Berkeley struggles with what has to be perceived as class struggle; North Berkeley and the Berkeley Hills lushly and consistently across the economic highs and lows- present elegant and still well priced homes, gourmet ghetto with Chez Panisse, museums, Lawrence Hall of Science. The South and West Berkeley has more variety and has taken greater hits from its earliest history where those who could not get in across town could land, for instance during World War II, it was the only area that the Japanese could live, and Martin Luther King and Ashby were the cut off in the division of racial groups. Over all of Berkeley the presence of the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore Lab with world class academic prestige has sustained the town/city through out good times and bad. Known for the City's original thinking and advance in social change, the City of Berkeley itself has gone through in the past twenty years a more or less withdrawal from any such postures and has become a place where real estate is the primary game changer for the residents and for the businesses. All sustained by the presence of University of California, Berkeley bringing in new life with new students every fall who generate the restaurants, services and utilities and rental income- keeping the city well off, sustaining an economy on that basis alone. Even so, the areas of South and West Berkeley take the heat of the struggles over the measures and the policies of the City and its Mayor Tom Bates and the City Council. Such is the case with the current struggle over the use of elected funds-Measure FF- to demolish and rebuild libraries in South and West Berkeley. And such is the case with Berkeley High School where all the children go to school, from the most elite and well off to those who have had excursions to Juvenile Hall and recently have been bringing guns to school.
Many of Berkeley's children are sent to a wealth of private schools up until High School, then 3500 students come from the high's and lows of the economic and social realms to merge in a school right in the Center of town. One such student of a friend had her 9th grader approached by 3 boys who took his brand new I phone in the hallway broad daylight with lots of students around. Taking an iphone to school has to be evaluated as part of the social blindness and part of the problem; the stark contrast of acceptable and unacceptable a confusing myriad in this blend of students. The parental groups have little place to find common ground and the Berkeley High's teachers and staff have not found a way to support the parents who have grown even more outraged and upset with the notice a few weeks ago of guns in the school, one that found in a bag that led to the discovery of other guns. What is to be done for the students, for the families, for the teachers for the school would seem to require a bigger field of context that could produce some clarity and sanity to the social mix that has been handled mostly through the years with the kids breaking off into their groups and the different groups having their territory, their particular place of meeting on the Berkeley High School campus. But it is surely not the kids, but the social class issues which need attention, need light and need directiton, and not short term fixes. As one mother's editorial in The Chronicle states, the problem must be addressed at a deeper level which contains the reality of the disparity of economics among the students. Some without lunch money, some with all the gadgets and toys- so as she suggested guns are a status symbol among some of the groups without the means to gain advantage from the academic excellence of the school who see no future for themselves. She suggested laptops given to all students as a means to level the playing field.
http://www.berkeleycouncilwatch.com/A special hearing on the renovation of the West and South Branch Libraries, the North and Claremont Libraries already have been in a process of renovation, is on the Berkeley City Council agenda for May 17th. What is at stake and who- and why the Concerned Library Users - a new group formed to install a lawsuit against the City-wants to halt the needed progress of new Libraries in the South and West Libraries-with tax payer funds allocated-Measure FF voted in 2009- for that purpose is a mystery. To what gain? The Concerned Library Users group are not residents of the South and West but the Claremont area of Berkeley and even outside of Berkeley altogether. Their complaint is that the Use permit did not state the plan to demolish the aged and worn existing structure. One person is identified as part of the Concerned Library Users, Judith Epstein though others are said to be involved but don't want to be identified. This in the face of the amazing successful fundraising of funds by the Neighborhood Libraray Campaign for all 4 libraries of Berkeley by donations from anonymous and identified donors- like Saul Zaentz, a Berkeley filmmaker. It is sad that if the lawsuit persists, some of those funds will need to be used for responding to the suit filed with by Concerned Library Users with only Judith Epstein's name attached; the City Attorney agrees that the tearing down of existing structure was not detailed in the wording of Measure FF, and therefore the funds could not be used accordingly, without revision.
The South and West Berkeley libraries are where seniors and others can get access to computers and access to services that are very much needed. According to the census, the median income for these areas is about half of that of North and Central Berkeley. The facilities at the South and West Libraries are of use to the population there. Again the question of who gains from this seeming class warfare? The tearing down and rebuilding of a library that serves the parts of town where they are most needed again should be looked at in the larger context of Berkeley's Measure, including those parts of town with the least amount of capital and the most amount of struggle by those who are in need of the library services, ie the South and West.
The Council will direct the action in response to the Lawsuit by Concerned Library Users, and hopefully sanity will prevail with the iintention of the measure to have all 4 libraries to serve all of Berkeley as the intention that will be delivered. But an overhaul of the impact of the class differences and ways to accommodate all of the people needs to be at the top of the agenda for all the people of Berkeley. Identify what needs to happen to support all of the people: the South and West Berkeley with their libraries and a means to support all the students and families of Berkeley High School.