Letters to the Editor

Tuesday June 01, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Having followed all the meetings of the downtown development task force and attended the last one, I found the recommendations in the task force report to be well thought out and attentive to all points of view. The report suggests ways of developing the area under study as a cohesive, integrated whole, that will make our downtown an attractive place to be, and will serve the various needs of our community. The report offers recommendations and not any type of requirements. As such, they should be presented to developers as representing the consensus of a broadly based group of Berkeley citizens. 

In particular, I believe the “green” development recommendations, including a pedestrian plaza, and the daylighting of Strawberry Creek, are important for the success of our downtown in the future. These features will have multiple benefits, including a boon to downtown businesses, a healthier environment, and a wonderful civic space for Berkeley’s citizens to gather in, share events in, and simply enjoy. As our city continues to become more urban and developed, it is important that we remember to provide access to nature, and the relaxation and sense of well-being that it can provide. 

Including public art along with these “green” elements, as also recommended by the task force, will create a vibrant city center that reflects our values in terms of both nature and culture. The combination of a daylighted creek on Center Street, a pedestrian plaza, a “green” hotel, public art, and the future Brower Center two blocks away, could even make our downtown a destination point for environmental conferences and eco-tourism. Berkeley deserves no less. 

Fran Segal 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the article in May 18-20 edition about the unauthorized demolition of the Congregation Beth Israel building at 1630 Bancroft Way: We would like to clarify that neither of us, either individually or collaboratively, is in any way associated with the demolition of Congregation Beth Israel’s building, or with their current building project. We were the architects for Beth Israel when previously developing the plans for building a wooden synagogue which would have “re-built’ an historic Polish synagogue destroyed in the Holocaust. Beth Israel, however, chose not to continue that project, and our work with the congregation ended when that project came to an end. We are not currently their architects, and are in no way involved with their choices, either in terms of the demolition of the existing structure, or in their current building plans. 

The article and fact that the construction was red-tagged by the city imply a failure by the congregation to adequately address the permit issues involved in demolishing their existing building. When we were involved as the architects for their previous project, we strongly advised that they carefully address the historic nature of their then existing structure, and informed them of the approaches and procedures necessary to obtain a required demolition permit. If the congregation has proceeded in its current actions without heeding our advice, and without our current involvement, it would be unfair for that failure to reflect badly on our professionalism as architects. Should you write and publish any follow-up articles on Beth Israel’s demolition or subsequent building, we would appreciate if you would make it clear that we are no longer associated with this project. 

David Finn, David Finn Architects 

Tomas Frank, Frank Architects 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am disturbed by the article on the demolition of the Beth Israel synagogue. There are very few facts presented in the story and the tone is strikingly negative. The author, Richard Brenneman, suggests that there is something seriously shady going on. An 83-year-old building suffering from severe dry rot and fungus that had been condemned as unsafe and seismically unsound by the city for over 10 years was finally torn down. The building owners had permission to rebuild on that site, but allegedly did not have permission to tear it down. Although not granted the status of a landmark, the owners did not get the seemingly required permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Hmm. If there is a story here, if there is a reason to suspect foul play as the headline suggests, the information necessary to demonstrate it was not contained in the article itself. 

As a 30-year resident of Berkeley, I would be interested in a story that explained the process of building permits in this city. I would not have thought you needed a separate demolition permit if  

you have a permit to rebuild. I would not have known that you needed permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to demolish any building more than 40 years old. I did not even know there was a Landmarks Preservation Commission. I would be interested to hear more about what they do. I would also be interested in a story that taught me something about the diversity of our city. Who is this community of Orthodox Jews? How did Berkeley, of all places, come to house the largest Orthodox congregation in the East Bay? 

As I said, I am disturbed by the article. There is negative innuendo in almost every paragraph and very little information. The Berkeley Daily Planet should be a forum for learning about our community not slandering the people in it. 

Juliet Stamper 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

As an officer of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, I would like to respond to the concerns raised by Erica Grevemeyer about how we dealt with an unruly audience member at the public lecture by George Lakoff given under our sponsorship last Friday. 

The young man was, along with others, sitting on the stage because the meeting was quite packed. He was therefore in close physical proximity to Dr. Lakoff. So we were particularly concerned after two outbursts on his part. We asked a trained facilitator to sit next to him to try to quietly talk him down and we also asked a few club members to sit around him. 

The audience was becoming increasingly impatient with him and our efforts to calm him were not successful. Our club members then ushered him out with great care and with no violence at all. 

I am mindful of Ms. Grevemeyer’s concerns and I urge her to carefully consider our concerns for the safety of Dr. Lakoff and the success of our meeting. Incidents like this are perhaps the most difficult part of putting on public meetings and dealing with them is an art. We think that we did pretty well, but we are new at this game and would appreciate any advice from those with experience in dealing with this kind of situation. 

Jack Kurzweil 

Treasurer, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When I saw the news of Professor Zelnick’s tragic death I wondered how long it would take before someone rhetorically linked it to some broad criticism of the university. There’s the answer—less than one week—in the letters column of the May 25-27 Daily Planet. Bruce Loeb writes about how the campus is now “grotesquely overbuilt” and a “neverending commotion” and says Professor Zelnick’s death is “a sorry indicator of the state of UC Berkeley.” 

Before the university’s critics nod their heads sadly, let’s consider the context. 

Professor Zelnick was killed by a private delivery truck while crossing a roadway that has existed since the 19th century. That road has been re-designed over the years from a major vehicle thoroughfare to a comparative backwater in terms of non-pedestrian traffic. An adjacent parking lot was removed in the 1980s in favor of lawns and pedestrian space. 

The site where Professor Zelnick died is busy with pedestrians and flanked by the university’s oldest building (South Hall) where librarians are educated, a three-story circa 1931 building that now houses philosophers, the 1914 Sather Campanile, and extensive lawns and walkways. 

It is hard to imagine a spot on campus more removed in appearance, use, or character from the 21st century excesses Mr. Loeb criticizes. 

Steven Finacom 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reading Susan Parker’s essay (“On Drugs and Dogs and Dumb Questions on a Corner,” Daily Planet, May 18-20) reminded me why Berkeley is the political laughingstock of the nation. She seems to insinuate that her live-in attendant is somehow a victim of a cruel system which treats animals better than humans. I must ask why Ms. Parker affords herself the privilege of a car ride across town to a safer neighborhood but makes poor Andrea run a gauntlet of crack dealers and undercover cops at the corner liquor store. As an Alameda County tax payer (and probably a close neighbor of Ms. Parker) I can only wish that when next Andrea gets busted, she’ll be put away for much longer time. Maybe she’ll get around to quitting smoking. At the very least, she’ll get some exercise walking home from BART since Ms. Parker can’t be bothered to give her a ride home from jail. As for Ms. Parker’s errant dog Whiskers, I believe I may now know who has been defecating on my front lawn in the wee hours of the night. For the little dog’s sake, next time Ms. Parker chooses to scoff at the law let’s hope Officer Friendly finds her before I do. Otherwise, it’ll be doggy jail for sure. Among the many egregious iniquities of our society, dogs are not allowed ride BART unattended, and even with four legs it’s a long walk back to the Parker place. 

Gus Hulderman 

North Oakland 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Anyone with a young soccer or baseball player in the family knows that sports recreation fields are in short supply in Berkeley. That’s why I applaud the Berkeley School Board’s plan to use its land at Derby and MLK for a multi-purpose athletic field, including a plan to accommodate the Tuesday farmers’ market.  

For our family and for dozens if not hundreds more Berkeley families this plan is a three-fer. Less driving to ball fields in Alameda and Oakland, a chance to watch the Berkeley High baseball team play on a decent field, and more opportunities to shop at the farmers’ market after games or practices. 

I urge the City Council to get behind this plan for Berkeley families and Berkeley kids. 

David Fogarty 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is really very simple: They promised us eight and are now offering seven. 

When we taxpayers generously passed Measure G 12 years ago, what we had said “yes” to was, among other things, to retrofit all our seven existing firehouses, plus build another multi-jusridictional firehouse, which would total eight fire houses. But in the interim, although we were promised eight, we are now being offered just seven. 

The proposed new hills firehouse has been quite a hot topic. The reason for this is that in District 6, Betty Olds’ district, Station No. 7 has yet to be retrofitted, and the push by Councilmember Olds and others has instead been to just “hurry up and build a new fire house.” For years I have been totally puzzled by all of this, because my “yes” vote, as I just said, was apparently totally baited and switched since 1992. 

All the new firehouse would do is move the crew and materiel from Station No. 7 up the hill to the new proposed site. No additional city fire personnel would operate the new house, we’d have essentially the same level of protection as we have now. And this would cost the whopping amount of at least $5 million. This has become much too complicated. But, as I’ve always said about Berkeley, “If it can be complicated, why make it simple?” 

Another crucial point is the finances of all this. Shouldn’t Berkeley be trying to save every possible penny at this time of desperate fiscal straits? The savings of not paying interest on the $5 million could be much better spent elsewhere, don’t you think? 

All I’m asking is that if you also voted in favor of Measure G back in 1992, expecting that an eighth, truly inter-city, multi-jurisdictional firehouse be built in addition to our current seven firehouses, please let the mayor and City Council know your opinion. When voters approve of a bond measure and are willing to put up the money, voters should be able to trust that our elected officials respect our will and thereby earn our trust. Once this trust is broken, no one should ever assume that we voters would ever trust the city again by voting in favor of any future bond proposal. 

Doris Nassiry 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

So let me get this straight. Max Anderson, chair of the Rent Stabilization Board, responding to John Koenigshofer’s criticisms of Berkeley’s rent controls, believes Mr. Koenigshofer’s status as a landlord and realtor discredits these criticisms (“Rent Board Chair Chides Control Foe’s ‘Rant,’” Daily Planet, May 25-27). Are we then to believe that Mr. Anderson’s status as chair of the Rent Board discredits his own support of the program? 

Mr. Anderson also thinks means testing tenants to determine whether they should benefit from rent control is an “Ashcroftesque invasion of privacy.” If he is to be logically consistent about means testing, Mr. Anderson must also be opposed to requiring that taxpayers, students applying for financial aid, and welfare recipients disclose information about their assets and income to qualify for the benefits of tax credits and deductions, student loans, and subsidized housing respectively. 

I am neither a landlord nor a tenant. But as a Berkeley voter, I am puzzled and worried by Mr. Anderson’s reasoning. I look forward to clarification. 

Keith Winnard 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your poorly informed article on Rosa Parks (“Rosa Parks School Faces Hugh Turnover,” Daily Planet, May 25-27) was completely shocked me and some other parents. I’ve got to say, you need to talk to more than a small self-appointed group of people with an axe to grind who claim they represent concerned parents and teachers. Well I’m a concerned parent too and no one asked me my opinion or a lot of other folks as well. 

By the way, what is the point of the article? Try to make more parents and kids leave the school? Why do you think these changes are being made— just randomly? Wouldn’t it be worth it to speak to a few other folks in the district and, well, find out. Ms. Herrera did not comment because she is under legal obligation not to comment until this whole thing is over. You neglected to mention this. 

I’m a parent at the school and have been following the changes that have been going on over the last six years of my participation there as my daughter and son have been attending. We’ve gone through four principals until Ms. Herrera arrived. We now have a focus, a direction and some clear standards to follow. 

These changes did not all come just from Ms. Herrera but from the observations of both the principle, the superintendent and other educational experts who observed, over a period of many months, the teaching in individual classrooms. Recommended changes to improve the learning environment for ALL the kids were made from these observations. Unfortunately, some teachers did not want to make these changes and may have not been prepared for the recommendations but something needed to happen and they were completely included in this process over the last year. 

As for the school, testing and the learning environment. If anything, the behavior and treatment of ALL the kids has been more even and consistent than it has ever been. And, we there is a greater commitment to getting all kids up to their grade level and not just push them through without the skills they need to succeed. We need to know what kids are learning, what they are not and get them what they need. What’s wrong with this? 

It’s time to put the gossip, criticism behind us and move forward and get Rosa Parks happening again. Look into the facts and start moving forward. What good is this going to do for the teachers and families remaining in the school? I challenge the critics to find out what really happened and why and to make some really valuable recommendations on what should happen to bring kids up to grade level, improve performance and to create improved behavior at the school. 

As a committed parent, I have positive hopes for the future. I would like to see improvements in the science program and other programs and I hope to see this school improve over the next three years until my son moves on to middle school. I know there are other parents who are equally committed to the school and will be staying on. 

Let’s move on together and make Rosa Parks a success for all the kids. 

Steven Donaldson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am single, retired and living on fixed income. And while I strongly believe education and schools are important, asking me to pay more taxes when so much of my property taxes already goes for schools is not a small burden. 

When the BSEP issue first came up, we as a community agreed that libraries, music and small classes were a priority. Then the remainder should to individual schools for each school to allocate. That costs us over $11 million a year. Since then, we have voted to give the school district over $250 million for new school construction, and $4 million a year to maintain that construction. 

The new construction looks great, but is it being properly maintained, I wonder? I am concerned about the repeat flooding at newly renovated Malcolm X. The roses planted by volunteers at Willard are gorgeous, but the sides of the school on Derby and Stuart are neglected and need care. That new lawn in front of King was just planted last year, and now they’re tearing it up again to put in irrigation. Isn’t that somewhat backwards and a waste of money? I wonder, is all the money BUSD is getting being put to good use? We were promised small class sizes and the promises have not been kept. 

I find it rather curious that the Superintendent has called for another community forum, so we can again discuss what the components of an excellent education, and again endlessly discuss what our resources are. Weren’t there at least two prior such forums? I don’t recall hearing a peep about the results of the prior forums and discussions. 

What strikes me is that despite all this money BUSD as received, our community’s level of satisfaction, as reported in the latest poll taken by BUSD, is only at 40 percent, no better than 14 years ago, before all this money. At my age, I know that money isn’t the solution for everything. 

Maybe before I’m asked to pay more school taxes, I’d like to know that the school taxes I’m already paying are being used efficiently and effectively. 

S. Corcosˇ