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Tuesday July 31, 2001

Don’t let UC suppress truth 


The Daily Planet received a copy of this letter sent to various faculty and administrative UC Berkeley staff. 

I wish to draw your attention to the extraordinary effort of the U.S. Government, at the urging of the CIA, to withdraw an already published and distributed volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States. I hope you will help persuade University of California Library not to collaborate in this clumsy effort at truth suppression, which mimics the ludicrous games the U.S.S.R. played with the Soviet Encyclopaedia in the 1930s. 

As is pointed out in the attached article from the Los Angeles Times, (not included in the Daily Planet) the FRUS volume “details the U.S. role” in the bloody Indonesian Army massacre of 1965, in which perhaps a million Indonesian leftists and their families were killed.  

The effort to suppress the facts here cannot succeed, because the National Security Archive has already posted the FRUS volume on the Web, at 

Peter Dale Scott 

professor, UC Berkeley 


Approval process flawed 


I am disappointed by the process that surrounded Tuesday night’s Council decision to deny a public hearing to the residents of the neighborhood in which a 5-story, 71-unit building of unknown height is to be built at Acton Street and University Avenue. The project exceeds several development standards provided by the applicable area plan. There appears to be questions of flawed procedure in noticing meetings, and questionable time-lines which led to zoning hearings with only three weeks and then one night before the expiration of the Permit Streamlining Act review period, leaving little to no time to consider neighborhood concerns and explore mitigations. 

Moreover, it is clear that the city does not understand its obligations with respect to the state’s density bonus law (Gov. Code 65915). It has neither yet adopted an ordinance specifying “the method of providing developer incentives,” nor established residential densities in conformance with state law for more than six of the 18 zoning districts that have a residential component. So the discussion about bonuses for this project was marred by the fact that there is no residential density standard set for the C-1 district in which the 1392 University Ave. project is located.  

Furthermore, planning staff and councilmembers are confused about the difference between “bonuses” and “concessions.” A bonus is an additional percentage of units (plus at least one concession) above that established for a zone – impossible when no limit has been established. In the absence of a bonus, the state requires incentives of “equivalent financial value based upon the land cost per dwelling unit,” which by my calculation comes to a total of $11,267.60. This is in addition to the incentive of the public land, variously valued at something between $700,000 and $1.5 million, to be transferred to the developers for $40,000, in return for the 20 affordable units offered by the project. For all the hand-wringing about providing a required bonus, no “bonus” was ever offered by the city. Instead, numerous concessions were granted on height, floor-count, set-back, parking, open space, among others – equal, I suspect, to far more than the law required.  

And this give-away (difficult to describe in any other terms) was to a team of developers in which the principal partner is a commercial firm (as opposed to a nonprofit) which never offered substantive proof that this array of concessions, which significantly modified the zone’s standards provided in the University Avenue Strategic Plan, were necessary to the project’s basic economic feasibility. These concessions of public resources must certainly have improved the profit margins of at least one commercial developer, however.  

I support affordable housing, and in significant quantities. I am dubious, however, that riding rough-shod over a neighborhood’s concerns about elements of the project constitutes good government or wise public policy. I question the integrity of the city’s process by which public resources are traded for the acquisition of housing, troubled by the propriety of undue private gain that could result. Berkeley needs to make the process transparent and equitable, so that neighbors, developers, planning staff and council alike understand the rules and guidelines. Conforming to state law would be a good start. Getting around to implementing the applicable area plan, adopted five years ago, would also be sensible. The public deserves to know what it is getting, the real cost, and the justification for setting aside established, legally-binding plans.  

Howie Muir 



Why public transit fails 


Once again, here in the Bay Area, the Environmental Protection Agency is on our case about our bad air. Traffic in Berkeley is horrible; downtown businesses want to fix it by having the city build more parking, so we get more cars. 

Too many people are still driving. Their trips have not been captured by public transit. In that sense, public transit is a failure. 

Public policy has been encouraging urban sprawl. If we could live more densely and economically, people could be near their jobs. Public transit works best where people and businesses are densely packed. Places like New York and London have good public transit, because they have to. 

The people in the Bay Area claim to be “environmental,” that we have a consensus that congestion and pollution constitute a problem, and that it’s getting worse, and that we ought to do something about it. But so-far that ‘something’ doesn’t seem to involve enough cutting back on cars.  

There are many excuses for not riding public transit: It’s too slow; it doesn’t run near where I live; I need a car to carry kids; I need to do shopping on the way home; my time is valuable.I shouldn’t spend an hour and a half to get to work when I could drive in 20 minutes; it costs too much - to travel from anywhere to downtown Berkeley, the round trip cost for AC transit would be at least $3 a day. 

Well, not really. If one buys the $49 AC Transit 31-day pass, and averages one round-trip per day, including weekends, the cost is less than 80 cents per day. 

People spend plenty of time goofing off at work. There are coffee breaks, and just idle chit-chat. That time is just as “valuable” as time on the bus. Some people use transit riding time for reading or study. Most people drive alone, and are not hauling luggage. Shopping can be done using a bus, too. Service in the suburbs is inadequate because the people who live there do not demand adequate transit. Transit can be fast if it’s built that way. We could have bus rapid transit with bus-only lanes and an integrated network of feeder buses and shuttle vans. We don’t have these things, because we don’t demand them. 

These are just excuses, anyway. People won’t ride public transit because of their attitudes and habits. The biggest objection the time transit takes would be eliminated if we had more reliable transit, and most of us made use of it. 

Without consistently reliable bus service, it seems futile to call for a mass shift from cars to transit. AC is still dropping a lot of runs; the bus riders can see this. When buses are late, or just don’t show up, those with the option to drive feel justified in doing so.  

Here in Alameda County, we just passed the new Measure B, with a big budget for public transit starting in April 2002. That money needs to be spent keeping the buses on time and putting an end to the practice of dropped runs for lack of resources. We should have more local feeder buses, so that more people will use the bus.  

We’ll get the kind of transit we really need if we the people demand it – all of us, not just the few transit advocates. We should use advertising to promote transit. People ride BART to the A’s games and to Pac Bell Park. Advertising was used to promote both of those. The MTC should start a department to coordinate ad campaigns – TV, newspapers. Advertising is what got us into this car culture trap in the first place. Let’s use it to get us out. 

Steve Geller