Letters to the Editor

Tuesday April 19, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Over the past two years, the debate over the Jefferson school name change has had unforeseen consequences at the school. One result has been the unfortunate change in the school climate. What was once a vibrant, open community has become one divided: teachers whispering amongst themselves, unwilling to discuss the issue with parents or students; parents having quiet conversations in the halls or off school grounds, not wanting to be overheard (often for fear of being 

considered racist if they oppose the name change); students trying to openly discuss the issue, but often being shushed by their elders. 

It is very sad to see the place that was once so friendly and welcoming to everyone become a place of whispered conversation and furtive over-the-shoulder 


I am not saying that this process should not be happening. I am saying that those responsible for overseeing this process have missed a huge opportunity. Instead of becoming a divisive issue, this could have been a way for the community to come together, to learn about Thomas Jefferson, to learn about race relations, and to learn about how to openly discuss and decide upon an important issue. The children could have learned about the many good things Thomas Jefferson accomplished in his life. They already know that he was a slave owner, and, for most of them, that’s ALL they know. Can they understand his life when viewed in the context of the time in which he lived? I think not, because they—and many of those behind this issue—view him only from today’s perspective.  

The children, and the adults, could have discussed the fact that none of us live perfect lives. That we often fail to live up to the ideals we espouse. That 

sometimes the constraints of daily life—personal, political, financial, emotional—prevent us from doing what is “right,” with the result that we do what we can. 

In the final judgment, is a person to be judged based upon one aspect of his life, or on his life as a whole? 

Nancy Koerner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley PTA Council is participating in the April 28 “Caravan for Kids” Rally in Sacramento, thanks to the hard work of Berkeley PTA members that have stepped forward to coordinate this effort. The rally on April 28 will be sponsored by the California State PTA and will take place at noon on that day, on the steps of the State Capitol. We will be joined by parents and advocates from all over the State of California. The purpose is to tell the governor and Legislature that we want full and adequate funding for our schools. Together we will insist that Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature 

• Honor their promise to restore $2 billion to California schools. 

• Uphold Proposition 98, the Constitutional funding guarantee for public schools approved by the voters. 

• Rebuild California’s commitment to education. 

Berkeley PTA Council will also be organizing a press conference on April 27 at 3 p.m., location to be determined. We invite the local press to participate and learn more about the work that parents are doing to send a clear message to Sacramento. 

What can you do to be part of this effort? Please consider joining the Berkeley Caravan for Kids contingent in Sacramento. We want to give all Berkeley community members and PTAs an opportunity to participate. We have chartered buses and will be coordinating carpools. People can also take the train. There is limited space on our chartered buses, but please inquire with rally Coordinator Cynthia Papermaster at 333-6097 about space. The departure point for the rally on the morning of April 28 is West Campus Parking Lot on 1222 University Ave. at 9:30 a.m.. The parking lot is located in the back of the West Campus facility. 

If you cannot attend the rally, or even if you can, please consider donating to our effort by sponsoring a parent and child on the bus to Sacramento. Checks can be written to “Berkeley PTA Council” and no donation is too small. Please write “Caravan for Kids” on the comment line. These funds will be used to help pay for our chartered buses and offset rally costs. Checks and cash (in envelopes) can be dropped off at any BUSD public school office and left with the school secretary or sent  

to 1323 67th St., Berkeley, 94702. Together we can get our voices heard. 

Roia Ferrazares 

President, Berkeley PTA Council 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Of course boxing is fine for now,” I’ll bet Sly Stallone’s mom used to tell him, “but what are you going to do afterwards? You gotta have a real career to back you up.” And as it goes with boxing, so does it go with war and empire.  

Of course wars are like championship bouts in Vegas. They’re glamorous and interesting and lucrative—but a war, like a boxer’s career, can’t go on forever. Maybe you can last a few years in the ring but sooner or later the last round ends and, if you foolishly squandered your prize money, you have nothing to fall back on. Look at Rome, the Mongols, Napoleon, Tojo’s Japan, the Third Reich and the USSR. All their time and money went into waging war and they had no retirement plan! Too much emphasis on K.O.s and not enough on 401(k). 

Of course Rumsfeld, Bush and the Pentagon knocked out Iraq in the first round but now—with all these guys’s money spent on high-living and with nothing saved—they are becoming just another bunch of punch-drunk has-beens with no Plan B. 

And what about America? What will happen to our country when the U.S. has lost its heavyweight title—which it soon will because the euro is about to K.O. the dollar bigtime—and has no career skills at home to fall back on ‘cause they’ve all been outsourced to empire? 

America needs to follow Sly’s mom’s advice and prepare for the future. Firing those bogus fight promoters in the Pentagon and taking away Bush’s “golden” gloves would be a good first step. 

Jane Stillwater 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing to you because you are my City Council representative. I am very concerned about the number of high rises going up on University, Shattuck, and San Pablo. At the same time, there are “for rent” signs everywhere. It appears that these developers are being encouraged to build high density cheap housing that is not actually needed. 

What I would like to know is whether the city has vacancy data to support this massive shift in housing policy? 

How can the City Council make decisions involving millions of dollars in housing policy/funds without knowing the most fundamental piece of datum there is? How can you possibly cast an informed vote? Our Housing Director cries “housing emergency.” and the Planning Director says “housing glut,” but there is not a single fact between them. 

To my knowledge the city has not attempted a realistic housing survey, ever. Whoever has a particular ax to grind, finds some statistics that will support that view, but never to my knowledge has an accurate, impartial verifiable, survey been done. This, in the home of the University of California!  

From anecdotal evidence and informal surveys, I believe that the vacancy rate hovers at around 8 percent, the highest it has been since rent control was imposed and began causing shortages. But, that is my point: we need more than anecdotes and informal surveys to make these important decisions. I would like to know when the city is going to initiate a study of vacancy rates and housing availability. I absolutely know that the Housing department has no idea of what is out there, because I was present at a Rental Housing Safety Program meeting where Steve Barton embarrassed himself by not being able to substantiate his requests for additional fees with any kind of accurate statistics. It is time for the city to seriously investigate the “real” housing story. 

Roslyn Fuerman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a follow-up to my letter in the April 15-18 issue, I would like to generalize the pattern that has unmistakably appeared to me over a period of several years now. Members of the City of Berkeley government almost universally adopt an attitude that defines this pattern. The attitude is this: “As progressives or liberals, we lament the fact that we must revoke tenants rights, or the rights of the people in general, but we are required to do so by a strict interpretation of the law.” The only problem with this is that the “strict interpretation of the law” they are referring to is essentially the neo-con interpretation of the law, which diverges radically from even the interpretation of mainstream conservative Republican judges, as we have seen recently in the Schiavo case.  

In other words, the actual facts of court rulings are rarely as condemnatory of the rights of the people as the progressive or liberal members of the City of Berkeley government feel that they are. On rare occasions, a Court of Appeal ruling does bear the unmistakable tenor of neo-con hatred of genuine democracy, but those rulings comprise no more than ten percent of the emerging body of law. Often they stand only because they are not challenged by further appeal to the Supreme Court.  

Another facet of the Berkeley ruse is conflation of trial court rulings, which are not binding on anyone but the parties to the lawsuit, with appellate rulings, which are binding, since they constitute caselaw or decisional law. The City of Berkeley is under no genuine compulsion whatsoever to conform to trial court rulings, unless it has been a party to the lawsuit. And yet, the dupes of the neo-cons are all too eager to jump at the neo-con whip and do the bidding of the neo-cons, to the extreme detriment of the people. This defines the Berkeley ruse. 

It would seem, therefore, that the Bush administration is but the tip of the iceberg of the neo-con movement, which is in fact a genuine grassroots movement. I observe neo-cons or dupes of the neo-cons sitting in every chamber of the City of Berkeley government, wielding most of the power. Often they are staff members that the elected officials seem powerless to control. So, if you are one of the many who are projecting your shadow onto the funny man in the White House, look again - the problem is much closer to home and much more widespread than you have imagined. 

Peter Mutnick 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s not that I wish to cast aspersions on Carol Denney’s qualifications as an objective reporter.... But, according to her published account: she “innocently” removed an orange cone from her own driveway, which caused another person to become “infuriated” for no apparent reason, which caused the cops to come and “knock” her around, leaving “bruises” all over her body, ending with Ms. Denney being arrested for “attempted murder,” again, for no apparent reason. Could it be that there are key elements to this story that Ms. Denney apparently omitted from her alleged reporting? Or, if this is intended as an “opinion piece,” are we the readers supposed to conclude that the opinions being expressed are so nonsensical that the only way they could be propped up is to only tell half the story?  

Peter Labriola  





Editors, Daily Planet:  

The horrors inflicted on helpless prisoners by some of our military personnel at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and in other locations may have ricocheted around in our national consciousness and struck in Berkeley. 

In Iraq some of our soldiers felt they could humiliate and abuse captives to get information because the captive was an Other, in that case an Iraqi. 

On April 8th in a Berkeley fraternity, a young man was held captive. Because he was an Other, a pledge in this case, he was humiliated and abused to get information. 

How different is this behavior from that of Abu Ghraib? 

Since we as a nation have not managed to make a strong and effective condemnation of the heinous behavior of some of our military at Abu Ghraib, can we expect to see other instances of similar behavior among our own people here? Especially among the young, who are most easily influenced by what the media shows us to be allowable behavior. 

Where is the voice of who we are as a people that can clearly say why such things are wrong both here and in other lands? And be heard? 

Brad Belden 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

An article in your April 15-18 paper says, “...library aides, who typically do most of the library’s menial work...” 

“Menial. 1. of our relating to a servant: lowly. 2.a. appropriate to a servant: humble, servile. b. lacking interest or dignity.” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.) 

Is this how the writer really thinks of the work of the aides? 

Nancy Ward 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Since there has been much made of the reassignment of four aides from the first floor of the Central Library to the fourth floor Children’s Room, I write to provide some background for this decision. 

When the renovated Central Library reopened, the Library decided to try an experiment. All library aides were assigned to General Services where they would be directed to work on all five floors. 

Unfortunately, this experimental arrangement has had a seriously negative impact on the quality of library service to Berkeley children. 

Spot checks in March indicated returned adult materials were reshelved within 2-4 days. Children’s materials required 7-10 days. 

As any parent knows, children live in the moment. If a recently returned Lemony Snicket book will not be available for 4-5 days, as far as the child is concerned, the library has failed. Placing a reserve on the item doesn’t work well for children, since they have little control over their personal schedules or means of transportation. If the library saves a book for them, they may not be able to go to the library to pick it up. 

The children’s collection is smaller than the adult collection. Smaller inventories require faster turnarounds. This is particularly true for city-wide homework assignments. When Berkeley students are studying ancient Greece, recently returned books on the topic are needed immediately. The assignments are due now, not 7-10 days from now. 

Why do children’s books wait longer for reshelving? When assigned to shelve in the Children’s Library, some library aides sought other work instead. Some made sure to take their break during their “children’s shift” so they would only be there for a half hour. A few even went home sick at the end of a day, rather than shelve children’s books.  

In discussions with the four library aides assigned to the fourth floor, they agreed that aides had avoided shelving in the Children’s Library. They also voiced concern for their health and safety. They were particularly worried about shelving picture books. 

To respond to these concerns, the Library has consulted the City of Berkeley’s safety officer on safe ergonomic practices and has limited the period of sustained shelving to one hour. The library has also purchased knee pads and other equipment to make shelving picture books as safe as possible. 

Inferior library service for Berkeley children should never be tolerated. The assignment of these four aides from the first to the fourth floor Children’s Room is a needed step in the right direction. 

Linda Perkins 

Library Services Manager 

Berkeley Public Library  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I find Bob Burnett’s analysis (Christianity Lite vs. Terri Schiavo, Daily Planet, April 1-4) both cogent and perplexing. He is clear in his critique of the religious right’s hypocrisy. And yet, from his comfortable Quaker context, he hacks at the trees, and cannot see the forest. He mentions church history, but doesn’t see that against the broad history of Christianity, from the horrors of the inquisition, through the arrogance of the crusades, to the burning of the witches, the nasty foibles of modern zealots are trivial.  

Nor could he accept, I suspect, that Christianity came out of the marketplace—that the gullible, superstitious public of Christ’s day were eager consumers of the sales pitches of the time (that he was born of a virgin, that he returned from death, that he, like the Egyptian kings and Greek heroes, was descended from a god) and based on this packaging, made him a cult figure on the sermon circuit. That the majority of people still believe and avow this nonsense is the real condemnation of human culture.  

The world’s main religions all perpetuate the same great hoax - that there is a life after death, and that they’re selling the tickets to it. The deep congenital flaw in the human psyche is the pathological refusal to accept the great centering, liberating truth of our existence: We live a while in the sun, then we die. After that, nothing!—no angels with harps, no virgins with sexual favors, no loved ones’ welcoming arms—mere oblivion. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing to express my concern about the proposed closure of all three outdoor city swimming pools next winter—from Oct. 1 through April 15, and to urge the City Council to do whatever is necessary to keep at least one pool open for public programs during the winter. 

My husband and I have been homeowners and tax payers in Berkeley for over 52 years, and I have been swimming at King Pool for 36 years. 

Closing the pools during the winter months is not just an inconvenience. Most winter swimmers swim as a part of a healthy life style. It cannot be abandoned for six months. If I have to join the YMCA to keep up my fitness program, I cannot afford to drop it and return to the city pools when they decide to re-open in the spring. It is particularly unfair to cut out city programs when the city pays for YMCA memberships for its own programs. The youth swim teams and masters program need a pool to use. Having no winter access would finish these programs. 

Swimmers have contributed to keeping the pools open in the past by having fund raising swim relays, and would do so again. Seniors have suggested raising the amount they pay. 

The San Francisco Chronicle’s April 7 ChronicleWatch column reported that City Manager Phil Kamlarz suddenly found some extra general fund revenue from higher than expected tax collections, and will be urging the City Council to set aside $400,000 to repair the fountain in Civic Center Park and $200,000 for maintenance. To keep one swimming pool open during the winter would cost $92,000. This and other recreation programs for children are far more important than repairing a fountain. Berkeley should get its priorities on track. 

Jean Johnsen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In your April 12-14 issues, Zac Unger, a Berkeley firefighter, states that “firefighters are one of the few public servants to be justly compensated for their labors. The don’t deserve less; others deserve more.” His statement would be credible if he could just provide facts that show the City of Berkeley is unable to fill vacancies because of inadequate compensation packages. Based on the facts he and others actually did provide to your paper, the vacancies in the Fire Department are not the result of inadequate employee benefits—just the opposite. City managers decided to pay exisiting firefighters overtime rather than hire additional firefighters because employee benefits for new hires were so expensive. 

One of the reasons Berkeley city employee benefits costs are so high is that employees contribute nothing to their own publicly funded retirement plan. This allows them to retire totally at the Berkeley taxpayers’ expense with better pensions than many of these taxpayers will ever receive themselves. 

It is my understanding that if city employees simply agreed to contribute the same proportion of their wages and salaries to their own pension plan as those of us in the private sector must through Social Security taxes, none of the proposed cuts in city services would be necessary. Could one of your reporters verify whether my perceptions are correct? 

Keith Winnard 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I noted Bernice Turoff’s excellent letter quoting a Dec. 26, 2002, Washington Post article that exposed torture as promoted U.S. policy two years ago. We will be holding an all-day UC Berkeley Teach-in on Torture, Thursday April 28 in Berkeley, that will expand upon that point, and we’ll attempt to spur a national movement to stop the use of torture by this government. The teach-in is sponsored by Ethnic Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies and International and Area Studies at UC and endorsed by over 100 faculty. A full page ad is scheduled to appear in the Daily Planet on April 26.  

Eighty percent of Americans reject the use of torture, but they have no effective way to protest its use. It’s time to mobilize that sentiment into a challenge to current policies and practices. Join with Barbara Olshanksy of Center for Constitutional Rights, Lucas Guttentag, head of the ACLU immigration project, Professor Terry Karl, Stanford’s expert witness on torture in Latin America, the National Lawyers Guild’s Marjorie Cohn, Uwe Jacobs of Survivors International, As’ad AbuKhalil of Cal State Stanislaus, Carlos Maurcio, a Salvadoran Professor who survived torture and others in taking action against torture on April 28. We’ll see you at the Thrust Theater, 2025 Addison (Berkeley Rep) from 1:30 on. 

Marc Sapir 

co-convener, UC Berkeley Teach-in on Torture 



We understand that at tonight’s Council meeting Planning Director Dan Marks will propose the staffing of an incremental review of the West Berkeley Plan, focused on rezoning Gilman Street and Ashby Avenue west of San Pablo for retail. Apparently this came out of a council work session on revenue and the budget. 

We believe that this approach is wrong and wrongheaded. The West Berkeley Plan was crafted by years of work by dozens of stakeholders coming from every sector of the West Berkeley community. It was the result of a broad-based, open, balanced, and thorough public planning process. Any review must also be balanced and any proposal must include a fair hearing of its impacts on the entire West Berkeley community. 

We believe that the usual parameters of this piecemeal approach would narrow the scope of the study area and ignore major impacts on the surrounding areas. But the overall effects of altering the zoning or permissible uses for each narrow swath will be much greater than will be indicated in the individual studies of economics, traffic, and other effects. Changing the zoning of the arterial corridors cannot be done without deeply affecting all of West Berkeley. It would tend to unbalance the area, gut the industrial retention policy that's at the heart of the West Berkeley Plan, and threaten industrial, artistic and craft businesses. Do not undermine and dismantle the West Berkeley Plan under this guise. A short sighted study focused on adding revenue may overlook the long term loss of existing significant tax base and employment coming from businesses that will be displaced. 

If you intend to approve the planning director’s proposal, we urge you to direct him to broaden the study area considerably beyond the usual parameters, and to consider all of West Berkeley below San Pablo as the impacted area. John Curl 

Susan Libby 

Martin Bourque, Executive Director Ecology Center  

Zelda Bronstein 

Mary Lou Van Deventer 

Jesse Townley 

Fran Haselsteiner 

Mark Gorrell 

Nancy Gorrell 

Sarah Givens 

Fred Brechtel 

Barbara Lubin 

Bernard Marszalek 

Laurie Bright 

Andy Heinze 

Mary Heinze 

Robert Reiter 

Andy Katz 

Roberta Teller 

Marc Diamond 

Harry Wiener, 

Former chair, West Berkely Planning Area Commissionô