Letters to the Editor

Friday May 06, 2005



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Does anyone else consider the giant HERE/THERE sculpture going up on the Berkeley/Oakland border at Adeline St. to be divisive and inappropriate, especially in a location that is struggling to come together and solve cross-border community problems? And how much did Berkeley spend on this sculpture that could have gone to community groups? 

Anne Wagley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Over the last month or so I’ve read several letters by or about Rabbi Littman. I know nothing about the rape controversy except what I’ve read in the letters, and until reading a letter by David Herzstein Couch I had no thought to comment on the matter. Mr. Couch says he is a distant acquaintance of the Rabbi, whom he praises for responding “clearly and eloquently, with restraint.” He goes on to credit her version of events, though he admits having no first hand knowledge of what transpired, and ends the letter questioning if it is decent to print letters about the matter. 

I don’t know anything about what happened except what I read in the letters. I’m not crediting either those who wrote against the Rabbi, but I am not entirely convinced Rabbi Littman’s version is accurate. I read two of Rabbi Littman’s letters. In both letters she claimed to be misunderstood. In one letter she said she “resented” the writer, in another letter she accused another person of “character assassination.” Rabbi Litman’s letters, though perhaps not hostile, are very defensive, and did make me wonder if there was anything to the charges of her protractors. “Doth she protest too much?” I wondered. 

I don’t know the background of who said what, or what to believe, but my mother always used to say “the whole world can’t be wrong.” Maybe it applies here. Maybe not. But it’s at least worth thinking about.  

In his letter Mr. Couch ask the Daily Planet not to print such letters because they’re not entertaining. I beg to differ. It seems that a controversial statement about rape by a local religious leader who sits on a commission is something a community paper should cover. His statement that the commission is obscure is all the more reason why the public needs to hear what is going on. Whether or not the letters are accurate I have no idea, but the founders of this nation, Jefferson and Madison in particular, had great belief that by printing all viewpoints the truth was more likely to emerge then if we restricted the printing of viewpoints that Mr. Couch questions the decency of printing. I agree with Mr. Couch that there are many unanswered questions concerning this thing. But the truth is more likely to emerge by printing letters rather then keeping the public from learning about the controversy.  

Anne Reisse  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We love Berkeley teachers. Every one of our boys’ teachers at Malcolm X, Willard and now Berkeley High have been smart, dedicated and caring. We will always be grateful for the time, patience and love they have generously given them. Like 80 percent of Berkeley citizens, we voted for BSEP, bonds, parcel taxes you name it. If there was a pot of gold at the school district we say spend it on the teachers.  

But this “work to rule” strategy is wrong. It’s hurting our kids in the short-term and perhaps longer-term as well. Last week, the Malcolm X fifth graders performed their annual play, the culmination of long years of performing at this great school. But instead of strutting their stuff in the evening before a packed house of family members, the play started at 9AM in front of a handful of parents lucky enough to get some time off from work. It was just sad. The challenging homework assignments that used to come home demanding our fifth grader to stretch his writing and math skills have dwindled too. He’s happy about the easy workload, but we understand the long-term consequences. At Berkeley High, our son’s questions and requests for help with assignments in several classes have been denied with teachers citing “work to rule” as the reason. 

We know it must be very difficult for dedicated teachers to make these decisions that hurt their students. The desire to make more money for their own families is understandable and supported too.  

And that perhaps is the most puzzling piece of this debate. The union claims there are hidden caches of funds. But Berkeley voters know that the school district has been close to bankruptcy, and like every other district in the state, faces reduced future funding. The problem is not that voters, parents and even school board members aren’t in support of increased teacher compensation within a balanced budget. We are.  

The real problem is that there are just crumbs to negotiate over, and frankly that’s not the school board’s fault, nor the voters of Berkeley, nor our kids. That blame rests with an economy that went sour, and the state’s inability to manage their budget responsibly. 

If the Berkeley teachers union believes its strategy of holding students hostage with “work to rule” would help give them a bargaining edge or gain public support, they are wrong because it’s aimed at the wrong target. “Work to rule” won’t change a single vote in Sacramento to bring more money to Berkeley. But it will continue to hurt our kids.  

“Work to rule” has been an abject failure for everyone involved, and we respectfully ask Berkeley’s wonderful teachers to reconsider it. 

Felicity Bensch 

Dave Fogarty 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

My name is Lester Mestas. I am a free lance photographer. My son and I were in Berkeley over the weekend attending the Robby Glantz Ice Hockey Clinic at Berkeley Iceland. During our off time we found the Harrison Skate Park. I was impressed with the layout. We live in Orangevale and often go to the Cummings Family skate park in Folsom, Ca near our house. Cummings is a monitored skate park. While at Harrison I took many pictures of various skaters doing jumps and one in particular stood out. If you would like to use it, you can as long as you mention I took it. 

On monday, a uniformed policewoman gave a round to the park and exited some skaters not wearing protective gear. It is amazing how many were not wearing any. In the picture I’m sending, the skater does not have any on. Though these skaters are very good, and it may seem unnecessary for them to wear this gear, the rules are posted on the gate. There can be a fine of $100.00 issued to anyone not wearing a helmut and both knee and elbow pads. 

I hope this can be of some human interest to your paper. 

Lester Mestas 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Daily, we are bombarded with stories about the “alleged” abuses at Abu Ghraib and our other “alleged” hidden war prisoner camps. President Bush and the Nation appears to be fixated on this abusive treatment of our war prisoners.  

We try and “pretend” that this display of abusive behavior by fellow Americans against another individual is “unexceptable” and “is not tolerated” by our leaders and fellow American citizens! This is the biggest two-faced act in the world!!! 

On a daily basis, inmates in our American prisons are physically abused, mentally abused, forcibally raped, medically neglected and in some cases even killed by the guards. Many of the horrendous stories are “covered-up”, but enough have been leaked to newspaper reporters who have written about these unsavory incidents. 

Where is the public outcry for these inmates? Why is our Nation allowing our American inmates to be treated so brutally and yet, very little is being done to correct this situation? It’s because we’re two-faced, we lie and “pretend” these atrocities do not exist. 

To admit to these atrocities means we’re no better than the countries we condemn for brutalizing their citizens and prisoners. It means we have to show our “true colors” and be accountable for the “violation of these inmate’s civil rights as well as their human rights”!! 

Become a “proud American” once again. Do something to end this mistreatment of our inmates. Join us in the “march for change” on August 13,2005 in Washington,D.C. at Lafayette Park. 

We, who are prisoner and human rights advocates are asking you to join us in demanding change. Our Nation should hold it’s head high instead  

of bowing in shame for the brutality we allow to exist in our prison system. Please come and raise your voice. Be heard! Let us add you and your family to our list of participants: journeyforjustice.org 

Beverly Bittner  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is great news that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), a magnificent bird long presumed extinct, has recently been spotted in a swamp in southeastern Arkansas. In the last couple of decades, bird watchers and others have made reports of possibly sighting the Ivory-bill in swamps in Louisiana and also in some remote mountains of Cuba. Lets hope that birdwatchers can show some adult restraint and refrain from a massive invasion of the Arkansas nature preserve in an attempt to flush out and spot the Ivory-bill and thus add it to their “life list.” Let’s respect this shy and wary bird’s need for privacy and content ourselves with reading about its continued existence in newspapers and on the Internet.  

Some traditional folk names for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker include: Caip, Carpintero Real, Grand Pique-bois, Indian Hen, Ivory-bill, Kate, Kent, King of 

the Woodpeckers, King Woodchuck, Logcock, Log-god, Poule de Bois, Southern Giant Woodpecker, White-billed Woodpecker, Woodchuck and Woodcock.  

Incidentally, the Pileated Woodpecker (Dryacopus pileatus), which is the closest relative of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, can be seen in forested areas of California, the Pacific Northwest and eastern United States. The Pileated Woodpecker is slightly smaller than the Ivory-bill, with black-and-white coloring and also sports a brilliant red crest. All Pileateds have the red crest: males, females and juveniles. Its booming calls and drummings, which are usually heard in the spring, are unmistakable and are often the first sign that the bird is nearby. The Pileated is the largest woodpecker that most of us will ever see. Carpenter ants and wood-boring beetles are its main foods, which it obtains by hammering holes into dead trees. It also dines on wild fruits, in season. In severe climates, it fashions a large deep hole in a dead tree, which it then uses as its winter sleeping quarters.  

James K. Sayre 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The recent flurry of letters about civic center fountain warrants some clarification. Several months back, the funding of civic center fountain came before the Parks and Recreation Commission. Our Commission voted against funding the fountain, not because of the construction costs which is covered by the bond and grants, but because of the high annual maintenance costs. The current design of the fountain has 400 plus gallons of standing water. Standing water is a magnet for bathing, for pranks, for bubbles. If foreign substances are put in the water, such as bubbles, all the water has to be drained and the fountain refilled. A low estimate of the annual yearly maintenance costs was $60,000. With the fountain next door to the high school, we could imagine, the types of pranks that would occur. 

The Parks and Recreation department just doesn’t have the funds to spend $60,000 a year to maintain one fountain. We are now drastically cutting back recreation programs for kids. We have had to propose closing all outdoor pools in Berkeley for 6 months. We have had to cut 11 positions in park maintenance and forestry over the last two years. It is for these reasons that we voted no on Civic Center Fountain, and why we have urged City Council to follow our recommendation. 

I appreciate that the City Manager’s staff was trying to meet what they felt were strong community priorities which included the civic center fountain. Unfortunately, what sank the issue was not the repair costs, it was the high cost of annual maintenance. 

I also respect the many years of work the Landmarks Commission has put in, reviewing very aspect of the civic center fountain design, and its advocacy for preserving design. Unfortunately, as long as the fountain remains an old fashion model with a large body of standing water, maintenance costs will be sky high. All modern fountain designs have eliminated the standing water. Water is sprayed out, and drains into a grate. This eliminates the attraction to put bubbles and other contaminants into the water. This dissuades bathers. This prevents accidental drownings. And with no standing water, such a fountain is much, much cheaper to maintain. 

So unfortunately, until a fairy comes loaded with cash, we can have purity of design and a dry non-functioning fountain. Or we can have a working fountain with the original design modified.  

Yolanda Huang 

Chair, Parks and Recreation Commission 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing to express my support for Berkeley teachers in their efforts to get an acceptable contract. Like many parents, I have high expectations of my children’s teachers, and I know they work hard to educate our children. They are the most important factor in the quality of our children’s education. They deserve our support in their efforts to maintain acceptable income and benefits, and ensure that classroom sizes remain at a teachable level. Indeed I appreciate that they are sticking their necks out to get a cap on class sizes. This year and last, Jefferson had third, fourth and fifth graders in classes often exceeding 30 students.  

I do not like the work-to-rule action and I am worried about the impact should the teachers decide to strike. The superintendent and Board members should soften their hard-line position and offer the teachers a contract they can live with, so the teachers can focus on educating our children without this distraction. I do not ascribe to the belief that just because the District says it can’t afford to meet the teachers’ demands, it is so. The Union and District both have legal and financial analysts busy crunching numbers. I have no reason to think the Union’s are less competent than the District’s. And it’s certainly not in the teachers’ interest to seek a contract that will bankrupt the District. Our elected Board members just need to get their priorities in proper order – with teachers at the top.  

Let’s support our teachers. 

Robin Miller 

Jefferson parent, School Site Council Chair, and PTA member 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kriss Worthington wrote a nice editorial in your May 3-5 edition commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day. Oddly enough, a few pages earlier, he’s among the people inviting us to “celebrate” the release of Bob Avakian’s memoirs. Avakian is the Revolutionary Communist Party leader who thinks Stalin and Mao were wonderful, even though each of these gentlemen were responsible for more deaths than Hiter. I guess that for progressives of the Worthington type, the tens of millions of victims of leftist dictators deserved what they got. 

Alexander Shelepin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was about six years ago when Beth El project leaders Harry Pollack, Jim Samuels, and Michael Fajans first presented their plans for a new temple, school, and social hall to the neighbors. They said these plans were only “preliminary”. After many meetings, the plans had not changed. 

Then began the public meetings and letters to the Planning Commission, Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Zoning Adjustments Board which led everyone to the City Council and ultimately a mediated agreement. The plans for a parking lot over the creek was finally removed, and the Codornices Creek corridor along Berryman Path was preserved with the hope that the culverted creek could be opened someday. Three community gardening groups were removed after their lease had expired and over 90 percent of the trees were clear cut and construction began. And now you can see the results at 1301 Oxford. In addition to preservation of the Codornices Creek corridor, there was an agreement to a parking management plan that would address events of 150 people or more. Somehow this has been interpreted in the “preliminary” draft parking and traffic plan as addressing events with 200 people or more, and that these events are not to even include religious services.  

Although Mr. Pollack is unable to define what a religious service is, many neighbors wonder what is the building for, if not for religious events? The environmental impact study to which Mr. Pollack refers, which the neighborhood felt was flawed, is now about 5 years old. In that period of time, do you think the traffic and parking situation would have improved or gotten worse in this already densely built neighborhood? This is why parking and traffic concerns must be addressed now. 

Diane Tokugawa 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Pentagon reports a crisis in recruitment. They say that America will not be able to support a potential third war. 

There is an historical precedent which Rumsfeld might consider. During the last few months of the Third Reich, Germany faced a similar problem. To overcome the shortage, children and elderly men were asked to volunteer. The response was magnificent! 

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In Gary Herbertson’s letter to the Planet, he complained that cars that used to stop at stop signs where traffic circles have been installed “are now much more likely to glide through.” I have observed the same since circles were installed in the LeConte neighborhood a year ago. But this is one of the virtues of traffic circles. Cars can glide though (and cyclists, too, who rarely obey stop signs anyway). Studies by the Institute of Transportation Engineers have shown drastic reductions in right-angle and head-on collisions in yield-controlled intersections. All stop signs should be removed in favor of 4-way “Yield” signs, as common in France and Australia. Gradually, drivers will learn how to navigate these circles with safety and courtesy. I am more concerned about whether neighborhood volunteers will actually maintain the plantings in the circles or whether the circles will become a weed-infested display of passing enthusiasm. 

Robert Gable 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Balancing the design of a new home at 2615 Marin with the existing views of neighbors was a very difficult process for the ZAB. However, the Planet article incorrectly stated that I would not vote for the project at a reduced height. In fact, I stated that I would vote for the project at the newly proposed height, OR by an additional reduction of one or two feet. Through discussion, the ZAB decided to approve the height with a one foot reduction, protecting the uphill neighbor’s view of the Golden Gate bridge and the water below. 

Andy Katz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mr. J. Douglas Allen-Taylor may be the most incisive columnist in the Bay Area. I read him avidly. However, his argumentation slipped up in his column  

on the state of Oakland schools (April 29-May 2, 2005). Reasoning from analogy is not sound argument. Mr. Allen-Taylor likens the state takeover of our  

schools to a thief, or a neighbor, taking your car and keeping it until he learns to drive it. A better analogy of the state to the school district would be parents taking back the family car after their teenage child has crashed it. 

Mark Tatz 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a parent of a student in the Berkeley Unified School System, I know that the most important component of a good education, is the classroom 

teacher. And when I was the PTA president for 4 years in both my children’s elementary and middle schools, I felt that my job was to provide support and assistance for teachers. Period. Therefore, I am very dismayed at the way in which the school district is handling its negotiations with the teachers.  

I do not consider the current teacher salaries to be high. I want to have teachers who can afford to live in Berkeley, and send their kids to schools in 

Berkeley. By having teachers participate in all aspects of our school system, it makes the schools better, and our community stronger. I want to have 

teachers who can focus on their students, not worry about health care bills. 

For those who say that everyone is experiencing cuts, I would ask that the district administrators lead by example with cuts to administrative salaries and benefits. If top salaries and benefits are good enough for administrators, then top salaries and benefits are good enough for teachers.  

It is time for the school board to be clear on its priorities. Without teachers, there will be no schools. There are almost 60 teaching positions and 6 

principal positions to fill. I have heard from teachers in other districts that they will not apply to Berkeley because the wages here are low. We taxpayers gave BUSD an extra $8.4 million last November. Part of that money can pay for the $2.1 million to improve the teachers’ compensation. 

Catherine Durand 




Several people have written your paper complaining about neighborhood traffic circles and their effect on pedestrian safety. As a board member of 

both California Walks and America Walks I have been active in investigating traffic control devices and their effect on pedestrian safety. 

The data is overwhelming that traffic circles improve the safety of both pedestrians and drivers. After studding hundreds on neighborhood traffic 

circles over several years in Portland and Washington State the Institute of Transportation Engineers have come to the conclusion that they reduce 

accidents 71 percent. They also reduce noise from intersections from 68db to 60db. Their benefit for pedestrians are first: they eliminate people running stop signs, second they reduce speeds of cars in the intersection.  

For pedestrians speed is critical for safety. At 20 mph a pedestrian who is hit by a car has a 5 percent probability of dying. At 30 mph a pedestrian has a 45 percent probability of dying if hit by a car. At 40mph the probability of being killed by a car increases to 80 percent. Traffic circles on average reduce speeds of cars in intersections from 34mph to 30mph. When they are designed right cars find the most comfortable speed to be around 17mph. This has the added advantage of decreasing the stopping distance for cars and it increases the probability that cars will yield to pedestrians. 

There are several studies now that also show an increase in home value where traffic calming slows traffic speeds. In Suisn City California, homes on 

streets with traffic calming sell for $5-15K more than home without traffic calming. 

If you care about pedestrian safety and your neighborhoods you will find traffic circles can be a welcome improvement. 

Marc Jensen 

Los Gatos