Letters to the Editor

Tuesday December 21, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I agree wholeheartedly with Raymond Chamberlin’s critique of the proposal to make Marin a two-lane road (“Two Lanes on Marin Avenue? A Design for Road Rage! Daily Planet, Dec. 14-16). Such a change would be nuts. It would infuriate drivers at all times of day, not just commute hours, and would doubtless lead to increased traffic on other neighborhood streets—like Sonoma to the south and Washington to the north. Nor should bicycling be a cover for this dopey idea. I am a bicyclist too and I avoid the arterials whenever possible. I wouldn’t ride on Marin whether it be two lanes or four.  

Sean Gallagher 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

NIMBY! NIGGER! What do these two words have in common? Both are meaningless but effective epithets, whose sole purpose and impact is to devalue “the other” and the other’s humanity and concerns. The terms add nothing but rancor to any discourse; they tell us nothing about the real characteristics of the targeted group, but they tell us a great deal about the name-callers.  

As soon as any citizen opposes a development project, the name-calling begins. Neighbors who have no concern except the size, design, density, and parking impacts of buildings in their community suddenly becoming bigots, racists, and people who hate poor people or the elderly or disabled. Were those who opposed the Outback project trying to keep the poor elderly out of their community? No, though perhaps some ignorant people might believe that propaganda. Were those who opposed the American Baptist Seminary expansion racists? No, although that was the first charge leveled by the developer. Were those who spent hundreds of hours working on the minutiae of building sizes on University Avenue secretly motivated by antipathy toward the poor? If so, it was a pretty inefficient way to achieve their purposes. Are those opposing the Ed Roberts Campus’ airport-like facade just hiding their secret revulsion for the disabled? No. Get real. 

No Berkeleyan would be caught dead using the word “nigger,” while “NIMBY” is liberally used in the public debate. “Smart growth” advocates regularly use the term, as do affordable housing advocates, our legislators, developers, and many developers’ lawyers. I wonder if the term is used by our own city planners in the privacy of the Planning Palace. Shame on Susan Parker (a regular Planet columnist) and everyone else who has sullied the pages of the Planet and the public sphere by using the term NIMBY to avoid dialogue. While one would think that name-calling and marginalization techniques would be an anathema in Berkeley, in fact it is our politically correct culture that makes such attacks possible. Although in fact neighbors are fairly powerless in Berkeley, NIMBYs are not viewed as a disadvantaged group worthy of sympathy. So I guess it’s okay to marginalize and insult them. 

Many people decry the adversarial atmosphere in Berkeley, and pretend to believe that it is better to work together to resolve problems. But those who call their ideological adversaries names reveal their true motivations. Remember: It is those who have the power and don’t want to share it that benefit by squelching the dialogue.  

Sharon Hudson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am shocked to see that the Berkeley City Council is considering narrowing Marin Avenue. This is a vital thoroughfare and needs to be available for citizens of North Berkeley. I work at Hilltop Mall in Richmond and must get to I-80 daily. This plan will have a negative impact on my commute as well as others. If this plan goes through, it will not get me out of my car. Riding public transportation could take close to two hours one way so this is not an option and I do not think it ever will be. 

Now the NIMBY punks in the City of Albany have already approved a plan to narrow the street in their city. This must be reversed. The City of Berkeley should lobby the state to intervene. If this does not work then they should consider some sort of retaliation against Albany. I do not know what form this could take, but we must not be walked over like this. I know this is not politically correct, but I think there is too much of this in our city. There appears to be a concerted effort to  

make car driving more difficult from lack of gas stations and parts stores to the preferences given to a small group of loud bicyclists. I think statistics will show that automobile owners are, dare I say it, a “Silent Majority” in Berkeley. I urge the council to redress this. 

Frederick O. Hebert 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley Bowl is a home-grown phenomenon that is in no way like a big box store, despite the large size of the proposed new store.  

It has the best produce at the best prices, and the widest variety of goods anywhere. The selection shows a level of care and knowledge that can’t be duplicated. The current store is well loved and always full to capacity. People line up to get in before 9 a.m. on Saturdays, and routinely wait up to 10 minutes for parking.  

Opening a new larger store will only add value for Berkeley residents creating more jobs with livable union wages and offering its great goods and services to another part of Berkeley. It may even reduce congestion at its current store. As for traffic, it means we will need to hasten dealing with flow in that area—something we should be doing now.  

I live one mile from the proposed site, and a bit farther from the current one, and I look forward to shopping at the new Berkeley Bowl. I say approve the whole kit and caboodle without delay!  

Mariana Almeida  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Again, it seems that the Planet has half-heartedly reported technical aspects of transportation planning in a story (“Critics Assail Proposed West Berkeley Bowl,” Daily Planet, Dec. 17-20) in favor of opinions of harpsichord-toting citizens who generally don’t understand the traffic impacts of new developments. 

The Planet quotes statistics by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) that say a grocery store generates “on average” 102 vehicle trips per day. It is then stated that this would produce “at least 5,583” extra vehicle trips. My first point is nit-picky but it should be noted that an “average” does not equate to “at least.” Your statement should have read “draw on average 5,583 additional vehicle trips.” Whether an oversight or the desire to inflate the numbers, this mistake should be noted. 

Secondly, and more importantly, there are many factors (including the ITE trip generation above) that go into analyzing the traffic impact of a site. It should be noted that the transportation consultants took all of this into consideration when making their recommendation. My point is that it would have been nice to see some of the city engineers or transportation consultants interviewed to round out the understanding of how the traffic of this site can affect our community. 

Lastly, the Berkeley Bowl is generally (with the exception of some of the recent labor issues) a positive local business. The most frequent negative comments I hear about the current location are how bad the parking lot is and how extremely cramped it is inside. It seems that their most recent plan of a larger store addresses these issues. 

Chris Douglas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley Gray Panthers protests the proposed cut in taxi scrip from 40 books a year to nine. Taxi scrip is vital to our seniors in Berkeley, especially since other public transit is so poor, especially in the neighborhoods. Seniors need taxi scrip to go to the doctor, to visit friends, to participate in the community, and to have a life. To cut back on taxi scrip when AC Transit and BART are also cutting back means that many older and disabled people will be forced to be isolated in their homes. 

Berkeley is in the foreground of policy by providing taxi scrip to its seniors and disabled people. We in the Gray Panthers and the Commission on Aging have fought to keep this service intact. However, despite our continuing efforts to improve taxi service for seniors and disabled people, the City of Berkeley Housing Department has been chipping away at the program, not only to cut costs, but to undermine the concept of the program. Every year they come up with new ways to make the program less effective.  

I cannot believe that their actions are in line with city policy, which aims at providing adequate services for seniors and disabled people, and having less reliance on private automobiles. 

It is time for the city council to take a stand and support taxi service for seniors, and not permit city employees to chip away at the service without consultation with the council or the public. 

The City Council supports an arts district for Berkeley, but allows AC transit to cut services after 6 p.m.! Then taxi scrip is cut so that seniors and disabled people cannot obtain transport to the arts district. This does not make sense. 

Margot Smith  

Berkeley Gray Panthers 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As the Daily Planet’s article in the weekend edition reported, the Berkeley City Council became the first city to adopt a resolution demanding an investigation of voter irregularities in the presidential election. It also called for congressional adoption of numerous measures on behalf of national election reform. Although the article was certainly informative, it nevertheless suffered from important omissions. 

Nowhere does the Planet mention that the resolution was the culmination of vigorous grassroots efforts. This omission is serious because it conveys the impression to the public that such favorable developments, in this case the council’s resolution, are born and nurtured only from above rather than reflecting social motion from below. 

Also, since the Planet neglected to acknowledge the role of the grassroots, readers did not learn that the organization mainly behind lobbying for the resolution was the very active members of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club. Just as it matters that we become familiar with the voting record of elected officials, it is immensely important and useful for the public to be continually reminded how progressive social change actually occurs and who bears responsibility for setting things in motion by organizing successful political campaigns.  

Harry Brill 

Wellstone Democratic  

Renewal Club  

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her letter regarding the Ed Roberts Campus in your Dec. 17 issue, Stephanie Miyashiro invited readers to imagine a building “designed by and for folks with disabilities using universal design principles and keeping access for humans of all abilities in mind.” No imagination is needed: Wheel or walk over to 3222 Adeline St. to find an award-winning building, designed by a wheelchair rider, that provides nineteen apartments for low-income disabled renters. 

Neighbors who feel the proposed glass curtain wall facade of the ERC clashes with its historic surroundings have frequently cited this building as an example of more appropriate design. The architect, Erick Mikiten, did such a fine job of harmonizing his modern design with the surrounding historic buildings that many people pass it every day without noticing it—a shame, since it’s the nicest building constructed in South Berkeley in many years. 

By the way, William Leddy, the ERC’s architect, is not disabled. 

Robert Lauriston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In Becky O’Malley’s editorial (“Bernie Kerik: The Opera?” Daily Planet, Dec. 14-16), our editor told about a friend suggesting that someone commission John Adams the composer to do an opera on the subject. That idea is great. There is a pre-existing set of comic operas about the antics of ignorant, arrogant aging males: Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Puccini’s Gianni Schicci, and Richard Strauss’ The Silent Woman. Adams’ operas fit right in. I imagine a politically charged opera, and John Adams has already had the courage to compose three political operas. 

As far as a commission, how about our Berkeley community, recently frustrated politically and always alive musically, doing the job? I don’t remember a community ever commissioning a piece of music, let alone an opera by a world-class composer. 

Let’s ask John Adams to see if he’s interested. 

Bennett Markel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I propose that the city’s young people create murals to decorate the construction fence at the new Berkeley Hills Fire Station. The fence is located on Shasta Road just east of Grizzly Peak Boulevard. 

The City Council should sponsor a contest for groups to paint nature scenes on 4x10’ exterior plywood. Attach the beautiful murals to the fence. Field trips to see them and the Regional Parks Botanical Garden, a Berkeley fire station, and/or the merry-go-round would familiarize Berkeley’s youth with the beauty of wild park land and the role of the fire department in protecting Berkeley from wild fires. 

Please don’t leave our neighborhood with a denuded hillside and ugly construction fence for one to three years. 

Jeff Mertens 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Saturday morning a bag of groceries, including a large chicken, was delivered to my door by a group of girls and women. The card read “Happy Holidays from the Berkeley Fire Fighters, The Berkeley Lion’s Club and Girl Scout Troops No. 319 and 931.”  

And so thanks to you! 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s not really fair of Marcia Lau, in her Dec. 17 letter, to characterize my Dec. 14 letter as demonstrating “a thoroughly undemocratic view of city office-holders’ role.” 

Public comment should and does have a profound effect on the decision-making process of any public body. It does this by bringing new ideas, problems and possible solutions to light. But it is not always a good measurement of public opinion at large. 

I don’t think anyone reading these words is so naïve as to think that a small self-selected group of individuals at a hearing or a handful of letters in the mail is a reliable representation of majority community opinion. The only way to accurately determine where public sentiment really falls is via an objective survey—or an election. 

The Berkeley ferry is a case in point. There is broad public support for re-establishing ferry service from the Berkeley Marina to San Francisco, and it was this support that helped Regional Measure 2 pass by a wide margin. It should not be derailed by a small group of vocal detractors using obsolete data. 

As for “diesel guzzling ferries,” let’s look at some numbers: A single-occupancy car consumes about 7,000 BTU of fossil fuel energy per mile. The least fuel-efficient ferry now in service on the Oakland and Alameda routes consumes 4,700 BTU/passenger-mile (and this number takes the empty “reverse commute” runs into account). The 149-passenger ferry that most closely resembles the proposals for Berkeley only needs 2,500 BTU/passenger mile. But let’s not stop here. That boat goes 28 knots, and we only need to go 18 to get from the Marina to San Francisco in 20 minutes. By designing for a slower speed, appropriate for our short (5.6 mile) route, it’s not hard to build an energy-efficient ferry that would achieve fuel rates closer to 1,500 BTU/passenger-mile. (You can check my calculations on the Berkeley Waterfront website, www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org.) 

Now, 1,500 BTU/passenger-mile is four times as good as a mid-size car, but not quite as efficient as a bus at 1,320. Keep in mind, however, that the vast majority of ferry passengers will be attracted to the ferry as an alternative to driving, not the bus or BART. A car parked at the marina will pollute far less than one that makes two stop-and-go trips across the bridge. And it’s worth noting that the ferry “Berkeley” built in 1898 and in service on the bay until ‘57, consumed about 1,000 BTU/passenger-mile. This vessel is still afloat and on display at the San Diego Maritime Museum. So lets not be too quick to categorize all ferries as inefficient and dirty. There are mature technologies that can make ferries extremely clean and efficient. 

Still, I agree with Marcia on one important point: Ferries do not deserve any special subsidy. Ferry service is not a cost-effective transportation solution when we already have a bridge and a tunnel. It will cost about $6.50 for each one-way ferry ride across the Bay. This includes capitalization of the boats and a new terminal (probable site will be just south of the fishing pier, so as to utilize existing parking near Hs. Lordships restaurant). The cost of a BART ride is about the same, based only on operating expenses. But BART is much more expensive if we include capitalization of the system expansion for an apples-to-apples comparison. 

WTA, the Water Transit Authority charged with implementing the new routes, suggests a $3.50 ticket price and a $3.00 subsidy per one-way ride. My proposal is to set the ticket price at $5.00, much closer to the market rate, with only $1.50 subsidy per ride. (Keep in mind that the bridge toll is likely to go up to $4, not to mention how much it costs to park in downtown San Francisco) This subsidy level is less than the subsidy for an AC Transit bus ride across the bay, and far less than the public subsidy for a BART ride. 

The higher price will also keep the scale of the service more in line with the existing marina infrastructure, and not place difficult demands on parking or road access. (There should be deep discounts for those arriving by bike or bus.) 

Ferry service will not solve congestion on the bridge or reduce air pollution in any noticeable way. But it will certainly make a small positive contribution in both these areas, and do it at least as economically as any other mode of public transit. 

Congestion and air quality aside, the main reason to support the Berkeley ferry is because it is a public amenity that will improve the quality of life in Berkeley. Ferry service provides an alternative of particular value to many users who have trouble with other transit modes, or who need to cross the bay with their bicycles, wheelchairs or dogs (dogs on the upper outside deck only, it is presumed). The ferries can be running in as little as three years if we can agree on some of these details and show the funding agencies that the project has our full support. 

Paul Kamen is a member and former Chair of the Berkeley Waterfront Commission. He has lived in Berkeley since 1973. 

Paul Kamen