BERKELEY’S 25 CENT DISPOSABLE CUP LAW and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Restaurants and stores in Berkeley are now required to charge customers 25 cents for disposable cups. It does not matter what the cup is made from. The charge is 25 cents whether the cup is polystyrene (which is not biodegradable), biodegradable plastic, cardboard, or even paper. If the cup is designed for single use, the charge is 25 cents. The restaurant gets to keep the money. The purpose of this law is to dramatically reduce the number of disposable cups used in Berkeley. However, I think this law may do just the opposite. You can buy 12-ounce disposable cups at Costco for 5 cents each. Restaurants in Berkeley can now sell those cups for 25 cents each. They are prohibited from charging less. That means that a restaurant in Berkeley can sell a disposable cup for 5 times the cup’s cost. That’s a huge profit margin! Restaurants don’t sell food for 5 times its cost. In other words, the city of Berkeley has given restaurants a financial incentive to use more disposable cups, just the opposite of the law’s intention! Some people bring their own cups with them when they go to coffee shops and restaurants, but relatively few people do that. I know quite a few Berkeley restaurants that are struggling financially. Now they can charge customers 25 cents for disposable cups that cost them 5 cents. What do you think they will do? I think they will do the obvious thing and use more disposable cups. This law does not require restaurants to have reusable cups, and many places that sell beverages, like convenience stores, don’t have dishwashers or any way to wash and sterilize cups. The Berkeley city council often passes ‘feel good’ laws like this, without thinking through the practical consequences of what they are doing.


Most people assume that cured bacon is cured and that uncured bacon is uncured. That seems obvious, but it’s not true. Cured and uncured bacon are both cured and cured with the same preservatives: salt, sodium nitrate, and sodium nitrite. So – what does it mean when bacon or other preserved meat products are labeled ‘uncured’? Uncured bacon usually costs more than cured bacon, sometimes a lot more. The food processing industry has a lot of clout with the federal government in the way the government defines things. (You probably already knew that.) The federal government’s rule is this – if meat is preserved with chemicals produced from synthetic sources, the meat is ‘cured’. However, if meat is preserved with the same chemicals, but from organic sources, then the meat is ‘uncured.’ Chemically, sodium nitrate produced from synthetic sources is exactly the same as sodium nitrate produced from organic sources. Most people know that eating preserved meat is not good for you, but they fool themselves into thinking that eating uncured meat is a healthy alternative to eating regular cured bacon, hot dogs, ham, salami, etc. Sorry – but you are just fooling yourself if you believe that. Here is an example of how this works. On the front label of Oscar Mayer uncured bacon, it says “Oscar Mayer Natural Uncured Bacon has no artificial ingredients and no added nitrates or nitrites, except those occurring naturally in celery juice and sea salt.” Well, that statement is true, but they fail to mention that the reason why they put celery juice in their bacon is because celery juice contains a lot of sodium nitrate. ‘Natural’ is another word that the government defines in a strange way, but that will have to wait for another day. For more details about cured vs. uncured meat, see the October 2019 issue of Consumer Reports, which contains a lengthy article on this subject.


Donald Trump hates windmills. I’m not sure why Trump hates windmills, but I assume the reason is the obvious one – coal, oil, and gas companies give a lot of money to his campaign. (To be clear, I am not actually talking about windmills. I am talking about wind turbines, but I am calling them windmills because that is what most people call them and that is what Donald Trump calls them in his speeches. See photo below of a windmill in a field of wind turbines.) Below are Donald Trump’s 4 main arguments against windmills, going from his best argument to his worst.

1. Windmills kill a lot of birds. True! The Audubon Society estimates that over 300,000 bids are killed in the U.S. every year by flying into windmills. Although that seems like a very big number, it is actually small compared to the number of birds killed in other ways. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that over 5 million birds die every year in the U.S. by flying into cell phone towers. That is almost 20 times the number of birds killed by flying into windmills. However, I have never heard President Trump denounce cell phones because millions of birds die every year flying into cell phone towers. It seems ironic (at least to me) that President Trump uses this argument against windmills — that they are responsible for the death of a lot of birds. One of Donald Trump’s favorite foods is Kentucky Fried Chicken.

2. Windmills lower property values. If you live in a house next to windmill, that will lower the value of your property. Windmills can be noisy and intimidating. However, windmills are rarely built next to houses. I’ve never seen a windmill in a residential neighborhood. Have you? Most windmills are built in rural areas and on farms, far away from houses. Windmills on farms don’t lower the value of the property. They increase the value of the property because windmills produce cash income to the farmer. In some states, windmills have become a major source of income for farmers. In Iowa, for example, over 1/3 of all the electricity produced in the state comes from windmills.3. Windmills cause cancer.  Donald Trump has retweeted this claim which started on conspiracy theory web sites. Trump has also stated in speeches at campaign rallies that people who live near windmills are dying from cancer caused by the noise created by the blades. However, there is no evidence anywhere to back up this claim.

4. Windmills are “spewing” air-polluting fumes and gases into the atmosphere. At campaign rallies, President Trump has repeatedly stated that windmills produce a lot of toxic fumes. Here is what Donald Trump said at a recent campaign rally about wind energy.  “You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody. I know it’s very expensive. They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here, almost none. But they’re manufactured tremendous — if you’re into this — tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint — fumes are spewing into the air. Right? Spewing. Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going into the air. It’s our air, their air, everything — right? So they make these things and then they put them up.” 

There are a lot of things wrong with President Trump’s speech (beginning with grammar and syntax.)  But what about these fumes? Windmill fumes. Now – I am sure that Donald Trump knows that windmills do not have tailpipes or chimneys and that they do not produce fumes, but what about his supporters? While Donald Trump was delivering the speech above, they were nodding their heads in agreement. I saw them do it. What were these people thinking? What could they be thinking? How could rational people believe that windmills are poisoning the atmosphere with “tremendous fumes”? Frankly, looking at their faces, these people reminded me of people I knew who joined religious cults. To people in cults, anything the leader says is right. They question nothing the leader says, no matter how absurd it is. Is that what is going on here? What other explanation could there be? By the way, it is not true that almost no windmills are made in the United States, although a lot of people believe that. GE Wind Energy, a division of General Electric, is one of the biggest windmill manufacturers in the world. Also, I think Donald Trump is confusing Germany with Denmark. The biggest manufacturer of windmills in the world is Vestas, a company in Denmark. I have a cousin who works there.

Don Quixote? Donald Trump’s war on windmills reminds me of Don Quixote. Don Quixote is a famous Spanish story about a man who loses his mind and imagines that he is a knight. He declares war on windmills. He imagines that windmills are evil and want to harm him. Don Quixote attacks one of the windmills, charging at it with a spear, injuring himself. His friend Sancho tells Don Quixote that it is foolish to fight with windmills, but Don Quixote doesn’t believe him. Maybe an updated version of this story could be called ‘Donald Quixote.’


I was curious to see which of the items on my Christmas gift list would prove to be most popular. I thought the most popular item would be the electric scooter, but I was wrong. By far, the most popular item was the iPad. I gave away a lot of iPads. I think that’s because nearly all my tenants already have bicycles and also possibly because Berkeley and Oakland streets are in terrible condition and full of potholes. I got an unusually large number of emails from people who I don’t know regarding my tenant gift list. The email exchange below was my favorite.

Dear Mr. Tarses:
Are you the Berkeley landlord who is giving tenants free electric scooters? I read about you on Facebook. I think what you are doing is great!

Dear XXX:Yes, I’m the guy.

Dear Mr. Tarses:Great! My roommates and I are Berkeley tenants. There are 3 of us, and we would all like free electric scooters. We rent a house on Benvenue Avenue. If you want proof that we are Berkeley tenants, I can send you a copy of our lease. What color are the scooters? I’d like a red one, but I’ll take any color you’ve got.

Dear XXX:
I am afraid you misunderstood my offer. I am only giving away electric scooters to my tenants, not all Berkeley tenants. I don’t own property on Benvenue Avenue, and you are not my tenant. If you want a free electric scooter, you will have to get it from your landlord, not from me.

Dear Mr. Tarses:
I was afraid you were going to say that. Our landlord isn’t giving away free electric scooters. He doesn’t give us anything. He wouldn’t even buy us a new shower curtain, and ours has a big hole in it. Do you have any extra electric scooters that your tenants didn’t want? There are 3 of us, but we will take anything you’ve got.

Dear XXX:
Sorry, but I don’t have any extra electric scooters.

Dear Mr. Tarses:Do you have any leftover iPads that nobody wanted?
I didn’t reply to this last email. I didn’t want to continue with this conversation.

THE ALAMEDA SPITE HOUSE.Exactly what is a spite house? A spite house is a house that was built for the purpose of annoying or frustrating a neighbor. A spite house is intended to create a problem for the neighbor, such as blocking views, sunlight, or access to a street or driveway. Because spite houses are built for revenge, not for long term occupancy or resale, spite houses often have strange and impractical shapes and designs. They are often built on small or oddly shaped lots. Bona fide spite houses can be found scattered around the United States and Europe, but there aren’t many of them. That is because because modern building codes prohibit the construction of houses that block a neighbor’s access to sunlight, sidewalks, drainage, etc. As a result, most spite houses are over 100 years old. Spite fences and spite trees are far more common than spite houses, and there are lots of them around. Spite trees are trees that are planted for the purpose of blocking a neighbor’s view or sunlight. I have seen quite a few spite fences and spite trees, but I know of only one true spite house in the San Francisco bay area. It is in the city of Alameda. The Alameda Spite House. In 1908, Charles Froling built a now-famous spite house at 2528 Crist Street at the corner of Broadway on Alameda Island. Mr. Froling owned a lot on Broadway, which was at the time, the city’s most prestigious residential street. Mr. Froling intended to build a fine house on this lot. However, the city of Alameda took away the bulk of Mr. Froling’s land to build Crist Street. The building of Crist Street had the strong support of the the owner of the house next door to Mr. Froling’s lot, a wealthy and politically well-connected woman named Annette Westerdahl. We don’t know why Mrs. Westerdahl didn’t like Mr. Froling, but she did not want him as a neighbor. When the city created the new street with land they had taken from Mr. Froling by eminent domain, Mr. Froling was left with a lot measuring only 10 feet by 100 feet, too narrow a piece of land on which to build a house – – or so they thought. Mr. Froling was enraged by what Mrs. Westerdahl and the council had done, and so he plotted his revenge. Froling built a 2-story house on his 10 foot wide lot, right up to the property line. The house is still there and is still occupied. The Westerdahl house is also still there. You can see it was built for somebody with serious money. All of the rooms in the Westerdahl house facing the Froling house are now in perpetual darkness because the 2 houses are only 3 feet apart.

JOHN TYLER’S GRANDSONS.If you have been reading my newsletter for a while, you know that I like strange history stories, like the one above. I think this story is even stranger. John Tyler was the 10th president of the United States. He was born in 1790 and died in 1862. Tyler was elected governor of Virginia after making a reputation for himself in the War of 1812. John Tyler was elected vice president in 1840 as the running mate of William Henry Harrison. Their slogan was ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too.’ President Harrison died only 1 month after his inauguration, making Tyler the president. Even though John Tyler was president for almost 4 years, he didn’t accomplish much. He irritated both the Democrats and his own party, the Whigs. The only really significant thing he did as president was sign into law the formal annexation of Texas, which triggered the Mexican War. John Tyler has 2 living grandsons. One of them recently gave an interview about his famous grandfather on CBS News. But wait a minute! How could somebody who was born 230 years ago have 2 living grandsons?! How is that possible? Here is an article that explains it. John Tyler’s Grandsons. The trick, it appears, is to live a long time and marry women much younger than yourself. 

TEMPORARY TAXES.I am very suspicious of temporary taxes. I think that comes from teaching history for a long time. Whenever I hear politicians talk about creating a temporary tax, I think about the federal telephone tax. In 1898, the United States declared war on Spain, but Congress didn’t have the money to pay for it. This war was fought before the Constitution was amended to allow the federal government to collect income taxes from individuals and corporations. To finance the Spanish-American War, Congress passed a temporary tax on long distance telephone calls. The tax was considered a luxury tax because back in those days, only rich people and businesses could afford to make long distance phone calls. A 3-minute phone call from New York to San Francisco cost more than a week’s wages for a typical factory worker. In the law that created this tax, it states that the telephone tax was to be a ‘temporary tax’ and that it was to be repealed when the war with Spain ended. The Spanish-American War only lasted a few months, but the telephone tax continued to be paid by Americans for over the next one hundred years. The telephone tax was finally abolished in 2006. By that time, cell phones had made collecting the tax impossible. Think of it – until 2006, Americans were still paying a temporary tax created to finance the Spanish-American War. The telephone is not unique. There are many other ‘temporary taxes’ that never got repealed.

The St. Louis Rams. Most really big temporary taxes these days are created to pay for building stadiums to attract or keep professional sports teams, but these temporary stadium taxes rarely get repealed or expire. That’s because most taxpayer-financed professional sports stadiums lose money, and sometimes the team a stadium was built for moves away. For example, in order to get the Los Angeles Rams to move to St. Louis, the city built a huge domed stadium in the heart of the city at taxpayer expense. The Rams moved to St. Louis and played football there for 21 years. Then the Rams moved back to Los Angeles in 2015, leaving St. Louis with a football stadium but no football team. Taxpayers in St. Louis have already paid over $300 million in stadium construction debt but are still on the hook for over $150 million more. The 80,000 seat stadium is occasionally rented for events like professional wrestling and monster truck rallies, but the income from these events is far less than the stadium’s annual maintenance costs, and those maintenance costs are rising due to the age of the building. There are huge vacant stadiums like the domed football stadium in St. Louis all over the United States.


I am not going to set up my usual Christmas gift table for my tenants this year. I have been doing that for a long time, but this year I am going to do something different. Here’s why.

In 2017, Congress rewrote the income tax law. It is, in my opinion, a really terrible, terrible law. This law was promoted as a ‘middle class tax cut’, but in reality, most of the benefits went to big corporations. Congress cut the corporate income tax rate by 40%. That’s gigantic! It is the principle reason why the federal government is now running a $1 trillion dollar a year deficit. To make matters worse, Congress then voted to increase military spending by two hundred billion dollars a year. Republican politicians aren’t talking about this deficit. That’s predictable since they created it, but none of the 10 or 20 Democrats running for president are talking about the deficit either. Nobody seems to be concerned about this huge federal deficit – except me! Certain other types of businesses also got tax cuts. We landlords got something called a ‘20% pass-through.’ Essentially, that means that I now only have to pay income tax on 80% of the rent I receive. If, on the other hand, you have a job and get paid a salary, you still have to pay income tax on 100% of the wages you receive. That scarcely seems fair. I don’t believe that any of my tenants got any benefit from this law. When I complain about the injustice of this tax law, people say things like: “If you really feel that your tenants are more deserving of a tax cut than you are, then why don’t you give your tax savings to them?” That’s a good question, and that is what I am going to do. Besides, I believe in goodwill. As I have been telling Berkeley landlords for 30 years, any landlord in a place like Berkeley who spends nothing on goodwill is a fool. A Berkeley landlord I know looked me right in the eye and told me that he doesn’t send Christmas cards to his tenants because: “I can’t afford it.” This guy rents 1-bedroom apartments for $2,500 a month.

OK. Here are the rules for this year’s Christmas gifts: Every tenant can pick one item from the list below. That’s one gift per tenant, not one gift per rental unit. If you are named as a tenant on a current lease with me, you are entitled to a gift from the list below. Now please understand, I don’t have these items on hand. You tell me which item you want, and I will order it for you. Here are your choices.

1. Xioami M365 Electric Scooter. I have one of these myself. I am amazed at how much power this thing has. If you would like to look at my scooter before making your decision, come on over to my chocolate room. If you want one of these scooters, you may have to wait a few weeks for me to get it. There is often a shortage of this brand. Lime, Bird, Lyft and all the other electric scooter rental companies use Xioami scooters. (That’s pronounced ‘shall-me.’)

2. KitchenAid Professional 6 Quart Mixer. This comes with several accessories not pictured, including paddle and dough hook. Made in the United States. These things are virtually indestructible and become family heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next. I can get you the 5 quart mixer if you would prefer a smaller one.

3. Go Pro Camera Bundle. Waterproof. Bundle includes: 32SD card, floating hand grip, wi-fi and bluetooth.

4. iPad, 7th Generation. 10.2 inch screen. I just got one of these for myself. Boy! These things just keep getting better and better. The color and clarity is just amazing. I could only download 2 or 3 movies onto my old iPad before it ran out of storage space. It had 16GB. This one has 128GB.

5. Safari West. Admission for 2 with a private Wild Walk Behind the Scenes. Would you like to hand-feed a giraffe? I once did that. It was a lot of fun! Giraffes have big soulful eyes, long eyelashes, and really long purple tongues. They are very shy and gentle. I know someone who has a pet giraffe! It is at his parent’s home in South Africa. Safari West is located in Sonoma County. With this deal, you get an escorted tour through different parts of this safari-themed animal park.

6. Roomba iRobot Vacuum Cleaner. This model is wi-fi connected so you can turn it on and off from your cell phone or Alexa device. I saw one of these recently in my cousin’s home in Montana. They had 3 big dogs in the house, including a St. Bernard that weighed more than me! The St. Bernard didn’t like it when people left the house without taking him along, so he would plop down in the doorway preventing people from leaving the house without him, and because of his size, it was hard to walk around him. This robotic vacuum cleaner worked very well sucking up dog fur, and there was a lot of that in the house. The vacuum cleaner terrified the dogs. There is something about vacuum cleaners that seems to frighten all dogs. My stepmother had a dog that hid under her bed shivering in fear whenever the vacuum cleaner was turned on. I sometimes crawled under the bed with the dog to calm her down until the vacuuming was done. Dogs never seem to get used to and ignore vacuum cleaners. I wonder why.

7. Bose Noise Canceling Wireless Headphones. These have lithium batteries that deliver 20 hours of listening on a single charge. Includes microphones so you can make a receive phone calls using a Bluetooth device.

8. Fitbit Charge 3 and Fitbit Aria 2 Bathroom Scale. You probably already know more about what a Fitbit does than I do. You may not know about the Fitbit scale. The scale does a lot more than just tell you your weight. It also calculates your lean mass, body fat percentage, BMI (Body Mass Index), etc. The scale can recognize up to 8 different users and keeps records on all of them.

9. Napa Valley Wine Train with Gourmet Lunch for 2. You will travel through the Napa Valley on this beautifully restored antique train on a 3 hour trip. You will be served a gourmet meal prepared on board using locally produced seasonal ingredients by world class chefs, including local wines. This train does not stop at the wineries along the way, but several of them are near the station and you can visit them before or after the trip. Here is a brief video explaining the train: Wine Train.
Well, this list gives you an idea of just how generous Congress was in 2017 with small landlords like me. They were a lot more generous with big landlords, because most of them are corporations – like the people who own those big new apartment houses in downtown Berkeley and San Francisco. They got a 40% tax cut. Now – I have an alternative offer. If you don’t want any of the things listed above and would prefer to get a Christmas or Hanukkah card from me instead, just say so! I have very nice greeting cards on hand! Frankly, I am not expecting to get many requests for this alternative offer.