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Letters to the Editor

Friday June 20, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a member—and partisan—of former Mayor Shirley Dean’s office staff,  Barbara Gilbert’s June 13 commentary (“Sacred Cow”) assailing the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board budget and operations is not a surprise. 

What is a surprise, however, is Ms. Gilbert’s apparent misreading of the Rent Board’s and the City of Berkeley’s fiscal relationship. 

Ms. Gilbert erroneously states that the Berkeley city manager has “review” authority over the Rent Board budget. She also mistakenly wonders why “city budget documents” do not contain Rent Board budget operations. 

To correct the record: Just like the Berkeley Unified School District budget or the Vista/Peralta Community College District budget, the Rent Stabilization Board maintains an independent, autonomous—and balanced—budget completely separate from the City of Berkeley.  

There is no fiscal or operational connection between the two budgets.  

Also, Ms. Gilbert complains that performing an audit of the Rent Board “is all but impossible.” In fact, an independent, outside auditor conducts an audit every year. C. G. Uhlenberg LLP, a certified public accounting firm, performed the Rent Board’s most recent 2002 audit. 

To address Ms. Gilbert’s point about the number of Rent Board employees: since 1995, the total number of employees (“full-time equivalents” or FTEs) has decreased by 20 percent. 

This 20 percent staff reduction reflects the elected affordable housing Rent Board majority’s successful commitment to increased employee efficiency and streamlined agency operations. Also, despite significant Bay Area inflation rate increases, the Rent Board’s 2003-2004 unit registration fee matches the agency’s 1991-1992 fee level. 

Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board is perhaps the city’s most critical elected body. The board administers the city’s single largest affordable housing public policy program: 19,000 regulated units providing tens of thousands of Berkeley citizens with rent level stability and housing security.  

Without the city’s 1980 voter-approved Rent Board, Berkeley’s unique and vibrant character, diversity and sizable affordable housing stock would have eroded—or disappeared—long ago, given the Bay Area’s explosive real estate market prices over the past two decades. 

Chris Kavanagh 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Friday, June 13, I read two articles in your newspaper that prompted me to write. One was about the Berkeley Adult School moving to the Franklin School site, and the other was about the two retirees from Berkeley Unified School District.  

It might be interesting to you that on Friday, June 13, I retired from the Berkeley Adult School. I have taught ESL, computer applications and business English and math. I was the evening ESL coordinator for more than two years. I helped create a wonderful ESL computer lab, which is the plum of our ESL program, along with the more than 35 ESL classes taught daily morning, afternoon and evening. 

Berkeley Adult School has a large group of teachers as qualified as the teachers in other school programs in the Berkeley Unified School District. We have to have a teaching credential, too. The big difference is that teachers are hired as hourly teachers at Berkeley Adult School! This definitely has not been a popular situation with the teachers at BAS, but we enjoy teaching immigrants and other adults to speak our language and learn about our multifaceted cultures.  

My pension will be exceedingly small even though I taught English at College of Alameda for eight years (part-time of course) and several other places around the East Bay (when I was a freeway flyer or, as I like to call it, a Road Scholar). 

Prior to coming to Berkeley in 1988, I taught full-time at the American University of Beirut (1983-1986) and knew the hostages personally. I also taught at Truman College in Chicago, and will be probably be teaching there again in the fall, as I don’t have sufficient retirement equity to really retire. 

Kay Wade 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

During “Operation Enduring Freedom,” the aerial bombardments against strongholds like Mazar-e-Sharif (in early November 2001) and those against Kandahar in the south and Tora Bora in the east (after the conquest by Northern Alliance troops of Kabul—the Afghan capital—on Nov. 20, 2001) were intense, but so was the fire of the special units which fought on the ground.  

The United States and its allies have as much to fear from heavy reliance on newfangled gadgets as they do from outmoded military concepts: During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Patriot missiles shot down two coalition aircraft, killing both crews—one aircraft was American, the other British. Any formal Chinese response to the withdrawal from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea would be linked with the new strategic framework talks that include National Missile Defense. China’s relations with the United States notably cooled after the Bush Administration notified Russia of its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, in December 2001.  

The Bush Administration partially lifted sanctions against India and Pakistan on Sept. 22, 2001—initially imposed because of the proliferation of nuclear weapons—two days after the ultimatum to the Taliban. Pervez Musharraf, President General of Pakistan, announced his support for Operation Enduring Freedom at that time. In doing so, Musharraf went way out on a limb.  

There are robust political implications of the withdrawal of American ground troops from the DMZ. In any case, talks with the two Koreas must include Japan, China and Russia. The U.S. Second Infantry Division has moved south of the Han River. This military redeployment is in the wake of the last South Korean election, in which Roh Moo-hyun, then-Member of Parliament from Seoul would have identified the United States with the River Styx to have gained favor with the South Korean electorate.  

In one sense, the North Koreans can claim that the return of the Yongsan military base, situated in downtown Seoul on some of the most valuable real estate in the world, is owed as much to their threats of Armageddon as to the campaign rhetoric of the recently elected President Roh. How much of the $11 billion the United States will now contribute to the Defense of South Korea will be used to tidy up the river near Yongsan, a northern tributary of the Han River, which Roh accuses the American military of polluting? Had anti-Americanism (I was there, I saw it) not been so pronounced in South Korea in the run-up to the election, the American troop’s withdrawal from the DMZ might be compared to “the night the tuans ran” from Singapore during the early stages of World II.  

Richard Thompson 

Former professor  

Honam University, South Korea 

Berkeley summer resident 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The editorial, “Planning for the People,” by Becky O’Malley interested me greatly. My late husband, Jack Kent, who was a professional city planner, served on the Berkeley Planning Commission from 1949 to 1957, at which time he was elected to the Berkeley City Council. He also established the Department of City Planning at the university, and would, I believe, have heartily agreed with the opinions expressed therein. I remember clearly his disagreement with Robert Moses’ approach to the process of city planning. 

I still live in north Berkeley where the streets follow the contours of the land and remember how Jack appreciated this. I think he would have liked Phil Kamlarz very much, and I feel hopeful for the future of this great town where I was born 82 years ago. 

Mary Tolman Kent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While Supervisor Keith Carson performs a valuable service highlighting the costs of the administration’s military incursion into Iraq, after the first few paragraphs he descends into a litany of complaints which imply that California’s record fiscal deficit is somehow related to our nation’s ridiculous military expenditures. In so doing he fails to point Californians back to the path that led us here: profligate spending. Had our elected representatives in Sacramento shown restraint when presented with the bull market riches of the late 1990s, we would not face our current state deficit. 

The electorate (that is, you and I) do not escape blame either. In 2002 we chose to vote in the most expensive bond spending bills ever seen in California: Proposition 40 (Parks) at $2.6 billion, Proposition 46 (Homeless Shelters) at $2.1 billion, Proposition 47 (Education Construction) at $13.6 billion, and Proposition 50 (Wetlands) at $3.4 billion.  

That’s $22 billion in principal, and another $22 billion in interest. Over the next 30 years that’s about $1.5 billion a year just to service the debt from the 2002 election. Just how are you planning to pay for all that anyhow? 

In the face of all of this debt, California’s debt rating has been repeatedly downgraded and hovers two notches above junk rating. The effect? We pay about 0.5 percent more in interest. The bottom line of all of this spending is higher taxes or fewer services as more money goes to servicing our enormous debt. This is true for both the national debt and California’s deficit spending. 

Mr. Carson also cites the devaluation of the dollar and the drop in the DJIA as if these are bad things. But the devaluation of the American dollar has positive economic effects by making our exports cheaper in relation to foreign currencies. More exports, more income; more income, more jobs. And as for the DJIA being down 23 percent, that’s called regression to the mean—a much needed return to fundamental economic values. 

What can we do about all of this debt? Vote fiscally conservative. Oppose omnibus bond spending bills. Force Sacramento to cap its budget increases to the inflation rate. (Although attempts to do this in Albany, N.Y., have apparently caused an increasing number of bills to be presented as “one-time emergencies.”) Stop looking at government services as if someone else is going to pay for them. And finally, quit complaining when the bill comes due! 

John Vinopal 




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 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

The following letter was addressed to City Manager Weldon Rucker: 

I am writing on behalf of the Berkeley Council of the Blind, an affiliate of the California Council of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, regarding the city’s having reversed its decision to reorganize the city Disability Compliance Program from the Public Works Department to the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Since its incorporation into city government, the Disability Compliance Program has primarily focused on issues and concerns of individuals with mobility-related disabilities. The city has basically ignored the larger part of the disability community, those with communication-related disabilities, i.e. individuals who are blind and visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, cognitively impaired and individuals with certain non-apparent disabilities. A review of the city’s budget patterns shows that 100 percent of all ADA funding has been allocated toward fiscal access issues, i.e. curb ramps, electric doors, ramps and other structural considerations. Conversely, the city has elected to budget zero dollars to enhance access for the much larger portion of its disability community.  

Mr. Rucker, as a tax-paying individual with a disability, I find it absolutely demeaning and personally offensive for the City of Berkeley not to recognize individuals with disabilities as humans, but rather continue to view this population on the same level it views parking meters, street lights and other lifeless objects. It is time for this type of backward thinking to stop. In the year of 2003, it is not acceptable to segregate individuals based on their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Why is the city comfortable in its active participation in the segregation of individuals with disabilities in relationship to programs and services by relegating this population to the narrow confines of a public works department? 

You have an opportunity to right this wrong by exercising your executive prerogative and doing the right thing. If this type of offensive treatment is no longer considered to be acceptable on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation, it should not be considered as acceptable simply because the group are individuals with disabilities. 

Angela Griffith, President  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to the letter to the editor, by John Koenigshofer, of June 10-12:   

Mr. Koenigshofer’s main argument against rent control, that it interferes with the freedom to contract, can serve as the basis for opposition to minimum wage laws, workplace safety rules, consumer protection regulations—indeed, any public attempt to curb the socially damaging results of leaving the private market (which, after all, consists of a set of contracts between businesses and others) to its own devices. 

In the early days of the 20th century, some judges used Mr. Koenigshofer’s  rationale to overturn the first versions of social legislation: laws protecting female employees against dangerously long work hours. Later on, the judiciary rejected this notion of the sanctity of contracts and recognized that public welfare justifies government intervention in a wide variety of “private” economic relationships. 

At least Mr. Koenigshofer’s line of thinking places rent control where it belongs, as part of the body of sensible economic regulations that have tamed the savage tendencies of laissez-faire capitalism. 

These regulations are under assault from the extreme right. Accepting Mr. Koenigshofer’s logic would take us where some of the more brazen ideologues surrounding George W. Bush want to go, back to the glorious days when unbridled freedom to contract enabled workers to be paid starvation wages, consumers to be poisoned, and renters to be gouged. 

Randy Silverman 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Two years ago, Berkeley Unified hired a new food services director. In the first year of her administration, Food Services lost $800,000. This year, according to BUSD budget reports, Food Services lost $900,000. During this period, food services administrators’ salaries increased by over $100,000 while the entire department has only 35 mainly part-time workers. The three full-time administrators' salaries and benefits total about $250,000. $900,000 would pay for quite a few teachers.  

It’s no secret why Food Services is losing money. In an era where even McDonald’s and Jack in the Box are featuring salads, the new director terminated the popular farmers’ market salad bars as a cost-cutting measure. Instead cottage cheese and cling peaches became staples on the salad bar.  

A very expensive food preparation unit (estimated at $200,000) was purchased and placed on the black top at Berkeley High School. It has cooking facilities, refrigeration, the works. Yet, this food unit only sells pizza, soda, water and juice.  

And in a school of 3,000 students, the director of food services only manages to sell four to six orders of pizza a day. No wonder the department is losing money, hand over fist.  

Two years ago, the director of the very successful Santa Monica program applied for the job, and we didn’t hire him. Santa Monica’s food services has a farmers’ market salad bar in every school. Each school has regular cafeteria staff plus a salad bar manager. The Santa Monica Food Services department is so successful, they fund a school garden volunteer coordinator and a part-time horticulture teacher at their high school.  

How long do we give someone before we decide that this person is not competent. Is two years and a loss of $1.7 million enough? I would much rather have teachers or music or librarians or sports than cottage cheese and cling peaches with a $900,000 bill.  

Yolanda Huang