Page One

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday June 17, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for your continuing coverage of the Franklin School proposals. Your reporter characterizes the current site of the Berkeley Adult School as a “beleaguered building on University Avenue.” The current site (at Bonar) is actually known as “West Campus.” Yes, it does need work, but it does function well as a central location for a crucial activity of the BUSD. It is on a major transit corridor; the 51 bus is one of the best and most reliable of ACs in Berkeley.  

Your reporter correctly highlights the very real problems the BUSD has in re-aligning and restoring its facilities with these limited bond funds and pinched budgets. 

Paul Shain (June 10 edition) makes an excellent case for careful and comprehensive planning. The involvement with the community is absolutely crucial, and will continue Tuesday night, June 17, at 7 p.m. at the Ala Costa building (Cedar/Rose Park, corner of Rose and Chestnut); the neighbors will gather to select a committee to work with the School Board over the what, if, when and how of the Franklin School site. Serious issues of site capacity and security, traffic flow and parking remain on the table. How to make a former elementary school in the middle of a residential neighborhood work for both the neighborhood and the district is not easy. That the school also borders San Pablo Avenue adds to the dilemma. 

Residents of West Berkeley should note that this proposal is but one of those “cumulative impacts” (the notorious phrase of many an EIR) emerging in this corner of Berkeley. A four-story, mixed-use building (51 units, with ground-floor retail) is proposed for the corner of San Pablo and Delaware (currently an auto-shop/used car lot, converted from a nursery/flower shop in the mid-nineties). Further large developments are likely along San Pablo Avenue, described in city plans as a “transit corridor.” 

Peter Hillier, the city’s traffic planner, is proposing serious changes along Delaware Street west of San Pablo Avenue, including the removal of the diverter at 9th Street which currently forces traffic back to University Avenue. With the installation of the new light at Virginia and Sixth, and the gridlock now seen on University Avenue both at San Pablo and at Sixth, one wonders if a new traffic funnel on Delaware Street west from the BART (at Sacramento) is being prepared to parallel University Avenue. 

These proposed projects will affect each other. AC Transit plans to cut bus service in a time when the city has allowed for large-scale development along so-called “transit corridors.” Residents can demand that the city’s planners and engineers provide the best for the neighborhood, as well as the commuters currently zipping through these streets. 

John McBride 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The latest principal debacle at Berkeley High—a new, record-short tenure of one month—along with the resignations of both co-principals and all three district associate superintendents, reveals in breathtaking clarity the biggest achievement gap in the Berkeley Unified School District: the yawning chasm between the School Board’s pie-in-the-sky dreams for making everything better and the on-the-ground reality of growing chaos. 

No wonder disadvantaged students in the district can’t learn the basics, when the board itself endlessly condones the same dumb mistakes—now having chopped through four principals hired from the outside in almost as many years. In fact, the only principals/administrators who’ve been willing to stick with the school were those “temporarily” promoted through the ranks, such as Larry Lee a few years ago and Laura Leventer, both of whom came from the math department and provided adequate leadership. 

But instead of sticking with these insiders, who had some commitment to the institution, the board casts about for some outside “star” to implement yet more endless reforms, like the schools-within-a-school plan, distracting teachers’ precious time and energy. With the exception of Theresa Saunders (Remember her? She was going to save Berkeley High back in about 1999, but was forced out) these transient principals are no fools—as soon as they realize what working under this School Board is like, they’re outta here. And I haven’t even mentioned next year’s multi-million-dollar budget deficit. 

I lost my bid for School Board last election, opposing the School Board pay hike which passed; Berkeley voters now reap what they sowed. 

Lance Montauk  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his report about the June 11 Berkeley Planning Commission meeting, John Geluardi omitted an important issue raised that evening. The purpose of the meeting was discussion about the West Berkeley Plan. The plan includes protection of artists’ work spaces. 

Mr. Geluardi did not mention that supporters of the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society were in attendance. The Humane Society for many years has rented space in its building, at below market rate, to an arts group. Because of provisions in the West Berkeley Plan, the Humane Society may be required either to relinquish control of the space and abandon any plans to expand the animal shelter or to pay for an alternative comparable space to house the arts group.  

Representatives from the Humane Society explained that it has been a struggling community-based nonprofit for 70 years and that provisions intended to protect West Berkeley from commercial exploitation may not be appropriate to be applied to the society. 

I wonder why Mr. Geluardi made no mention of this aspect of the meeting in his report. 

Mary Milton 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley Blues (to the tune of “Making Whoopee”): 

Another meeting,  

On the sixth floor,  

And when it’s over,  

They meet some more,  

In Tom Bates’ office,  

Without notice,  

They close the door.  

This song refers to the March 2003 meeting of the Two by Two Committee, but it could be about many meetings that occur in the Redwood Room in City Hall.  

The Two by Two is made up of two School Board members and two city councilmembers. All current members are endorsed by the same political slate, the left-leaning BCA. Because the school superintendent, city manager, mayor and various VIP city employees participate in the Two by Two, former Councilmember John Denton once aptly described the Two by Two as “a promiscuous use of staff.”  

The March Two by Two meeting included discussions on developing several Berkeley Unified School District playgrounds for other uses. Mayor Bates asked if the Berkeley High tennis courts might be used for a joint city and school district parking facility. Doesn’t he know that Berkeley High students deserve to have their courts back when construction ends? How could Mayor Bates miss the hypocrisy of taking school property to build parking lots while his City Council majority plans to give developers city-owned downtown parking lots such as those at Oxford and at Berkeley Way? (Note: The Oxford lot is valued at $10 million to $20 million dollars, generates a lot of cash for the city and allows people to park and shop locally, which in turn, generates taxes for the city.) 

Later in the meeting, Linda Maio raised the bizarre idea of building an extension to the West Berkeley Library on the grassy field (baseball diamond) of the Adult School.  

The sorriest idea of all was moving the Adult School, with more than 1,200 students, to Franklin Elementary School and converting Franklin’s new playgrounds and grassy field to an inadequate parking lot. Hundreds of students and personnel would need to circle the fragile and formerly quiet neighborhood to find parking.  

Some proposals put forth at this meeting were insensitive, mean-spirited or downright deceptive. Mayor Bates said he would like to put apartment buildings—20 stories high—at one school site. A participant said to Bates: “You’re lucky there is no reporter here! What you really mean is apartments 10 stories high, don’t you?”  

There have been many other important, but unpublicized, city meetings in addition to the Two by Two. Subjects of these meetings included: replacing small AC Transit buses with big, noisy, diesel buses in North Berkeley residential neighborhoods, encouraging huge housing developments, streamlining development permits by the mayor’s task force, redeveloping Berkeley as a high-rise urban environment and calling it “Livable Berkeley,” and much more!  

The effect of attending so many of these meetings in a few weeks was devastating for me. I got a clear vision of what the “powers that be” are planning for Berkeley and it’s ugly, noisy, polluted, unsafe and uncaring for the people who live here. I’ve lived here over 30 years and sometimes feel a kinship with those who lived on this wonderful land before us.  

I see our current politicians as the “Manifest Destiny Gang,” who think they can do whatever they want. But they do not dare show us their vision for the city, because we would not accept it. There are, after all, only about 100 of them, whereas there are more than 100,000 of us.  

Merrilie Mitchell  









Dear Editors, Daily Planet: 

I like Jerry Holl’s idea (Daily Planet, May 27) to write “Topple Bush” on every letter we send through the mail. However, my slogan of choice is: “Show Bush the Door in 2004.” Pass it on. 

T. Marcus