Letters to the Editor

Friday April 22, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

When negotiations between the teachers‚ union (BFT) and the school district came to a standstill, teachers started “work to rule”; we decided to confine our teaching work to the seven-hour and 10-minute contract day. “Work to rule” has been tough on everyone. It has also made me and my colleagues acutely aware of how many hours a week we ordinarily spend on activities connected to teaching, but beyond the scope of the responsibilities defined by the contract—from interacting with students and parents, to collaborating with other teachers, attending extra meetings and developing new curriculum. “Work to rule” has generated discussions about the state and nationwide dilemma Berkeley Board of Education is currently facing: how to pay its staff fair wages and remain fiscally sound. 

I know that Berkeley Unified School District is in a tough financial position. I know that California is in a tough financial position and that the federal government has a deficit that continues to spiral out of control. And I think I know why! Our nation’s priorities are, as my students would say, “messed up”! We continually send the message to our children and to other nations that we value domination, the power to inflict death, over life and sustainability—so much so that we choose to divert dollars away from much needed human services and into military spending.  

The City of Berkeley is infamous for making national headlines by issuing proclamations on international issues. It’s time for us to take a stand on a local issue that will reverberate statewide, nationwide, perhaps even internationally. We need to proclaim that educating our children is a priority and back it up by making funding choices that maximize positive, healthy interactions at the school site where adults interact daily with students. The Berkeley community (school board members, administrators, custodial staff, teachers, classified, and families—all of us) must arrive as soon as possible at the point where we are prepared as a community to up and march together to Sacramento proclaiming “These are our priorities!” I believe the Board of Education is waiting to hear from the Berkeley community. Please contact the board members and let them know what you think.  

Martha Cain 

Longfellow Teacher 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Isn’t it ironic that though there is a zero-tolerance policy towards hazing the “Berkeley chapter of Pi Kappa Phi had been disciplined four times in the past five years.” The stated policy, and the subsequent “discipline” are clearly not in sync. If the authorities do not take hazing seriously, the students won’t either. Hazing will be curbed when everyone, perpetrators, bystanders and authority figures are held responsible. 

Dr. Susan Lipkins 

Port Washington, NY  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the April 19 edition of the Daily Planet, Mr. Winard was not convinced with Zac Unger’s perspective on firefighter compensation and asked the Daily Planet to help verify whether public employees should contribute to their own pensions and if that would solve the city budget crisis. Below are some facts to help readers better understand the situation. 

First, Mr. Unger is not a Berkeley firefighter; he is an Oakland firefighter. Second, Berkeley firefighters and police officers both pay 9 percent of their annual salary into the pension system. Private sector employees pay 6.2 percent to Social Security.  

When Social Security was created in 1935, government employees were expressly excluded. Even when state and local governments were given the option to join the system in the 1950s, many fire departments were still legally barred from electing Social Security coverage until 1994. Berkeley firefighters, as well as other City of Berkeley employees are members of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). 

CalPERS generates revenue through contributions from the employee, the employer, and investment income. According to CalPERS, 65 percent of the revenue to pay for retirement benefits is generated from investment income. Social Security relies totally on income taxes, payroll taxes, and interest earned from borrowed Social Security funds by the U.S. Treasury department. During the 1990s the stock market had significant growth resulting in pension rebates paid to the city or a decrease in the city’s contribution rate to zero or low single percentages. Due to the collapse in the stock market in 2001 and 2002, the investment return for CalPERS dropped dramatically, causing employer rates to return to the pre-1990s level. 

Regarding the issue of firefighter compensation, Berkeley top-step firefighters make $28.77 per hour and are scheduled to work 900 more hours annually than private sector employee. Maybe this is why Mr. Unger has a different perspective. 

Gil Dong, President 

Berkeley Fire Fighters Association 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It has recently come to my attention that the city plans to spend $400,000 in general funds to restore the Civic Center fountain, which has been dry for over 20 years. In my opinion, restoring the fountain would be an unconscionable waste of the city’s capital and operating funds, given the current fiscal crisis. Spending scarce public resources on the fountain seems particularly ironic at a time when the city is considering closing the public pools—“water features” that are actually used and loved by the residents and that convey recreation and health benefits. Who are the constituents and what is the policy rationale for the fountain project?  

It is my understanding that the annual cost of operating the fountain is equivalent to operating one city pool. As a regular year-round swimmer who has participated in several private fundraising events over the last two years in order to keep the pools open, I am at a loss as to why the city would consider spending $400,000 in capital costs and $60,000 annually to maintain a non-essential “accessory” that does not provide tangible benefits to the community. 

In its budget process, the city has an obligation to prioritize programs that people actually use (such as the pools) over a fountain, an aesthetic luxury. 

Eve Stewart 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On April 7, the San Francisco Chronicle’s ChronicleWatch reported that the Berkeley city manager had found some extra general fund revenue. He and the Parks and Recreation director propose to spend $600,000 on renovations and maintenance for the fountain in Civic Center Park while closing the swimming pools programs for half the year, fall and winter. This is a bad idea and misappropriation of funding. 

The pools programs provide public health support for children, seniors, the disabled and other adults who swim year round for health. In the fall and through the winter we swimmers are in the water every day, starting in the dark morning hours, even in the rain. 

In April, the California Department of Health Services and UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released three studies describing the health costs and economic costs of obesity and physical inactivity in adolescents and adults. Under these circumstances, Berkeley, who holds a strong history of innovative public health support, would do better to promote physical activities such as swimming rather than close its pools. 

For my part, I’m a daily swimmer in the King pool swimming programs. I need this pool. I have a disability with pinched nerves in my pelvis that is severely painful. Swimming and water exercise bring the only substantive pain relief I can get, so I work in the water every morning for about two hours, rain or shine and through the dark, cold winter. 

Stefan Welch 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Michael Larrick deserves the highest praise for the views he expressed in his opinion piece, “Jefferson Elementary School, and Other Excuses for the Achievement Gap” (Apr. 19-21). The black community continues to hope that what we should call “name magic” will solve its problems. First if was the belief that replacing “negro” with “black” was a major part of the answer; then, when that didn’t seem to do much good, it was decided that “black” was also the wrong name, it should be “African-American.” But that hasn’t helped much either. Meantime, name magic continues to be applied to streets and schools, the latest example in Berkeley being the proposed renaming of Jefferson School. 

White liberals who go along with this nonsense are guilty of the worst kind of exploitation, because what is really going on here, and has been for decades, is the old projection racket. Most white liberals—particularly in the university—belong to the liberal arts community, and in today’s world, in which engineering, science, and business are king, that community is a relative have-not. It is perfectly natural, therefore, for these have-nots to project their plight onto worse-off have-nots, and to sympathize with and excuse every kind of bad behavior and wishful thinking in this latter group, calling it the result of “oppression” (in other words, not their fault).  

Yet very few if any of these white liberals would respond to the news that their children weren’t performing well in school, by demanding that the school change its name! Nor would any black coach tell a white player who wasn’t performing well, that his problem would be solved if he only would change his name. (Black superstars in the athletic and entertainment fields did not become multi-millionaires because they just happened to have the right names.) 

The correct response to blacks who want to blame slavery, and hence slave-owners like Thomas Jefferson, for their present miseries, is “That was then. This is now.” Every minority in this country that has raised itself from poverty has done so by recognizing that the only way out is through education, hard work, thrift, and having no more children than parents can raise and educate properly. That’s the only magic.  

Peter Schorer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a former student of Jefferson Elementary and a current one of Berkeley High, I read Michael Larrick’s recent commentary with disgust.  

To run with Larrick’s thesis: Yes. The escalating fight over the name of Jefferson school is concerning, because it is at heart a divisive and unwinnable struggle. No one, least of all elementary school students (who are not well equipped to judge Jefferson’s guilt without knowing greater detail about his life and times) should be forced to “take sides” and receive judgment for it. It is a bitter and injurious battle to fight for a more politically correct name and clearly one that has caused more hurt feelings and anger than a new and more tolerance-inspiring name is supposed to prevent. And, finally, it is unwinnable because whatever name is left standing, when everyone has fought until the bitter end, will mean anger for one “side.” It’s terribly sad when such—dare I say—adolescent fights are allowed to escalate beyond the school yard without the benefit of those peer mediators who roamed the yards while I was a student at Jefferson. 

And yet, what I find offensive and insulting in Larrick’s commentary is his judgmental assumptions about “black’s victimhood” and “education running counter to black identity.” Yes, victimization is present (among all students—have you talked to an adolescent lately?), but we are all responsible for our actions and our actions alone. Michael Larrick has no right to admonish black students for not “achieving.” His is a defensive and angry stance, demanding that black students live up to a standard of academic and social excellence as defined by various academic institutions, and Michael Larrick, respectively. His analysis of black’s failure to succeed fails to take into account an undeniable correlation between levels of poverty and race in the BUSD demographic: Black students are statistically poorer than white students. And, indeed, it doesn’t account for a group phenomena of black students being less engaged and less active, and thus less successful in school. Just today, when the accreditation committee announced their findings to BHS students and staff, they pointed out that there are “too many students in the hallways and...otherwise off-task....and these students [are] predominantly black.” With this fact in mind, it is hypocritical for Larrick to criticize a history fair that highlights the origins of topics obviously popular with black students at Willard Middle School: “NBA basketball, hip-hop, and hair weaves.” First of all, any of these topics has academic merit in cultural anthropology, musicology, or American history, and, second, the important point is that the students could relate to these topic and thus actively engage in school. Does this not fit with Larrick’s demands of black students? 

I was angered and insulted to read Larrick’s canard of students with whom I have studied and learned for 12 years in Berkeley schools and whom I respect greatly. I invite Larrick to bring his theories about black culture and the “low-sunken” academic standards of Willard students’ work and come to BUSD schools, because I think his principles of success could truly inspire black students to achieve where others have failed.  

Karin Drucker 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I hope that many people read the letter of Ms. Bonnie Killip regarding the proposed elimination of the name of Thomas Jefferson of a public school in Berkeley. Her letter in the April 8-11 issue explains why many African Americans can call themselves African Americans instead of African Africans. I too was shocked when I read about the possible change of the name of that school. 

It would almost be funny if it were not so sad. I would hope that the children in this school are taught some American history along with what ever is taught that caused this disgraceful proposal. 

Max Macks 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Nancy Koerner’s letter (April 19-21) ends with an important question: “In the final judgment, is a person to be judged based upon one aspect of his life, or on his life as a whole?” That depends on the magnitude of that aspect, whether good or bad. 

Albert Einstein flunked as a husband and as a parent, was a lousy violinist, but all that will matter over time is his scientific achievement. 

I happen to be a former German Jew, and quite a few of my close relatives perished in the Holocaust. How would I feel about a school or other public building named after a significant participant in the Nazi crimes who later performed great public service—like former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim? I’d be appalled. There’s more distance between me and Jefferson, both in time and in the fact that I’m not a descendent of pre-abolition Americans. 

In the end, it may be a question of whose ox is being gored. 

Gilbert Bendix 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Becky O’Malley’s piece, “Protecting Berkeley Against Mothers and Babies,” was brilliant, as expected. However, I must remind all of us in Berkeley that things are even worse elsewhere. Remember Yoshihiro Hattori? He was the Japanese exchange student blown away in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1992 because he knocked at the wrong door while going to a Halloween party. The homeowner, who killed this completely inoffensive (and of course unarmed) adolescent was acquitted by a jury, the foreman of which gloated about the inalienable right of Americans to gun down trespassers, including kids in Halloween costumes. Yoshihiro Hattori’s father, who attended the trial of his son’s murderer, was disappointed and incredulous of the acquittal—as, indeed, was most of Japan. 

So—whenever we think that things couldn’t be worse, remember that they can be and usually are. 

Cliff Hawkins  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

How the world will end global warming hit me a week ago down at Cesar Chavez park. I had just jogged to the top of one of the park’s hills when a six-foot-long insect with a 10-foot wing span, and huge bulging eyes swooped over my head. In the instant of horror the future flashed before me. Word of this mutant will be on the evening news and all hesitance on environmental action will cease. 

Within a year, Detroit will produce only hybrid cars. All military personnel will be reassigned to put solar panels on homes, factories and offices. Public transportation will be free, being subsidized by heavy taxes on “big box” stores. The taxes will help subsidize cheap taxis and jitneys that take commuters to and from BART. Windmills will be everywhere that there is a breeze, and in front of them to protect the birds there will be the huge mesh screens used at golf courses so the rich won’t lose their balls 

All we have to do for this to come to pass is make sure the media doesn’t discover that the insect was a kite. 

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I respect Joyce Roy’s right to her observations and opinions (“AC Transit’s Van Hools Hated by Riders, Drivers,” April-14). Unfortunately, once she moved beyond her observations and opinions, virtually every fact in her comment is mistaken. 

AC Transit’s Van Hool A330s are “true low floor” buses in that they have a flat floor from the front all the way to the back wall of the bus. In a true low floor design, seats must be on risers in order to accommodate necessary elements such as fuel tanks, batteries and the drive shaft.  

Far from being “dreamed up in AC Transit’s ivory tower,” true low floor buses are the norm in Europe, ridden by millions of people every day. Every Van Hool A330 in the world is a true low floor bus with most of their seats on risers. All of the new Mercedes Citaro buses (the most popular bus in the world) are true low floor buses with most of their seats on risers. The same is true for new models from Volvo, Scandia, Fiat, etc., all with their seats on risers. Toyota and Nissan have similar models in Japan. 

One of the advantages of a true low floor bus is that it allows for a third door on a standard bus and a fourth door on an articulated bus. That , in turn, allows a proof-of-payment (POP) fare system to work much more efficiently. With a POP system, if a passenger has a proof that she or he has paid (such as a monthly pass, a transfer or some group pass such as the UC Berkeley Class Pass or an Eco Pass) she or he can board through any door. Passengers who need to pay board through the front door and pay as usual and get a receipt. Fare inspectors periodically come through to make sure that everyone has paid. 

With POP on the Van Hools, persons with any mobility difficulty would generally board through the wide middle door. For seniors and persons with disabilities that would give them immediate access to all seven ground level seats. For those with strollers, shopping carts, etc., they would have the large flat area in the middle of the bus for their devices. 

According to the APTA’s (American Public Transportation Association) 2004 Transit Fare Summary there are 22 agencies in North America that use POP on buses. POP is almost universal on light rail. If you have ridden light rail above ground in San Francisco, you have ridden on a POP system. If you have ridden light rail anywhere in San Jose or Sacramento, you have ridden on a POP system. 

In Europe, POP is ubiquitous on both bus and rail systems. Paris, for example, has used POP on buses for 40 years in my personal experience and still uses a form of POP today. (Paris is now experimenting to see if when they introduce a “smart card” (as the Bay Area is doing with TransLink) they can speed up boarding enough so that POP is no longer needed.) 

Every POP system deals with the interrelated issues of enforcement costs and fare evasion. There is some literature on those issues and AC Transit is struggling with them at the moment. I hope that we can find some solution and implement POP on an experimental basis soon. 

H. E. Christian Peeples 

At-Large Director, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District