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Letters to the Editor

Tuesday July 15, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I moved to Berkeley a year and a half ago and have been happy here, especially because of the beautiful, natural setting. I live at Strawberry Creek Lodge, which is a private senior housing project near University Avenue. One of the amenities which makes living in a small studio apartment more than tolerable is Strawberry Creek, which flows along the rear boundary of our property.  

Our rear garden is a treasure, with large trees and the sound of flowing water. Recently we have had a wonderful restoration of the creek bank habitat, featuring native shrubs and plants. A variety of birds inhabit the thickets along the creek and one day I saw a heron flying over our buildings. A few yards downstream is the city of Berkeley’s Strawberry Creek park. Here the creek continues to be daylighted and provides a natural feature in a valuable recreational space, with a footbridge over the creek and facilities for picnics. 

But, alas, there are also problems with the creek. One is water quality. The water is not safe, even for pets, and we do not know what pathogens may be flowing past our garden from leaking sewer lines and the University campus upstream.  

A potentially more dramatic danger from the creek is posed by the winter rains. The creek flows through a culvert which ends at the upstream end of our garden. Sections of the culvert, built a century ago of non-reinforced concrete, have already collapsed. To our east, this culvert passes under several houses, and still further upstream, Strawberry Creek flows underground behind the Civic Center. When the rains come, we fear that this may be the year when the flood waters will undercut the bank and cause a collapse, either of the end of North Valley Street, or perhaps one of the houses that were built over the creek to our east. The city of Berkeley has thus far avoided responsibility for repairing the culvert while the neighbors and their insurers continue to seek a solution. 

If LBNL is allowed to pave a valley which is part of Strawberry Creek’s drainage, and remove trees and carve away a hillside next to the creek, what will happen when the rains come? Answer: The water that would have been held by the soil in the valley and the trees on the hillside will hurtle down into Berkeley, hastening the collapse of the culvert, deepening the creek bed and undercutting the urban infrastructure along its course. And the water will be burdened with more dirt and more contaminants, making it a threat to humans, animals and birds. 

It is ironic that at the same time that citizens of Berkeley have been organizing to improve and restore the creeks that flow through the city, LBNL has been planning to literally wash out these efforts by destroying a part of the drainage basin upstream.  

Jane Eiseley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am concerned about the recent proposal by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to create a parking lot by completely filling in a beautiful wildlife corridor valley with live oaks and an active creek with 2,000 truckloads of earth from the excavation of another site. The proposal for this variance is part of an old long-range building plan, not the current plan that is under way.  

There are, some LBNL employees suggest, other sites that could be used for the office building—if they can be cleaned up. However, it is possible that they may be so contaminated that it would be safer to let them decay in place rather than remove them.  

I think any proposal from LBNL should consider the whole range of planned construction. It should also evaluate the impact on wildlife in the corridor and establish whether it is safe to continue construction on this site in a landslide area with limited access near an earthquake fault. 

Kathy Sawyer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Where are those Republicans who demanded Bill Clinton’s impeachment because he lied? His lies were about a personal indiscretion that hurt no one but  

his own family. Bush’s lies have caused the deaths of over 6,000 people, with American lives still being lost every day, and no exit strategy in sight.  

Billions and billions of our hard-earned, tax-payer dollars are being wasted because Bush swore to the American people and to the United Nations that the threat of weapons of mass destruction was imminent in Iraq. Those Republicans who defend Bush now should be exposed as shameful hypocrites and accessories to the crimes of the Bush administration. 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I didn’t care for the tone of Becky O’Malley’s July 8 editorial “Four Myths About Berkeley.” When is Berkeley’s civic discourse going to rise above rabble-rousing sarcasm and rash exaggeration and pay some attention to actual facts? 

For example, take Myth 1. Yes, Berkeley was once a suburban place, and when it was a new suburb, just as elsewhere in California, the new development process was heavily influenced by profit-taking on the part of land owners and speculators. That’s a one-time situation. We’re built now, there are no farmers left who can cash out and retire rich. Now Berkeley is an old suburb, and like all the other old suburbs in California and elsewhere, it is left with the problems of finding its soul and maintaining its infrastructure. 

And no, the 1970’s Traffic Management Plan did not transform the “urban grid pattern” into “quiet cul-de-sacs served by fast through streets which move autos around quickly.” What it did was to raise NIMBYism to an art form and balkanize the city. Like most after-the-fact redesign efforts, it took something that wasn’t working and made a mess of it. In the modern suburbs, those fast through streets are routed past back yards and lined with high, sound-deadening walls that also do a good job of keeping children and pets away from the traffic. In Berkeley, they were created out of built-up residential streets, and that’s what they still are, with heavy traffic running past people’s front yards with no protection whatever. Where they work as fast through streets, the fast traffic is detrimental to the life of the neighborhood; when they don’t, the congestion is just as bad for the neighborhood, plus it’s miserable for the travelers. 

As much as anything, I think that Berkeley needs more simple civility. We need street travelers—drivers, bicyclists, skateboarders, pedestrians, wheelchair users—to always remember that their obituaries aren’t going to include their personal best time to get across town. We need planning advocates and city commissioners who understand that nobody has all the answers, but anyone may have some of them. We need discussions where people listen and learn, and when the right answer is “no,” acknowledge the fact and sit down. We need to remember not to defend high-flown theories to the death and instead try to act pragmatically. 

And, we need responsible local journalism that promotes discourse rather than deadlock. Is that the Daily Planet? 

David A. Coolidge 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Four Myths About Berkeley,” (July 8-10 edition) is so divorced from reality in one of its arguments that it calls into question the logic and thrust of the entire editorial. 

I refer to the rant about Berkeley’s allegedly limited culture, which Ms. O’Malley compares to that of Lubbock. The same issue that featured Ms. O’Malley’s imperious but wacky conclusion also contained a full page Arts Calendar and a four-page section devoted to local authors as well as an impressive list of Berkeley’s book sellers.  

These items alone reflect Berkeley’s vibrant civil society and active artistic life, and they contradict Ms. O’Malley’s dismissal of this city’s culture. She is so off the mark that she makes suspect her argumentation on other issues. 

Stanley Lubman 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

On this coming Tuesday’s Consent Calendar, the City Council as Housing Authority is being asked to approve a contract which will turn management of the city’s 75 public housing units over to Affordable Housing Associates (AHA) for the whopping sum of $425,000 per year. 

This amounts to nearly $475 per unit per month and covers simple, routine maintenance, finding tenants for vacant units, monitoring leases and “maintaining positive relations with the tenants and the Public Housing Resident Council.” In a letter to the Housing Authority just last month, the Resident Council protested the shifting of management duties “to a company [AHA] that has proven to be less than desirable.” They also point out the inferior workmanship and lack of accountability for maintenance that AHA has done in the past on the public housing units. 

The Resident Council is a HUD-mandated board elected by the public housing residents to “be actively involved in HA’s decision-making process and give advice on matters such as modernization, security, maintenance, resident screening and selection,” and HUD strongly supports and encourages resident management of public housing. Berkeley’s Resident Council has shown its commitment and desire to work with the Housing Authority on management issues. To this end, they have applied for and been granted nonprofit status. The city manager has stated that “any input into changes concerning public housing operations shall be made only through the officially recognized Resident Council,” but their protests about 

transferring the management to AHA have gone unheard. 

I’m not sure how the city advertised this request for a property manager, but I’m sure that somewhere in Berkeley there is a property management team willing to work with the residents on the management of these units for a lot less money, and HUD supports such partnerships as long as the Resident Council remains the governing power of the partnership. Transferring the management to AHA or any entity which is not subject to public input or comment and which has no accountability may seem like an easy way to remove the Housing Authority’s administrative responsibilities, but it also removes any hope that the residents have for the dignity and respect that comes from self-determination. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reportage of rental housing news is always useful and of particular interest to disabled persons, working women (a term less obscene than working mother), families and senior citizens. May I add to the recent series a few related facts: 

1—The term “studio,” bottom line, is a euphemism for a room, usually with bath and food preparation provision. Indeed, it can be quite a small room. 

2—Section Eight, bless its heart, is the federal government provision for low-income persons to pay one-third of their income (e.g. wages, pension) while the feds subsidize the balance. Utilities in senior projects are included and seniors’ medical expenses are first deducted in computing rent he pays. 

3—At present there are many needy and worthy persons and families waiting to receive a chance at a Section Eight voucher. The next voucher lottery may not be held for two years (per housing director, July 8, 2003, City Council). Meantime, the Berkeley Housing Authority’s vouchers are gradually being dribbled away to project developer-managers (see, for example, July 15, 2003, and past agendas). 

4—The Berkeley Rent Board’s main function is rent stabilization. However, it also provides renters with some regulatory protections, only a few of which apply to Section Eight renters and the owners-managers of Section Eight buildings, projects, units. 

5—Senior citizen renters in Section Eight projects (and other senior  

housing) should be vigilant in resisting the controlling intrusive “senior home mentality,” which landlords and their quasi-professional staffs may wish to impose. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler