Letters to the Editor

Tuesday November 02, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet:  

Matthew Artz’s recent article on some of the Berkeley tax measures was well written, but the example he chose to highlight was unrepresentative and unfair (“Tax Measures Spur Opposition From Property Owners,” Daily Planet, Oct. 29-Nov. 1). The writer has done similar heavily slanted pieces in articles about Rosa Parks Elementary School. This kind of writing does a disservice to productive dialogue in our community. Please try to be more balanced in the future. 

David Stark 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

Was it a hidden agenda or just plain lazy journalism that was the cause of Matthew Artz’s factually inaccurate and intellectually dishonest hit piece against Berkeley measures J K and L? 

Friday’s Daily Planet article by Mr. Artz featured the story of Mr. McMurray, a North Berkeley property owner who described his primary source of income as being a monthly disability check totaling $8,000 annually. Mr. McMurray is understandably worried over any potential increase to his property taxes. Let me assure Mr. McMurray that he need not fear these measures. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Artz’s article played to the scare tactics orchestrated by J K and L’s opponents. Had Mr. Artz actually read the measures, he would have known that Mr. McMurray is unlikely to be impacted by J K or L. 

As a low-income homeowner earning less than $29,800 a year, Mr. McMurray is exempt from the library tax. 

As someone on a fixed income, Mr. McMurray is likely eligible for discounted billing programs offered by most utility companies. As such, he would be only marginally impacted by Measure J. 

As someone who is not planning on selling his Berkeley home, Mr. McMurray would not be subject to the transfer tax. 

Mr. McMurray and other fixed income residents of Berkeley will not be devastated by these ballot measures. In fact, they will benefit from the 

continuation of valuable and needed services. 

Like Mr. McMurray, I am not planning on selling my Berkeley home. I am fortunate to live in a community like Berkeley—a community that not only values its neighborhood-engaged police department and its quick-responding and effective fire department, but one that recognizes the importance of its senior centers, community pools, health services, world-class library system, and nationally recognized youth programs. 

Obviously, maintaining these innovative and effective services requires the commitment of a caring community. We must demonstrate a commitment that the state and federal governments clearly will not. In response to state and federal takeaways, the city has cut $14.5 million from the General Fund. We’re cutting closer and closer to the lifeline of Berkeley. 

Measures J, K and L represent an honest effort to maintain Berkeley’s renowned community services for all our residents. 

Eric Riley 



Editors, Daily Planet:  

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s column (“Applying Theory of Relativity to Oakland’s Murder Rate,” Daily Planet, Oct. 15-18), insightful as ever, pointed out once again the danger of treating the symptoms but not the causes. It is a practice we see too often, globally, nationally, and everywhere in between. It applies to the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism, among other international conflicts. It applies to California, where the “three strikes” law increases the number and length of costly jail sentences, often for non-violent crimes, and decreases both rehabilitation services and opportunities that may deter potential (especially young) criminals. It applies in Oakland and in Berkeley, where continuing high rates of homelessness, substance abuse, and crime reflect the chasing of perpetrators from one neighborhood to another (a policy sometimes assisted by well-meaning neighborhood watch groups who perhaps unwittingly demonstrate NIMBY attitudes). In my experience, Berkeley police can be commended for responding to citizens’ concerns to the best of their ability. But the causes remain, and another youthful generation is maturing with drug dealers and other unethical capitalists as role models, broken homes as backgrounds, and a paucity of wholesome and constructive activities available from schools and social services to counteract the negative influences on their lives. 

There are certainly admirable institutions attempting to address this situation by providing guidance and opportunity for the future to youth beyond just keeping them off the street, and supporting these represents investment in the future rather than a constant outflow of money to simply control immediate problems. One such is Berkeley Youth Alternatives (BYA), in southwest Berkeley, which brings in youngsters from the age of five to very inexpensive after-school programs that provide homework help, sports, music, and gardening programs, good nutrition (both food and education), individual counseling and mentoring, and career help that includes both advice and training. 

Most importantly, BYA has decades of experience, an admirable track record, efficient operation, and visionary direction. Of course its success rate is hardly in the 90th percentile, but its alumni attest to enough lives turned around to really make a difference, one that increases with time. Yet BYA is constantly struggling for funding from the various sources it taps, including the City of Berkeley. In my opinion, the failure to address causes keeps us in a slough of despondency. The elimination of social blight is not achieved overnight, or even over a decade, but nurturing our youth is surely a logical and effective way to start the process. 

During the few years I spent in Washington DC it became obvious to me that trends considered crazy when started in California are often later adopted by Easterners, and even continue worldwide. That gives us a heady power and a heavy responsibility. Let’s start sending a healing wave across the ocean of a society at risk. 

Jeanne Pimentel