Video Commentary Comes before Council
Will Harper, Berkeley Voice, April 13, 1995
Anyone who has been to a City Council
meeting in recent years has probably seen L A Wood. Wood, is
a southwest Berkeley neighborhood activist with an uncanny knack for
having his request-card selected to speak during the council's public
Week after week he talks for the allotted three minutes
about the things affecting his neighborhood: the noise and pollution
from the city's corporation yard, the lease to the Berkeley Lawn Bowling
Club, and the importance of street sweeping in maintaining a healthy
Now Wood has another weapon in his activist arsenal: video. With a high-resolution home-video camera Wood has produced
three mini-documentaries with his friend Carolyn Erbele: the first on
storm water runoff, the second on the dangers posed by UC Berkeley's
proposed toxic waste site in Strawberry Canyon, and the latest a thoughtful
12-minute look at the traffic problems in his south Berkeley neighborhood
caused by the dozens of official trucks and cars going in and out of
the city's corporation yard each day.
His most recent work, "Traffic in Transit,"
cost $300 to make and took three months to produce. Wood turns the "kill your television" view favored
by some activists on its head. Instead of criticizing television as
an opiate breeding passivity, Wood sounds a McLuhan-like optimism that
television, combined with affordable video tools, invites public participation
rather than discourages it.
In fact, he says, video offers a more persuasive medium
to present one's viewpoint than, say, speaking for three minutes at
the council's open-mike. When Wood was stalled for weeks by the city manager from
showing his production on the corporation yard -- the manager said the
city first wanted to develop a policy on video presentations -- to the
council he decided to take another approach.
At a February council meeting Wood brought several of
his friends along to fill out request-cards to speak during public comment.
After the cards were selected. Wood, using his own video equipment,
showed his piece on the corporation yard -- the first time anyone could
recall video being used during public comment at a council meeting.
After the presentation and several runs on Berkeley's
cable public access channel, Wood said there are changes being made
at the corporation yard. For example, 40 city gardeners who used to
leave the yard each morning and then drive back for lunch before returning
to their off-site work, don't return for lunch now.
Wood added that the council also held off approving an
$85,000 expenditure to fix a fuel line at the yard, to study alternative
"They always say a picture's worth a thousand words,
and undoubtedly the pictures made an impression on us," said Councilwoman
For weeks Wood has pressed for an official policy on video
presentations at City Council meetings. "If the council really
wants public participation they're going to have to accept video,"
Wood also welcomes the addition of televised council meetings.
Since October council meetings have been televised on Channel 25, the
city's public access channel. "I think they (the council) fear
that with a video record they can't have it the way they used to have
it. They may end up with more participation than they ever wanted."
Tuesday the council adopted a video presentation policy
that limits videos to ten minutes, requires advance scheduling and approval
of the city manager and the council, and prohibits private businesses
from showing promotional tapes.
Assistant City Manager Phil Kamlarz said the need for
a policy became apparent last year after one graphic video presentation
on the use of bovine growth hormone (BGH) on dairy cows upset many people,
and another by a local courier company amounted to a commercial.
Kamlarz added that the policy would help ensure meetings
to proceed in a timely manner.
Amy Resner, the chief of staff for Mayor Shirley Dean,
said the policy was a reflection of the times. "The fact we're
in this video age means there are going to be more people wanting to
make video presentations."
Councilwoman Polly Armstrong said the new policy would
give council members time to prepare to watch presentations with a discerning-eye.
"I think video technology is so new it's easy for
us to be enamored with it. We're not accustomed to asking the same questions
to someone showing a video as we are with someone speaking to us. Soil's
easy (with video) to get one side of the issue and not notice the other
side is missing," Armstrong said.
"If we didn't have some pretty tough rules,"
she added, "we'd end up with everyone in town with a special interest
and a video camera wanting to show us a video."
Wood said the "new" policy isn't really new
at all. It is essentially the same procedure that was in place last
year before the BGH-video made some council members nervous about video
presentations, he said.
In the intervening months, Wood said, he was forced to
wait for the "new" policy to be crafted.
Kamlarz said that no official policy was ever adopted
before. Kamlarz said the policy would go into effect once
the city can install equipment to allow a direct feed of video presentations
into the cable broadcast for home-viewers. Kamlarz estimated it would
take four to six weeks and anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 to make a
direct feed possible.