Offer comparisons of city salaries
The March 30 article by Judith Scherr on new salary ranges for city officials apparently did not take into account such fringe benefits as medical benefits, retirement, vacation, sick leave. Assuming the salary figures given did not take these into account this will increase substantially the value of the total package.
Whether the salaries are justified or not is a difficult matter to determine. They have to be sufficiently high to keep highly qualified employees and this involves salaries being in line with other cities as well as private industry. I believe a comparison with other cities as proposed by Councilperson Worthington is a good idea. But any comparison must take into account the fringe benefits as well as the basic salaries.
While salaries appear high so are living costs especially in the Bay Area. It seems to me that we should receive good value from our employees and be prepared to pay whatever it takes. This also means we should not overpay. All of this suggests that an outside study of salaries by a qualified company is a good idea.
Kennedy goes too far – again
Thank you for unveiling Piedmont developer Patrick Kennedy’s desire to build a massive 330-car garage and theater complex – a “Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts West,” if you will – on Oxford Street at Kittredge. As your April 1 article (and illustration) pointed out, his proposed seven-story structure would exceed zoning limits by two stories.
Worse, this building would be hideous and completely inconsistent with the city’s 1990 Downtown Plan. That document calls on city decisionmakers to “maintain visual openness along Oxford Street,” and to “scale down development at the periphery of Downtown.” It further states that “buildings should be stepped back after two or three stories.” These provisions are important because Oxford Street forms the edge of the UC campus, which was intended to remain a green sanctuary at the heart of our city.
Kennedy has already violated the Downtown Plan with his “Berkeleyan” building at Oxford and Berkeley Way: That structure’s aggressive second-floor overhang hems in the campus, shadows the sidewalk, and doesn’t even leave room for healthy street trees to grow. Berkeley residents who don’t want to see that mistake repeated should send a message to their City Councilmember. They might also contact the arts organizations that are serving as Kennedy’s poster children for his new project: the Shotgun Players and Berkeley Art Center.
If Berkeley can’t find a responsible developer who will respect the city’s laws, residents, and ecology, it should simply retain the Oxford Lot as a surface parking lot. Although paved, it is welcome open space – and is home to some graceful, mature trees.
Tibet and the Berkeley Library
I am responding to the March 16 letter from Sandy Hunter regarding the library’s catalog cross-reference on Tibet. The actual cross-reference is “Tibet, see Tibet (China)” rather than “For Tibet, see China,” as your read quoted. However, we truly understand his/her objection to having the library’s catalog associate Tibet with China at all. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Tibet is an autonomous region of China, and has been since 1965. Many of us may wish that Tibet were independent of China; however, this is not the case now. I hope this helps clarify how this cross-reference came to be.
Deputy Library Director, Berkeley Public Library
City drives around bumpy issue?
In your front page article of March 27 on “Berkeley’s bumpy battle” there is a reference to speed bumps as “vertical deflection devices.” This reminds me of Berkeley’s renaming its traffic barriers “curb modifications.” The California Supreme Court had confirmed earlier court decisions that traffic barriers are illegal under the provisions of the California Vehicle Code, and the Berkeley City Council evaded the order to remove the traffic barriers by simply renaming them; who could object to innocuous curb modifications?
Perhaps Berkeley is now attempting to preempt any legal action against speed bumps by calling them by some other name? The legal status of speed bumps is not clear.
Rent policies hurt everyone
The Berkeley Rent Board laws are unfair and result in losses for landlords, tenants, and the City alike. Our situation is typical of many others and reflects an urgent need for change. We registered our home with the Rent Board eight years ago and generously – perhaps naively – included gas, electricity, off-street parking and housekeeping as expenses that we would pay. But the rent law states that no matter how high the utility bills rise, our tenants won’t pay anything, and additionally have no incentive to save natural resources. The rent we receive is 25 percent below an already-suppressed Berkeley rent average (according to Homefinders and eHousing). But the Rent Board allows only a $5-$10 increase each year, ensuring that our rent will continue to decline relative to market value. We take pride in our accommodations and want to paint and make minor improvements. But the Rent Board states that none of these costs can be passed on to our tenants, and so like many Berkeley rental units, living conditions are deteriorating. We will even lose money on the sale of our house due to rent control unless we pay tenants, who have enjoyed years of discounted rents, money to leave. One tenant informed us she would consider moving for a payment of more than $5,000.
Sadly, everyone will suffer in this situation: since we cannot afford to continue to lose money, we’ll sell the property and will likely not get full value. Our tenants will be forced to move as a new family moves in, and the City will lose a rental unit and annual registration fees. It’s time to change these unfair laws for all people renting and providing housing in Berkeley.
Crispin and Becky Pierce