Editors, Daily Planet:
Thank you for both John Geluardi’s and Al Winslow’s reportage on Tom Bates’ patronizing adventure in pseudo-homelessness. The telling episode for me was Winslow’s quote of Bates, who when roused from sleep by a policeman, instantly came up with “I'm the mayor and we have a permit.” In other words, he’s not really a homeless bum. He’s a well-respected gentleman with supporters.
When the policeman asked to see his permit, Mr. Bates (who lied about having one) then said City Manager Weldon Rucker okayed that he and his coterie could stay put.
If Mr. Bates was sincerely interested in getting a taste of being on the bottom, he wouldn’t have identified himself to the policeman. He also wouldn’t have exempted himself from the violence done to many homeless people when they are roused from sleep and made to scrounge for another sleeping place.
However, Bates chose not to join the homeless for one night. Therefore, his mayor’s night out was a grandstanding pose. After all, he could have just gone to People’s Park quietly in the daytime and spoken with the homeless then.
I suggest the homeless follow Mr. Bates’ example. When they are awakened from sleep by the police, they should say they are the mayor, and that Weldon said it was okay to sleep where they are.
A NEW DAY
Editors, Daily Planet:
As a Berkeley citizen who has sometimes substituted on the Planning Commission and sits on a couple of other commissions, I read the article about Planning Director Carol Barrett’s resignation with interest. The relationship between commissions and staff, as you can see, is not always transparent. Particularly when the issues are as divisive as land use decisions — philosophical differences do inevitably surface, but they need not be aired as dirty linen.
I have been present at many Planning Commission meetings, usually because there is a topic of interest, but I stay and watch out of fascination for process. I have seen members of the commission disagree many times, often with determination, although not with raised voices. The commission did a magnificent job working with staff — drafting and guiding the General Plan through many years, thousands of commission, volunteer and staff hours, and a 5-4 vote by City Council a couple of months after Ms. Barrett became our planning director — that must have been quite an eye opener to how we do things here in Berkeley.
Ms. Barrett thinks there are those who want a planning director who will stop all development. That is certainly not what I have seen. I have seen a public that wants clear and consistent guidelines for development, and to know early in the process whether projects meet those guidelines as infill in their neighborhoods. This is true whether it is a second-story addition in the hills, or a five-story building in the flats. I also suspect this is true in almost any other densely built city.
Looking back to before Ms. Barrett was hired, a new day was dawning on Berkeley, promises of a process developed to involve all stakeholders early in the process. I still have a vision of that day.
Editors, Daily Planet:
Barbara Gilbert’s call for the city to adopt rational fiscal policies (”Wake Up: We’re In Budget Trouble,” April 29-May 1) is right on the money. Her account of the rent board’s budget is about to become incorrect, however.
On May 5, the rent board will hear a proposal to increase its own budget by 10 percent to $2.9 million, not the $2.6 million Ms. Gilbert describes. The board will cover the entire increase by raising the fees it charges landlords. This comes at a time when, by all accounts, rents are down and vacancy rates are up dramatically. Moreover, the rent board’s own statistics show that it has processed fewer and fewer complaints in recent years. Rather than tighten its own belt with the rest of the city, however, the rent board is trying to grab the biggest piece of pie for itself.
To put in perspective the amount of money that the rent board absorbs for its own bureaucracy, it is worth noting that the entire rest of the city receives $2.4 million from the business license fee charged to landlords. That’s with landlords paying the highest license fee rates of any business except waste disposal.
Ms. Gilbert points out that Berkeley’s private housing providers are also paying the highest property taxes in the state. The total burden on this particular type of Berkeley small business can exceed 10 percent of gross revenues — a punitive burden on the very people who provide one of the most important services in our community.
For the sake of the city, it is time to replace tired political attitudes with sound public policy.
Editors, Daily Planet:
The wasteful ferry subsidies driving state Sen. Don Perata’s proposed $3 bridge tolls are reason enough to ask Assemblywoman Loni Hancock to oppose Perata’s related bills, SB 915 and SB 916.
A ferry advocate quoted in your article (“Perata Floats Ferry Proposal,” April 22-24) foresees subsidized fares on her chosen “yachts” that are “on par with the price of a BART ticket from Berkeley to San Francisco ... currently ... about $3.” That’s absurd. Ferry costs per rider are vastly higher than those of current BART trains or transbay buses. And ferries generate worse air pollution.
In Perata’s scenario, we would lavishly subsidize the small and declining number of commuters who find ferries convenient, while denying funds to cleaner and more cost-effective transit options that can move many more people. That’s right: Perata would provide not one cent to current bus and BART service, even though both are caught in a downward spiral of service cuts and fare increases. He wouldn’t even fund the Bay Bridge’s own seismic retrofit, which is essential but over budget.
Voters likely will approve only one toll increase in uncertain economic times. Yet Perata’s approach would pre-empt that one increase, and permanently deny it to the projects that most need and deserve it.
Let’s vote down this wasteful proposal (a favor to developers in Alameda who’ve long backed Perata) and reserve future toll increases for core transit services. To really get people out of their cars, for example, why not subsidize transbay bus and BART fares of $3 per round-trip, the same cost as motorists’ bridge toll?
Ferry enthusiasts should retain the right to sip cocktails on their chosen “yachts.” But amid a budget meltdown, it’s only fair for them to pay the full costs, with no public subsidies. (In return, I won’t ask bridge commuters to pay for my next Caribbean cruise.)
INVITATION TO MEDIATE
Editors, Daily Planet:
Timothy Lynch, Hali Hammer and your readers should do some research. It is thanks to my seven years of efforts that Marissa Shaw, Karen Craig and the ADA compliance officer, both current and former, knew anything at all about the accessibility problems at previous festivals and interested themselves in the issue.
The current location, Malcolm X, was brought about by a petition signed by over 50 concerned citizens who objected to yet another self-appointed director’s selection of a very different location, which happened as recently as this summer. Hali Hammer insisted that she had unilaterally “signed a contract” for a different hall which had inadequate dance and workshop space, but decided after receiving the petition that perhaps she did not sign a contract after all.
If any reader, or writer, wants to see the letters and e-mails by all the festival directors, including the current director, attacking me over the years, just give me a call.
To claim that no retaliatory behavior has taken place without reading these vitriolic archives strikes me as absurd. They were liberally spread through five newspapers, the Internet, commission and council meetings, and countless moments not only recounted to me by others but documented in signed affidavits. The festival’s first director, Jessica Bryant, acknowledges blacklisting me for the early festival years in a signed letter, copies of which are available to anyone interested.
The “open” meetings the current director cites were also the result of my efforts. Hali’s first action as self-appointed director was to have a very private meeting she does not mention, a meeting at which she attempted to finalize her preferred location for reasons of convenience to herself, a convenience which seems to have been the major factor in location selection for the festival’s entire history.
Hali’s initial response to the petition was to put it on the Internet and encourage others to contact the signers to discourage them from supporting it. Judy Fjell was so frightened that she dis-invited me from playing a gig with her at the Freight and Salvage, citing concerns about her career. Hali did eventually make a private apology for doing this, but the larger, public message was sent that joining the community effort to improve access is a dangerous thing to do.
I have never “attacked” any of the festivals or the hard-working people who put them together and make them the joyous occasions they are. I played at one, I’ll be playing Saturday night, and I have worked hard for seven years to make sure the entire community can participate at great cost to myself. I’ve never confused the festival itself with the entirely human mistakes often made by often well-intended organizers.
Hali’s contention that I refused a meeting is peculiar, considering her own vehement and repetitive refusals to meet after she violated (and continues to violate) agreements she made earlier this summer to stop transforming a public community issue into a personal attack.
I’m happy to have this opportunity to publicly invite her to meet me and other interested community members at the Dispute Resolution Center, where perhaps someone can clarify for her that raising the issues of accessibility and inclusion is not a personal matter and benefits the entire community. I’ll let the community know from the stage on Saturday whether she accepts my invitation.