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Letters to the Editor

Friday August 15, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for publishing Sharon Hudson’s lively and informative account of Berkeley’s planning process for large developments. It is truly shocking to learn how a few favored developers have been able to manipulate the process in order to supersize their buildings at the expense of neighborhoods throughout the city.  

We can thank Ms. Hudson and a handful of other dedicated citizens for calling these issues to the public’s attention, but we have to do more than that. Bad developments harm the city for decades! We must become active participants ourselves in monitoring and reshaping these proposed large developments. Do you live anywhere near a busy street? A commercial district? A building taller than two stories? Well, your neighborhood may be next on the list. The time to get involved is now.  

Doug Buckwald 




The following letter was addressed to Mayor Bates and City Council members: 

A large number of residents of the Cedar/Shattuck area are very concerned about the health consequences of electromagnetic field emissions (EMF) from Sprint's planned base station antennae on top of Starbucks at 1600 Shattuck Ave. 700 neighbors signed petitions protesting the antennae earlier this year. 

Sprint announced an “information session” on this issue for Aug. 7. Instead of the community taking the lead with questions, the company set up six tables each staffed by a specialist on one aspect of the base station installation. The idea was to defuse the presentations so that only a few people would hear answers to specific questions and the group as a whole would neither be heard nor informed. (Same tactic used by LBNL in response to community concern about the planned nanotech facility.) 

Sprint is now collecting signatures at Andronico's and BART asking whether people want improved coverage for their cell phones. 

With revenue as its only goal, there is no concern in any corporation with the cumulative health effects of all the gadgets they produce, particularly the wireless ones. But EMF is known to have carcinogenic and other negative health effects, and since we are dealing throughout our lives with emissions from dental x-rays, mammograms, computer and TV sets, electric transmission wires, natural radiation during airline flights, radon in the soil, etc., we are accumulating a body burden that can only result in illness for many of us. 

The officials in our city have a primary responsibility to protect in any way possible the health and well being of its citizens. I hope, therefore, that you will do all in your power to stop the proliferation of any further contamination of our already highly contaminated lives. 

Joan Levinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There is an old environmental adage, “Think globally, act locally.” Unfortunately, acting locally does not always appear to be in one’s own immediate interests, and many people find ways to rationalize non-action or opposition. Becky O’Malley’s editorial comment, “Maybe we’re missing something, but we’re still not clear how this award proves that 22 Big Ugly Buildings in Berkeley...will slow down development in the exurban fringe...” (Daily Planet, Aug. 1-4,2003) is a prime example of a common Berkeley rationalization. Ms. O’Malley asserts that urban fringe living and urban apartments represent such totally different markets that they have no impact on each other. There seems to be no recognition that if people aren’t living in Berkeley apartments then they have to be living somewhere else. And that further, if other cities take the attitude that they already have enough people, then that somewhere else is going to be at an urban fringe. If there is no choice but single family homes or low density apartments on the fringe, then that is where growth will go. It may not be our urban fringe, but it is still an environmental problem. 

The Planet (and its predecessor) has had numerous articles and letters on the evils of inappropriate neighborhood development and the sins of the Planning Department. The attacks on the Planning Department appear aimed at stopping growth rather than helping it do a better job, and what comes through loud and clear is “not in my back yard.” What has not come through is any evaluation of the environmental consequences of somewhere else. One letter writer even suggested that new towns should be built, and that environmentalists should donate more money to the Nature Conservancy to buy the land they don’t want built over. It is irresponsible to allow the debate to remain at this level of naiveté, ignorance and selfishness. 

Yes, I think you are missing something. If you want to convince me I am wrong, you need to replace the sarcasm about BUBs with a convincing, environmentally sensitive vision of growth outside of Berkeley. 

For the record: I live in a single family dwelling next to an eight-unit apartment in the flatlands of Berkeley. I have no financial ties or personal connections to Patrick Kennedy. I don’t think the GAIA building is ugly. 

Robert Clear 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I hope Executive Editor Becky O’Malley’s superb editorial, “The Cassandra Factor,” (Daily Planet, Aug. 12-14) will be widely disseminated, the same way that the recent article about the wonderful UC Professor George Akerlof should have maximum exposure. As a new citizen of this country, I am like a child who finds that her father is gradually losing his faculties and is turning into a monster endangering the neighbors. I can feel hope, when I read articles like O’Malley’s and Akerlof’s, that a cure may be possible for my deranged and dangerous parent. 

Isabel Escoda  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a bystander and observer of ongoing permitting and environmental review (CEQA) processes for the proposed housing project at 2526 Durant Ave., I can only say that what is assumed to be the inevitable result saddens me. I cannot accept that the only viable alternative to what may, or may not, be a housing crisis is to demolish the Blood House, which is one of only three remaining pre-1900 structures in the College Homestead Tract area. 

CEQA offers a process and a set of procedures to discuss competing values. But the City's process has become highly bureaucratic, technical, and without soul. The spirit of environmental law seems to get reduced to questions of definitions, e.g. what is and is not an historic resource, while meanwhile the fabric and texture of the town gradually and imperceptibly disappears.  

We seem to be a city at odds with itself, in endless conflict, following the processes and procedures required by law, but clueless about reconciling competing values. The Blood House could be saved through an infill alternative to preserve the structure on site or through relocation. Instead, if city recommendations are followed, the wrecking ball seems inevitable by a process that might be legally airtight but filled with holes of vision.  

I respect the need for housing, but demolition of the few remaining reminders of our past is too great a price. The Landmarks Preservation Commission  

denied the demolition permit for the historic Blood House. I hope the Zoning Adjustments Board will do the same on Aug. 28.  

Janice Thomas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Who in the world approved aluminum siding for the outside of Acton Courtyard on University Avenue? The Design Review Board? The Planning Commission? The City Planning Department? Not only is the building too big and the parking too little, it looks like something from a mobile home park of the 1970s. I’m a strong supporter of affordable housing (although I’d like to see more that’s suitable for families with children), but having to look at this monstrosity every day is a very high price to pay. 

Honor Thompson 




The following letter was addressed to Mayor Bates: 

Sprint Telephone has requested permission to install another cellular phone antenna in Berkeley. I object to their proposal. 

Dependence on the automobile has reduced the quality of life throughout the United States. Most cities had good trolley systems at one time. But the automobile offered freedom and pushed public transit out. The auto industry helped this process along by advertising and pressuring governments and has realized a hefty return on their investment. 

Communications is following the course taken by transit. Public telephones are being replaced by cellular phones because of the freedom they appear to offer. This freedom has come at a cost of overall quality of life. People talk on their cell phones in formerly public places such as the sidewalk, public transit, schools, and parks. Based upon our experience with the automobile, I don’t expect phone users to become more considerate over time.  

The communications industry will spare no expense as they attempt to convince the public to become cellular phone subscriber. I hope that our city government is insulated from the advertising barrage. Please weigh the drawbacks as well as the benefits when considering whether to encourage cell phone use within the city of Berkeley.  

Gregory Kalkanis