Berkeley’s All Species Commission

After a year of disputatious hearings, Berkeley’s All Species Commission has finally delivered a recommendation to City Council

Another Berkeley First was the establishment, several years ago, of the All Species Commission (ASC). During its first year it provided guidelines for proper attire for dogs, regulated healthy pet food, monitored pet salons and motels, and issued licenses to pet-care providers.

It was one of the most successful new commissions established and the Mayor and City Council took great pride in their foresight and pioneering efforts to establish it and looked forward to other cities adopting a similar institution.

But in the autumn of 2017 things turned sour. An overflow commission meeting heard angry Berkeley residents vociferously complain about the over population of squirrels and crows that were harassing them. Not the least of the mischief was that squirrels were digging up the Resilience Gardens the City has been promoting with free seeds, compost and classes under the State’s Grow Your Healthy Food campaign.

And the crows have been disturbing residents’ Well-Being Regimen sponsored by the County Well-Being Agency (CWBA). Complaints had been pouring in to CWBA immediately after they launched their Morning Meditation Salons (MMS). These were held to train neighbors to meditate together early in the morning before work. But nobody could meditate with the constant daybreak aural assaults from hyperventilating crows. Quiet chirping of little birds would aid mediation, but the crows were like feathered soccer bullies.

One especially irate individual threatened to poison the squirrels and crows at a winter meeting of ASC and received a standing ovation from many residents in attendance. All hell broke out among the commissioners and they summoned the police to restrain the murderous resident. The officers who arrived refused to do so and instead threatened to arrest the apoplectic commissioners. Calm only returned to the hearing when MMSers in the audience positioned themselves between the commissioners and irate citizens and spontaneously began meditating as a group.

That initial meeting was followed by more contentious ones, with pro and con positions increasingly polarized. After that first meeting, police presence was ordered by the City Manager. And at the subsequent meeting, the Mayor warned that police overtime was too costly and he would disband the commission if they could not conduct civil meetings. However, raucous meetings continued until the city summer break arrived and all commission meetings were suspended until the fall.

During the summer, one commissioner took a long anticipated vacation to Alaska and while there had an epiphany upon viewing the numerous eagles.

At the first autumn meeting, again filled with the usual contentious crowd, along with their contending picket signs, symbolic caps, scarves and chants. And, too, the bedraggled Mayor and Police Chief arrived ready to close the proceedings. The commissioner who had vacationed in Alaska took the floor to offer a solution. Rising slowly and unfurling a large photo of an American Bald Eagle, the commissioner quietly presented a remedy for an issue that tore apart the City for almost a year.

“We are going to import six eagles equally gender divided and establish three nesting sites throughout the city. The eagles will dine on the squirrels and as a dominant bird chase all the crows to the neighboring town of Albany.”

The audience was aghast. Some cried in appreciation of the ingenious solution, others quietly departed unable to mount an offense against the preeminent American symbol, and most applauded wildly, including the Mayor and the Police Chief.

[Note: I have lived in Berkeley for over three decades and have attended numerous Commission Hearings. Berkeley’s commissions are citizen-staffed institutions that solicit community responses to current city-wide issues and send recommendations to staff in various city departments and to City Council and the Mayor. They are mainly an exemplary means to facilitate informed opinion as a basis for positive legislative outcomes.]