Page One


Wednesday August 08, 2001

$40,000 to find dirt near tracks 



From the same people who brought you the Skate Park environmental mess, now comes the Harrison Park “air study.” Most people involved in such studies generally wait until all the results are in and analyzed before making comments to the press. But not the city of Berkeley's Nabil Al-Hadithy. As long as this “study” has turned into yet another political and administrative fiasco on the part of the city of Berkeley, let's have at it.  

First, The city's hazardous materials supervisor is commenting on test results from the first month of a 12-month study produced by “equipment (some of which) was not working correctly.” Couldn't city staff at least have waited until the equipment was working properly before they started commenting on the research? 

Second “According to an Aug. 2 staff report the Toxics Management Division (had an) expectation of higher numbers because the field is located near a section of Interstate 80 that was recently widened, which resulted in a 20 percent increase in traffic during heavy commute times… (with) another 18 percent coming by 2005.” But the equipment showed that “the worse times of the day…are between 10 a.m. and noon.” If the staff theory was correct why aren't we seeing higher numbers from 6 – 9 a.m. and 4 – 7 p.m.? So much for the Toxic Management Division’s theories. Do you think there could be a connection between the number of dust particles registered and the location of the monitor? 

“Al-Hadithy said the monitoring equipment was placed in an area (so) it would show the “worst case scenario.” Because the air monitoring equipment for this new study is in a different location than the old study, it now becomes virtually impossible, certainly at this early stage in the study, to make any statement that the air is getting worse or the air is getting better.  

The monitoring equipment for this new study is located as close as physically possible to the railroad tracks where trains, with 60 freight cars or ten passenger cars, blow dust and debris from Oakland to Sacramento. How shocking that the monitor registered dirt and dust! (Did we need to spend $40,000 to find this out?) If this wasn't bad enough, the equipment was also placed next to a long strip of dirt and a dusty parking lot. Unfortunately, this isn't a “worst case scenario” its more like a “no case scenario” because NOBODY who uses the park is spending their time leaning against the fence so they can suck in the blowing dust from the trains and the parking lot. The city could have chosen to locate the monitor in the Harrison House Homeless Shelter compound so they could measure the impact on the people who are actually living there. They chose not to. Or they could have located the monitor between the shelter and the fields giving a much better indication of the general air quality on the playing fields and Harrison House. They chose not to. 

All of us in the sports community want our children to play on safe fields.  

Experientially, there are more asthma attacks at King Field (due to particulate matter picked up from the dirt track) than at fields located in the area of Harrison Park. Almost a year ago we made a formal request for the city to conduct a comparison air study at King Field. They chose not to.  

City staff set up the study to provide daily reporting on the web. This has created a political tabloid out of a research effort by issuing bits a pieces of information about a very complicated issue. Why couldn’t city staff have waited until all the data was collected and analyzed before they issued ANY information? If the true purpose of this study was a concern over the safety of children, why isn’t city staff looking at King field which the sports community has identified as more problematic than Harrison Park? 

Instead we open up a newspaper and find city employees commenting on preliminary study data and a commissioner from the Community Environmental Advisory Commission already accusing the city of hiding information. The end product of this approach will be that a $40,000 research study will turn into a $150,000 political hack job at taxpayer expense. This on top of the $400,000 it probably cost the taxpayers in expenses and staff time from the skate park debacle.  

I hate to find myself agreeing with (Commissioner) L.A. Wood but if the quality of the city's “environmental management” is illustrated by the “missed” toxics at the skate park and the now political “air study” then its time the city manager and Berkeley City Council take a long hard look at the work that is being done in the Toxics Mismanagement Department. 


Doug Fielding 

Association of Sports Field Users 


Mediation worked for Beth El  


The controversy over Congregation Beth El’s new building will soon be history. On July 24, the supporters and opponents of this project forged a compromise that will allow the congregation to build, while dealing with the concerns of neighbors. The City Council voted unanimously to support this agreement.  

There are still some details to be worked out, but mediation leaders for both sides agree that the outlook for resolving these remaining issues is very positive. We all expect the council to be able to take the final vote on this issue on Sept. 11, after its recess.  

How did what many people are calling a “miracle” happen? How was an agreement reached despite a very contentious process? The answer is that, in the mediation, we focused on the real goal: to find a solution that would give all parties what they wanted most: for Beth El, a new facility to replace its outgrown one just a few blocks away; for neighbors of the site, assurances that building size, traffic and parking issues were addressed and that Codornices Creek might some day be opened.  

Remarkably, all of those needs are met in the agreement. And, even more importantly, we are achieving the one goal we all agreed on from the beginning: to find a way for Beth El and its neighbors to live together peacefully. That is clearly the real victory in the agreement.  

This outcome is due to the good will of everyone involved and to the skill of the mediator Peter Bluhon.  

I want to offer my personal thanks and the thanks of Congregation Beth El to the mediation teams, to Mr. Bluhon, to the City Council and City staff, and to all the hundreds of other people who participated in this lively Berkeley-style democratic process.  

Harry Pollack 

for Congregation Beth El  


How’s Bush doing? 


Six months ago, I made up a handy acronym to remind me what I thought I would not like about the Bush administration. TEAR - Tax Cut, Environment, Abortion, Religion. Here’s the TEAR score today: 

The Tax Cut was enacted, and still looks to me like national fiscal irresponsibility to reward Bush’s bankrollers. But even Senator Feinstein voted for it. Environment – Kyoto, Arsenic, Wildlife Range (need I say more?) 

Abortion – Bush hasn’t done as much damage as I expected, possibly due to political vulnerability on other issues. Senator Boxer is sponsoring a bill to reverse Bush’s “gag rule,” which denies federal funding to organizations which use their own funds to counsel women about reproductive choices, lobby for reproductive rights or provide abortions. 

Religion – If I were one of the religious right folks, I’d feel poorly rewarded by the Bush administration. All that happened was the support for “faith based” public service groups. Stuff like school prayer and expunging evolution from the schoolbooks may have been put on hold due to present political vulnerabilities. But before long, I expect all Bush’s TEAR policies to be fully operational. Unfortunately for the country, let alone the world, we have 3 1/2 more years of Bush to go. 

Steve Geller