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.

Email Lurene in 2014 at

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.

Lurene's email in 2014:

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.)