Nationwide Group Helps Bay Area Moms Take On Healthcare

By Andrea V. Brambila 

They’ve painted Onesies emblazoned with “Healthcare for All Kids”. They’ve sent apples and e-mailed letters to legislators. They’ve taken pictures of smiling toddlers, signed petitions and told their own healthcare stories. The national activist group MomsRising is making it easy for the Bay Area’s busy moms to take political action on an issue that is especially close to their hearts: children’s health.

By offering short, convenient and often creative opportunities for action that moms can fit into their congested schedules, MomsRising aims to show that being a mom does not have to mean political isolation.


Assemblymember Loni Hancock and Joan Blades, founder of MomsRising  

“Mothers are often isolated and want to get in touch with other like-minded people,” said Donna Norton, co-director of MomsRising’s California Campaign.

Joan Blades, co-founder of, started MomsRising on Mother’s Day 2006. The group is based on a website, and is feedback-driven. It has no central office, although many of its core members, including Blades, live in the Bay Area. The group boasts over 120,000 members nationwide. In California they have 25,000 alone.

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Step It Up: Green City Shows Its Colors

By Rhyen Coombs

Over 50 people met in downtown Berkeley Nov. 3 to Step It Up, joining hundreds across the Bay Area for the National Day of Climate Action. View audio-slideshow.Step It Up

This story first published on North Gate News Online.

From Shanghai to Small Claims Court: Pan-Pacific Tussle Ends Well for Tenant

By Rhyen Coombs

Chang-Qin Wu didn’t miss his second court date. He’d traveled all the way from Shanghai to guarantee it. By 9:30 a.m. Oct. 19, he was seated in the Berkeley Courthouse opposite his accuser and former landlady to find out whether the trans-Pacific flight would be worth it. He hastily tugged his blazer over his shoulders and sat up straight as Alameda County Superior Court Judge Marshall Whitley entered the small claims court.

Across the aisle, 78-year-old Esther Yang of El Sobrante shuffled to her seat, propped her feet on her metal walker’s support bars and with a trembling thumb sifted through the photographs and faded receipts she’d brought along as proof of her claim. Wu, she said, had never paid her the $1,000 rent for November 2006 and left apartment No. 3 in her building at 1117 Brighton Street in Albany filled with trash and an overflowing sink. It cost her $6,325 to clean it up. Continue reading

Co-Working Offers New Way to Work

By Andrea V. Brambila 

Creative and technically minded independent workers in the East Bay used to have three workplace options: cafes, home offices or rented space. Now Berkeley has a fourth, the co-working site.

Berkeley Coworking, the first of its kind in the city, opened over the summer in South Berkeley near the Ashby BART Station.


Mark MacVicar and co-founder Jonathan Zamick.  Zamick’s dog, Eos, lounges in the middle.  

Proponents say co-working is cheaper than renting, encourages workers to share ideas and equipment and to interact socially, and comes without the guilt of being “cafe nomads” who take up tables for hours on one cup of coffee.

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Schools Seek Answers from ‘Data Queen’

By Andrea V. Brambila

Walk into the office of the head data-cruncher at Berkeley Unified School District and you’ll find two accessories that might seem out of place: a wood-framed hourglass on a glossy new desk and a glittering tiara crowning the occupant.

“I call myself the Data Queen,” said Phyllis Jane “P.J.” Hallam, the district’s new director of assessment, evaluation and research. The hourglass is a gift from a friend who noted Hallam’s love of

A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Literacy Assessment doctorate program, Hallam, 53, was hired over the summer to start the new three-person department dedicated to using objective and accurate data to improve student achievement and evaluate programs.

The new department, funded as part of a $19 million school parcel tax known as Measure A, reflects a new call for data-driven decision making in California schools.

“Most decisions are made based on emotions,” said Mark Coplan, the district’s public information officer. “There’s no data to substantiate that programs are valuable.”

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Anti-Antenna Activists Bring Protest to Verizon’s Door

By Rhyen Coombs

No, they weren’t trick-or-treaters three days late, though cell phone shoppers heading toward 1109 University Ave. Saturday could rightly be confused. Decked out with foil hats and folk songs, poster boards and a bullhorn, it was the Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union, bringing their protest directly to Verizon Wireless’ doorstep.

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Led by spokesperson Michael Barglow, about 20 members marched in a circle outside the store, chanting songs of protest against the lawsuit Verizon Communications has leveled at the city. Verizon wants to install five new cell phone antennas on the roof of UC Storage at 2721 Shattuck Ave., and says the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board violated the 1996 Telecommunications Act in denying both it and Nextel – which seeks to install another six antennas – use permits in May on health grounds.

The BNAFU activists, many of whom live in south Berkeley and say radiation emissions from the antennas are hazardous to public health, cheered the ZAB’s original stance. Now they’re hopping mad. Continue reading

Howl-O-Ween at Ohlone Dog Park

By Rhyen Coombs

They came. They howled. They bobbed for carrots. They leaped for popcorn balls. They heeled round the pumpkins. They begged for doggie treats. They begged for human treats – pumpkin cookies – and most of the time, they got them. Because on the last day of October, the rules forbidding children from sugar bend for dogs, too. Never mind the caffeine rush. This was the first Ohlone Dog Park Association Howl-O-Ween.

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Their parents came too. They adjusted tiny witch hats determined to slide off canine heads. They reattached feline ears. Oh, the indignity. They tugged back on matching gray wigs, until succumbing to tug-of-war. They proudly paraded a Dalmatian dangling an udder, an American Eskimo emblazoned with a skunk’s stripe – and a scrappy terrier named Lola festooned as a flower child, with a blossom in her collar and “peace” in psychedelic script across her back. Continue reading