kathleen Helzer, East Bay Journal, June 6, 1994;

9. Photo, undated, of El Cerrito City Council candidate Sandy Kerr by Tina Dauterman, included because it went with budget story I wrote about the 1991-92 budget for El Cerrito, CA.

Friday, March 26, 2010

463. California Nurses Demand Hearings, Changed Nurse-Patient Ratios for 2001


Included in this library entry, a July 30, 2001 note from BCN editor to me. She writes that I was correct to wait a while to release that July morning’s Sausalito news story. She writes that other SF news outlets reported this news item too hurriedly; they were reporting events before the facts of the case were sufficiently clear to area law enforcement.

Lurene's email in 2014:

“Thanks. But you have put non-stop efforts into training me. I can not exactly take the credit,” I wrote to her on the office note.

It’s not usually necessary to answer quick office notes. I thought it was important here, though, to say her opinions about my work mattered, good or bad. I was corrected for errors on other occasions.

This post is led, however, by a brief, 7-paragraph, published news story for Bay City News by Lurene Helzer, August 23, 2001, “Nurses Demand Nurses-Patient Ratio Hearings Be Held In Multiple Locations.” The news brief is noticable only because it shows that health care in California was already quite strained in 2001.

I would fear work as a physician or nurse in California on this day, March 26, 2010. We are now seeing a new era in healthcare thanks to the relentless, back-breaking political work of U.S. President Barak Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, thousands of others. Old friends I have from Europe and Canada were calling me late at night in February, 2010 to ask me about this issue as it was debated in the U.S.

Was the U.S. changing its financial spots for the first time in decades, they asked? Who are the American people, as a mass, deep down?  Why is this healthcare issue, for Americans, almost like a trip back to the Cold War or The Civil Rights Act of 1964? Who are you people?

In such conversations, I say: Healthcare is about money. Liberal or Conservative, Americans are religious-emotional about money. America is different than its European cousins in this respect and always will be. 

Photo of Sausalito houseboat from Wikipedia entry on Sausalito, Creative Commons, Oct. 2008.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

462. Logic, thinking book notes.


Undated, unpublished reading notes by Lurene Helzer, undated, but are likely early 2002 notes. Notes in the margin seem like notes I made before the summer of 2000, though, so I’ll never be certain. I suspect I borrowed these two books from San Francisco’s public library. (They do not provide patron records.)

Lurene's email in 2014:

The books are “The Five-Day Course in Thinking” by Edward De Bono, 1968, and “Guide to Straight Thinking” by Stuart Chase, 1956.

I would recommend these books to anyone, but especially to reporters and news commentators. The journalist doesn’t need all of these rules to write a routine story, but one’s thinking ability benefits by glancing at such notes from time to time. (These notes can be found with "Risks in Reporting" blog.)

461. History of physics notes


Undated, unpublished reading notes by Lurene Helzer, undated, but likely early 2004 notes. The book (on tape) was “Simply Einstein: Relativity Demystified” by Richard Wolfson, published in late 2003 by W.W. Norton and Co. in New York.

Email Lurene in 2014 at

I do not remember why I decided to check out the Wolfson book, but I was obviously looking for something energizing to read in early 2004. I found these notes in scrap box just today, February 28, 2010.

I like such notes for my blogs because it gives people an opportunity to discover the magic of physics and philosophy. While taking these fun notes in 2004, I felt like a child watching cartoons Saturday morning.

I studied relativity while at the Hebrew University as a visiting student in Jerusalem. It was a summary course for science-outsiders like me; I did some routine study, but no memorable writing about physics or Albert Einstein while in school.

But the Hebrew University course planted with me a genuine interest in physics and, by extension, philosophy. Physics and philosophy are closely related, as this book cheerfully reminded me once again. (See "Genesis" blog for notes.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010


1940s thermometer for sale by Lurene looks useful for computing math problems. Write me at to make your bid today!


Undated, unpublished news story by Lurene Helzer, August 2001, Bay City News, “Math Problems.” This story is about a California math tutorial website.

There’s no question about me writing it while at Bay City, but the document has editorial corrections. The editor had to remind me to use the word “good” rather than “better.” Many editorial corrections are just like this in print journalism. Simple, but important.

Editors do not like having to constantly remind reporters of rules in journalism, so it’s smart to memorize the stylebook. I often violate the rules of style while working on this blog. In a newsroom, though, too often violating the rules of style a good way to get fired. Put it this way: I thought I was a good writer until meeting some of my editors in the SF Bay area. Today, I just tell people I’m a published writer and leave it at that.

An editor-on-deadline is all you need to know about journalism, I sometimes joked. It’s nearly true, though.

If students really want to learn math, it might be good to visit the new math tutorial site called that was founded by a college professor, and a high-tech entrepreneur.

“As an engineer and business person, I understand the increasing importance of mathematics for 21st century students. And as a recent math teacher, I clearly see that we need new ways to help young people grasp this critical knowledge before they are turned off to math for a lifetime,” Chuck Grant,’s co-founder, said.

The Web site shows students how to solve the complex math problems found in their standard California middle school, high school and college textbooks.

With their nightly homework assignment in front of them, students can logon to the site whenever they happen to get around to it, locate the specific math problem they are working on, and find helpful questions and hints for completing the required homework assignment, the promoters promise.

But Grant said the Web site is designed to help students “discover” the answer for themselves, not to give the correct answer.

“Student achievement in math is a widely recognized national concern, with more than half of all students performing below grade-level in math,” according to the Web site.

The California Department of Education in December of 1998 devised new standards for California students to meet in math, but also said the passage from what students now know to what they need to know calls for a unique approach by math book publishers and state instructors, the department’s Web site said.

“Instructional materials adopted by the State Board of Education, on the whole, should provide programs that will be effective for all students – those who have not mastered most of the content taught in the earlier grades and those who have. In addition, some instructional materials must specifically address the needs of teachers who instruct a diverse student population,” the department said.

The California State University has always had an eye for the gifted in mathematics in grades 8 through 12, offering special “math camps” each summer to get them on the right academic path early on. But the number of incoming students needing remedial education worries university staff.

The problem has become severe enough in California to require mathematic “boot camps” – this is the state so respected for its high-tech, Silicon Valley intelligence.

In 1996, CSU pledged to reduce the problem by devising a policy to reduce the amount of catch-up study it has to provide. CSU wants to chop the number of students who need extra math help. No more than 10 percent of the inbound students, according to the goals set in the plan, should need remedial assistance in mathematics by 2007.

To reach this goal, CSU is working with community colleges and public schools that surround 23 CSU campuses to bring students up to par, and connect them with university instructors, according to the university.

Of course, not all good minds do good math. It is a lucky thing French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote books like Madame Bovary instead of math problems.

Born in 1821, Flaubert had peculiar ideas not only about mathematics, but about what the term “math” meant:

“Since you are now studying geometry and trigonometry, I will give you a problem. A ship sails the ocean. It left Boston with a cargo of wool. It grosses 200 tons. It is bound for Le Havre. The mainmast is broken, the cabin boy is on deck, there are 12 passengers aboard, the wind is blowing East-North-East, the clock points to a quarter past three in the afternoon. It is the month of May. How old is the captain?” he quizzed.

That problem, found on the Web site for Furman University in Greenville, S.C., might be useful at cocktail parties, but not school.

CONTACT: Amy Bonetti, Big Mouth Communications for
(415) 409-7701

Friday, January 29, 2010

458, 459: Alexander Kerr Profile for El Cerrito Journal, 1991; City Council Debate

Photo by Photographer Howard Ford is unrelated to story, but captures the tone that seemed to exist between Sandy Kerr and other members of the El Cerrito City Council in 1991.

Lurene's email in 2014:


Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer for El Cerrito Journal, August 9, 1991, “Alexander ‘Sandy’ Kerr Profile.”

EL CERRITO – Alexander “Sandy” Kerr, 45, says he is running against “the establishment” in El Cerrito and needs all the volunteer help he can get to win the race for a city council seat.

Kerr’s platform is mainly focused on budget-cutting, and he says he wants to set an example of frugality during his campaign. He intends to use volunteers only.

The current administration, he says, is hostile to him. “They don’t like the kind of questions I’m asking. I’m running against the establishment. Therefore, I’m not going to win unless I get very strong grassroots support,” said Kerr, who said he wanted to gather another 50 neighborhood organizers for his campaign. “I want my campaign to reflect how the city government should be run – frugal and low-cost.”

Kerr has pledged not to accept wages or benefits if elected to the city council. However, he said he would not ask other city council members to also forsake their salaries.

Kerr has lived in El Cerrito a total of over 30 years. He lists his occupation as a writer/consultant in ethics and is currently writing a book which he says will be titled “Aiming for Eternity: DNA, Morality and Everlasting Life.”

According to Kerr himself as well as another classmate, he never attained intellectual or social greatness in school.

Mayor Cathie Kosel, who is not up for re-election and has frequently been at odds with Kerr during public meetings as have members of the city staff, was a classmate of Kerr’s while in high school in El Cerrito and at UC Berkeley. She remembers him as a background figure. “In high school, he was invisible. Nobody knew he was there,” she said.

“As a student I would do the minimum to pass the exam,” said Kerr during the interview, cracking a smirk. “I consider myself basically self-taught.”

Talking to some city officials that have worked with Kerr, they complain that he has at times been nearly impossible to compromise with and that he has frequently misinterpreted facts.

“I think you have to characterize him as an extremist because he’s unwilling to compromise on anything nor does he know how to. It’s not a skill he has ever learned,” said Kosel.

“There’s compromise of your own principles and then there’s compromise on an issue, which doesn’t reach as deep,” said Kerr when asked if he has the ability to compromise.

Kerr’s father, Clark Kerr, is the former president of the University of California. Kerr himself was involved in a university profession while in Australia from approximately 1976 to 1986. He said he taught in the Urban Biology department at the Australian National University. He also has experience as an outback homesteader and wildfire-control officer.

Kerr and his family have been supporting themselves through funds he saved while in Australia, he said.

“The modest financial independence that we have allows me to do what I think is important,” said Kerr. “We live pretty frugally. This is my sister’s house,” he said of the elaborate and spacious Buckingham Drive home with a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay and a plethora of plants on the first floor that gives the house a Garden of Eden look. He lives there with his wife of 21 years, April Kerr, and his three children.

Kerr began the Friends of El Cerrito Trees group to influence the formation of the city’s Public Tree Policy. He campaigned vigorously for a policy that would not allow public trees to be cut for the sake of bay views for hill residents. He also was on the Project Listen Task Force on City Services.

Kerr is running on a platform of budget reforms. He’s opposed to a recently passed tax on utilities in El Cerrito. He said he would resign before the 1993 election if he did not get the new eight percent tax on a ballot for a public vote.

“I think the vast majority of the people in El Cerrito do not realize that the council has adopted this eight percent utility tax,” said Kerr. “They’ll only be aware when they see it on their September bills.”

“I’m not afraid to say we can restructure and downsize the city government,” he said. Kerr thinks less should be spent on community services as well.

“The council isn’t asking ‘why, why not and what if.’ They’ve gotten too disengaged from the operation of the city.”


Published news story by Lurene K. Helzer, August 9, 1991, El Cerrito Journal, “City Adjusts Compensation Amounts.” This is my copy of later-published story for the El Cerrito paper. The actual publishing date would have been a few days after the date shown above.

The story is nothing big, just a generic blurb about salaries for El Cerrito City Councilmembers, as they were discussed in 1991. As they are still discussed in 2010, actually; California’s cities are almost always struggling with finances. You will never see headlines on California newspapers reporting something like, “Councilmember Joe Blow Acknowledges Massive Municipal Cash Surplus.”

Underneath the verbal fluff, though, we see another exciting 1991 episode starring El Cerrito’s Sandy Kerr, who was the son of Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California, and first UC Berkeley chancellor.

You were increasingly recognizing the verbal swipes hurled toward Sandy Kerr by other members of the city’s council. Remember, these snide remarks were not being recorded by me “off the record.” The quotes were part of the 1991 public discourse. I honestly paid close attention to Sandy Kerr’s comments, but could only walk away observing that he had social or behavioral difficulties when with political crowds in the Berkeley area:

EL CERRITO – The issue of pay increases for the El Cerrito City Council provided a lively topic of discussion during the Aug. 8 meeting as well as an early kick-off for the city council race.

City council candidate and community activist Alexander “Sandy” Kerr criticized the council for advocating a $41 pay hike in the monthly salary for council members.

“One of the marks of good leadership is accepting greater sacrifice than those that you lead,” said Kerr. “That’s not the kind of leadership that we need these days.”

The city council is barred by law from adjusting its own salary, but they have the opportunity to increase salaries for the incoming council by a little over 10 percent, or five percent per year, in election years.

Candidate Jean Bartke also opposed the pay hike. She said the raise would not be appropriate while El Cerrito is operating on a lean budget.

But city council members defended the idea, saying the pay is low while the work is voluminous.

“The small amount that comes in doesn’t suffice as compensation,” said Mayor Cathie Kosel, adding that her salary only paid her childcare bills. “If we can make it [serving on the council] easier for people who are not independently wealthy, we should.”

Kerr said that if he won a seat on the council he would not accept wages, benefits or funds for supplies even though his family’s income was “substantially below the median in El Cerrito.”

Responding to Kerr’s disclosure about his income, Kosel indicated that his income could be higher. “Get a job,” she said. She apologized minutes later.

Council member Mae Ritz said the council should set an example by raising the council salary, but by only half the amount allowed by law. Likewise, Norma Jellison said she had reservations about the pay hike while budget concerns were high.

The council voted 3-2 to prepare an ordinance, which will be on the Aug. 19 agenda for a first reading. Jellison and Ritz dissented.

The council also approved other small salary increases for part-time employees, general and management employees and approved an agreement with United Public Employees Union, Local 790 for a contract for the 1991-92 year. All increases in wages and benefits have already been included in the 1991-92 budget which passed June 17.


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