Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 18, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

It occurs to me that the reason “right to life-ers” are so rabid in their opposition to abortion is that a woman’s right to choose might well have led to a world without them, something they find “inconceivable.”  

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

With newspaper front pages more bizarre by the day, I assume I’m not the only one having flashbacks to the end of the Nixon era. I mean, who would really be surprised to see a headline next week reading: “Patty Hearst Kidnapped”? 

Marty Schiffenbauer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Senator Dianne Feinstein and the other gutless wonders who purport to represent the American people in Congress are already all accessories before the fact to prison torture, mass murder and war crimes with their votes to authorize Bush’s criminal war on Iraq. Now they are requesting “financial oversight” for another 25 billion dollars to fund further Bush barbarism in Iraq. Wow, real profiles in courage, huh? These Democrats are just about as worthless as the Bush gang of lying thugs that are bankrupting our country (both morally and fiscally) with their moronic invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. 

James K. Sayre 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m sorry to hear about the Housing Authority’s problems and I have to say that Sharon Jackson is doing a monumental job of pulling Berkeley’s housing programs together after years of mismanagement. It’s nice to see that they are trying to reduce their expenditures by issuing a request for proposals for the management of its 75 public housing units. The management contract is currently held by Affordable Housing Associates which is being paid over $400 per unit per month. I’m sure that there are many qualified property management firms in Berkeley, both for and nonprofit, who could provide the necessary services at a much lower cost. Unfortunately, unlike other cities, Berkeley doesn’t often publish requests for bids in local papers and so misses the opportunity to save money and provide jobs to local companies. The request for proposals was issued May 3 and all proposals must be received by May 20. The bid proposals (Specification No. F-9065-04) are available from the city’s Finance Department or online at www.ci.berkeley.ca. 

us/ finance. 

Phillipa Freneau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was utterly dismayed by the reaction to the Hotel Task Force by some of the planning commissioners (“Task Force Criticized for Lack of Diversity,” Daily Planet, May 14-17). I attended (as a non-task force member) almost all of the meetings held by the task force and was extremely impressed with the breadth of concerns (including, among other things, labor issues), the level of professional input and the high level of consensus that was reached by the task force in its final recommendations. Many of the members of the task force also remarked that they had never before seen a similar group work so efficiently and congenially. An enormous amount of work, discussion and careful thought went into these recommendations and Rob Wrenn is to be commended for an excellent job of weaving together the many very diverse opinions that were voiced. 

It is not at all obvious what the reasoning is behind the concerns that were reported in the article. I am absolutely sure that everyone on the task force would have welcomed members from any Berkeley faction, race or area. For someone to suggest that discrimination is an issue here, is patently absurd. Obviously those commissioners who accused the task force of “hand-picking” the members were asleep at the wheel, when the group was formed. I am a resident of Berkeley, have no political affiliations, am not a member of any commission, and did not receive privileged information from any city officials about the task force—and yet I was able to attend the meetings and might have even been on the task force had I been involved early enough. It was completely open to everyone. Any planning commissioner who was doing their job and paying attention should have been aware of how and when the task force was formed. So why were those who are now crying foul not there? If the hotel project is a matter of such great concern to them, I would think they might have shown more interest from the beginning. 

As to the specific objections, it seems there was only one: the recommendation that employees not be granted free parking. The task force was accused in this context of being “upper middle class.” I live in a neighborhood surrounded by upper middle class people. Trust me: Parking, especially free parking, is always favorable to the “upper middle class.” The recommendation is clearly meant to discourage an increase of driving in Berkeley (especially downtown). That is not an “upper middle class” priority at all—quite the contrary. 

The other objection that the recommendations are too specific also makes no sense. What good is it to make only vague abstract recommendations? How the hotel is built and how it fits into the rest of the downtown planning is essential. Do we really want to simply let the developers decide how our city should evolve? And in what way would that further the interests of diversity? 

It would be awfully disappointing to see all of the good work done on the task force go to waste because of the bogus objections raised. Meetings have been going on for months. The other commissioners have had a long time to complain and make comments, but they have waited until lots of other people have spent a lot of time and effort. This is not only divisive, it is also inconsiderate and unappreciative. 

David Partch 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

What a shame that the Daily Planet spent so much of its coverage of the Planning Commission’s discussion of the hotel task force report on a moment of controversy about diversity, and so little on the substance of the report itself. Why was there no reporting on the nine main recommendations so carefully developed by this group of 25 citizens with multiple perspectives? 

I attended all the meetings of the task force, even though I was not a member of it. It was an unusual experience—rare in my 33 years experience with Berkeley politics—to see such a broadly inclusive and representative group meet eight times without serious dissension and with a spirit of constructive cooperation, and to unanimously forward a consensus report. The report itself was never designed to put the developer in handcuffs, but only to bring to attention early in the process the set of issues that any project making its way through Berkeley permit appeals will need to address and resolve. In that sense the task force clearly made the future work of both the developer and the city simpler and clearer, and the report should help to minimize any delays. 

As for diversity, it was the full Planning Commission that constituted the task force after openly seeking all interested parties, so any perceived deficiencies are its own responsibility. And of course any continuation of the task force’s work can easily be made even more representative in the future. If that day comes, perhaps the Daily Planet can actually write about what matters instead of going for the transient controversy and the cheap headline. 

Alan Tobey 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Richard Brenneman’s description of the lively exchanges at the Animal Shelter Subcommittee meeting as a “catfight” seems a little dramatic. What I experienced was passionate community activists making full use of an open and messy form of government known as “public participation.” Bob Brockl of Nexus and I have much more in common than differences. I am a lifelong community artist and documentarian, fighting for ‘outsider’ art and public funding for the arts in Europe and here in the U.S. And Bob, one of the Nexus Artists collective has done more than his fair share of animal rescue. 

We both know what it is like to feel excluded from the highest reaches of government decision making. That’s why the meetings that I have the privilege to chair will continue to represent open door government—members of the public are welcome to contribute throughout the meetings, and I invited Nexus to the meeting in the first place. And it is why the efforts of city staff to eliminate and reduce the profoundly important democracy of citizen commissions needs to be fought vigilantly. 

The opportunity to build a joint facility to house both the Berkeley Municipal Shelter and Humane Society nonprofit shelter is what animal welfare activists have been working towards for years. 

Municipal animal shelters provide services mandated by state and local law code enforcement, picking up lost, stray, dead and injured animals, maintaining an effective rabies control program, impounding and quarantining ‘police hold’ animals etc. They can’t turn animals away. Humane organizations have traditionally been seen as the “good cop” to the “bad cop” image of the municipal pound—they take in many owner surrendered animals or dogs and cats rescued from other high kill municipal shelters. They emphasize community outreach, education programs, training classes etc. Together they offer a complimentary menu of services for the area. 

The effort to build a joint animal care campus is one which the city shelter, the Humane Society and local grassroots activists embrace. Berkeley can create a model of care, residents will receive better and more comprehensive services and taxpayers who voted “yes” on Measure I will be rewarded for their belief in a better way of taking care of our companion animals. 

Personally, I’m such an optimist, I believe that we have both the political will and the brains to resolve the issue of artists’ space in West Berkeley to the satisfaction of all concerned and to build the best designed animal shelter in the area. 

Bob and I will continue to have heated discussions and the Animal Shelter Subcommittee will continue to be a place for spirited exchanges—not a catfight—just Berkeley at its best. 

Jill Posener 

Chair, Animal Shelter Subcommittee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for Richard Brenneman’s legal analysis of the history and prospects of UC paying its way (“UC Tax Exemptions Rooted in Law and Court Rulings,” Daily Planet, May 14-17), but I have a question: Does any law require a city to provide public services to a freeloader? The law may be against us, but there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I’ve successfully used another way. 

During the 1970s I was the superintendent of engineering and water supply of the San Francisco Fire Department. The department’s rules and regulations made me responsible for the testing of all standpipes in San Francisco. When a new building was completed at UC San Francisco, I sent out a crew with pump to test the standpipes, and they were told to get lost, that the San Francisco Fire Department had no jurisdiction on property of the sovereign State of California. 

As soon as I got word of this, I crafted a letter for signature by the department chief to the effect that the fire department could not be counted upon to fight a fire in the building in question, since we could not risk the lives of our fire fighters on premises with unreliable fire protection facilities. 

I’ve never observed quicker backpedaling. “Of course we want the standpipes tested. We know you already paid a crew once to come out here, so just send your inspector with his gage, and we’ll provide all other personnel and equipment.” I never had any problems with UCSF after that; they were a perfect pussycat. 

The City of Berkeley might let UC know that, after the big one on the Hayward Fault, there are expected to be more fires than fire engines in the city, and there will have to be triage. Obviously, properties on the tax roll will have priority, since the very existence and future function of the fire department will depend on ad valorem taxes, and that tax base will have to be saved. 

So, UC may have the law, but do they have an absolute right to services? 

Gilbert Bendix 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

I have been following your coverage of the University Avenue Strategic Plan Zoning Overlay, and I would like to call your attention to the largest single development property within the University Avenue area. 

I am concerned that the West Campus property is being inadequately addressed in the University Avenue Strategic Plan Zoning Overlay. In fact, 

the proposed Zoning Overlay exempts school properties from setback limits. West Campus is being misidentified as a commercial/residential node. This indicates to me an intent to heavily develop the West Campus property despite its partial residential zoning. 

The University Avenue Strategic Plan mentions the West Campus Adult School quite specifically: 

“West Campus, formerly part of Berkeley High School, is the largest single use within the University Avenue corridor.” 

“This existing facility should be protected, renovated and made more available to residents of the broader community. With this in mind, the City should work with the School District to jointly prepare a Master Plan for the site and plan to make this facility a state-of-the-art adult education and recreation center.” 

“Particular attention should be directed to improving public access to the play area, creating a permanent pedestrian/bicycle passageway through the site along the Addison Street right-of-way, maintaining the current parking supply, and opening up the recreation facilities to the general public.” 

“Discourage low-income housing on the Adult School parking lot, since there is already a substantial concentration of subsidized, low-cost housing in this area.” 

Please note that the Adult School node, as mentioned in the UASP, is NOT a commercial/residential node. Instead, it was described as a community-serving educational and recreational node. Just look at how little retail exists on University Avenue between Curtis and Browning: You can count the businesses on one hand because it’s so heavily residential. 

Now that the Adult School is being moved to the Franklin site on San Pablo, the community has lost this educational resource. I am concerned that the surrounding community will also lose access altogether to the aforementioned “recreational facilities” and open space that the UASP intended to make more accessible: 

• Baseball diamond at the corner of University and Curtis. 

• Toddler play structure between the baseball diamond and the pool. 

• West Campus Pool. 

• West Campus Gym. 

• Addison Street right-of-way for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Development of West Campus will result in further loss of community-accessible open space and recreational areas in a neighborhood with inadequate park land and facilities. Development without setback limits is an even worse scenario. Keep in mind that ONLY the portion of West Campus fronting University Avenue is zoned C-1. The remainder of the property, fronting Addison and between Curtis and Browning, is R-2 and R-2a. 

Please also note the abundance of subsidized, low-income housing in this area, which the UASP mentions specifically. When low-income housing was 

being built on Berkeley school properties (Derby Street, Franklin Street), West Campus was rejected as a site for these units. 

Berkeley Unified School District removed the Adult School and, with it, the reason for a node designation. The node designation should be removed from the Curtis and Bonar Street intersections with University Avenue. And the setback limits for schools should be reinstated. 

Rachel Boyce