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Letters to the Editor

Tuesday July 22, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kudos to Barbara Gilbert for identifying another area of fiscal mismanagement in our city (“Salary Hikes for City Staff Must Wait for Better Times,” July 18 edition). It is sad, indeed, to see city staff recommending service cuts and tax increases even as they enjoy their own generous perks. Two examples are illustrative: 

  Just two weeks ago, City Council agreed to spend more than a quarter of a million dollars for YMCA fitness club memberships for 513 city employees.  The total amount is paid regardless of how many employees actually use the facilities, and the city didn’t even bother negotiating a discount from the standard public rates. The lucky city employees who will be swimming in the YMCA pool just might be the same ones who are recommending that we close our public pools to save money. 

  On the tax front, the City Council just agreed to create a new tax to hire additional housing inspectors for the city (so much for the alleged hiring freeze). Our Housing Department expects the new employees to perform between 290 and 410 inspections each per year—or just one-quarter of the 1,550 inspections completed by each inspector working for the cities of Richmond, Concord, San Jose and Mountain View. 

  Oakland’s leadership recently made it clear that city jobs would be included in across-the-board budget cuts. In response, the union agreed to give back some generous pay raises, secured when the city was flush, in order to avoid layoffs. Where is Berkeley’s fiscal leadership? Why aren’t similar efforts made in our city? Are we really better off spending more money on bureaucracy? 

  There are many answers, but one in particular is worth highlighting. As long as Berkeley voters—especially those paying Berkeley’s sky-high property taxes and fees—fail to object, the city will continue its profligate ways. 

Michael Wilson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I doubt that Barbara Gilbert would have written her high-minded piece (July 18-21 edition) suggesting that city workers give up our five-year negotiated contract if she were a city employee. 

Our most recent contract (not 6 to 7 percent raise annually as Ms. Gilbert says) makes up for losses we had taken in the past such as the one around 1980, when many library employees voluntarily reduced our hours to avoid layoffs, and in the year when all city employees sacrificed a raise entirely in exchange for an earlier retirement aimed at those whose jobs were unusually demanding physically. Just as our gains will compound yearly, those past losses have compounded negatively. Now, some of us who would have had to work till we dropped can at least see a time when we can think of retiring. 

Yes, we will receive retirement pensions, but Ms. Gilbert’s statement that our health benefits extend after retirement does not give an accurate picture. The benefits extend for those, if they qualify, who retire before medicare age; but after age 65 we will be given a tiny dollar amount to put toward the cost of a choice of two senior HMOs. Yes, our pay and benefits are better than that of many people and not nearly as good as many others’. 

We would be fine and noble if we did the “right thing” but we’ve already done it and continue to do it every day in our hard work. 

Barbara Sargent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Two of your recent stories (July 15-17 edition) deserve short comments. The page-one story “Bates Suggests Ordinance To Curtail Newspaper Theft” elicits my comment: Mr. Mayor, shut up, grow up or resign or seek counseling. We know that you are a juvenile thief, so why do you have to keep reminding us? What exactly is your problem?  

The second article that interested me was the story entitled “Berkeley Radio Pirates Broadcast Despite FCC Intervention, Threats.” Why are these people still fighting a battle that has already been won? There is free speech galore available on the Internet. Just get a computer, a phone line, a modem and hire an ISP and create your own Internet Radio Station. You can broadcast whatever you want, from obscure music to political rants, 24 hours a day and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can’t and won’t say boo.  

But I guess that tilting at broken windmills is a hard-fought Berkeley tradition. How much “diversity” do we need anyway? We already have KPFA-FM and KALX-FM, plenty for me, thank you. Maybe these guys could also try growing up a little, along with the esteemed mayor.  

James K. Sayre 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Workers’ Compensation is not “like welfare,” as Berkeley Public Works Director Rene Cardineaux is quoted as saying in your front-page workers’ compensation article in the July 11 weekend edition. 

The implication couldn’t be more wrong or more offensive. Compensation to injured workers is not a gift to employees. By law, employers cannot be sued for on-the-job injuries. In return, the legislative scheme requires employers to pay for treatment of workplace injuries and to compensate permanently disabled workers for their “lost value in the marketplace.” Permanent disability awards are small, especially in California, where permanent death on the job costs the employer a whopping $50,000. Several years ago an excellent series of articles in the Sacramento Bee debunked tiresome propaganda that fraud 

is rampant in the workers’ compensation system. In fact, employers’ and insurance carriers’ claims of widespread fraud are themselves fraudulent.  

On a more positive note, the city’s “new” focus on preventing injury and the use of injured workers for “modified [light] duty” that is compatible with their medical restrictions is an idea whose time has come. However, it is not new. Five years ago a coalition of the city’s seven labor unions urged the city, with the City Council’s support, to overhaul its workers’ compensation system, and to change its focus to prevention of injury. I was the author of the unions’ 

recommendations. In labor/management meetings that followed, union representatives urged the city to bring workers who are able to perform modified duty back to work, and the city seemed to accept that as a priority.  

It simply is not true that workers want to be injured (as City Manager Weldon Rucker seemed to say in the article) or to stay off work as long as 

possible. The truth is that the city has a hard-to-change management “culture” of not wanting to be bothered with bringing employees back to work on modified duty. “I can only have them sweep the corporation yard for so many hours,” you quoted Mr. Cardineaux as saying.  

It’s obvious to me that city management is trying to dump all responsibility for its workers’ compensation costs on city employees and their unions. With all due respect, it just ain’t so. 

Claudia Morrow 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Jogging on the fire trail in Stawberry Canyon, I often hear UC’s hyenas 

whooping. I wonder if you or readers could clarify for me two areas: How aggressive are these beasts? And what oversight is there? I am sure there is a lot, because Berkeley tries to be so careful about environmental hazards. 

Of course we have lions, bears and tigers in the Oakland hills, but that’s a zoo, and I assume (perhaps naively) there is plenty of thought given to safety there. 

I have read two articles in recent years about hyenas, and both were 

highly interesting and alarming. I know the university is studying them because of there sexual endocrinology, which is bizarre, but an article in The New Yorker described them as quite dangerous and predatory, not simply harmless old scavengers like locals describe them who walk the fire trail. 

I heard a rumor that someone at the local facility had a finger bitten off last year (true or untrue?), and I knew a graduate student who visited the place and someone told him about one of the hyenas biting a hose right off the spigot. 

Richard L. Russell, M. D.