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Letters to the Editor

Tuesday December 09, 2003


Editors, Daily Planet: 

There have been repeated requests from BUSD for volunteers to serve on BUSD committees, namely the Facilities Safety and Maintenance Committee, which was formerly the Maintenance Advisory Committee (MAC).  

This committee was created by our Bond Measure BB which provides BUSD with over $4 million a year of funding, to provide oversight, and strategic planning. Since Michele Lawrence’s ascension, she has abrogated the MAC committee’s strategic plan, violated the statutory requirements of the bond, failed to carry out the required audits, and not accounted for the funds spent.  

Now she wants citizens to rubber stamp these violations. No wonder there are no volunteers beating down the doors.  

Yolanda Huang  

former MAC chair 2000-2002  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

With regard to the stalled University Avenue Plan, not only are there already too many vacancies on University Avenue, but a valuable four-year-old business there is under threat. 

The city has given a permit for the contractor of the Darling Flower Shop project to place a cargo container on University Avenue in front of Cafe Tibet and the existing Darling Flower Shop. This large container blocks the cafe from view for anyone driving east on University Avenue. A sign has been placed on top of the container, but that does not lessen the terribly deleterious impact of hiding the business from people driving up University Avenue. 

Cafe Tibet has already suffered the loss of foot traffic that resulted from the sad demise of the UC Theatre. I think it would be a great loss to the city, to Samten’s customers, and to Tibetans in exile all over the Bay Area if a decline in customers endangers her business. As things now stand, she has to try to keep her restaurant alive when it is obscured from the street for a whole year (until August 2004). 

Surely a better place for the container can be found at the back of the work site. If the city wishes to improve the business climate on University Avenue, it must support rather than endanger existing businesses there. 

Charlene Woodcock 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s heartening to see so much discussion recently in the pages of the Daily Planet about the state of development along University Avenue. I agree wholeheartedly with the recent letter submitted jointly by Mayor Bates and Councilmember Maio calling for implementation of the long-neglected University Avenue Plan. We need to take a hard, critical look at the recent trend allowing oversized buildings with undersized parking allotments. 

The areas north and south of University Avenue still maintain a tenuous neighborhood charm and a livable pace and scale of living, but if the city allows construction of more Acton Courts on the avenue (that hulking behemoth west of Andronico’s), that fragile balance will be knocked permanently out of whack, with too much traffic, too much density, back yards without a shred of privacy, and a true degradation of the standard of living in our beloved Berkeley flats. 

I look forward to more thoughtful discussions in your pages about the future of University Avenue. 

Steven Saylor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

An article in the Daily Planet (“Council Race Underway as Hawley Drops Out,” Dec. 5-8) refers to “a Realtor and former high school teacher” in town. If I hadn’t regularly encountered “Realtor” in the real estate pages of the local press, I would have assumed that the capital R was a typo.  

The Planet, an avowedly democratic publication, has to choose: Either elevate high school teachers and the rest of us to the orthographic heights claimed by Realtors, or bring Realtors down to the common level.  

Though I’m generally in favor of raising democratic standards, and indeed rather fancy the look of Citizen Activist and Writer (my own current designations), I think a cap on big tall letters is the best policy. But perhaps I’m confusing spelling with land use.  

Zelda Bronstein, Chair  

Berkeley Planning Commission  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I hope you will have more excellent art reviews by Peter Selz. It was so intelligent and reader-friendly, a real addition to your excellent newspaper. 

Estelle Jelinek 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m writing to clarify a point about the use of a statement of overriding considerations when a proposed project’s environmental effects are significant and unavoidable, as the Environmental Impact Report shows for the Blood House at 2526 Durant Ave.  

The role of the Zoning Adjustments Board is not to ensure a profit for the developer as the Daily Planet suggested (“Not So Fast, ZAB Tells Blood House Developers,” Dec. 5-8). The role of ZAB is to implement the Berkeley General Plan and Zoning Ordinance, which calls for both increasing affordable housing and preserving Berkeley’s historic buildings. A statement of overriding considerations under the California Environmental Quality Act in this case weighs these two objectives to find if the social benefits outweigh the environmental costs. Even before we consider that question, it is important under CEQA to fully consider every feasible alternative, which is what the board decided to do last Thursday when calling for further study of the feasibility of an alternative that would preserve the house but allow for additional housing construction.  

Andy Katz 

Member, Zoning Adjustments Board 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your recent Commentary piece by Ms. Gale Garcia (“City Staff Serves Developers As Kennedy’s Projects Prove,” Daily Planet, Dec. 5-8) questioned why the GAIA Building is assessed at a different rate from that of an apparently similarly sized Corder Building at 2322 Shattuck Ave. Ms. Garcia is not comparing apples to apples, for the GAIA Building has important differences with respect to the Corder Building that give rise to different evaluations. As far as I understand the city tax code and it application, there are at least three reasons: 

1) The city taxes commercial area at a higher rate than residential area. The Corder Building has much larger percentage of commercial space than the GAIA Building—an entire city block of commercial frontage (260 feet) versus 68 feet at the GAIA Building. 

2) The city does not tax garage areas, even though the square footage does in fact appear on assessors records. Roughly two thirds of the ground floor of the GAIA Building is dedicated to the parking of 42 cars; none of the ground floor of the Corder Building is. I believe that this alone accounts for a difference in the taxable area in the building of at least 25 percent. 

3) The city does not begin tax assessments on unfinished space that does not have an permanent or temporary occupancy permits, or which is not ready for permitted tenant improvements. The entire ground floor of the Corder Building has long been in use and is fully assessed. The ground floor of GAIA is still unfinished, uninhabitable, and awaits such permits—and assessments. 

I hope this sheds some light on Ms. Garcia’s inquiry. 

Patrick Kennedy 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just wanted to thank you for the excellent article on the serious troubles that international graduate students on the Berkeley campus are facing because of the excessive and unclear process of visa issuance that is taking place today (“Students Face Visa Hassles,” Daily Planet, Dec. 5-8). 

I am an international student myself and have been trying to work on this issue within the graduate student government. Although we have managed to meet with university administrators over the issue, little information has been available, as officials have been reluctant to release any particulars about visa delays and denials. The Berkeley Daily Planet just filled in that void! Thank you for providing crucial information from which we can begin to work on this issue. 

I hope that you will recognize how deeply this affects students—even those who have not experienced troubles so far are constrained from traveling abroad, whether to conferences or to see their families—simply for the fear of encountering troubles on their way back. The lingering fear is affecting the academic endeavor and the quality of life of all students who come to study in the United States. 

Thank you again, and keep up the good work of uncovering problems that are suffered by people who otherwise lack voices. 

Takeshi Akiba 

UC Berkeley graduate student 










Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wish to comment on the state of affairs of the Telegraph Avenue Street Artists, a group of licensed street art and craft vendors to whom the City of Berkeley owes much of its character. 

We are a poor but proud lot, all makers and vendors of handcrafted items ranging from jewelry and leather goods to art, clothing, hats, incense, soaps, candles, pens and much more. The operant word here is “handcrafted.” We spend our lives making these gifts, then enduring all kinds of weather to sell them on the street, the only roof over our heads (and the heads of our customers) is that which we bring with us. Some of us don’t make enough money at our art or craft to make a decent living, eat well, or provide ourselves with good living and working quarters; some of us are more fortunate because we have other sources of income, such as a husband or wife with a steady job, or we have wholesale and website customers. 

Nevertheless, we are real businesses selling products you won’t find anywhere else. Many of our items are one of a kind, many are made in quantity, but all are handmade from raw materials, the old-fashioned way. We have no factories making our wares, no underpaid sweat shop workers laboring to make cheap goods to the masses. We have no marketing department, no advertising budget, no professional association to support our endeavors. We just survive or thrive, depending on the mood of the crowd that day, or that week, or that month. And if sales are good, we eat and pay our rent; if not, we suffer. 

So why write about it? Simple: to get the local media to devote as much attention to us as we can get. To draw crowds of people to our booths, our street stores which we put up and take down every day and night. To support the local economy, the Berkeley economy. To get you people out of the malls, away from the cheap junk that’s sold for fashion, art or beauty, and to get you to stroll by our booths and spend your money on the beautiful crafts we make. You’ll find gifts 

for your family and friends that you’ll not find anywhere in the world. You’ll not be disappointed and, believe me, neither will we. 

Ed Livingston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Steve Geller writes (Letters, Daily Planet, Dec. 5-8) praising public transportation in Berkeley. I would be delighted if that were so, but just look at the schedules. My wife and I just spent a day in San Francisco using public transportation. The bus we rode came every four minutes in mid-day and was crowded. Too many buses in the East Bay seem to come about every 30 minutes in mid-day. San Francisco Muni transfers are free and are good in any direction for a generous period of time. AC Transit charges for transfers. BART, however, is fast, frequent, and comfortable, but then there is a charge to transfer to AC Transit from 

BART. The infrequent schedules of East Bay buses is discouraging; and when schedules have been revised to be even less frequent, there is even less reason to patronize AC Transit. 

Alan R. Meisel 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Dear Council Member Hawley, 

Thank you for announcing your choice of a successor in District 5. Now I definitely know for whom not to vote. 

Your candidate’s willingness to be in consensus with other councilmembers appears to be of great importance in your estimation. I’m so glad he wants to be liked so that his dance card will be full! 

How about a candidate being of good moral character, committed to specific principles, with innovative notions about how a city in a financial crisis should move forward? 

When you ran, you specifically touted your financial expertise. However, now the only solution you have put forward to solve the financial crisis is to burden homeowners with an additional property tax. 

May I suggest that it would be an honorable thing for you to do is to recognize that you no longer represent the views of the majority of voters in District 5. This was demonstrated at the last NEBA meeting. 

You should graciously acknowledge this situation, resign, and let the person who polled the next highest vote assume the remainder of your term of office. This would save the city the cost a possible recall and another election. 

Viki Tamaradze 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When Gov. Schwarzenegger asked Californian Indians to pay their fair share of taxes, he never once asked the same fairness of wealthy Californians. It seems to me that Mr. Schwarzenegger doesn’t wan to offend his wealthy friends who donated millions of dollar to his campaign. I call it hypocrisy at its worst. 

Mr. Schwarzenegger only learned one half of the United States when he was still in his home country of Austria. He wasn’t taught about the other half of the United States which had to do with American Indian sovereignty. While there might be legitimate concern over Indian casinos, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s argument about fairness of taxes in California is one-sided. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for the yummy info from Marty Schiffenbauer (“Decadent Delights Await the Chocoholic’s Palate,” Daily Planet, Nov. 28-Dec. 1). Here’s my two cents: You can be “chewing good while doing good” by buying free-trade organic chocolate at Global Exchange. They carry three brands from Germany and Switzerland, large and small bars, dark, milk, and bittersweet, powdered cocoa too. Global Exchange is in San Francisco at 24th and Noe and here in Berkeley at 2840 College Ave. Also, Global Exchange is one of the few places you can find organic free-trade coffee; they have a great assortment of handsome items to wear and for the home, most from small village collectives all over the globe. 

Rhoda Slanger 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

UC’s proposal for a conference center and museums does not only include underground parking on the site. It also includes a new parking structure north of Addison Street.  

This parking structure is not really part of the conference center/museum project, and it should be studied separately. I would like to see the main project built as soon as possible, but not the new UC parking structure.  

This parking structure would be used by UC employees and not by the general public. It seems to be part of UC’s long range development plan, which calls for parking to expand more rapidly than the number of people on campus expands—actually promoting a mode shift from other forms of transportation to the automobile.  

On the more general question of whether downtown needs more parking to stimulate business, I think UC’s conference center/museum project shows that we can attract more customers without attracting more cars.  

Almost all of the people coming to conferences will arrive by air, and when they get to Berkeley, they will not need cars. The hotel will actually reduce demand for parking: Many people visiting UC now stay in hotels in Emeryville and drive to Berkeley, because there is not enough hotel space here.  

The museums will draw people whether or not they provide parking, particularly the museum of anthropology, which will be one of the largest museums of its kind in the country.  

Automobile use expands to fill the amount of parking that is available. If UC builds its parking structure north of Addison, more UC employees will commute by car. If the conference/museum center includes more parking than is necessary, more visitors will come by car. All this parking will not bring more people downtown, but it will cause more traffic congestion and leave us with a less livable city.  

In the long run, more parking will make downtown less attractive and less successful. Berkeley’s downtown will never compete successfully with freeway-oriented shopping centers by providing more parking than they do. Downtown will compete successfully by providing the liveliest, most interesting shopping area in the East Bay—and that requires an intensity of use that you can only get with transit-oriented development.  

Charles Siegel