Letters to the Editor

Friday July 16, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Just this week I got turned on to the Berkeley Daily Planet’s “Berkeley This Week” page. It’s wonderful! I’ve been looking for such a thing for years. I’ve already been to four events I found in it: UN talk, butterfly habitat in Tilden, Iraq talk, and Green Party meeting. I’ll be going to an REI backpacking talk Wednesday. 

I would pay money to subscribe to such a list of events. I am very grateful you provide it and I’ll tell all my friends. 

Ron Schneider 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was surprised to read in the Daily Planet this morning (“Seniors Rally for Low Income Housing,” July 13-15) that seniors wait only two years to get Section 8 housing in Berkeley. I am disabled and I have been languishing on the Section 8 waiting list in Berkeley since 1996. It would seem then that seniors have an unfair advantage when it comes to low income housing. 

If you look at the actual figures and read the local regulations you will find that greater than 55 percent of low income housing in Berkeley is set aside for seniors while those over 60 make up only 13 percent of our city’s population. Thus their “demands” regarding the property at 2517 Sacramento St. appear to be designed specifically to the exclusion of the remaining low income residents of Berkeley, i.e. the single parent families, the under-employed and those with physically disabilities. 

Finally, I do not understand how not building is more expensive than breaking ground and building. At best the site is costing only taxes and since Affordable Housing Associates is non-profit it is likely Berkeley has waived any tax requirements. 

I would ask the Daily Planet to look into these inequities before singing the woes of Berkeley’s well cared for senior population. 

Elizabeth Campos 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In your June 29-July 2 issue, you published a lengthy diatribe by Albert Sukoff, who for 40 years has been pursuing his real estate fortune in Berkeley while continuing to whine unhappily about the political leftism he encounters in this community. Sukoff parades all the old tired stereotypes about mindless activists and dogmatic do-gooders. In this he resembles the many other conservatives in the Bay Area who whine endlessly because life here is not more like life in Crawford, Texas.  

But Sukoff did distinguish himself in one respect. He said that “George Orwell allegedly posited that the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many weekday evenings.” Allegedly posited indeed. Orwell, the darling of both right and left anti-Communists, was not readily capable of such witticism. The good-natured jest that socialism took up too many evenings was made by none other than the great Oscar Wilde.  

All this goes to show that Sukoff doesn’t know his Georgie from his Oscar. 

Michael Parenti 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The plan for a housing project for the area around the West Berkeley train station is much more appropriate than many of the large scale projects planned in more residentially scaled areas of Berkeley however I’m really surprised to find that it that these plans were unveiled at the July 8 Project Area Commission meeting, since there is no mention of the project in the posted agenda for that meeting. In fact, it is only by taking a bus ride to downtown that I’m able to see an agenda for the PAC and no way to find out what was actually discussed unless I go to the Planning desk a few days before the next meeting or make an appointment to listen to the tapes. Until recently I was a member of the PAC and I’m still interested in participating in neighborhood discussions. It would be nice if there were some way to access the agenda online in time for some meaningful neighborhood dialogue. And it would be nice if the agenda could accurately note the items that are to be discussed. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Over the last few weeks, Rent Control Board commissioners Anderson and Kavanagh have attempted to explain why means testing is inappropriate for purposes of rent control. I’m sorry, but I’m still trying to get it straight. 

First, Mr. Anderson wrote (Daily Planet, May 25) that means testing is an “Ashcroftesque invasion of privacy” despite the fact that numerous government programs (e.g. Medi-Cal, student financial aid, food stamps, etc.) require means testing. 

Then Mr. Kavanagh wrote (June 5) that to be equitable and logically consistent, “parallel or reciprocal” means testing processes for tenants and landlords is necessary. But he then goes on to state (without explanation) that such processes would be “counterproductive and legally untenable,” despite the fact that both landlords and tenants are subject to the same state and federal income tax laws, which are based on a process of means testing. 

Most recently, Mr. Kavanagh writes (June 25) that means testing is not appropriate for rent control because landlords are “private operators controlling a fixed supply of housing units.” Yet HUD, a federal agency, pays a portion of a tenant’s rent to private landlords if the tenant passes a means test and the landlord agrees to accept the federal subsidy. And don’t city zoning and building permit processes exert much more control over the supply of rental housing units in Berkeley than each individual landlord does? 

Mr. Kavanagh also categorized landlords as pubic utilities, whose rates are regulated. Yet even PG&E and the phone company (when it was Pac Bell) had rate subsidy programs that used means testing. I thought that public utilities were subject to rate regulation because there were so few utilities relative to the number of utility users (i.e. a monopolistic or oligopolist market). Is Mr. Kavanagh implying that the ownership of rental property is similarly concentrated? If so, I’d appreciate if he could provide the ratio of property owners to tenants in Berkeley. I’d be surprised if this ratio were smaller than the ratio of supermarkets to supermarket shoppers in Berkeley. Yet supermarkets aren’t regulated as public utilities. 

Finally, Mr. Kavanagh has cited twice that voters in “scores” of other cities in California have enacted and courts have upheld rent controls as a reason to maintain the status quo with respect to Berkeley’s rent controls. I’ve heard Republicans use a similar argument (“millions of voters in hundreds of cities nationwide voted for him, and the Supreme Court validated the election”) to support the “re-election” of the incumbent president. It seems to me that changes in both areas would be an improvement. 

Instead of spending millions annually on Berkeley’s rent control bureaucracy, why not impose a city tax on landlords whose net income exceeds a certain level that would raise about the same amount of money, and use it to supplement HUD’s means-test based rental subsidies in Berkeley? It seems to me this would produce a more equitable redistribution of income than current rent controls do. Tenants who don’t need rent relief wouldn’t get it, and landlords who couldn’t afford to charge lower rents wouldn’t have to. It might help the lowest income tenants more and may even help more lower income tenants that the city’s current rent controls do. We won’t know until someone collects and analyzes the data. But as this rent subsidy tax would be based on net income, it would encourage landlords to invest in maintaining and improving their rental properties, thereby increasing the city’s property tax base, reducing projected budget deficits or property tax rates, or permitting increases in the level of city services. 

So I’m still trying to get it straight. I look forward to further attempts to help me understand why means testing is inappropriate and undesirable public policy regarding rent controls in Berkeley. 

Keith Winnard 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Becky O’Malley’s July 13 editorial (“California Should Adopt A Fire-Safe Cigarette Law Like New York State’s”): First off, what percentage of smokers actually start fires? Is it one tenth of one percent? Then tell Big Nanny Government to butt out! The solution to this general non-problem is very simple. Anyone who smokes, put out your cigarette before you go to sleep. Period. We don’t need to hold the manufacturers responsible for what individual consumer imbeciles do. This applies to guns and every other consumer item as well as tobacco. 

You don’t like tobacco? You don’t like abortions? Don’t smoke, and don’t have one. By the way, your editorial suggestion of banning smoking shows that you haven’t learned a thing from a century of a failed drug war or Prohibition in the 1920s. 

Frankly, only the Berkeley statist-collectivist mind could be this retarded. One final point, the only governmental control I ever see criticized in the Daily Planet is rent control. 

So the question is, how much rental property is owned by the editors and/or their many pwogwessive friends? 

Michael P. Hardesty 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Marie Bowman clearly missed the point of the Gray Panther’s protest in her July 13 letter to the editor. The protest was not, as Bowman alleges, “to encourage the city to move ahead with construction” of Sacramento Senior Homes, but rather a protest against the lawsuit Commissioner Bowman, and the so-called Neighbors for Sensible Development, filed that has delayed the construction of 40 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors for more than two years. The city does not need encouragement “to move ahead with construction” of this project as it has already approved and funded it. What the city needs is for Bowman to stop holding the construction up in the courts. Bowman and her group are masquerading their fight against this development as a self-entitled “good faith environmental lawsuit,” but what they are really doing is abusing sound environmental law in an attempt to kill a project they simply do not want in their backyard. 

This is not the first time Ms. Bowman has employed such tactics to stop an affordable housing development from being constructed in her backyard. In 1999, Bowman and her group opposed a project for disabled residents located right next door to Sacramento Senior Homes. She organized neighbors, circulated petitions, and went so far as to write letters to the Department of Housing and Urban Development asking it to withdraw its funding of the project unless it contained commercial space. The project—Dwight Way Apartments, which provides 16 homes to low-income people with disabilities—was thankfully already under construction and attempts to stop the project were unsuccessful.  

Contrary to Bowman’s assertions in her letter, environmental review has been done on Sacramento Senior Homes by highly reputable environmental consultants who found “no hazardous materials,” and the city’s environmental review concluded the site was suitable for development. The Trial Court has already analyzed Bowman’s alleged environmental concerns and found the environmental review conducted by the city to be adequate. Further, although Bowman claims that the gas station is her main point of concern, this issue was not even raised when the lawsuit was initially filed, rather it was raised several months later. In other words, it is not really a concern, it is an attempt at smoke at mirrors.  

Ms. Bowman claims that the Gray Panther’s are being manipulated, but it is Ms. Bowman who is manipulating sound environmental legislation in an attempt to kill this project. The fact that this is the second project she has done this to in her neighborhood speaks volumes to the true intent behind such actions. If this lawsuit is not stopped, it could cost the city up to $1.2 million dollars in increased construction costs and legal fees. The Gray Panther’s were not manipulated, they were outraged over such waste and want it to stop. It is time to drop this lawsuit.  

Erica Williams 

Director of Operations 

Affordable Housing Associates 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wish to counter some examples of questionable reasoning put forth by the Organizing Committee’s rebuttal (“Committee Responds to Criticism of Utility Undergrounding Project,” Daily Planet, July 13-15) to Erna Smith’s commentary (“District Would Raise Neighbors’ Property Taxes,” Daily Planet, July 9-12) regarding utility undergrounding. 

The first paragraph of the rebuttal commentary contains the sentence, “Above all we would like to emphasize the considerable amount of support this project has.” The word “has” should have been “had.” Once some potential participants learned of the astronomical increases in costs, they have had second thoughts. I heard at least one person announce a willingness to forfeit the previously paid $2,500 feasibility fee. One property owner I know was a staunch supporter initially but changed to strong opposition because of the enormous increase in costs. Additionally, this property owner resides at the end of the district with a continuing view of existing utility lines. Where is the benefit of paying $25,000, plus years of interest on a bond measure, to this owner? 

The second paragraph suggests Erna Smith believes that a “handful of neighbors” conceived the idea of utility undergrounding to be paid for by property owners. I believe Erna Smith was trying to say that a handful of neighbors had the “brainchild” to form an undergrounding district in compliance with existing law. 

The rebuttal commentary did not dwell on the fact that on June 1, the City Council voted to lower the percentage of 70/30 to 60/40 for affected property owner voter approval. Only members of the Organizing Committee knew of the proposal to change. The remaining property owners learned of the change when the ballots were mailed shortly after June 1. This change is deemed arbitrary and unfair by all opponents and some supporters. Proposition 218 stipulates that a simple majority is all that is required to pass. The City Council has the prerogative to establish a higher requirement, and this was done initially by the setting of 70/30. Some supporters of undergrounding, who approve of the change to 60/40, point to the 51 percent provision of Proposition 218, as if to say that the ends justify the means. 

If, as suggested in the rebuttal commentary, there is an overwhelming favorable majority, what was the need to reduce the percentage? 

The reference to Erna Smith as being a partner to one of the three property owners in opposition is either a non sequitur or a suggestion that Erna Smith was not the property owner of record, and, hence, has no formal standing. Erna Smith must have plenty to say when she meets her share of expenses in whatever manner she does so. 

I am the owner of record of property I share with another person, including expenses. Both of us will suffer a serious financial burden should this undergrounding go forward. This, however, is of no moment to the supporters, for some of them say I can sell and move or else, as one supporter suggested, “do the neighborly thing.” I truly do not like being asked which leg I want broken. 

Rosemary Green 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a Berkeley property owner I am fed up with hearing about Berkeley’s so-called budget deficit and the constant threat of cutting necessary emergency services every time the City of Berkeley needs more money.  

As bad as city officials claim the Budget Deficit to be, the mayor and the City Council still OK funding for things like YMCA Memberships for city employees, councilmembers and their assistants ($260,000) and outrageous give-aways like free on-street parking spaces at the Ashby BART Station for Berkeley’s Parking Enforcement Officers. Once again Berkeley is cutting edge. We are the only city in California that expects it’s property owners to pay for programs like these. 

In November when property owners are asked again to foot the bill for necessary services, let’s all remember just what services our tax dollars are paying for and who these services are really going to.  

Say no to any tax increases in November. 

Charles Moore 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Gray Panthers and Raging Grannies want to thank you for your great coverage of our need to move on and build Section 8 homes for low-income seniors at 2715 Sacramento St.  

We are happy to learn that Commissioner Marie Bowman has said publicly that she and her group will not continue suing if they lose again in the courts. As residents of Berkeley, we are sad that their court actions have already cost the City $750,000 in precious housing funds. If they continue suing they would drive up the City of Berkeley’s legal costs to over $1 million. It would be so much better to use this money for senior housing! 

We want to say that we elders were not “manipulated” into action by anyone, as Ms. Bowman states in her column. Our members are thoughtful people who advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. The Gray Panthers have many members of advanced age who have no financial cushion to fall back on and who live in publicly funded housing. We often have people in dire need of decent, affordable housing coming into and calling our office for help, so we know first hand that there is a serious problem.  

Our organization has a history of advocating for affordable senior housing. Redwood Gardens is a Section 8 residence because of the advocacy of our Panthers, Gerda Miller and Irv Rothenberg. Our aim for this rally was to shed light on the continued needs of seniors for affordable housing, and the enormous waste of time and money that these court actions have caused. The delays and legal costs represent a tragic loss in so many ways. Our members are very well aware of what we are doing, and why. 

Gray Panthers are for planned development—higher density housing along the major traffic corridors, that is, multi-unit housing near good public transportation and shopping. Good public transportation and nearness to shopping will help us get rid of our need for cars. We look to the city of Ciribitu, Brazil for a model of good development. If anyone would like to see a video of this model city, please contact the Gray Panther office. 

Let’s move on and get these 40 units built. They are sorely needed! 

Margot Smith  

Gray Panthers of the East Bay 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just attended a rally for the affordable housing for seniors project at Blake and Sacramento. Supported by the Gray Panthers, Councilmembers Worthington and Maio and the songs of the Raging Grannies, we protested the five-year-long legal obstruction of this fully-funded project by a small group of neighbors. 

The location is now an ugly vacant lot, next to the old Outback building. It would be an ideal place for low-income seniors, who would be the best of neighbors. A grocery and several restaurants are nearby. 

It sure needs minimal parking; residents could be car-free. The site is served by the No. 9 and No. 88 bus lines, both of which go to BART stations. The No. 9 goes to Alta Bates medical facilities. A little parking for visitors and deliveries is all that would be necessary. 

At the rally, one person spoke for numerous neighbors who do not oppose the project. 

I was particularly surprised to hear that the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), which usually supports good things for Berkeley, has filed a court brief supporting the blocking of the project. How reactionary. 

When I travel and mention that I live in Berkeley, people have heard of how “liberal” we are here. I could tell them some dirty conservative secrets, like the blocking of this housing project. 

Steve Geller