Park Funnies

Carol Denney is a Berkeley treasure. For a quarter-century just about every month she’s published a satirical broadsheet that lampoons, skewers, and roasts the high and the mighty of Berkeley and the universe. Her Pepper Spray Times may not have the circulation of The Onion or the Harvard Lampoon, but it’s easily their peer, and then some, in wit and drollery. This month she’s published a whole 25 years of this broadsheet in a hefty two-volume anthology plus a slimmer sampler. (Disclosure, as owner of Duplex Press I edited and published her volumes.) In reviewing her enormous body of work, I saw to my happy amazement that Carol has been poking fun at developments in Cesar Chavez Park for a long time. For example, back in 2001, when the dog park (“off-leash area”) in Cesar Chavez Park was just two years old, Denney published a piece with the headline, “Last Duck Leaves Cesar Chavez.” She quoted a Mallard holding a press conference regretting that he had to leave the park because dogs had taken it over. Here’s the item:

Pepper Spray Times February 2001

The following year, Denney extended the theme, this time handing the microphone to dogs, who felt it was only fair that any wildlife remaining in the park should have to be licensed and tagged same as dogs. Along with that, she published a “biting” cartoon skewering the attitudes of certain dog owners — today we would call them Karens — who felt their pets were entitled to do anything at all.

Pepper Spray Times February 2002
Pepper Spray Times February 2002

There matters rested until 2010, when Denney took pen in hand to skewer the public art project that now occupies the northeast corner of the park. Denney points out that this corner was a habitat for wintering Burrowing Owls, and that the installation of the art project was liable to “ensure the absence of owls over time.” Never afraid to name names, Denney quotes Art Commission chair David Snippen and the artists Jeff Reed and Jennifer Madden dismissing the owls as unimportant. “Those owls play hardball,” she has Snippen saying. “We offered to put their names on a plaque, but they never called back.”

Pepper Spray Times October 2010

Denney had a field day in 2014 when the City entertained a proposal to reduce the population of ground squirrels. There were charges that the squirrels were causing the garbage underlying the park to leak into the Bay. The proposal raised a firestorm of opposition. The brouhaha was a cornucopia of items for satire, and Denney wasted none of it. One of the juiciest items was the sudden and unexplained disappearance of some 81,000 (yes, eighty-one thousand) emails from Berkeley residents supporting the squirrels.

Pepper Spray Times March 2014

In her popular Lena Deeter advice column, Denney posted this item, supposedly sent in by a ground squirrel:

Pepper Spray Times April 2014

Pepper Spray Times April 2014

Shortly after the ground squirrel flareup, Berkeley entered a controversy over redistricting. Denney instantly merged the two in an item “reporting” that the ground squirrels had armed themselves and formed their own political district:

Pepper Spray Times June 2014

The ground squirrels also figured in the “terrorist” scare coming from the Homeland Security agency and its various arms. In Denney’s rendering, the ground squirrels were frightening joggers and birdwatchers with their automatic weapons and their anti-government beliefs:

Pepper Spray Times December 2014

The squirrel controversy ended without a squirrel massacre. Instead, council passed a regulation forbidding feeding of wildlife in the park. The ground squirrels, according to Denney, were not pleased:

Pepper Spray Times June 2015

Ever alert to the shifting political landscape, the ground squirrels all decided to run for Mayor of Berkeley, Denny wrote:

Pepper Spray Times September 2016

Denney returned several times to the theme of protecting all the park’s wildlife, not only the ducks and the squirrels. A recurring issue is mowing. Dog owners who want to be free of their animals in the park urge the Park administration to mow everywhere, believing (wrongly) that mowing is a solution to foxtails, which can injure dogs severely. Denney points out that mowing destroys wildlife habitat, and suggests that dog advocates would prefer to have the whole park paved over.

Pepper Spray Times August 2014

Denney loves to poke fun at the Silicon Valley motto of “disruption.” In this post she applies it to a “Karen” type dog owner who had her dog run in the Burrowing Owl sanctuary on the northeast corner of the park — a real situation that I’ve documented more than once. Denney makes it funny by quoting the dog as being mortified by his owner’s attitude and applying for a change of guardianship:

Hard Times May 2015

Denney has been keenly alert to other instances of park abuse and malfunction. She jumped on a series of spitfire emissions from the stack of the old landfill gas flare station near the center of the park, claiming that city staffers planned the display as a cheap substitute for holiday fireworks.

Pepper Spray Times February 2016

Denney came down heavy on the City’s recent proposal to stage a major commercial cannabis festival in Cesar Chavez Park. It appears that the owners of High Times magazine, wealthy cannabis developers, had promised city politicians major sums for a permit to fence the park and charge admission to a cannabis smoke-in. Strong intervention by Denney and her allies succeeded in defeating the proposal.

Pepper Spray Times March 2019
Pepper Spray Times April 2019

Denney also happened to be present when a gang of juvenile mountain bikers repeatedly gouged the soft soil of a prominent hillside in the park, leaving it a mess. She noted the contrast between this behavior and the stereotype of Bay Area kids as respectful of the environment.

Pepper Spray Times January 2020

Carol Denney’s coverage of Cesar Chavez Park is a tiny sliver of her scope. She’s all over Berkeley politics, national issues, world trends, and the space adventures of NASA. She’s been compared to Mark Twain, Molly Ivins, and Paul Krassner of The Realist. She’s also up there with the greats for longevity: she’s been publishing her funny paper for 25 years. It makes sense, given her enduring and consistent devotion to Cesar Chavez Park, that she’s a member of the Chavez Park Conservancy Board of Directors. Here’s a shameless plug for her new books:

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