Letters to the Editor

Tuesday July 13, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you Osha Neumann for the cathartic release of grief your column on Fahrenheit 9/11 delivered to me (“Michael and Me: Finding Light Amidst the Gloom,” Daily Planet, July 9-12). I’ve been feeling weighted with melancholy as well at the actions of the present administration (on our collective dime) and am indebted to Michael Moore for helping me see hope on the other side of the grief and rage. He is a national treasure. And your soul-lifting words reminded me we have such treasure all around us. 

Pamela Satterwhite 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Water has been in the news. On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran two large articles, including one about 10 proposed desalinization plants on California coasts. KQED is showing a special called “Water Wars” Tuesday at 10 p.m. Several letters to this newspapers raised concerns about BUSD planting new lawns. 

If BUSD must have lawns, then BUSD needs to ensure that lawns are watered through environmentally sustainable methods, such as with grey water systems, or catching and storing rainwater during the wet season for use during the dry season. Otherwise, BUSD should stop planting lawns. 

This summer, BUSD is planning to build at Willard, the fourth concrete amphitheater at a Berkeley school. These concrete amphitheaters contribute to rainwater run-off and erosion during our wet season, and cost upwards of $50,000. During the two great floods at Malcolm X this past winter, their amphitheater had four feet of standing water. Do kids even use them? Do teachers really hold classes in them? Thinking about this, I wondered if anyone at BUSD has even evaluated the three existing amphitheaters. Do these amphitheaters improve education at these schools or could that $50,000 be put to better use? 

So, BUSD builds structures that in the winter creates rainwater runoff and erosion, and in the summer, are black holes for water. BUSD’s mission statement and goals posted on its website, says that it wants to be a role model for students to achieve high standards. With the current president of the BUSD board, a member of the Green Party, one would hope that high standards would include basic environmental consciousness about a precious resource, water. 

Yolanda Huang 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

David Nasatir’s letter (Daily Planet, July 9-12) implies that though he can bicycle between his home and Berkeley Marina, he prefers to drive. He writes that this is quicker for him. 

There are many activists and silent contributors dedicated to making Berkeley safer for bicycling. Berkeley streets are often congested beyond capacity from too many people overly reliant on cars. Congested roads are inherently unsafe: even safe drivers are at risk. Many drivers are escalating into SUVs and mini-hummer-tanks to improve their survival odds in the inevitable crashes. Some UC Berkeley students’ concerned parents are buying SUVs to protect their children, and congestion worsens as UC’s enrollment increases. 

People are not trying to force septuagenarians like Mr. Nasatir to forfeit their cars. On the contrary, we are trying to enable and entice more people into healthy, enjoyable alternative transit, which will relieve road congestion and free up more parking spots for those folks who drive. All car drivers benefit when a small percentage of drivers shift to alternative transit modes! 

Safe alternative transit can also stave off the trend towards SUVs. While being in a SUV might improve its occupants’ survival odds, it obscures the view for everyone else, decreasing their accident-escaping odds as those well as nearby pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers trying to get into cars parked on the street. 

When Mr. Nasatir isn’t in too much of a hurry for his Marina outings, perhaps he can enjoy coasting his bicycle down to and around the marina, and simply strap his bike onto one of the hill-climbing buses, such as the 65, for the trip home, while leisurely reading his Berkeley Daily Planet on the uphill ride. 

Mitch Cohen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am usually too busy to keep up with everything in town, although I have lived here for a while, and after reading the Daily Planet, which I hold in high esteem, I have to admit it seems Berkeley is being run without any testicles. This is so bad that heaven forbid anybody would want to build a masculine-looking building without an army of whimperers complaining. Everything from what I have been able to see since I have been here is as John Cougar Mellencamp would say in his song: “Little pink houses for you and me.” 

And then this guy in your article last issue (“Octogenarian Activist Makes Birthday Jump as Political Statement,” Daily Planet, July 9-12) pulls a stunt jumping from a plane because he doesn’t like war or something, and the Daily Planet contrasts him to President Bush the elder, who was the youngest pilot in the Navy in World War II and whose presidential library is at my alma mater, Texas A&M. And although I wasn’t there when he did it, I saw on him jump on a replay on TV, solo from a jump plane rather than tethered to someone else, and if it wasn’t for the fact at the time President Bush joined up at an earlier age, he could boast that he was older too. Some people verge on petty and never give up.  

I always enjoy reading your fine publication and keep up the good work. 

Steve Pardee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Jill Sonnenberg’s letter (Daily Planet, July 9-12) regarding the importance of school library personnel is welcome. Her reference is to a library program meeting the needs of all students. 

In evaluating new high school educational and recreational programs, there are often oohs and ahhs of praise for the tangible—physical facilities. Of course adequate and appropriate space in which to teach and learn is essential for both staff and students. 

School library programs are too often victims of “off the top” evaluation in terms of physical facilities and staff. But they merit particular consideration in terms of collections and staffing as well. How many of the “This is just gorgeous” (Daily Planet, April 27-29) celebrators considered the BHS library in both qualitative and quantitative terms? (Notably, the State of California does not issue school library standards and guidelines, as do numerous other states.) A school of 2,750 students needs a minimum of 20 books per student. Ideally, this count should be in terms of titles rather than volumes. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for the informative article about Livable Berkeley. As a Livable Berkeley member and Berkeley resident, I appreciate that Livable Berkeley is speaking for me in supporting smart growth and sustainable development throughout the city. A willingness to create livable urban places is essential for addressing the social equity, transportation, and environmental challenges that our region faces. Infill development, affordable housing, and walkable districts can only occur if all of Berkeley works together to make them a reality. 

Matt Taecker 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As grassroots members of Livable Berkeley, we wanted to elaborate on your profile of our “well-connected” group (Daily Planet, July 6-8). We’re a couple with two young kids, and we’re not “connected” to any city staff, developers, or UC executives.  

We’re members of Livable Berkeley because we believe our lives, and the life of the city as a whole, will be improved by more good development - especially affordable housing and local shops—along University and other major streets and transit corridors. We live on one major street (Sacramento) and only two blocks from another (University Avenue). 

Good, well-designed development will mean more eyes on the street and more foot traffic to solidify local businesses. And that, in turn, would mean that we could get more errands done on foot or bicycle, instead of having to drive. We intend to raise our kids here, and we look forward to having more neighbors. 

Jeff Hobson, 

Kim Seashore  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

With all due respect to the candidate Barbara Gilbert’s run for City Council, I have often heard current councilmembers, or candidates, state they want more concessions from City of Berkeley employee unions when all the employee unions have made significant concessions to save the city budget and jobs. I know for a fact as a city employee, the city unions spent significant amounts of time and effort providing a detailed argument to city management based on equity gap research comparing city managers office to middle management, to field labor negotiating the last contract in order to present a fair deal to swallow. A good example of the difference is that the City of Berkeley department heads to city management gross approximately $106,000 to $174,000 per year while middle managers directly responsible for city management make a median salary of $65,000. Field labor across the board makes a median salary of $30,000 to $45,000 per year. City employees suffer lower wages in order to keep better benefits for their families and pray for a restful retirement when the time comes. All this last year, the City of Berkeley employee unions made significant contributions and suggestions to the city management to ease the burden of the General Fund deficit and not one idea that was presented short of depleting union labor salaries, or one day lay offs, or take away two percent retirement all from the pocket and sweat of the employees was acknowledged or accepted. There are truly many ways to make up the deficit short of hurting the employee’s current costs of living. The equity differences are extreme in comparison to the daily duties and responsibilities expected of employees who are in contact with all Berkeley residents and customers of the city. It is consistently insulting that pontificating politicians who do not know the truth of employees plight for survival make statements such as this Barbara Gilbert has. It is further insulting that many people think city employees have it easy. We do not. Most people who make judgments of city employees have no idea that they are also required emergency operational personnel and in any disaster are required to be near the city to assist in any or all emergencies. Basic home ownership is impossible with current labor salaries. Try and get a mortgage for a $500,000 fixer upper with a $45,000 per year salary. Concessions Ms. Gilbert? How about subsidies for taking good care of Berkeley by having a decent roof over your head and maintaining the freedom to feed your family without having to apply for food stamps? The day I see politicians standing in line to subsidize their own salaries in order to survive, I’ll make more concessions. 

Norm David 

City of Berkeley employee 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a candidate for Berkeley’s District 5 City Council race, I certainly appreciated the lively news story and editorial in the July 9 edition of the Berkeley Voice, as well as the extensive recent news story in the Berkeley Daily Planet.  

I do want to make it clear that while I do have many personal anecdotes in the “good guys/bad guys” category, and I do enjoy juicy political gossip as much as anyone, my campaign is not about personalities but about the big substantive issues facing our community. These include the following: Homeowners, taxpayers, and long-term committed residents have no one representing their legitimate interests on the City Council, including and especially their interest in not being unfairly taxed relative to other segments of our population.  

We in Berkeley need but do not have on council strong enough advocates for fiscal responsibility and better city management in a time of shrinking revenues, including advocates for a meaningful reduction in the cost and size of city government.  

We have a need to establish proper spending and program priorities, including top priority for safety net services, necessary capital improvements, public safety, and sensible creek regulations. We cannot continue to fritter away public money on frivolities and nonessentials, such as almost $300,000 on YMCA membership for city employees, land giveaways to developers, or staff time devoted to symbolic far away issues such as Instant Runoff Voting, to give just a few examples.  

We need leadership that will seriously look at ways to restore and revitalize our quality of life, including, for example, curtailing University and institutional expansion into downtown and our neighborhoods, expanding middle income home ownership opportunities along our commercial corridors, establishing human-scale standards for development, providing parking and shuttle service to support our merchants, retail uses, and much-needed retail development, and implementing a professional-quality economic development program. With respect to good government, someone City Council must speak out against the very unfortunate trends that have been occurring, including nonpublic decisionmaking and uninformed decisionmaking due to incomplete and/or untimely production of information. We also need to carefully study and consider ways to improve our democracy, and I would propose that we establish a community task force to do just that rather than our recent practice of rushing headlong and thoughtlessly into expensive innovations. This task force should assess such potential improvements as, for example, instant runoff voting, public financing of campaigns, an expanded City Council, higher council salaries, and charter revision.  

These are the major issues we face in Berkeley, and I am running for the District 5 City Council seat to bring focus to the issues and provide our city with informed and independent leadership.  

Barbara Gilbert  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s nice to see that the city is continuing to build “islands” at intersections in various Berkeley neighborhoods (although I don’t see any being constructed in “poorer” parts of town). These little landscapes are a great improvement over the horrendous concrete barriers that still blight our streets. However, before anymore are completed, I would like to suggest that the city stop putting up those ugly and unnecessary directional signs (four are posted on every island). They detract and obscure the beauty of the landscapes and are often targets for graffiti. Instead of signs, couldn’t arrows be painted on the pavement to tell drivers to go around?  

Nick Mastick