Letters to the Editor

Friday October 15, 2004


The following is an open letter to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak: 

I read a message you sent widely on Oct. 8 about a recent communication from Neighbors on Urban Creeks. You wrote: “The existing flawed Creek Ordinance ...has the grand vision of daylighting every creek in Berkeley, irregardless of the cost.” 

As you well know, if you read the creek ordinance carefully, allusion to daylighting of creeks is by way of “encouragement” only: 

“Section 17.08.020 Findings, H. It is in the interest of the City of Berkeley to encourage the removal of culverts and channels...and to restore natural watercourses whenever safely possible.” The full text of the Creek Ordinance is in easy-to-access form on the LOCCNA website: loccna.katz.com/creek/ 


Your statement leads the reader to think that costs of culvert removals would have to be borne by the city. Cost does not necessarily have to be incurred by the city. Financing for culvert removals that are deemed desirable could be through significant state and federal funding sources now available. 

You also wrote to your friends and Neighbors on Urban Creeks: 

“...If you do not make yourself heard now, the same people, who put in the original ban of rebuilding ‘by right’ in a disaster, could  

end up rewriting this ordinance.” 

The ordinance, especially with the added condition allowing rebuilding passed by City Council recently, does not ban rebuilding  

after a disaster. Nor do I know of any supporters of healthy creeks who are in opposition to responsible rebuilding of homes destroyed in disasters. Your statement has a distinct “us” vs “them” tone that is largely unwarranted. 

It is only prudent to rebuild in a safe fashion, which does not necessarily mean rebuilding a home exactly as it was, if it was previously situated directly on top of a creek. Building on creeks is inherently unsafe, since it’s highly likely that a creek, as an inexorable force of nature, will ultimately have its way, house or no house, culvert or no culvert. Moreover, it would behoove the City of Berkeley to avoid lawsuits by requiring that rebuilding of homes after disasters avoid future problems as much as possible. This could include requiring rebuilding as far from the creek as possible and, yes, encouraging removal of culverts. I imagine this would be viewed favorably not only by supporters of healthy creeks, but by prudent city planners, city attorney, and City Council as well. 

Do you disagree? 

Regarding property value, which home do you think would have more value: a. a home built over a failing culvert (disclosure required) or b. a home built near (but not hazardously near) a lovely open creek? 

Alan Gould 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s been comforting to see so many letters in the local press chastising the 20 misguided African-American ministers in the East Bay who plan to vote for George W. Bush solely on the “same-sex marriage” issue (”Black religious leaders back Bush,” Oakland Tribune, Aug. 25). Ironic, too, since both Kerry and Edwards have stated their opposition to gay marriage, and Cheney supports state’s rights on the matter. 

With all due respect, I find the pastors’ position to be Old Testament and decidedly un-Christian. I can’t imagine that either God or Jesus would approve of their stance. And what has happened to separation of church and state, pray? This is a prime example of people voting against their own self-interests. (Recommended reading: What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a new book by Thomas Frank on this very subject.) 

Of all Americans, surely black people have the most to lose under a Bush administration: black kids dying in Iraq, air and water pollution, diminishing health care, vanishing jobs, AIDS and the “down low,” civil rights, urban violence, disenfranchisement of the black vote in Florida, Supreme Court apointments...the list goes on. 

Though it’s not much talked about, bad old racism was a key factor in putting Dubya in office. My native South used to be solid Democratic; today it’s solid Republican. President Lyndon Johnson, upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reportedly remarked, “You can kiss the Southern vote good-bye for at least the next generation.” And, lo, it has come to pass. I’m betting, too, that Mississippi Senator Trent Lott spoke for many of his colleagues and constituents in his embarrassing defense of segregation at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party back in 2002. 

I want my country back. 

Eric Mills 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It seems that my letter (Daily Planet, Oct. 1-4) comparing the positions of Norine Smith to the actions of Councilmember Betty Olds unhinged Old’s aide. Susan Wengraf alleged in her letter printed Oct. 8 that I couldn’t know what I was talking about because I wasn’t here.  

For her information, I lived at 1311 Spruce, almost opposite the 1301 Oxford-Spruce site in question, since 1975. My two sons grew up playing in Codornices Creek on that site. I moved around the corner seven years ago.  

Perhaps I did not figure for her as being here because I did not participate in her attacks on her neighbor, the Chinese Christian Church. I was fully engaged as a planner for Hayward; the Church proposed no changes to the Creek so there was no need. Susan saw the need to insist that the only way the Church could build a Sunday school was to rebuild the original Byrne house which they could not afford. They sold their 2.2 acre property to Susan’s congregation for one million, convinced that the landmarking of the site and the presence of the Creek precluded much more development than the small church they had. Susan’s congregation got 35,000 square feet approved along with moving the creek to make room for off-street summer school bus loading. 

As Betty Old’s appointee to the Planning Commission, Susan Wengraf goes on to “unequivocally state” that Betty Olds has never gone along with development proposals that violate our adopted policies. Why didn’t she respond to the very specific example I offered on the lack of sidewalk setback called for in the adopted Downtown Plan? How are we to accommodate higher densities with narrow sidewalk spaces encroached upon by cantilevering buildings?  

Finally Susan Wengraf suggests that I move to a rural setting. For fighting to save a creek, I am to be banned by the current regime? I love my neighborhood. It embodies many of precepts of Jane Jacobs and of Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature that drew me to planning in the first place. When I moved here, I did the Berkeley Architectural survey for my block. My block includes many brown shingles that blend with the toe of the hills and the trees. Many contain apartment s created during World War II and in-laws built since. There is always at least one group house (ours). Susan Wengraf is the one who moved uphill, away from buses, stores and the huge development her congregation is putting on Codornices Creek.  

More than ever, I do think it is time for a change and hope Norine Smith will be elected. 

Eva Bansner 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

I find it humorous that Susan Wengraf feels obliged to defend her actions so vehemently (Daily Planet, Oct. 8-11) in response to Eva Bansners letter (Daily Planet, Oct. 1-4). 

Methinks she doth protest too much! If I were Susan I would not be suggesting that a single taxpaying household move to the countryside! With ever expanding city housing, university property and theological schools paying no property taxes into the city coffers, she should not be belittling the remaining taxpayers. The financial base for this city’s excesses, property owners, cannot afford to continue to play ATM for a city council that has not and will not learn what the rest of us have had to learn, how to live on a budget! With twice the employees and half the efficiency of any comparably sized city and each with unbelievable pensions and health care plans, even YMCA memberships, our children and grandchildren will be paying for the excesses this city council has already committed, let alone those atrocities that the overactive imaginations of legislative aides like Susan (at several thousand a month and benefits each) can come up with for us taxpayers to foot the bill for. 

Lets replace the old guard and their legislative aides and vote in a new crew of council members who are in touch with reality and can think for themselves without having to poll the community to see how many votes or contributions it will provide next election. Maybe the mayor could do with less than four legislative aides that cost us taxpayers over $12,000 per month just to tell Mayor Bates how to “handle” a particular problem! The City of Berkeley’s 1,680 employees make it the second largest employer only outdone by the University. 

Norine Smith is a retired taxpayer like me and while I am not quite the tree-hugger she is, I believe that she understands the basic premise that you don’t spend money that you don’t have; how to live on a budget and that you don’t give very valuable free land and city money earmarked for affordable housing to large developers to build huge, ugly, high density housing that would make my cat claustrophobic and then remove them from rent control. Yes, I understand that all the usual organizations have endorsed Betty Olds, after all these years it has got to be force of habit. What does she promise to do in return for those endorsements? Norine is endorsed by residents who ask only that she reduce the glut in this city’s government offices to a reasonable level that will not put the 45 percent of the residents of the city paying 100 percent of the taxes in the poorhouse. After all, when you are taking blood from donors you don’t suck them dry. It kills them! Susan, if you kill us off (financially, of course) who will pay your salary? 

Alison K. Sale 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The first time, months ago, I heard President Bush declare that his foreign policy aim is to spread liberty and democracy throughout the world, I thought he was merely employing exaggerated rhetoric to make a point. His point being that we must become and remain engaged overseas, must not remain isolationist, we could no longer be insulated because terrorists by fiat on Sept. 11, 2001, had blown away any vestige of insularity we might have thought of maintaining.  

But Bush has repeated this rhetoric so much that I think he must mean it. Just yesterday he said: “Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying terrorist networks and spreading freedom and liberty around the world.” These are the words of a crusader, a medieval knight intent on invading sovereign nations across the globe. Nations whose governments, infrastructure, constitutions, ideas, and dreams differ from ours. This frightens me. And I think it should frighten the apparently complacent 49 percent of our country currently willingly to vote for the President.  

At a minimum, someone should be demanding an explanation: Just when did “spreading freedom and liberty around the world” become a United States policy objective? Who said so? Is this the Bush doctrine? What are its costs - military, lives, dollars? How does Bush define “freedom and liberty”? These words may sound nice. But, really, they can be twisted to justify whatever military war game our President has next in mind.  

Drew Steckler 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Just a note to tell you that I appreciate your newspaper’s coverage of City Council candidates. 

We residents in Berkeley need to realize how much is at stake locally in the upcoming election. Development in Berkeley is being rushed through without adequate planning. Almost 500 (495) new housing units were built during the past two years and 900 more housing units are now approved and ready to be built. I hope voters will consider new candidates for City Council—Norine Smith and Jesse Townley—who show integrity and intelligence. They are not supported by development and real estate interests. 

Jane Harada 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Today when I pulled a Daily Planet out of the vending box, I noticed that there was writing all over the top of the paper. I looked in the box and discovered that every single paper had pro Bush propaganda written all over the top ending with “Vote for Bush,” perhaps a campaigning effort by young Republicans.  

In my mind it is easy to characterize Bush as a vandal because he has vandalized the American people’s future by building a huge deficit, but I really thought that most of Bush’s supporters were just duped by all the fear mongering. Now I’m wondering just how many of them are vandals.  

Connie Tyler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

For months the City of Berkeley has been educating motorists on “Pedestrian Right of Way.” Local press have reported on the police sting operations throughout Berkeley in which large numbers of drivers have been pulled over and issued citations for $104 for failing to stop for pedestrians. The City has also put up signs warning drivers of pedestrian crossing areas and of the $104 fine.  

Two weeks ago as I was driving down Oxford Street with the green light. I was about to cross Center Street when I was forced to stop for a pedestrian crossing against the light. Seconds later I was pulled over by the UC Police. When I asked what I was pulled over for I was informed it was for “anti-gridlock.” Even though the officer acknowledged that no other vehicles were behind me and that I had no choice but to stop, I was still issued the citation and informed that I would receive a copy of the ticket in the mail from the City of Berkeley in a few days. 

I just received my ticket in the mail—motorists beware: The cost of stopping for a pedestrian in Berkeley is a whopping $180 It’s actually cheaper not to stop for someone walking in front of your car and possibly hitting/killing them then it is to stop for them.  

It’s time for the City of Berkeley and the police to start educating and ticketing pedestrians and bicyclists for a change before more people get hurt. The added benefit is the staggering amount of revenue this could bring in to the city. 

Brett Brooks 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Sinclair Broadcast Group is planning to force the local television stations it owns to preempt network broadcasts and air a “documentary” called Stolen Honor. This is a one hour attack ad against John Kerry. By classifying it as “news”, the company can get around certain federal regulations.  

This is NOT news. It is a right wing attack, arriving just before Election Day. This is the same company that ordered its stations not to air Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” roll call of military casualties in Iraq; it deemed the program to be a political statement disguised as news content.  

Let’s be fair! Please help to stop this smear campaign.  

Amy McGonagle