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Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 08, 2001

City should have listened to people 


Eight street trees in planter boxes were recently destroyed near the public library despite a promise from the city that they would be “relocated.” 

Local performance artist Debbie Moore moved from planter box to planter box foiling Bauman Landscaping’s attempts to demolish what was left of the roots. City Council representative Dona Spring was quoted as calling the incident “very upsetting.” 

Public Works engineer Sam Lee, described as in charge of the Shattuck Avenue Redevelopment Project, pointed at city forester Jerry Koch as having determined that the trees’ roots had become entwined with utility lines and conduits and could not reasonably be relocated. 

But let’s back up. Long before the 1998 “Shattuck Avenue Redevelopment Project” came to the City Council for approval, a series of workshops was held to collect “public input” which included some modest public objection to any removal of the existing healthy trees downtown, including my own. The Green Party was not there. The protesters who objected to the plan after it had the council’s approval were not there.  

The consultant whose pretty drawing was ultimately adopted as the redevelopment plan explained to those present that uniformity of tree made for a better–looking downtown, and that the current crop of trees interfered with lighting and “signage.” This was considered an acceptable justification by the merchants best represented at these meetings and the City Council majority that approved the plan. 

Then came the protest. The council revisited the issue and a “compromise” was crafted between the protesters and the city which involved saving some trees, destroying others, and “relocating” others, including the trees near the library. 

But let’s back up again. The eight trees in planter boxes near the library were part of a recent improvement at public expense. Only about five years earlier the planter boxes and benches were installed as a part of the Downtown Berkeley Association’s “main street” improvements, which, like many plans, didn’t quite match the glory of the consultants’ blueprints. The lighting was then revamped, but even that didn’t satisfy critics because, you guessed it, these were the wrong trees. These trees were a healthy bunch with a natural halo of branches and leaves which blocked the new lighting as well. 

The protesters who finally showed up to object to the near clear–cutting of downtown agreed to a “compromise” which paid homage to the redevelopment plan’s original idiocy, the fallacy that downtown business will improve under the right, as opposed to the wrong, tree. The idea seems to be that people are somehow made depressed and uneasy by a variety of species and more specifically by the tulip poplar, the New Zealand pine, and the pittosporum. The logic follows that these people will buy fewer shoes, books, and lattes unless they are greeted by a calming, uniform row of identical trees. 

If the protesters hadn’t agreed to “compromise” which included a dubious “relocation” of the eight trees recently destroyed, they would be standing there today. Consultants are not paid to tell you to honor what you’ve got, they’re paid to draw up a new, exciting landscape. It is the public’s obligation to politely refuse to participate in the idiocy of tree replacement. 

As bad as the city looks reneging on its “compromise”, the protesters should accept a share of the responsibility. There should be no compromise with the life of a healthy street tree, which has withstood years of toxic insult and urban vandalism. Any tree that makes it past its first five years on the streets of Berkeley should be hailed as a warrior. 

Carol Denney,  


Bush tax cut only good for rich 


Berkeley sociology graduate students decided that the silence among students and academics about the unfairness of the Bush tax cut must be broken. Forming a group called “Students For Fair Taxes” we invited Daniel McFadden, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in economics, to join us in a mass rally at UC Berkeley to voice our outrage at Bush’s shockingly unjust and unfair tax cut proposals, and to clarify that nothing in the compromise deal currently being struck with so–called “moderate” Democrats, including our own Senator Feinstein, makes this tax cut any more just or fair. We made our voices heard and Berkeley students and professors enthusiastically responded, writing Feinstein 125 letters in one hour demanding that she oppose the $1.35 trillion dollar transfer of wealth to the rich. 

Most people are aware that Bush’s tax cut may jeopardize Social Security and Medicare, but at least, they believe, they will have less taxes to pay. Bush is supposedly “giving us back our money.” The stunning truth is that the only group in our society that would get a meaningful tax cut are the richest of the rich, while the people who need it most will get NOTHING. According to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, 1 out of 3 families with children get NOTHING. Over half of African–American and Hispanic families with children get NOTHING. Even a person making $60,000 a year wouldn’t be able to buy a cappuccino a day with the Bush tax cut. But the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans gets $55,000 a year, enough to pay Berkeley tuition through 2015! 

The richest families in America would receive 40 percent of the benefits from the tax cut, while the bottom 40 percent would get only 4 percent of the tax cut. Under this tax cut Bush’s family will receive an amount 40 times greater than the typical family. And what about Dick Cheney? From the repeal of the estate tax alone, Cheney’s heirs stand to benefit $25 million. 

You may be thinking that the rich are getting more, but this is fair because it’s proportionate to the amount of taxes they pay, right? Actually this is one of Bush’s most shameless lies. The tax giveaway to the rich is more than twice their tax contributions. Bush claims that his $1.6 trillion tax cut, or the $1.35 trillion being discussed in Congress, is simply giving the people back their money. But for every dollar the rich contributed to this $1.6 trillion (or $1.35 trillion) they are getting back $2! The most astounding fact about the Bush tax cut is that it redistributes money from middle and working class families to the most wealthy. Sociology graduate students formed Students For Fair Taxes in order to ask everyone else around the country on question: Is this fair? 

Ofer Sharone 


Beth El not good neighbor 


Last week, you published a letter from our neighbors on Arch Street, the Wolfs. They painted a benign picture of the Temple’s impact on the immediate neighborhood. Not so! Our own experience has been one of blocked driveways, cars honking, regular double and triple parking, and dangerous K–turns on Arch Street when it is most crowded. We witnessed a bicyclist get hit by a Temple member backing out of my driveway. 

In the April 30 Daily Planet, a letter from Temple spokesman Harry Pollack appeared. This letter asserted that the Temple’s presence on Arch Street these last 50 years grandfathers it in, so to speak, in relation to any parking and traffic impacts that the Temple’s new facility may generate. What a specious argument! The fact is that the Temple in its current location had no off–street parking at all over most of those 50 years. Now it wants to move its large and growing congregation and all its traffic–generating programs to a new site where the parking is again insufficient. Should its neighbors on Oxford and Spruce endure another 50 years of the same problem we face here?  

We are not opposed to Temple Beth El’s move at all. We do feel though, that on Arch Street, the Temple and its congregation did not take sufficient account of their impact on their neighbors. Our concern is that the Temple will lack follow through when the leadership is asked to deal with the problems of noise and traffic caused by its programs at the new location. 

Kathryn Parman and Eugene Chao