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Letters to the Editor

Friday January 16, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like to thank Fred Dodsworth for the fine article he wrote on Healing Muses, our nonprofit organization which brings healing music to Bay area hospitals, hospices and convalescent homes “Musician’s Cancer Struggle Inspires Hospital Programs,” Daily Planet, Jan. 9-12). Not only did his story introduce the readers of the Daily Planet to our project, but it gave exposure to our upcoming weekend fund-raising concerts, and drew new audience members who had read the article. 

Fred was a very skilled interviewer, and it was a pleasure working with him. I hope the Berkeley Daily Planet will continue to feature stories on people who are involved in service projects which bring quality of life to our community. 

Eileen Hadidian 

Director, Healing Muses 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was no surprise that there was an expensive flood at Malcolm X, due in part to the district’s failure to do simple preventive maintenance such as to remove leaves clogging drains.  

Despite three years of funding of almost $12 million since 2000 from our parcel tax, Measure BB, the maintenance department has been unable to move from putting out fires to doing the real job of maintenance, which is preventive maintenance. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The cure for flooding at Malcolm X is estimated to be at least $44,000, while a simple half hour of raking leaves would probably have prevented the flooding.  

Last fall, no one on the existing maintenance oversight committee volunteered to be the chair. The existing co-chairs resigned. The “unofficial minutes” states some of the reasons for the resignation are: “The committee seems to have made little progress...the committee is still talking about cleaning bathrooms, pulling weeds and fixing irrigation systems; the department is still struggling with...manpower and hiring; the facilities departments are politicized, protect their own interests and bank accounts or funds, and do not work together as a unit to perform in our schools the way the district should. Construction standards seem to be no one’s bailiwick.”  

Three years ago, the superintendent set out on a course to stifle and limit citizen oversight, throwing out a plan which took three years to develop, stating that she knew how to run maintenance. Well, $12 million later, the superintendent’s plan is a mess. Plus, BUSD has conducted no audits as required by Measure BB.  

We in Berkeley are generous, especially when the specter of little children are raised. We have been told that Berkeleyans never turn down a school spending measure. Therefore, BUSD has now turned into a cash cow for administrators, who keep giving themselves large raises while laying off teachers and closing school libraries. These school administrators have never had to be effective, efficient, or even accountable. BUSD school board members received a 30 percent raise last year.  

If after $12 million they can’t even clean bathrooms and rake the leaves, it’s time to cut off the money supply.  

Yolanda Huang 




To Gov. Schwarzenegger: 

In the same week we read (1) Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina insisting that Silicon Valley will continue sending jobs overseas until California schools can turn out properly educated workers, and (2) our great University of California is, in the words of Chancellor Robert Berdahl, “now over a billion dollars short of the ‘partnership’ we had with previous gubernatorial administrations,” with “more and more, phrases like ‘restricting enrollment,’ ‘massive fee increases,’ and even ‘privatization’ in the air.” 

We simply must not allow budget cuts that would gut our education system, from preschool through the nation’s best public university. 

Our institutions of higher education drive our economy, and they define—they deliver—on the promise of California as the land of opportunity. To stand by and let them be gutted now would be like toppling the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. 

The founders of the University of California chose their motto well: fiat lux. Let there be light! 

Trina Ostrander 

Executive Director,  

Berkeley Public Education Foundation 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was happy to see Victor Herbert’s response to my commentary on the development task force (Letters, Daily Planet, Jan 9-12), because he brought up issues I didn’t have space to cover in my commentary. 

First, Mr. Herbert is completely correct in saying that the planning staff treats small applicants (homeowners) differently than it treats large developers. Homeowner applicants who want to make relatively harmless improvements to their property find themselves in a bureaucratic obstacle course, due as much to staff as to “grumpy neighbors,” while staff routinely gives away the store to large developers—especially the city’s “favorites” on both the for-profit and non-profit side. (In explanation of this, one long-time planning observer commented simply: “They facilitate projects that increase density.”) In any case, the task force cited this homeowner frustration and tried to address it. I myself recommended easing their burden by eliminating their hefty public hearing fee—while maintaining the safety net of public review in most cases—and I was happy to see that the task force recommended exploring this possibility. But it seems that many people, including a majority of the ZAB, sometimes forget that zoning was created to protect the public interest—and neighbor’s rights—by limiting private property rights. 

As to Polly Armstrong’s role, Mr. Herbert is wrong. Ms. Armstrong had the power to eviscerate the task force’s statement on staff culture precisely because the recommendations had to be virtually unanimous. I wrote it the way it happened. However, though I disagree with many of Ms. Armstrong’s ideas, I thank her and all others for their volunteer work on the task force. In fact, while the task force was considering ways to help commercial developers, Ms. Armstrong was the only member who provided this reality check: Residents close to commercial districts may not appreciate the intensification of commercial parking demand at the expense of neighborhood parking! 

Mr. Herbert is also wrong in describing observers as “de facto members” of the task force. Real members of such groups have the official right to “sit at the table,” to speak, and to affect group output, as Ms. Armstrong did. Luckily, Mr. Herbert displayed a much better understanding of power when on the task force than he did in his letter. 

Sharon Hudson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When we think about our concern with public safety, we think of crime and fire, but rarely about traffic safety. To increase public safety, Berkeley spends a majority of its budget on crime and fire prevention. Fire and crime deaths have been significantly reduced, and in some years stand at zero. With an appropriate investment, it’s proven that we can effectively reduce a public danger. 

There are well-documented but overlooked public dangers—notably to pedestrians. Although more than 20 pedestrians have died in the last decade, we have yet to make a comparable investment in reducing traffic dangers.  

The very idea of pedestrian safety has been absent from our thinking. Even though we know the walker is the mineshaft canary for our street livability, we never think about protecting the walker or the walking environment.  

North Shattuck, with four fatalities in the past decade, got a plan but no improvements. In Central Berkeley, with its rapidly developing transit corridors, it’s entirely unsafe to walk. Not only are the most dangerous intersections in the East Bay right here in the downtown area, but the most dangerous residential streets in the city (Addison and Allston) are here too. Won’t it get worse as thousands of new residents and hundreds of new businesses locate along our developing transit corridors?  

As a community, we need to start considering pedestrian needs. There is much we could do that many other communities have already been doing: Prosecute the deliberate or reckless miscreants, invest in infrastructure danger prevention and raise the public’s awareness of dangers—creating risk reduction for all of us. It’s a proven public safety strategy. Berkeley can spend an adequate share increasing the public safety for all of us on city streets. 

Please join us in making Berkeley safer for all—safe enough for walking. 

Wendy Alfsen,  

Walk & Roll Berkeley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gordon Woznick’s Dec. 26 commentary critical of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) was filled with misrepresentations and factual errors.  

Mr. Wozniak opposes an upcoming March, 2004 Berkeley ballot measure—Measure I—that will allow Berkeley citizens the opportunity to vote yes or no on approving an IRV voting procedure (ranking candidates by first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. on a ballot) for future city candidate elections. 

IRV is a very simple, straightforward voting process has been used successfully in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland for decades. Ireland’s president is selected using IRV voting. The City of London uses IRV voting to select its mayor and city council offices. IRV voting is currently an election option in Santa Clara County, the City of San Leandro and for special elections in Oakland. 

After citizens voted overwhelmingly to pass a ballot measure mandating its use, San Francisco’s voters are set to use IRV voting in the November, 2004 general election. Berkeley’s upcoming March, 2004 IRV ballot measure is directly modeled on San Francisco’s successful IRV initiative. 

In his article, Mr. Wozniak erroneously states that “no voting machine can handle mixed traditional and IRV voting” on the same election day. Mr. Wozinak’s remarkable claim is directly contradicted by the fact that San Francisco—with hundreds of thousands of voters—is set to conduct its November, 2004 election using traditional and IRV voting procedures simultaneously.  

This dual voting technology already exists and is set to be operational for San Francisco’s November, 2004 Board of Supervisors elections. The company Election Software and Services (ESS) is the provider of San Francisco’s IRV voting machine technology.  

What is extremely disconcerting—and cynical—about Mr. Wozniak’s opposition to Berkeley’s Measure I is that Mr. Wozniak originally voted against giving Berkeley citizens themselves the right to vote yes or no on the IRV ballot measure. 

As a City Councilmember, Mr. Wozniak voted against placing Measure I on the ballot—in effect, pre-empting the ability of Berkeley’s voters to decide the merits of the issue for themselves. 

Given the political dynamics of Mr. Wozniak’s own 2002 City Council District 8 election—when he was one of four District 8 candidates—it is possible to conclude that Mr. Wozniak’s personal opposition to IRV may stem from the concern that he could be vulnerable if IRV voting was used in a future District 8 election.  

In his November, 2002 City Council election, as one of four candidates, Mr. Wozniak received less than a majority of all votes cast, and only managed to win his office during a low turnout, runoff election one month later in December.  

Under Measure I, IRV voting will avoid the need for a second, low turnout election which typically costs the City of Berkeley hundreds of thousands of dollars. IRV voting insures that elected representatives have majority voter support (50 percent or more) in an election once votes are tabulated.  

Chris Kavanagh 




Dear Mayor Bates and City Councilmember, 

It’s important to stay focused on the real issue here. Sprint has requested a use permit for an entirely new installation on a thriving commercial street surrounded by houses, apartments, and businesses. This application is for a use permit, and is therefore a : zoning decision. Deciding whether to grant the use permit is a political, social, and environmental decision, not a technical one. It doesn’t matter whether Sprint has correctly gone through the required steps to request a use permit. What matters is whether the residents and merchants in the area want this entirely new operation in the middle of their neighborhood.  

The cell phone companies have been very skillful in promoting these requests for use permits as though they have some protected or special status due to FCC regulations, but this is simply not true. Berkeley is already in full compliance with all FCC regulations and requirements because of the number and widespread location of transmitting antennas throughout the city. 

This is the first test of Berkeley’s Transmitting Antenna Ordinance, which was created so that the city could manage and control the placement of these installations, with essential input from residents and merchants. If you grant this permit against the virulent opposition of those living and working nearby, it will be a signal to the industry that they can build these antennas anywhere, with no control by either city staff or City Council. It will be clear that the ordinance you passed was a sham, intended only to mislead the citizens into believing that you cared. 

This request for a use permit should be treated like any other, with deciding weight given to the residents and businesses that already exist in this very successful neighborhood. Sprint is asking you to alienate your own constituents to approve this installation. You know that the neighbors and merchants are united in their opposition, and there will be in an uproar if you grant this permit. And for what? Simply so that Sprint can have yet another installation in an area where they already have three nearby. 

There are many other sites available throughout Berkeley that would not be so controversial, and the ordinance was specifically designed to encourage companies to build their installations in areas that are acceptable to the citizens of Berkeley. You can send a clear signal to the cell phone companies that they must work with the citizens instead of against them by denying this permit. 

Kevin Sutton  




Dear Mayor Bates and City Councilmembers:, 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the UC have announced that site preparation for the construction of the Molecular Foundry will begin this week.  

How is it possible that this project can go forward without the entire LBNL expansion project first going through an Environmental Impact Review process? How is it possible that this project can go forward before we have solid scientific proof that there are no harmful environmental impacts or health effects from the research that will be conducted at the Foundry? How is it possible that this project can go forward when the Lab site has existing buildings that can no longer be used because they have been contaminated by previous research activities? 

Why do we allow the LBNL and UC to continue to devour the landscape within our city limits and its fragile watershed? Why does the financial burden of supporting the university (fire, infrastructure, police, etc.) fall on the shoulders of the city while the lab and UC enter into profitable licensing agreements with industry while we cut public health services for the poor and contemplate reducing fire and public safety budgets? 

The UC and LBNL continue to encroach further into our diminishing natural environment and into our downtown, draining our city’s coffers of resources we desperately need, and we seem only able to shrug our shoulders and to hope for the best. It’s time we did more. 

Tom Kelly  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While riding a bus to downtown, I read the barrage of pro-parking letters in the Jan. 13-15 edition of the Daily Planet. One of them assured me “the simple truth is people drive their cars when want to shop, eat or have a good time.” Another stated that parking is a “fundamental use facility.” None of them mentioned buses. 

I got off my bus, and while waiting to cross Shattuck, watched the cars crawl along. Some of them were probably circling in search of a parking space. I didn’t need a parking space. 

Sure, if all these people insist on driving, each alone in his personal vehicle, they’ll each need a parking place. But is there really no alternative to coming downtown in a car? Having just gotten off a bus, the answer seemed obvious to me. 

Major cities in Europe have discovered that a boom in downtown business results when parking is replaced with shops and public spaces to walk and sit. Berkeley’s BART Plaza gives a hint of this pedestrian ambiance. Across the street, I could see the tables of the sidewalk cafes on Center. 

Shopping is a pedestrian activity. Even at the big suburban malls, people park their cars and stroll among the shops. People might need a car to haul packages. Instead of parking, how about delivery services? Delivery might be a lot more profitable than parking. 

On my way back, while waiting for my bus, I watched all the other buses pass through downtown Berkeley, bound for various destinations. I counted cars carrying more people than the driver—less than 10 percent of them. A single bus can carry 40 people, seated. 

Back on the bus, I read another Planet letter. This one complained that unless there are more parking spaces, the homeless will dominate downtown in the evenings. Well, there sure are a lot of homeless, but they aren’t filling the parking spaces. In fact, in the evenings, with the all-day parkers gone, I’m told that there are plenty of parking spaces. 

I was riding one of the new Van Hool buses, very nice. I’m told that all new buses are purchased entirely from Federal grants. Evidently Federal grants don’t take care of the homeless. 

Should buses be relegated to people too poor or disabled to drive a car? Do developers have an obligation to provide the city with parking? Should we build parking garages towering into the sky and burrowed into the earth? 

Why such fixation on cars and parking? We can live so much better. Do we care about housing, about congestion, about getting sick from polluted air? The herds of cars are a major contribution to global warming. 

As the bus rolled along, I read another letter, bemoaning the loss of parking due to the Library Gardens housing project. It described parking as part of our “civic heart.” I thought housing was the heart of any city. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The war on terror has grown color conscious. Three of the five colors (green, white, yellow, orange and red) used by the Department of Homeland Security to put the public on security alert are now used to assign a “risk score” to people boarding airplanes: green = low, yellow = unknown, red = high.  

I wonder if Secretary Ridge and his minions take into account the very real problems and ambiguities that may result from mixing the colors on their security risk palette. For instance, a green coded air passenger traveling on a red day produces a brown risk. Likewise, a red passenger traveling on a green day produces a brown risk. 

Furthermore, if days and people can be assessed for risk why not places. For instance the Golden Gate Bridge would be red but the local golf course white. 

And why stop there? The seriousness and complexity of the situation requires more subtle, nuanced treatment. Ought not age, gender, religion - in short, all those attributes about which discrimination is prohibited—contribute to the procedure for evaluating risk? Surely a teenage girl merits a spring-like green while her grandmother boarding the plane with her deserves a dark hued, forest green.  

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

An advertisement from the YMCA has the headline “This year, I resolve to take care of ME—in mind, body and spirit.” Then, after explaining how nice it is to be a member of the YMCA so you can exercise, do Yoga, or soak in the Jacuzzi, the ad concludes: “This year, there’s one thing that’s not falling off my priority list—ME!” (Daily Planet, Jan. 9).  

I guess this ad explains the YMCA’s attitude toward downtown parking. I don’t care how much damage I do to the environment. I don’t care how much damage I do to the city. I just care how convenient it is for ME! 

This attitude may help you take care of your body, but I doubt if it does much good for your mind or spirit.  

Charles Siegel