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Fri Mar 13, 2015, 12:52 AM

Berkeley City Commissions - a Microcosm of Everything that's Wrong with Gentrified City Politics

Tonight I once more attempted, and failed, to participate in my local political process. I attended a meeting of the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission.

I made my first try at this commission meeting last month. After suffering from a serious health incident in trying to speak at a general Berkeley City Council meeting, I thought it might be easier for me to participate in a city commission meeting, and "human welfare" seemed to be the appropriate topic. I arrived late to the first meeting, so I didn't have a very good grasp of what was going on. They were in the process of budgeting and didn't seem to have direct experience of many of the programs they were discussing. They let me comment for 5 minutes, but then told me I would have to come to the meeting next month to get any more time.

I knew exactly what I wanted to speak on and waited all month for this meeting. I consulted with some other people on the topic - gaps that were created by the way they were funding the medical programs. I feel like an authority on this subject, which affects me directly, and I was very eager to get my say in.

It turns out that commission meetings are strategically structured to PREVENT public comment - and it was only my late arrival and my ignorance that had allowed me to speak the previous time. What they do is mumble through a request for public comment directly after roll call. It makes absolutely no sense to ask for public comment then because the public hasn't yet heard anything to comment on!!!!!!! It was only later during the meeting when I asked when I could make a comment on an item that I found out that public comment was "already over".

To add insult to injury, nearly an hour of the meeting was spent discussing a networking opportunity that the commissioners would have with Council Members, and whether elected commissioners would be included with appointed members. This meeting occurs once a month, and they spent a third of it not discussing matters of health and human welfare at all!!!

Through out the meeting was so classic Berkeley it made me want to cry. In fact, tears finally did begin to roll down my face, and I doubt it was very discrete. There were repeated invocations of how their purpose was to "dialogue with the community", how they "wanted to hear from the community", how they should "get someone from the community" to come speak. Well they had someone from the community RIGHT THERE who used many of the programs they were talking about THAT NIGHT, and they didn't give a rats ass what I had to say about it.

To make matters worse, they were working out budget proposals that would last TWO YEARS without having visited the sites of the programs, often just going on hearsay and gossip about said programs, and - this was the worst "Berkeley" mindset of them all - making decisions from some sort of airy global point of view. These people are literally incapable of seeing their local community when it's right in the room! But they did talk about divestment from Israel.

I repeatedly heard lacunae in the Council's conversation that I would have liked to mention during a break if I wasn't allowed to speak during a comment. When they brought up divestment from Israel, no one brought up divestment from the gun industry, which would have a lot more significant local impact. One commissioner wanted to bring up an action regarding sexual assaults in Berkeley, but no one brought up the release of The Hunting Ground. I brought up the City Council's attempt to revive the Sit/Lie law before the meeting: when a commissioner brought it up at the end of the meeting there was no reference to me or where I had gotten the information from at all.

I'm not sure what I'm feeling right now. Outrage? Disappointment? Disgust? It's clear that Berkeley City Commission meetings are a waste of time for average citizens to attend, but they shouldn't be. Their carefully designed exclusion of the authentic lived experience of the local Berkeley resident, particularly the poor one, is a miniature of Berkeley politics in general - and it illustrates well why only around 30 percent of the population bothered to vote in the last election.

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Reply Berkeley City Commissions - a Microcosm of Everything that's Wrong with Gentrified City Politics (Original post)
daredtowork Mar 2015 OP
Trillo Mar 2015 #1
daredtowork Mar 2015 #2

Response to daredtowork (Original post)

Fri Mar 13, 2015, 01:49 PM

1. It seems like public funding of elections is one of the more important things we should do.

All elections. Perhaps private money should be disallowed in them as well, haha.

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Response to Trillo (Reply #1)

Fri Mar 13, 2015, 03:47 PM

2. I wanted very much to comment on budget allocation

Last edited Fri Mar 13, 2015, 08:21 PM - Edit history (1)

While the commission itself is diverse, and I was grateful to see their grasp on the importance of meals programs, their knowledge of programs beyond that level is hazy at best. The whole reason there is a "commission" beyond the City Council is that they are supposed to be the experts. They should do the legwork and investigate.

The really gentrified (with a Berkeley twist) aspect of the City budget is the emphasis on acupuncture in several programs. Now I understand why I'm always being pushed into acupuncture for pain management. But is this coming at the expense of other needs of the local medical programs? The last time I tried to call to remake an appointment that had been summarily canceled, the phone wait time was 68 minutes! There also aren't enough primary care doctors: that triple book for 15 minute appointments, and patients with complex conditions can only bring up one symptom after 2 months of waiting. Doctors can run 2-3 hours late under these impossible conditions.

The thing I wanted to point out to the commission was how their funding was narrowly defined. They were funding programs for people with diabetes, senior citizens, acupuncture clinic, etc. While extra attention to those patients was now funded, patients who did not fit those criteria were falling through the cracks.

The patients that are shafted in this situation are patients under age 65 with complex or multiple conditions. These patients suffer from profound medical neglect verging on malpractice. I have lost part of my eyesight, spent an unnecessary amount of time dragging myself around in pain, hung out out in the welfare system when I should have been on SSI, spent a lot of time in the ER that should have been handled at the clinic level, and almost died *at a City Council meeting* last month because I have a rare genetic disorder mixed with other medical problems - a complex condition. What I need is case management. But it's been hard for my clinic to offer that too me since its not in any budget. From time to time nurses and one community outreach coordinator has tried to knit my situation together on their own time.

I'm sure I'm not the only person in Berkeley under age 65 with a complex condition. There needs to be program funding to cover case management, though. I could answer a lot of questions about people in my situation if the Human Welfare Commission had wanted to know.

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