Page One

Letter to the Editor

Tuesday May 29, 2001

Real safety issues at BHS  


Thursday, the entire student body and staff at Berkeley high school was evacuated because of a gas leak. Several students were dizzy and on the verge of passing out. With no clear drills for the campus, rife with construction and without well-known procedures for evacuation, the gas leak revealed the larger problems at BHS. Lack of communication to begin a coordinated evacuation, and lack of a cohesive safety plan in the event of an emergency.  

There have been no fire drills to prepare students for an evacuation in the event of an emergency since construction began, which is a glaring omission considering that some of the exits to the C building are now inaccessible due to construction fencing and cannot be used as a safety route. 

In addition to creating new hazards for students, the crews are exacerbating the problems they create by not taking into consideration the effects of their accidents. Without a place for students in the buildings nearest to the construction to go, another gas leak, or fire produced by the construction crews could cause the death or injury of hundreds of students in the C building. We urge the school administration to look into this for the safety of all students. 


Josh Parr 



Involve people in planning 


Members of our all Berkeley coalition and I, involved in trying to get a meaningful ordinance regulating RF radiation emitting antennas in Berkeley are in full agreement with Steve Wollmer’s characterization of Current Planning staff as doing "shoddy work," and being "incompetent…or prejudiced." In our case many would also characterize the performance of city staff as power grabbing in the interest of serving the cellular industry in a “sweetheart” arrangement which ill serves the citizens of Berkeley.  

A moratorium was adopted in February by the City Council for the purpose of drafting an ordinance. Vivian Kahn, the Planning and Development Interim Deputy Director, who impresses me as running the show, produced a draft for the Planning Commission meeting on May 30th.  

Interested citizens were excluded from the drafting process regardless of numerous requests for inclusion. Reading the draft one can understand a wish to exclude the people who must live with it, should it be adopted. Kahn’s draft is largely based on a rhapsodized paean to the cellular industry, and puts full power to scatter radiation emitting antennas wherever city staff, toadying to their favored powerful industry interlocutors, may wish to place them.  

The draft is a travesty of regulation. It is so full of holes and failure to protect our citizens that questions arise about what those promoting it are up to. This draft is written and in many cases would be administered by staff not even living in Berkeley but trying to tell citizens how to live here. 

We discovered that a few years ago a special exemption for RF emitting antennas had been somehow added to the existing zoning ordinance, which removes controls on antennas provided by required public hearings.  

Why has this industry been exempted from an ordinance designed to protect the character of residential neighborhoods? How did this exemption become law without the neighborhood being informed? Do we need a sunshine ordinance in this city. You bet we do. Rot producing organisms do not survive well in sunlight and this city is swimming in bureaucratic manipulation and rot. 

Leonard Schwartzburd 



Beth El is a religious institution 


Thanks to Daniel McLoughlin for graciously acknowledging the "good works performed by the Congregation (Beth El) and by many of its individual members" – and thanks, too, to Mr. McLoughlin for the civil, even generous, tone of his letter to the Daily Planet, May 14-15. 

He asks whether other residential neighborhoods have churches or other institutions the size of Beth El’s proposed building. The answer is that Berkeley neighborhoods throughout the city integrate many similar sized or larger buildings. Some, like St. Mary Magdalen Church, are just a few blocks away from Beth El’s new site. 

It’s also worth noting that Beth El is building a synagogue, not a commercial facility. The kitchen in the new building will be only two hundred square feet larger than the current cramped kitchen that the congregation outgrew decades ago. The planned Social Hall is about the same size as the current social hall and sanctuary combined. These rooms are often used as single space for celebrations of religious events now, something that will not happen in the new building because the seats in the sanctuary will be fixed. 

To correct another misconception, the facilities will not be rented to any outside groups. They will be used only by members for events such as Jewish holidays, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings. 

Many members now celebrate their life cycle events at the synagogue, and it is possible more will do so at the new site. However, the much larger space on Oxford Street, along with the setbacks, the inward facing orientation of the buildings and the increased parking will cause considerably less impact on the neighborhood than occurs at the current site just two blocks away. 


Thom Seaton 


Playing that density song 


Another day, another soliloquy from Richard Register. Another moving tribute to the glories of density and the energy-consumptive dangers of sprawl. 

I especially loved the timing of the most recent hymn to “diverse pedestrian and transit centers." It was printed in the Berkeley Voice the day after a Zoning Adjustments Board public hearing on taking a retail space right at the corner of San Pablo and University and converting it to office space, which requires a variance. 

The Zoning Adjustments Board voted for it, with one no vote and one abstention. Thirty-five of the merchants who own businesses at or near the corner of University and San Pablo signed a petition opposing the office space, because if you take a chunk out of the retail potential of a commercial area, the whole district gets the hit. People want to shop in a place where they can buy tuna, get their shoes fixed, grab a video, and pick up shoelaces without driving all over town. 

The residents who signed the petition are the hard-pressed people living in perhaps the last honest neighborhood in Berkeley, and perhaps the oldest.  

The area along San Pablo Avenue used to be a favorite drive decades ago because of its tree-lined views and pedestrian bustle, the place where retail, industry, and residential uses dovetailed and the rail lines brought everything and everyone together. We recently lost our pharmacy, our shoe store, and our stationary store.  

One of our best antiques stores is about to have to leave, and would have loved the visibility of the retail space. The two non-profits who may move in if the appeal fails are undoubtedly groups which give valuable service to the Berkeley community, but are in no way capable of generating the walking trade and filling the daily needs of an ever more dense “traffic corridor" constantly taking the weight of the large, dense housing developments which no one seems to care are only geared for the $30,000-and-over crowd. 

Where was Richard Register and the Ecocity Builders when this latest small-scale assault on the potential for a pedestrian-serving neighborhood came down? Where were the consultants who gave us the crayons for our moment of participation during the University Avenue Strategic Plan workshops? The Green Party? Somehow the crew that warbles for density is never around when the variances are handed out that reduce the liveability of the neighborhood, that piece by piece, shot by shot, reduce it to scrap. 

Carol Denney 



The chains move in, the Mom and Pops move out, or sell out to chains. I  

listened to two representatives from the non-profit groups argue that they  

just couldn't find anywhere else to move. I work in a non-profit, too, in a  

loft in the back of a showroom right next to a Bart Station which has two  

empty spaces which rent for less than the retail space in question. Office  

space is going wanting all over town. 


The people in our neighborhood have a smaller chance today of the ice-cream  

store, the shoe repair shop, the gift shop, and the bookstore. But count on  

it, in another few weeks or so, you'll hear that density song again.  

Everybody's playing it. 


(Carol Denney is a local musician and community activist.) 

Carol Denney MSL, 1970 San Pablo Ave #4, Berkeley, Ca 94702 

(510) 548-1512