Tuesday May 10, 2005

Friday’s Daily Planet will feature an expanded Letters to the Editor and Commentary section which will include the volumes of submissions we’ve received regarding BUSD teachers’ work to rule action. 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Arnold isn’t fulfilling his promise regarding education funding and it is negatively affecting the youth of California. A shortage of funds results in class sizes of over 40 kids, forcing some kids to sit on the floor due to a lack of desks in the classroom. I know this from firsthand experience (I go to Berkeley High). This shortage of education funding is proof that students are not being represented the way they should be. If students had the right to vote, elected officials would have to take their issues seriously. Currently, politicians don’t have an impetus to serve a constituency that can neither vote for or against them. This lack of representation among youth is extremely unfair and must be addressed. 

It has been the tradition of this country to expand the vote, not limit it. At first, only 21-year-old, white males who owned property could vote. Now, the electoral process includes minorities, women, and 18 year-olds. Lowering the voting age to 16 is the next civil rights movement in America and there is a youth-led, non-profit organization dedicated to empowering youth. The National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) (www.youthrights.org) is working to lower the voting age nationwide. The Berkeley Chapter of NYRA has been working with City Councilmembers and the Berkeley Youth Commission to launch an initiative to lower the voting age. NYRA-Berkeley membership is open to anyone. Just visit our website at www.berkeley.youthrights.org. 

Robert Reynolds 

President, NYRA-Berkeley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reading J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s excellent May 6 piece on the Oakland schools, I was moved to write a simple note of praise for the current incarnation of the Daily Planet. I think it is the best paper Berkeley has had in my lifetime, and the first one I’ve ever read with the consistent expectation that I will be the better informed for having done it.  

Christopher Scheer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It would be a shame to paint over such the beautiful Willard mural. I’ve walked by it so many times over the years and admired it. It has a story to tell. I think I really like the hills in it, and the musicians are cool. The people saving other people from a catastrophe part is dynamic. What a loss it would be. It is a part of Berkeley to me. Also I noticed how the homeless people were blamed for this stupid decision too. That is really sick. I camped out there myself several time, and I never saw a needle there and the whole school had trash around it as a matter of fact, so the excuse is bogus. I also have a friend who is director of a historical video archive who lives right around the corner, and I have worked with her for five years, so I know what I’m talking about as far as trash and “homeless.” I was one of those homeless. 

One time a guard or cop woke me up. The guy was real pleasant about it; he told me he hated to wake me up, but they had this sign—one of the biggest “no trespassing” signs in town. As far as trash, why don’t they just pick it up? The other side of the school was and is constantly trashed and not maintained, half-assed mowing jobs, not trimmed. So the insinuation of trash and homeless, anyway, is bogus. To destroy good art and blame the homeless—how sick. Poor Berkeley. Just spend a few bucks and restore it! And one more thing, while I’m at it: There are needles everywhere; anti-homeless people could be dropping them there to ruin a good crash spot. I know. I have been in this area over 25 years; I know how some homeowners in this area hate homeless. There is no legal campground, there is no affordable housing. If people camp here over night and pick up their trash, what’s the big deal? Whoever is making this threat and has power in the School Board I think should be removed. They are part of what is wrong with Berkeley, and they are working to destroy Berkeley, when they destroy its beautiful art. 

John Delmos  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A few points to buttress Laurence Schechtman’s excellent May 3 commentary: 

1. In August 2002, Diebold demonstrated the ability of the AccuVote-TS to handle IRV ballots as part of their bid for the Santa Clara County DRE (touch-screen) contract. (They lost the bid to Sequoia Voting Systems, but that’s another story. Santa Clara County passed a charter amendment in November 1998 that allows for the use of IRV, once the equipment can handle it. The registrar is now working on an implementation plan.) 

2. Diebold’s optical scan equipment (used to process Alameda County’s absentee ballots) has been used by Cambridge, Massachusetts to process their choice voting ballots since 2001. (Choice voting is a multi-seat ranked voting system very similar to IRV.) 

3. In Cambridge, Diebold’s scanned ballots are tallied using California-based Voting Solution’s ChoicePlus Pro software; that same software can tally IRV elections. 

So all the pieces exist; all Diebold has to do is get them certified for use in California, and that should not cost anywhere near two million dollars. 

Steve Chessin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As the confirmation by the Senate of John Bolton as our ambassador to the United Nations continues to be in doubt, perhaps it is time to consider who might be a superior nominee for that post. 

Colin Powell, our previous secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appears to have impressive credentials for the U.N. ambassadorship. He capably represented our nation to the entire world for four years. He is intelligent, a true diplomat, and a political moderate. 

Is there some way to build support for Colin Powell’s nomination as our next ambassador to the U.N., should the present confirmation process not succeed? 

Brad Belden 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the many letters protesting Becky O’Malley’s editorial criticizing various liberal elected officials: I haven’t followed City Council proceedings for some time (mea culpa) so I don’t feel I could take a position one way or another on Bates’ conduct of meetings. It occurred to me only that no elected official worth his salt objects to direct criticism on an opinion page—instead of the underhanded, undermining, lying criticism offered by so many papers as “news.” So, whatever we may think of this editorial piece, it’s healthy in being right out front in its criticism. And the Daily Planet does a great service by printing all the opposing letters. 

I’m more concerned that no one wrote to comment on O’Malley’s other, broader, criticism, about the support liberals in national office give to dubious local projects—the gambling casino issue, for example, supported by Dellums and Miller. 

I was elated when my vote was one of those that originally sent Dellums to Congress. I was less happy as years went by and Dellums’ name and photo (like those of the saints forced on me by ignorant nuns in my childhood) appeared endorsing whatever dysfunctional candidate or dubious proposal that was currently being pushed by the “slate” in control of the City Council (yes, I’d voted for them too, I became sorry to say). I felt that it was irresponsible for him to rubber-stamp plans he obviously knew nothing about, and that ran counter the thoughtful actions we could expect of him when he was here. I could only conclude that Dellums had made a cynical decision to go along with local politicos in exchange for their pushing his campaigns here. Eventually the local slate made such a mess in the 1980s that voters tried to break their power by instituting district elections (a mixed blessing). 

So, however you may feel about her comments about our present mayor, I think Becky O’Malley should be praised for raising the issue of good liberal elected officials, who, sent off to Washington, take uninformed, politically expedient positions on local issues they know nothing about. 

Dorothy Bryant 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Frankly, I’m very surprised at Matthew Artz’s characterization of the April 27 Board of Library Trustees Meeting as a “pep rally” (“Library Director Griffin Receives Jeers at Board Meeting,” April 29-May 2). As a new attendee to these sorts of occasions, what I saw was an amazing display of bravery and concern by library workers who mostly stood up in front of their bosses to say, “no, this isn’t working,” and to advocate for quality service to Berkeley citizens. Isn’t this the idea of accountability to the public that the Daily Planet wants to promote rather than patronizingly minimize?  

As to the boardmembers, like Mr. Moore, who couldn’t take the outpouring of passion and sincerity, maybe it’s time that they took their jobs a little more seriously and started spending some time looking for materials in the library or trying to use the computers which are continually on the fritz. 

A. Leira 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding your recent article on the “Flying Cottage” (May 3-5), I would like to add my comments here, as this paper has made no attempts to speak with me or my client for almost two years. 

First, you continue to imply that this is my design. Again, to make it short, it is not. Second, you might have reported on character assassinations rather than the book I read during the long wait. Third, Ms. Sun has never mentioned a “restaurant,” which is a different use than a “cafe/gift-shop,” sometimes mentioned by my client in the past. It will most likely be retail space. Her only interest now is in finishing the building, with the extensive revisions that we have been working on with Planning Department staff, guided by DRC recommendations. Fourth, none of my plans—nor any I have seen by others—have proposed a garage in the ground-floor area. So much of the talk around this project is conjecture and innuendo. Please try to get your facts checked out. Just because Ms. Rickles is a lawyer does not mean she has it correct.  

Finally, regarding the house at the rear, we are talking about only two parking spaces (the plans I was originally given, and that had been approved, had three). Most houses have a driveway next to them, so in many normal situations two houses side by side could have as many as are here proposed. As for the windows at the rear wall (which is more than 30 feet away), all are either to storage spaces, stairwells, or obscure glass in bathrooms, except one, a master bedroom window which I expect most residents would want to have well covered with drapes or shades. 

Andus H. Brandt  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This Saturday marks the 90th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania, one the pivotal events of the 20th Century. For those too young to know, during the early part of World War I, the British Government was covertly shipping out cargoes of munitions from then neutral America. Among the vessels that carried these shipments was the giant Cunard liner Lusitania. On her return voyage, she was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by the German submarine U-20. The resulting sinking was a horror that is still beyond words to describe. In many ways it was an even greater catastrophe than the Titanic, for it took the mammoth ship a mere eighteen minutes to go under. Among the 1273 souls who perished were 120 Americans, which ignited a firestorm of horror and indignation the length and breadth of the U.S. What had been a divided America was now set on the path to war against Germany. 

However, after nearly a century, there are questions about this tragedy that still remain unanswered. The German government, in the form of diplomatic notes and media advertisements, had given ample warning to the American public. The British had secretly broken the German Naval code, and It was known to all sides that the ship was carrying contraband. Finally, Winston Churchill, then running the British Admiralty, was briefed about the possible sinking of the Lusitania only days before. What is most interesting is that this briefing, along with other documents pertaining to the Lusitania, are still classified on the grounds of National Security by the British Government.  

I am only speculating here, but could there be something in these moldering papers that would turn history on its head? Perhaps these past events may still have a direct influence on the events of the present. Could historic figures, once looked on as defenders of freedom, have their mythic reputations shredded? But even more disturbing, why is it that even today, more and more historic records of are being kept from the public for reasons of “national security”?  

As has been said, and is still true today, truth is the first casualty of war. 

John F. Davies 

1st Lt., U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kudos to Lawrence Jarach for his superlative op-ed on the Spanish Civil War. In Berkeley, where the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade are regularly lionized sans any critical sense of historical accuracy, Jarach’s commentary is particularly welcome.  

As Jarach notes, the Lincoln Brigade was a tool of Joseph Stalin and original leaders of the Spanish Republic. Stalin and his Spanish Republic political comrades proved more interested in destroying the truly revolutionary forces of Spanish Anarchists than defeating Franco. The result was a Franco victory and a country chafing under fascism for nearly a half century. As Jarach wrote: “The intentions of the Lincolns and their allies and supporters may have been sincere in terms of deliciously vague phrases like ‘social justice,’ but their first and overriding loyalty was to the Party and its bosses in Moscow.” 

Jarach goes on to note that it was only when Krushschev and the Communist Party owned up to the murderous reign of Stalin that scores of Americans left the Party, finally forced to acknowledge what most of the world already knew. This brings us to Angela Davis, lauded in a new play about her written by her niece (“Revolution, Racism and Family in ‘Angela’s Mixtape,’” May 6-9).  

Three decades after the Krushchev speech, in the 1980s, Angela Davis joined the murderous minions of the still Soviet-controlled American Communist Party. Indeed, long after The Party Was Over, she continued to opine that the horrific Soviet gulags were simply figments of the “bourgeois press’s imagination” and she still supports numerous other elements of repression extolled by her old ideological masters.  

In sum, even though she is an African American with a Ph.D., Angela Davis is far more worthy of scorn than praise.  

Dan Spitzer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Becky O’Malley’s April 29 “Pig in a Poke” editorial touches off long-overdue debates.  

But it’s not really debatable to state that the job of the press is to “comfort the afflicted” and “afflict the comfortable.” I feel extraordinarily lucky to live in a town where the local paper does just that. While it’s no problem in Berkeley to take on the war in Iraq, or corporate domination of politics and big media, the “Pig in a Poke” editorial opens up on a touchy local question: What is the influence of corporate real estate money on local land use politics, and on some of our long-time favorite politicians?  

I thought this took moral courage, guts that is, and the kind investigative reporting that “follows the money” wherever it leads. But, we still may ask, did “The Pig in a Poke” go too far, not only afflicting the comfortable, but afflicting heroes who’ve shown their own moral courage in often lonely good fights? Besides being icons, these are people I consider friends. I’ve rung doorbells, made phone calls, been to both defeats and celebrations in Berkeley since before Ron Dellums’ first congressional victory, up through cheering at Tom Bates’ mayoral win.  

Part of me would just as soon hush up the public debate and carry it on in private. It’s painful to expose qualms about politicians with whom I feel long identified, and am in 95 percent agreement on state, national, and world politics. But, while fighting the good fight globally, have we lost our critical edge when dealing with, for example, the impact of real estate speculation on the local scene? Have we become self-satisfied, cynical, and touchy about critiques from the grass roots efforts that challenge the land use status quo? Have we forgotten that a generation ago it was our own grass roots campaigns, that critiqued “business as usual” policies, that radically changed the previous East Bay political scene?  

For me the legacy of Berkeley is not to bury the tough issues, but to pursue them to the roots. That means a debate that escapes being drowned in technicalities, and argues in frank terms about the mother’s milk of politics: how the power and money, especially with land “development,” can influence city politicians and officials.  

At the risk of sounding like the Lone Ranger: “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear,” we can recapture some of our moral courage from the civil rights, free speech, and anti-war days. We can show the next generation of activists and ourselves—that it is possible to move beyond simply closing ranks and protecting old heroes. We can pass on a heritage with some of those ideals relevant to the meaning we associate with Berkeley.  

Neal Blumenfeld 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Various letters have been circulating through the school community and on these newspaper pages. One is from the district administration for Berkeley’s schools, another is the response from the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. These letters each argue about the different monetary figures available (or not) for the district’s budget and teachers’ salaries. Which is to be believed? 

As someone whose job involves managing complex budgets, I must admit, the school district’s budget reports are very difficult and challenging to follow, not the least because there is so much variability from one report to the next. It’s amazing that even after the district spent $700,000 for consulting fees with the Fiscal Crisis Management Team (FCMAT), there is still so much confusion over how much money the district actually has, and where it has been spent. If the resources available aren’t clear, how is the public (through our elected board) to understand the trade-offs and choices before them? 

Several years ago, a proposal was floated that BUSD needs an independent auditor. This auditor would not just make sure the checks were written from the right account, but actually review the efficiency and effectiveness of the district’s performance as well. At that time, the district claimed such an auditor was not needed because of the state mandated contract with FCMAT. Perhaps now it is time to get serious about getting an independent performance auditor. We need to know that the school district’s budget numbers are accurate and reliable so we can make better informed decisions on spending in our public schools.  

Iris Starr 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your reporting of the Zeneca toxic exposures and impacts affecting employees and community is a model for other newspapers to follow. It is obvious that your newspaper and reporter Mr. Brenneman, cannot be intimidated or bought to water down or minimize the message of the life-threatening situation caused by irresponsible polluting companies on innocent employees and communities, as was our experience with the San Jose Mercury News. Somewhere around the late 1990s the Mercury News did a four-hour interview with Midway Village residents which included being given factual DTSC documents proving our claims of the direct connection between the toxins and exposures and our illnesses. The story was promised to come out within a few days, which turned into two months. We were told by one reporter who quit that she was called into the editor’s office with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. present and was told that they—the editor, PG&E and DTSC—strongly recommended that the story be edited so as not to taint the public against PG&E. 

You are truly rendering a much-needed service to all communities by reporting it as it is. Also I would strongly recommend that we all use hawk eyes on DTSC. This crucial period of public comment is a fake. Their final decisions will not include the public’s recommendations. This is when DTSC puts on their best show of including public comments, with the appearance of accepting recommendations and data from community. However I guarantee, DTSC has already made their final decisions on the actions they will take which will include DTSC will received millions for cleanup, the community and those suffering get nothing and the final decision will benefit the polluting companies responsible for damaging the health of the employees and the community. DTSC has been already meeting with the polluting companies, making decisions that will ignore the community’s health and life-threatening issues. 

This is their pattern and business as usual, and unless we put a noose around their necks they will make the same ineffective decisions which will continue to cause further harm and death to the affected community. 

LaDonna Williams 

People for Children’s Health and Environmental Justice 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The West Berkeley Traffic and Safety Coalition is pleased to note that City of Berkeley planning officials and Berkeley Bowl owner Glenn Yasuda finally have done the right thing. They’ve agreed to our request for an environmental impact report on the proposed West Berkeley Bowl, with a primary focus on traffic and parking.  

At 91,000 square feet (half again as large as the existing Bowl), the new Bowl would be bigger than the Pac ‘n’ Save on San Pablo in Emeryville but with much less parking. Unlike most big grocery stores, which are sited directly on major arterials, the new Bowl, at 920 Heinz (just west of Orchard Supply’s parking lot), will be accessed via narrow, neighborhood-scale streets.  

The original traffic study for the Bowl projected that the new store will generate 50,000 new vehicle trips a week. Yet the study concluded that the project would have virtually no significant negative impact on traffic and parking. It also asserted that there’s less traffic at San Pablo and Ashby now than there was 

in 1993. And it gave short shrift to the children’s safety issues posed by the store’s proximity to Ecole Bilingue.  

To check out these and other matters, we hired an independent traffic engineer. The Berkeley Planning Department has acknowledged that our consultant’s findings were key in their decision to do an EIR after all.  

The consequent delay could have been avoided if city planners had facilitated good-faith negotiations among all the stakeholders at the very start. We encourage the city to sponsor just such a collaborative effort through the EIR process.  

Jeff Hogan (Ashby Lumber) 

Bernard Marszalek (Inkworks) 

John Phillips (John Phillips Harpsichords) 

Mary Lou Van Deventer  

(Urban Ore) 

for the West Berkeley Traffic and Safety Coalition  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The San Francisco Arts Commission turned down the monstrous globe—a degrading memorial to David Brower—because it is so big and ugly. Then the Berkeley Waterfront Commission rejected it because it is so big and ugly. But the experts on our Arts Commission accepted it because they seem to think that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But still nobody seems to want to stable this horse in any part of our city. 

Now the art experts on the Arts Commission want to saddle us with a huge sign of eight-foot-high metal letters saying HERE/THERE on the border of Berkeley and Oakland. How patronizing can you get? We in Berkeley are HERE, but those folks to the South are THERE. Some clever wit on the commission may think it refers to a remark Gertrude Stein is supposed to have made. Most people across the line, however, might think it rather offensive. And who will pay for these letters? 

Peter Selz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

To date more than 886 Berkeley Public Library users have signed a petition to demand that installation of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in our books and other materials at the Berkeley Public Library be stopped immediately. Community members are circulating the petitions and are receiving positive responses from the people they approach. 

Since no mention of them was made in the Daily Planet articles, which covered the two board meetings, I thought it necessary to let you know how many citizens are against RFID. 

We will continue to circulate the petition and keep you apprised of how many voters are unhappy with RFID. 

Rosemary Vimont 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the Civic Center Fountain that has been dry for over 20 years: It would be foolish to spend $600,000 on it. Our city has to watch the budget carefully for now. 

Just put in some soil, compost and plant flowers and shrubs like lavender. No sense leaving it empty and full of trash. Maybe Berkeley High students would adopt it as a beautification project? 

Colleen McGrath 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Rubens at BAM: A Dismal Glimpse at Art Criticism,” by John Kenyon. Obviously he is not familiar with artist’s two-dimensional works and the struggle representing in oils the human figure. Not only did he represent the human figure but he also did it, in many instances, from memory—without the human figure before him. He pulled his amazing compositions together with light—another aspect of his genius. 

I find these small works extremely interesting because they are by the master’s hand alone. The frames are secondary to me and the religious subject matter not part of the way I judge art. I prefer critiques to be given by artists who understand the process. 

Nancy Anderson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I really enjoyed the letters concerning the West Berkeley Bowl and “flower circles” in recent editions. They couldn’t be closer to the truth. 

I have lived in Berkeley for 42 years and I still fail to understand the City of Berkeley’s priorities. When they created the barriers in my neighborhood (Parker and Shattuck), the traffic tripled on Parker which made crossing at Parker and Shattuck extremely dangerous. Yet, the city had no money to install a traffic light. Even though it was almost impossible to navigate on Fulton and Ellsworth because the barriers made it too difficult, the city felt mandated to install a number of “flower circles” or roundabouts, which serve absolutely no purpose but to make it even more difficult for local residents to drive around their neighborhood. By the way, these traffic circles cost a lot of money to build and maintain and most of them are already full of weeds and totally unappealing. Yet the city had no money to maintain school grounds and playgrounds! 

Regarding the West Berkeley Bowl, the city and neighborhood objections are making it so difficult that I wouldn’t blame the owner for taking his business to a different town, where he will be more than welcome. Right now the traffic are the present Bowl in my neighborhood and the pollution it creates are so bad, that it made total sense for a popular and much needed second store in a different neighborhood where they badly need a first class produce store. As the letter writer mentioned, once again, the City of Berkeley is shooting itself in the foot! 

Andree Leenaer Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am a regular patron of the Berkeley Public Library. The library is very useful to me in my work as a substitute teacher and homework tutor. I check out books on a regular basis to update my skills and increase my knowledge as well as for purely enjoyment purposes. I became aware that the library shelving staff has been drastically reduced, with the result that the books may not be as readily or quickly available. 

The problem is many-faceted. In addition to the inconvenience to the patrons of books being not readily available, or the possibility of books being recorded as “returned,” the shelving staff is impacted as well. By increasing the workload, the shelving staff must work twice as fast. This could lead to repetitive stress injuries to wrists and hands, as well as the increased possibility of mistakes being made resulting in the loss of books. Also, books can be stolen from the book drop if they accumulate too long without being removed. 

Why not create a job description called “Work Experience”? Why not open up part-time jobs to students at a different pay-rate and number of hours? The job could be done, and the experienced book-shelvers could continue at their present positions at their previous quantity of work. 

I believe it is in the best interest of the library, its staff, and the patrons to resolve this difficulty in a way that is economical and yet in the best interests of all concerned. 

Judith L. Jones