Letters to the Editor

Friday April 30, 2004


Editor, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for the timely and positive article about Sunday’s Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting at Berkeley High (“Rave Reviews for Berkeley High’s Grand Opening,” Daily Planet, April 27-29). Matthew Artz captured the happiness of students, staff and community who are enjoying all of the new facilities. Students, community and staff members, led by Dibsy Machta, worked many hours planning and organizing the celebration. Alumni from the early 1900s, including a member of the 1935 girls’ archery team, shared their memories with us as part of the event. 

We would like to point out one item that needs correcting: The B Building did not burn down in 2000, but was disabled too much to be rehabilitated. We salvaged the library collection and had much of it in storage until moving into the spacious and beautiful new library this past January. Also, we wish that Mr. Artz had taken the time to talk to the Berkeley High library media teachers who were involved in planning the new space. Had he done so, the community would understand how our new library serves the specific needs of Berkeley High’s students and staff well. 

Thank you, citizens of Berkeley, for your generosity to generations of Berkeley High students. 

Ellie Goldstein-Erickson 

Susie Goodin 

Berkeley High School Library Media Teachers 




Editor, Daily Planet: 

The practice of jacking up fees in order to pay for Berkeley’s runaway government costs is hardly unique to the Planning Department (”Paying for Democratic Decisions,” Daily Planet editorial, April 27-29). Sewer charges, dog licenses, business licenses, apartment registration fees, parking fines—-the list of “incidental” payments is lengthy and growing. 

Berkeley residents are being slapped silly with skyrocketing charges and fees. In some cases, the cost of interacting with the city is increasing 10 times faster than inflation. And most charges pay for things you probably thought the General Fund (and property taxes) were supposed to cover. 

Fortunately, there’s a solution. Citizens should call on the City Council—-and go to the ballot, if necessary—-to limit such increases to 65 percent of the local Consumer Price Index each year. The limit should apply to any fees, charges, or fines imposed by any elected body in the city. 

The rate is one that the council and Rent Board have already agreed (in another arena) represents the reasonable rate at which a resident’s costs should increase. Since they agree, there’s no reason not to include the costs that the city itself imposes on its residents. 

Michael Wilson 




Editor, Daily Planet: 

I guess I ought to reply to some of the correspondence, since my previous letter keeps being quoted by other writers, most recently Joe Kempkes (April 27). I haven’t seen very much in any of the correspondence that directly contradicts what I wrote, namely a) that there is no general consensus on what kind of environment people want to see in downtown Berkeley, and b) that restricting parking in downtown is bad for retail businesses. I really don’t see, for example, how the “California Bike Commute Week” that Joe is promoting has any relevance to these two issues.  

As for being pro-business, yes, I am. Businesses provide jobs. They also provide sales tax revenues that permit things like bicycle lanes to be provided in Berkeley neighborhoods. They also make downtown look nicer (unless you feel that empty, poster-encrusted storefronts with homeless people sleeping in their doorways are a positive aesthetic). But if you want people to shop or eat out, in Berkeley, you have to provide somewhere for their cars. Have you ever tried carrying a TV or a kitchen table on a bike, Joe?  

So, I would still like someone to answer the question—what kind of downtown do you want in Berkeley? 

Malcolm Carden 




Editor, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley citizens who are concerned about the serious financial situation in their Berkeley Unified School District SD, might be interested to know that there is a little-known pool of money just waiting out there. I am referring to the $40 million budget of the Alameda County Office of Education. While schools, community colleges and high education throughout the state are suffering from a dearth of funding, county offices of education continue with their plush budgets, ever increasing. The Alameda County Office of Education performs a very important function; that is, to educate a few hundred at-risk students in the Juvenile Court schools and at some other special schools. However, it only spends about $6 million of their budget on these programs.  

The remainder of the budget, about $34 million, goes to administrators, specialists, consultants, “experts”—most of them never see a student in the classroom. Some of these people do carry out grants and other required programs; but there is about $14 million that is not earmarked. In fact, the state gives the county office of education about $8 million yearly for service to local school districts. But local school districts are never given the choice of how it is used. No doubt, if they were allowed to take a cash amount instead of in-service training that they get now, 100 percent of them would jump at the cash. There is no reason why some of this could not be divvied out to local school districts on a per capita basis. The county superintendent of schools, Sheila Jordan, has vehemently rejected this idea. 

Berkeley residents could ask their representative on the county board of education, Jacki Fox Ruby; however, probably she will not help, because Superintendent Jordan helped her get elected to the board with an infusion of $17,000. Ruby has voted 100 percent for what Jordan wants including a 66 percent raise for Jordan. Four other board members—Palacios, Jones, Elizalde and Cerrato—belong to the 100 percent club too. Palacios and Jones were soundly defeated in the recent election. 

Citizens should organize and appear before the county Board of Education and demand to know how the $40 million public money is spent. It meets the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at its headquarters: 313 West Winton Ave., Hayward. Agenda found at www.acoe.k12.ca.us. 

Ernest A. Avellar 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing in concern over the noxious odors that frequently foul the air in North and West Berkeley that originates from the Pacific Steel Casting Company in West Berkeley. The smell of burning pot handles emanating from this plant is most pronounced on what are otherwise beautiful warm sunny days, although it occurs much more frequently than that. The odor comes from the fumes of melting plastic resin that is used to line casting molds, which is burnt off as molten metal is poured into it. These fumes may or may not cause an immediate health threat but continued exposure is certainly detrimental to those of us who live in the West Berkeley, Westbrae, and North Berkeley, as well as Albany, El Cerrito and Kensington neighborhoods. 

I have lived in this neighborhood for over seven years and am getting quite concerned about the risks to my own health as well as the general air quality of the Berkeley area. My repeated inquiries with the Bay Area Air Quality District have disclosed that they are aware of the problem, but have not been able to remedy it, saying that it is really in the hands of the city. I have sent this concern to Mayor Bates on a couple of occasions, but have not as of yet received a reply. 

I would like to know if the City of Berkeley is aware of this problem and whether or not they taking any actions to rectify. I would imagine that, with the development of the Fourth Street retail shopping district and the skyrocketing real estate values in the area, this is becoming a major irritation for many in the area. In a city with a history of progressive politics and a much higher than average environmental awareness, it is puzzling to see this situation continue without any intervention from our City Council or citizens groups. I think the time has come to act in defense of the air quality and health of the residents of Berkeley. 

Anyone concerned or presently smelling this foul odor should immediately call the Bay Area Air Quality District at 1-800-34-6367 to place your complaint and concern, as well as calling the mayor’s office at 981-7100 to do the same. 

John Hawkridge 




Editor, Daily Planet: 

Since there has been much discussion of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in these pages, I think it would be helpful to bring folks up-to-date on what is happening on the ground.  

The Israeli policy of assassination of political opponents continues unabated, with now a threat to kill President Arafat. This has been Israeli policy for years— to attack any kind of resistance, across the political spectrum, armed or not. Leaders have been subject not only to murder, but more often to arrest (administrative detention without trial), torture, and sometimes expulsion. This is old news.  

What might be considered new is the explicit support that has now come from U.S. officials, with Bush’s announcement refusing to condemn the killing of Palestinian leaders and announcing that it sees no need for Israel to cede land that it conquered in the 1967 war. And it officially stated that it did not recognize the right of Palestinian refugees, nearly a million of whom were forced off their land in 1948, to return to their homeland. Bush’s announcement enshrines the crime that land can be taken by force, of forced ethnic cleansing. This is nothing less than a prescription for endless conflict, for it precludes any possibility of reconciliation, of justice, and real peace.  

Yet there remain signs of hope. Even as the Israeli military continues the building of the apartheid wall inside the West Bank it is being met by demonstrators, mostly unarmed, facing down their opponents that threaten their livelihood. Ordinary Palestinians, men, women and youth, have taken enormous risks in continuing these protests against the confiscation of their land and crops and homes. Many have been arrested, some have been beaten, some shot at with live ammunition and some have died, yet others continue the struggle. What’s more, they have been joined by internationals, including Israelis, two of whom have been shot and seriously wounded by the Israeli military in recent months.  

Here in Berkeley we also see signs of hope. We see it in a newspaper that dares to let people of all perspectives express themselves and their support or dissent of official U.S. policy. And one week after a powerful protest in Oakland against using our taxes for occupation of Palestine there is a cultural celebration that packed La Pena to the rafters with music and generous support for a West Bank village called Deir Ibzia. We take heart from such things and continue to resist and continue to celebrate the possibility of a new reality. 

More information can be found at www.tomjoad.org. 

Jim Harris 




Editor, Daily Planet: 

It was with some interest that I read your defense/letters about your cartoon. You know, every time that a cartoon is taken by a fairly large section of people as anti-Semitic, the same excuses are trotted out--you have to make your point quickly in a cartoon; you have to use recognizable symbols; I am not an anti-Semite, some of my best friends, etc. In the end, there is the intellectual laziness that is often reflected in the same lack of rigor that the people who post these cartoons have in regard to a nuanced or evenhanded discussion of the issues. It is a given that the Jewish Star is both the symbol of a religion and the symbol of the State of Israel. Therefore, one should be exceedingly careful in using it in a political cartoon that many took as implying Jewish domination of the U.S. However, rather than conceding that you made a mistake by not taking whatever extra time it takes to create an effective cartoon without using the Star of David—you have to fall back on “I am sorry if anyone was offended.” Any educated adult could have figured out the firestorm of protest and “misreads” this cartoon would create—except, perhaps, the cartoonist and the editorial staff of the Berkeley Daily Planet.  

And then you publish the letters. One letter of support was signed by someone with a clearly Jewish name. Cannot imagine why this letter was picked. 

Another letter—filled with half-truths about the Palestianian/Israel conflict—was written by a man who has praised Holocaust deniers on local website bulletin boards and has been banned from others for writing vicious personal attacks. Don’t think I won’t be advising your advertisers about the your printing such letters, either.  

Congratulations, your failure to exercise thought in your editorial cartooning has made you the hero of racists whose letters you are willing to publish. Everyone who criticizes Israel is not an anti-Semite, but every anti-Semite hates Israel. And there isn’t a clear line anymore between the Ku Klux Klan and elements of the Left in terms of their Jew hating. Lazy cartoonists like the one on your staff delight both poles of anti-Semitism.  

Since you’ re so sure your cartoon was not anti-Semitic, why don't your crack investigative reporters do a piece on why you published a letter by a vicious Holocaust denier in support of Mr. DeFreitias’ cartoon? Why don't you explore the use of leftist rhetoric and images like Mr. DeFreitias by dyed-in-the-wool Jews haters? Afraid to look under the rock of the people your second rate cartoonist appeals to? 

Nate Bloom 





Editor, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for attempting to give a balanced view on the Israel/Palestine issue. The Palestinians have no voice in this country’s media so when an attempt is made to give them a voice it is to be commended. It is just so sad that it is met with the knee-jerk accusation of anti-Semitism. There will be no peace with out justice in the Holy Land.  

Sarah Fike