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Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 20, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for John Kenyon’s thoughtful ruminations (May 16-18 edition) on the project proposed for University Avenue at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. It is worth reflecting on some of the reasons why this project is, to use Mr. Kenyon’s phrase, an “urban intruder.” Developers like Patrick Kennedy know what so many Berkeley residents either have not noticed or have tacitly given in to: city officials’ profound and enduring failure to establish and follow public policy, evolving it accountably, through due process, as needed. 

City officials, elected and appointed, routinely ignore the General Plan. Neither state law nor Berkeley’s citizens require this charter city to follow any public policy for land use. The General Plan population density guidelines for this project’s location is 40 units per acre; Kennedy proposes nearly 200 — five times the foreseen density!  

Whose vision is the city realizing? If it’s to be the public’s, Berkeley needs to make its zoning ordinance and General Plan consistent. 

City officials utterly disregard the University Avenue Strategic Plan, officially adopted in 1996. The city has yet to implement it, conveniently missing the obvious opportunity in 1999 when the zoning ordinance was overhauled. That area land-use plan called for a three-story maximum along University Avenue, with a four-story maximum at commercial “nodes” (with room for greater height stories downtown). This project, as with the Kennedy project down the avenue at Acton Street, is an inappropriate five stories. 

We can count our blessings that the project might offer visual architectural merits, for the city’s own zoning ordinance requiring guidelines, against which its Design Review Committee must judge projects, also lies forgotten. Only the downtown area has such guidelines, leaving the public with no informed basis on which to interact with the DRC’s process for most projects in Berkeley. 

And while residents’ local officials are assisting such developers with stepping over or around municipal land-use plans and ordinances, as well as rolling over state environmental protection laws, readers can rest assured that developers’ bottom lines are being helped by millions in generous public tax and bond dollars, without adequate citizen input. 

Howie Muir 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Why bother having an Opinion and Letters section of your paper when the articles themselves are loaded with opinion? Maybe I missed a headline in the on-line version of the May 16 edition, but John Kenyon’s “article” about the proposed development on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and University was not a news article, but clearly an opinion piece. 

Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I believe news reporting should present an objective recounting of basic facts — who, what, where, why and when. If Mr. Kenyon wants to be an architecture-planning-sociological critic, then please present his work as such. Frankly, after reading his article, I have no idea what is truly being proposed for the site other than the fact that Mr. Kenyon doesn’t like it. 

Gregory S. Murphy 


Editors’ Note: John Kenyon is a well-known Bay Area urban design critic who has written for the East Bay Express and other publications. The Planet assumed his byline would be familiar to readers. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is ironic that rent board commissioner Chris Kavanagh argues to increase landlord fees based on inflation rates in the Bay Area. He and his fellow commissioners of excessive regulation and economic waste have, for years, opposed rent increases based on similar indexes. 

The facts regarding the rent board are simple. This group of self-aggrandizing bureaucrats has reduced and damaged the rental housing stock, inspired and supported a system of legalized extortion, usurped the rights of individuals to negotiate agreements and wasted 20-plus million dollars of citizens’ money on a counter-productive and profoundly unjust system. 

Most profoundly, the abuse of common sense and basic fairness perpetrated by this self-righteous and self-deluded group has polarized our community and undermines a basic trust in the legitimacy of local government.  

Reason and wisdom would abolish this wasteful bureaucracy and use collected landlord fees for a general housing fund to build housing and provide subsidies for those who truly need it. Such a common sense approach would compel Kavanagh and his kind to actually be creative and inventive rather than engage in their usual ritual of whining and wasting public money.  

John Koenigshofer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Why is it that when budget-cutting time rolls around and services for the poor are getting the ax, one can still see silly banners flying from light poles all over town? How can someone make a serious argument that banners are more important than the Jobs Consortium, or the other groups which are in danger of losing funding? 

Considering the costs of making and maintaining banners, and the costs of putting them up, taking them down and changing them seasonally, the obvious message they send is that when it comes to superficial business boosting, Berkeley has money to burn. 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When are Berkeley Unified School District’s excuses for poor fiscal management going to end? For example, the food service director, making a whopping $95,000, lost $800,000 during 2001-2002 and $650,000 this year, 2002-2003. The food service director and this director’s administrative bodyguard superintendent blamed the previous food service manager for the loss last year. (When, in fact, the previous manager left the district with an $800,000 surplus.) Now that the current director has been in place for nearly two years — what’s the excuse this year? 

When is the BUSD community going to wake up and realize that: 

1 — BUSD has made poor hiring recommendations, and 

2 — The current food service financial fiasco supports this idea. 

What is the Berkeley community getting for their hard-earned property taxes? Nothing but excuses, excuses and more excuses, which are boring and not very creative anymore. 

Rick Fuller 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have been following the story on the Doyle House with more than passing interest. 

A college education called me to Berkeley from a small town in Idaho in 1942. In those days, Berkeley was a tranquil place, graced with lovely old homes and gardens. 

The following year I was called to serve in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. 

When I returned to Berkeley to complete my studies in 1946, I was struck by the presence of so-called wartime housing ... multiple units of simple design, displayed cracker-box style, while displacing elderly, dignified single-family homes. 

With college completed, I returned to France to wed my wife. Following a period of employment in Paris, I brought her and our little son to Berkeley and found work in San Francisco. 

Shortly after our arrival in 1951, I leased the second floor of the Doyle House from a friend, Frances Doyle Murphy, the Doyle family daughter, for a term of three years. 

Mrs. Murphy’s niece and her family occupied the first floor, except for the Darling Flower Shop and its kindly owner, Ray Touriel, with space facing University Avenue. 

Our second child was born in the house. 

By 1969, beset by the congestion caused by multiple-unit housing around us, we left our home on Benvenue in Berkeley for the more pleasant neighborhood of another city. 

I recently learned of the peril confronting the Doyle House and note from your latest article that its demolition is imminent. 

Aside from my personal attachment to the house and its architectural features, many others have felt strongly that it should be preserved. 

There is a potential owner for this historic home with a site to which it can be removed. While the formalities of such a move have apparently all been completed, it is now discovered that a 20-day notice of removal must be published to accomplish its salvation, but there is not sufficient time to do so before demolition is scheduled to begin. 

Given the amount of time the possibility of a move has been under consideration, how could this requirement have been overlooked? 

Must the continued existence of such a noble old house be condemned for what seems to be a flimsy technicality at best? Your newspaper has certainly provided sufficient notice of such a possibility. 

How sad, that in the space of a half-century or so, we have lost our concern for these magnificent dwellings of the past, as well as our respect for those who created the very environment which Berkeley enjoys. 

Our desire to intensify land usage and increase return on investment has grievously harmed the Berkeley of old. 

This has neither served the betterment of the community nor its needs. Rather, it has served the interests, public and private, of those intent upon the pursuit of the almighty dollar to the detriment of the character and soul of the city. 

Berkeley was a delightful place in 1942. Where has that Berkeley gone? Where is the present Berkeley going? Is it progressing? I think not. 

Allen F. McDonald