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Letters to the Editor

Friday December 05, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s great to see that Mayor Bates has grown so much in his first year in office. Last year he was stealing newspapers that criticized him; now he just attacks them for publishing letters that criticize him. 

Albert Schnitzler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The mayor is right that the Daily Planet did have a major role to play in the parcel tax debate: allowing the citizens of Berkeley to be heard.  

Thank You! 

Dave Fogarty 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In a recent editorial (“Berkeley Blame Game,” Daily Planet, Nov. 28-Dec. 1) a point was made emphasizing that the voices opposing the mayor’s proposed tax are loud and predominant. What an echo of Proposition 13 (to which Berkeley was opposed) and the current anti-tax sentiment in Washington. 

No one wants to pay higher tax bills, but in the minds of many there seems to be a lack of connection between those taxes and the services they pay for. After the passage of Proposition 13 the city and the schools suffered mightily and there were layoffs and cuts to city services. And Proposition 13 is still with us. 

The recently proposed tax would have cost $250 a year or around $20 a month. There would, most likely, be complaints against paying that. But without that $20 a month the complaints about cuts in police and fire personnel, less efficient service in city hall, fewer open hours and special programs at the library will reverberate around Berkeley. It will remain for everyone to assess the tradeoff. 

Barbara Sargent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your article regarding the proposed fire tax (“Mayor Kills Parcel Tax Vote After Firefighters’ Rejection,” Daily Planet, Nov., 25-27) could lead people to think that the firefighters’ union reneged on a deal to support it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

The Berkeley Fire Fighters Association Local 1227 is always willing to stand up for the health, welfare, and safety of the Berkeley community through the delivery of emergency services, fire suppression, fire prevention, emergency medical response, and other service calls. 

Local 1227 wants to work collaboratively with the Berkeley community to maintain vital services. We are committed to ensuring that the residents of Berkeley receive the services that they already pay for, deserve and value. 

Every day that we can help bring a new life into this world, save a life, or help a homeless person obtain the support that they need, we know that we make a difference. What is important to us is that we continue to make that difference—every day and in every Berkeley neighborhood. That is our mission. That is what we remain committed to.  

We ask the residents of Berkeley to provide us with the support that we provide every day. Random station closures will result in random service. We don’t think that that is what Berkeley residents want or deserve. Please contact the mayor and City Council and let them know that you do not favor playing budget roulette with your vital services. Keep the stations open every day. Lives depend upon it.  

Marc Mestrovich, President 

Berkeley Fire Fighters Association  

Local 1227 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When I suggested that the hotel/conference center, planned for the Bank of America site, might get by with minimal parking, Revan Tranter (Letters, Daily Planet, Nov. 28-Dec. 1) called it “wishful thinking,” because most people would come by car. 

Not necessarily. I was thinking that because UC Berkeley is a world-class institution, people attending conferences will more often arrive by air from Athens or Calcutta, rather than drive from Alameda or Concord. BART now provides direct service from our two major airports. Locally, there’s abundant bus service between the hotel site and campus. UC runs many of its own buses; there’s a major stop near the hotel site. I often share the UC hill bus with foreign visitors, chattering in various languages, bound for a conference at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. 

Cal students, using their class pass to ride buses around Berkeley, may have been surprised to read Tranter’s claim that Berkeley’s bus service is “dwindling, sometimes unreliable or even non-existent.” Bus service here is very good. Berkeley actually suffered much less than Oakland and other places did when AC Transit had to cut some local service. Public transit would be very much a viable option for people attending conferences at the hotel. 

Frank Snapp has the right idea. The hotel project is a great opportunity to bring to Berkeley the ideas used in Europe to “efficiently implement planned pedestrian/public-transit-only urban centers.” 

We definitely could cut back on car use and free up more downtown parking. That was the conclusion of the Traffic Demand Management study. All we have to do is convince some of the all-day parkers to get to work on the bus. 

I object to the notion that a personal car always has to be the first choice for any local trip. This attitude would be fine if there were no downsides to dependence on cars. Cars themselves are not evil, and of course driving can be convenient, but when cars are used in large numbers to come downtown, there are evil side effects. Parking takes up space that is better used for housing and businesses. Car exhaust pollutes the air, and may bring on such illnesses as asthma and cancer. Horn-honking cars, zooming around the downtown streets, their road-raged drivers frustrated by congestion, are enough of a danger that Berkeley pedestrians have to wave yellow flags to safely use a crosswalk. 

The hotel and conference center project should not be encouraging more car congestion in downtown Berkeley, when there is a good viable public transit alternative. I don’t think the hotel needs that parking garage; the money would be better spent on adding another floor for the hotel—or daylighting the creek. 

I don’t see why Tom Brown thinks daylighting would turn Strawberry Creek into a garbage disposal. The other creek restoration projects have brought back natural beauty. Daylighting is not an unworkable notion; much of the cost could be absorbed as part of construction of the hotel. This is particularly true if a portion of the creek becomes a feature of the conference center. We don’t need to daylight the whole creek anyway. 

I understand the university expects to receive large gifts to finance the relocation of the museums. Perhaps the donors should be alerted that the creek needs some gift money too. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for documenting that ethnic disparities we’re all aware of still persist—that “Whites” are way out front, “Asians” are next, “Latinos” rank third, that “African Americans” are far behind, and that the gap widens in the higher grades (“City School Test Reveal Sharp Ethnic Disparities,” Daily Planet, Nov. 25-27). 

It’s significant that “district officials will use the results to improve instruction,” but “cautioned that until they get detailed analysis...they wouldn’t 

read too much into the results.”  

These test results convince me that Ward Connerly’s right, and that we’d be far better off if we tracked student performance in consideration without reference to race or ethnicity. What can “district officials” possibly learn from these statistics and additional studies that hasn’t been apparent for decades, and what strategy for improving instruction must wait until there’s been more testing and race-based analysis? 

I’m convinced that the emphasis on race-based analysis and solutions are part of the problem, and that the sooner we abandon them, the better off we’ll all be—but especially the underperforming minorities. There’s ample evidence that Latino students were betrayed by a “bilingual education” scam that segregated them from the mainstream population and systematically downplayed English fluency—a more important skill and educational tool of all the rest. These programs were ostensibly intended to accommodate an underperforming minority, but every indication is that it caused far more problems than it ever solved.  

An obvious problem with undue emphasis on the ethnicity of students is that it excludes consideration of other factors that may be far more important. For example, what’s the value of considering “Latino” test performance without making clear distinctions between recent immigrants whose families only speak Spanish at home, and sixth generation Hispanics whose parents and grandparents are fluent English-speakers?  

And wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to drop the race-related research and the implied presumption that blacks are so genetically different from whites and 

Asians that they need special, different instructional methods, and check out other, nonracial factors that correlate with strong and poor test performance? 

It would be far more instructive and useful to refrain from grouping students by ethnicity for the next five years, and consider correlations between test scores 

and absenteeism, completion of homework, bed times, TV viewing habits, and other factors. I’m convinced that the primary determinant of academic performance is the attitude of students and extent to which they apply themselves, and that undue emphasis on race encourages underperforming students and their families to blame institutions and resist adopting the best or only solutions—cultivating the right attitude, maintaining regular attendance, consistent completion of homework, and self-discipline in the classroom.  

Even if race, resources and instructional strategies do put some ethnicities at a disadvantage, what’s the use of an insight that blacks are three times less 

likely to be proficient at math than white and Asians? Black students can’t change their race or ethnicity in the hope of improving their test scored, but if we 

discovered (or confirmed) that 80 percent of students who weren’t proficient missed three times more school days and did half the homework of proficient students, we’d know how to solve the problem and who has to do it.  

Indeed, we already know that the indifferent effort or resistance to education that characterize many students is the primary cause of their poor test performances, and that poor attendance, and extreme lack of effort, and overt hostility towards standard English and such irrelevant subjects as math and history are more pervasive among black students. And we also know or should muster the guts and sense to recognize that investing our hope in more computers, innovative instructional methods, and an ongoing search for a politically correct explanation for the abject academic shortcomings of African American students perpetuates the problem by obscuring the discomforting reality, and extent to which the initiative and discipline of underperforming students and their families is what’s most lacking, and makes most of the difference in who scores high or low, and succeeds or fails. 

Kemper Stone 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Let’s make Berkeley a tourist destination! Reasons, for a start: 

1. Great handcrafts, coffee, and bookstores on Telegraph Avenue. 

2. Some of the beggars are really funny (meaning intentionally entertaining—I’m not insulting anyone). 

3. Gateway city to Oakland, Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond. 

4. Great music and theater and art museums and galleries. 

5. Bush-free zone—he won’t drop in on your festivities. 

There’s a start, at least, to our ad campaign. 

Ruth Bird 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

So what if the commander-in-chief of the world’s largest and most aggressive armed forces makes a secret trip to territory under the control of said army? What special daring does that represent? He can go wherever his army paves the way. Further, what special “hands-on” management does a two-hour photo opportunity represent? Scarcely none at all. Finally, what better use could be made of the president’s time and the taxpayers’ money? Well, perhaps his advisors decided that the government functions best when the president is far away, playing Scrabble on Air Force One. 

Bruce Joffe 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

Watching Congress is far more consequential than watching the NFL (NBA, MLB or NHL) but no less entertaining. The recent contest between the Elephants and the Donkeys over how and how much to subsidize prescription drugs for seniors was every bit as fascinating and suspenseful as a Big Game and the narrow margin of the win in the House and Senate was no less sweet, or bitter depending on which side you rooted for.  

Legislators who had to speed-read 1,200 pages in four days delivered impassioned speeches one after the other to an empty chamber. Behind the scenes their votes were bought and bartered for while distinguished figures on the sidelines, such as AARP Director Norvelli, led the cheers.  

In post-vote interviews many supporters of the bill (like Senator Feinstein) justified their ‘Yes” vote with: Time was running out, so if we didn’t get this bill through we wouldn’t get any. In other words, a bad bill is better than no bill or a bad play on third down is better than no play. Absurdity is delicious entertainment. 

On the serious side, though, comparing legislative contests with football games hides critically important, real and devastating differences.  

Congressional law-making is not really a game, merely game-like. Thus, for instance, while the next Super Bowl Champion will be decided in Houston on February 1, 2004 no one knows for sure what the far-reaching effects of the Medicare reform bill will be years from now when baby boomers get old. 

Secondly, in football, taunting an opponent can get you penalized. In Congress, however, Elephants vilify Donkeys and visa versa as often as they please. Furthermore, legislators’ lies are not penalized and may even help their cause because even if they are caught they can barter their way out.  

The law-making season, with frequent scheduled and unscheduled suspensions of play, lasts for two years after which we get to change a few players and then let the games begin again. 

Marvin Chachere  

San Pablo