Speaker Covers Local, Worldwide Concerns

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Rep. Barbara Lee came to Berkeley Saturday to address several local and worldwide concerns, including federal spending on housing and the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Lee, a UC Berkeley alumna, represents the Ninth Congressional District, which includes the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, Emeryville, Albany and Alameda.

During her speech and town hall meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center, the Democratic congresswoman discussed the AIDS Marshall Plan for Africa Act, which would provide federal funding to help combat the spread of the HIV virus in Africa.

"There are approximately 70 to 75 percent of all AIDS deaths in the world happening in Africa," Lee said. "It is a pandemic of enormous proportions, and this is an issue we have to get behind and solve, because if we don't this epidemic can spread worldwide."

So far, Lee has garnered 70 cosponsors for the bill in a Republican-dominated Congress.

During the meeting, citizens voiced concerns about Social Security and the scarcity of drug rehabilitation facilities.

Area residents seemed most concerned, however, about the limited availability of housing in the Bay Area.

East Bay resident Dede Dewey said that although current housing initiatives give low-income citizens vouchers to buy houses, those who are disabled and on supplementary security incomes are not able to participate in the program because they might spend more than the money allotted to them. If this happens, they risk losing their benefits.

"There needs to be a provision in current law," Dewey said.

In recent years, the federal government has increased housing spending by more than $1.3 billion, but Lee said housing is still not a priority for national policy-makers.

Housing will continue to be a problem in the future due to the influx of people from the baby boom generation, said Kimberlee Garfinkle, a staff assistant for Lee.

"So many people just out of college have to live at home now because of the unavailability of housing," Garfinkle said. "It is just really sad, and really impossible."

A member of the Congressional International Relations Committee, Lee also addressed a variety of international concerns.

Berkeley resident Michael Katz encouraged Lee to vote against granting China most-favored nation trade status.

"This will allow China to have the same tariffs as the lowest tariffs the U.S. grants to the lowest nations," Katz said. "Foreign policy is a world of antagonizing dilemmas. The weight of this particular bill would allow China into the World Trade Organization. Congress and the U.S. will lose their right to put pressure on China about labor rights."

Residents also said they were concerned about radioactive waste emissions they claim are coming from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Tritium Labeling Facility.

In the past, a representative from Lee's office worked with the Tritium Emissions Workgroup, run by the Department of Energy, to deal with this problem. That arrangement ended in February 1997 when the community walked out, according to Berkeley resident Pamela Sihvola, who lives north of the lab.


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