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Letters to the Editor

Tuesday June 12, 2001

City needs to help faith-based groups like Beth El 


I am writing to you to express my support for Temple Beth El’s request to construct a new Synagogue at its Oxford/Spruce Street site. I am a 28-year resident of Berkeley and have lived on Spruce Street in Betty Olds’ district for the last ten years and consider myself a neighbor of the proposed site. 

In my years in Berkeley, I have been involved in a number of community projects. I served as a member of the Board of Directors of Save San Francisco Bay Association for two years in the early-90’s. I was a member of the Cragmont School Site Committee for three years between 1992 and 1995. I was the fund-raising chair for the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project campaign in 1994. I was elected and served as Chairperson of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project Planning and Oversight Committee for four consecutive terms between 1994 and 1998. I served as Campaign Chairman for the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project Measure in 1998 and take pride in having convinced 92 percent of the voters of Berkeley to support the Measure. In addition, I spent hundreds of hours volunteering at various Berkeley schools while my children were in elementary school. These experiences have given me some insight into the real needs of Berkeley’s youth. 

As a long-time Berkeley resident and an observer of Berkeley’s politics, I am not surprised to see that Temple Beth El’s plans have been opposed and that the opposition has seized on the Codornices creek as a vehicle to try to prevent construction of the new synagogue. I write to emphatically request that Temple Beth El be permitted to pursue construction of its new synagogue without further delay or cost. As a neighbor of the site, I believe that the impact on the neighborhood will be negligible. As a committed outdoorsman, I believe the opposition’s demand that the long-covered creek be daylighted is disingenuous. As a lawyer, I know the City Council does not have the legal authority to condition approval of the project on daylighting the creek. 

As a devout Catholic, I understand the value and importance of communities of faith to our city, and particularly our children. Temple Beth El operates a number of excellent programs that provide our children with the spiritual support they need which they are not receiving from our other civic institutions. 

It is a shame that Berkeley is not actively doing everything in its power to facilitate and assist Temple Beth El in relocating its facility so that it can expand its mission of attending to both the spiritual and worldly needs of its members and the greater Berkeley community. To put it bluntly, Berkeley needs active faith-based institutions considerably more than it needs to daylight long-covered creeks. Please use all of your resources and influence to help Temple Beth El with its mission of serving Berkeley and the greater East Bay. Please support Temple Beth El. 

Jonathan S. O’Donnell  



Beth El must address real issues 


Michael Ferguson in his letter to the Daily Planet (June 11, 2001) refers to the number of Beth El supporters who were present at the June 5 City Council hearing. He should also have included the school children whom Beth El bused in to serenade City Council members and also to the number of young people from the Congregation who appealed to Council on the basis of the value and worth of Beth El in their lives. Beth El has no difficulty in summoning vast numbers of its Congregation to appeal to the emotions of whatever city department happens to be considering its request at the time. However, this is exactly the problem: in appealing to the emotions, Beth El does not address the real issues. Until it does, no consensus can be reached and no progress can be made. 

Carol Connolly 


No answer, no vote 


Over two months ago I wrote to Dion Aroner, Democratic state assemblywoman, at her Berkeley office, suggesting a change in state law that would improve highway safety. Upon no reply, I called that office, once, twice, three times to different staff merely questioning whether my letter had been received. Two weeks thereafter, still no answer. Alarmed at the specter of Bush as president, although an independent voter, I had given money to the Democratic National Committee. They keep asking for more. 

The Democrats lost the last election, not mainly because of Ralph Nader and Floridian ballot problems, but because of disarray and behavior mimicking watered-down Republicans. I didn’t vote for Nader; I did vote for Aroner, though I knew little about her. Now, after three strikes from her office, she’s out of my vote. 

The two-party system should be abandoned, though the Green Party is an inadequate contender. The Dems and Reps, just figuring enough cash from wherever will fend off third parties, have no respect for their incumbents’ non-corporate, voting constituents’ wishes. What kind of representative government retains politicians whose offices cannot even tell a constituent whether they have received a letter from him? 

Raymond A. Chamberlin 


Non-owners hurt by tax system 


Without any disrespect, Mr. Vukelich’s letter (Forum, May 28) is characterized by false logic, false premises, and extreme bias.  

First, Mr. Vukelich decries the diminishment of corporate taxes and the subsequent growth of personal income taxes – on this point I would certainly agree – this represents a transfer of wealth to corporate owners and stockholders and a reduction in responsibility for the social and environmental infrastructure that allows corporations, and society in general, to function. However, he causally relates this to the presence of the estate tax, because, he apparently argues, the estate tax destroys small businessman and farmers and encourages them to be swallowed by larger corporations. I assume an extension of his argument is that this phenomena has given corporations greater ability to also diminish taxes on corporate earnings and transfer the tax burden to average citizens and small businessman. 

The analysis is shortsighted. I have no doubt that the phenomena that Mr. Vukelich describes is true, however, blaming the estate tax is not the answer, nor is the vanquishment of the estate tax the solution. While it may be true that small business people and farmers are disproportionately affected by the estate tax, the people who are really hurt the most by current tax policy, and the proposed extinguishment of the estate tax, are the vast majority of Americans. 

When one looks at the total tax picture we see that the average wage earner is the person most hurt by our current system. All owners, whether small businessmen or corporate kings, benefit disproportionately. Mr. Vukelich and Sen. Feinstein both appear to share a common disregard for the average person and an uncritical support for business owners. I agree with Mr. Vukelich that small businessmen and farmers should not bear an unfair tax burden, but neither should wage earners. The elimination of estate taxes will further encourage the gulf occurring between 95 percent of Americans and the ruling elite. Mr. Vukelich worries about communism when there is a far greater threat of totalitarianism in this country. 

Small businessman and farmers will be better served by a more progressive estate tax that redistributes wealth and supports average citizens to become more financially secure and politically active in their defense. This does not lead to the end of capitalism or the rise of communism. This would lead to an expansion of democracy and the protection of the rights of all citizens including small businessman and farmers. If a refined estate tax was coupled with a reallocation of income taxes to businesses rather than private citizens this phenomena would be further enhanced. Such a program could be carefully designed to provide both the benefits of capitalism and socialism. We don't have to live in an either/or world and we don't have to let passive investors or owners acquire the bulk of our nation's wealth and a monopoly on political power. 


James Cisney