Letters to the Editor

Friday December 10, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Council Spends Our Tax Dollars. 

Appalled Citizenry Shocked at Victims paying for Robber’s Financial Problems. 

Robbers Jubilant About Decision. 

Rosemary Vimont 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley once was a city which provided basic city services to its residents and taxed them to pay for it. Now it has evolved into a city that provides free services, pensions and benefits to its city employees and cuts back basic city services to provide for it. 

There has been a fundamental change from serving residents to serving city employees. The City Council acts as decider and enforcer. 

The 50 year retirement age and full pensions paid for by the city cannot be justified by services rendered by city employees. The benefits are so large that they equal or exceed the total salary paid to city employees during their working years. It obviously is an excess benefit. 

The City of Berkeley is a non-profit public service organization. Under IRS Tax Code 501(c)(3) and Section 2370(d) of the California Revenue and Taxation Code, anyone receiving an excess benefit from a non-profit organization must pay it back or pay a 200 percent penalty and the persons authorizing the excess benefit payment must pay a 10 percent penalty unless the excess benefit is paid back. 

If I were a City Councilmember, I would be very concerned about this. 

When a person is taxed without their knowledge or consent to pay for something from which they will receive no benefit and then is held in enforced servitude to pay for that benefit under threat of confiscation of their property if they don’t pay up, that violates so many aspects of the U.S. Constitution that it seems highly probable to me that your pension contracts will be struck down by the courts. 

What a mess you created when you signed those contracts. 

Stephen Jory 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The result of the Nov. 2 election should have many people resisting any attempt by President Bush to put conservative judges on the Supreme Court. These judges that Bush wants on the bench will roll back American Indian sovereignty, environmental laws, and civil and reproductive rights if they are confirmed. 

Contrary to what some people have said, this president doesn’t have any mandate to pick conservative judges that want to take us back to the bad old days of Jim Crow. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Daily Cal’s recent report titled “Berkeley Streets Mean To Homeless” poses a big question: If in fact the streets of Berkeley are so “mean” to the local homeless population, than why are there so many homeless people (800-plus) in Berkeley? There must be a better place, where the streets are much “nicer.” 

Obviously, any urban area coast to coast has their group of homeless persons, where, just like Berkeley, many are familiar faces, such as local residents around us. However, it has been very well known for years within the underground, somewhat younger “trendy homeless population” that such places as Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and even Venice, Calif. are somewhat more fashionable for the “chosen” element of the homeless population. 

The theory of social conditioning prevails and people of all different anti-social behavioral groups will gather when and where they see fit. Believe me, they’re all very aware of when and where the food services are available, as well as just where homelessness is more tolerated. 

It is probably time to take a closer look in our community to see who is really homeless by luck or more legitimate, seriously contributing factors, and who is merely posing as homeless by choice, perhaps for the pride of adventure or non-conformity. 

Michael J. Parker 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Dec. 7-9 article by Matthew Artz (“Rosy Budget Projections Tempered by Warnings”) revealed that the city manager’s latest report contains troubling news, namely “that parking fine revenues have, for many years, lagged behind expectations in contributing to the city’s coffers”.  

The real reason for this lag is just one more of the city’s dirty little secrets.  

Since 1996, a Community Service program has existed, which allowed parking violators to satisfy their parking citations by doing community service work. No income or vehicle registration eligibility requirements were established. In addition anyone could do the actual community service for the parking violator. Often non-resident owners of luxury cars had friends or others perform their community service. For example, in 2002 there were 898 community service contracts signed allowing 4,231 citations totaling $273,733 to be converted to community service hours. In 2003, 828 contracts were signed for 3,922 citations totaling $277,451. No doubt at least $2-3 million dollars in lost revenue has been experienced since 1996. In essence we have paid meter maids, at union wages, to issue tickets, to violators who never paid anything to the city. Not surprisingly a lot of them became recidivists, “working off” 10 or 20 tickets a year. 

The program was recently amended to limit community service, in lieu of paying fines, to low income Berkeley residents. Its full elimination would have made better sense considering that the council says we have no money for adequate fire and police protection. What other “dirty little secrets” don’t we know about? 

Miriam Wilson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bob Burnett’s article (“Election 2004: Another Look at the Disputed Vote Count,” Daily Planet, Dec. 3-6) article notes why so many of us do not have confidence in the announced election results, but then, without giving any reason why we should believe the election results, launches into his reasons for why Bush allegedly won. That leaves me still unconvinced. The election results were wildly different from the exit poll results. I have seen nothing to explain this. The so-called CalTech/MIT study has been shown to be flawed by a confused notion about the nature of the “final” exit poll data (which were not exit poll data but were a blend of exit polls and the reported results to bring the two into concurrence). Freeman and others have expressed their concern that the wide discrepancy between the exit poll and reported election results are statistically improbable, with odds of 250 million to one. 

There were many reports of election anomalies, such as touchscreens that recorded a vote for Bush when the voter had selected Kerry. Burnett does not address the implications of those troubling matters. He simply asserts that the documented irregularities don’t account for Bush’s alleged 3.3 million plurality. I don’t buy that assertion. Certainly we do not need 3.3 million individual reports of anomalies to question the reliability of the reported election results. If anyone reports that the machine recorded a vote for Bush when the voter was selecting Kerry, we can guess that many more such anomalies occurred, machines being machines that tend to do the same thing over and over. Especially under the time pressure that was reported (long lines, few voting machines, five-minute limits) in many heavily Democratic precincts, many voters may not have seen the error, may have been intimidated by the pressure to vote fast and move on, etc. The fact that many people reported such incidents in more than one state should be viewed as the tip of an iceberg. No one can know how large that iceberg is. All we know is that it exists. It really exists.  

That’s why we need good recounts wherever they can be done. I am very grateful to the Green and Libertarian parties for their willingness to take the lead in Ohio and to also pursue a recount in New Mexico. I am also very pleased to see that the Kerry campaign is supporting the recount effort in Ohio. 

Recounts are an important part of our electoral system. They will not take forever. Now is the time to focus on doing whatever we can to count this very flawed election as accurately as possible. There is no point in calling for a voter verified paper trail if we are unwilling to tolerate some uncertainty after election day. We need to use the paper trail to try to answer our questions. 

Another terrible problem in the 2004 presidential election is voter suppression—efforts to disenfranchise by means such as challenging registered voters inappropriately, telling people to vote on Nov. 3, undersupplying heavily Democratic precincts so as to promote long lines, etc., etc. Many of these problems will not be directly addressed by a recount. But the widespread occurrence of voter suppression adds to my conviction that this election must be recounted carefully. Recount is what we can do now. We must continue to work on all fronts to clean up and correct our very flawed electoral system. 

There are many good sources of information on the recounts. Two websites to check: www.usvip.org and www.votecobb.org. 

Judy Bertelsen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Susan Parker, whom I admire very much, should be glad to know that she is quite mistaken about the concerns she expressed in her Dec. 7-9 column “Opposition to Ed Roberts Campus Masked in Historic Design Complaint.” 

Parker referred to the Nov. 15 Zoning Adjustments Board meeting, and stated that representatives of the neighborhood turned out “to protest the presence of the center in their community.” This is not at all correct. I wish that Parker had attended the meeting she wrote about, so that she could have heard neighbors voicing their support of the Ed Roberts Campus and their wishes to have it in their neighborhood. Since Parker last attended a community meeting, circumstances have changed greatly. As a resident of the area, I no longer know a single neighbor who opposes this project. Remaining neighborhood concerns are mainly with the city’s failure to follow the California Environmental Quality Act.  

Parker then states, “I don’t recall anyone saying that the building design did not fit in with the historic nature of the neighborhood, but now this is being used as another possible excuse for holding up the project.” But in fact Parker did attend the community meeting which took place about two years ago at the South Berkeley Senior Center. At this meeting, the project’s architect was asked by neighbors if he was open to modifying the design so that it would fit in better with the existing historic buildings. His response was “yes.” The request was not unreasonable, especially now that we know the State of California shares concerns about the design. 

The conclusion that we “just don’t want it in our neighborhood” is completely untrue, and doesn’t seem to be based on anything that’s happened in the last two years. I can understand why Parker has some strong feelings about this project, as everyone I know agrees that it is greatly needed. As a big fan of her column, I also realize how busy and hectic her life must be, and I understand her not having time to keep up with the events of these exhausting proceedings in the last couple years. But to name call, to paint as NIMBYs a neighborhood that recently welcomed several other responsible developments, is just not seemly, and it’s not right. 

Erica Cleary 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

By mid-February, the City Council will decide whether to sue the university over the adequacy of the environmental impact report (EIR) for the university’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan. The LRDP contains a 20 percent increase in UC space and facilities, and a 10 percent increase in campus users, mostly commuting research-related personnel. In a heartwarming—and rare—alliance with the sentiments of Berkeley citizens, the city’s response to the draft EIR last June was indignant, tough, and unequivocal in charging that the draft EIR is grossly inadequate on multiple levels. Though such a lawsuit is unlikely to derail the juggernaut of UC expansion entirely, it would probably lead to a moderated and much less damaging expansion of the Berkeley campus. 

The EIR is required under the California Environmental Quality Act. The beauty and power of CEQA is that it forces large project sponsors to search in good faith the project “alternative” that meets their goals with the least possible damage to the natural or human environment. It encourages the developer and the community to work together on creative solutions. EIRs rarely stop projects, nor are they intended to; properly done, they always improve them. However, the university 2020 LRDP EIR does not even pretend to search for less damaging means of achieving UC’s goals. And UC working with the community? Yeah, right. 

This decision will be one of the first opportunities the new council will have to show courage in the face of UC bullying, respect for the people of Berkeley, and determination to save the city from a literally unsupportable 2.2 million more square feet of UC expansion. If history is any guide, the council’s decision will be made behind closed doors, and councilmembers’ votes will remain unknown; an official vote may never even be taken. This is unacceptable. The citizens have a right to know their council members’ actions on such a monumental issue, so they can be held individually accountable at election time. 

Now is the time to let the City Council know your feelings about UC expansion and, even more important, to demand that decisions about UC be made by vote, and that the vote be made public. This will not tell UC anything it does not already know, but it will tell Berkeley citizens something they surely need to know about their elected representatives. 

Sharon Hudson