Letters to the Editor

Friday May 13, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

As quoted in your May 6 editorial, law professor Rossman says: “The confidentiality should only be broken when there is consensus for release among the council, and with the other negotiating party.” In other words, his experience teaches that the party the city is suing or being sued by should have a veto over what the council tells its residents about a lawsuit. That’s far beyond what the Brown Act or the attorney-client privilege are about. It actually turns on its head what the Brown Act’s preamble says: 

“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.” 

The Rossman twist goes beyond this. Not only does it give the right to decide what the public may know to “public servants” but also to anyone who happens to be cutting lawsuit settlements with them. And if the public isn’t bright enough to be insulted by this contempt for its role in the process, then maybe it deserves no more than it gets, and no sooner. 

Terry Francke 

General Counsel, Californians Aware 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ve been scratching my head in wonder while thinking about why the Van Hools are so unpopular here, but appreciated in Europe. I thought about the ways that I use public transit every day to imagine what a person in say, Britain might be doing, a person of my age and needs. 

For one thing, any person will use what is available to fit one’s needs. Hence, I would use the 72R to get to a stop along San Pablo in a hurry, any bus to get to BART for an A’s game or an evening in San Francisco, and for work I use the first bus that comes. I avoid using Van Hools when I have a load, just as I avoid travel between 3 and 4 p.m., when the school kids get out of school.  

The Van Hools may be popular in Europe for several reasons; Europeans are quieter, more reserved. The Van Hool seating does not encourage conversation. I can’t figure out how to read on a Van Hool, though. The rattling of the bus turns the print into a blur. That would be a problem for reading a mystery. Quite.  

The European is used to taking little hops and walks to little shops at a leisurely pace. Transit is cheap and traffic jams fewer. Consumerism isn’t what it is here, so no lugging heavy loads from Walgreens or the mall. 

Last but not least, those Europeans tend to be more fit and athletic than we are. They’re used to getting out and about in the worst of weather. Yes, hopping up and down and back and forth on those buses is no problem. After all, from cradle to grave they are guaranteed quality health care! 

Edith Monk Hallberg  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As many of your readers may know, a small fire was started at the site of Congregation Beth El’s new home on Oxford Street in North Berkeley last Wednesday night. Fortunately, a number of our neighbors spotted the fire and reported it immediately to the police and firefighters. Berkeley’s firefighters responded instantly and extinguished the fire. The police quickly closed off the area, and began an investigation. They could not have worked more efficiently or effectively. 

In addition, quite a few neighbors of the new synagogue also called Beth El members they knew to express their concern and sympathy. Those calls moved many of us deeply, especially after years of difficult negotiations to build on our property. 

We may never know how the fire began, but we certainly do know how much we appreciate the skilled work of Berkeley’s firefighters and police—and the caring response of some of our new neighbors. Our heartfelt thanks go out to them all. 

President Martin Dodd 

Rabbi Ferenc Raj 

Congregation Beth El 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On May 2, the City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board unanimously passed a resolution respectfully urging the “Honorable Mayor, Members of the City Council and City officials to expeditiously broker, mediate, negotiate or otherwise resolve the emergency housing situation at the Drayage Building using all resources, means and goodwill at their disposal towards the goal of preventing the dislocation” of the Drayage Building’s tenants. 

Since the early 1980s, West Berkeley’s Drayage Building has served as a vibrant community of highly skilled artists, artisans and craftpersons who provide an array of unique products, materials and artistic works. The Drayage Building’s tenants include letter press printers, graphic artists, a furniture maker, sculptors and modern dance artists among other skilled artisans.  

The 30 or so Drayage Building tenants occupy 12 live/work spaces and have been considerate, conscientious tenants for as long as they have lived in the building. 

Since fire safety concerns were first raised by the City of Berkeley, the Drayage Building residents have installed over 80 fire extinguishers and at least 90 smoke detectors inside the building. Regulation fire wall construction has been documented and enhanced. The Drayage Building’s fire safety issues have been addressed or mitigated, and extensive safety inspections conducted. 

Over 600 pages of correspondence/documents between the City of Berkeley and the Drayage Building’s owner and tenants—starting in the early 1980s—has been produced explicitly demonstrating the city’s knowledge and monitoring of the Drayage Building’s tenant units and facilities. 

Councilmembers Maio, Capitelli and Wozniak are to be commended for recently taking the time to visit the Drayage site and for meeting with the building’s residents. Councilmember Moore has been generous enough to meet with Drayage representatives in his office, and Councilmember Worthington spoke eloquently in support of the above resolution. 

Maintaining and preserving affordable housing for Berkeley’s artistic/craftperson community must be one of the city’s highest priorities. Support for Berkeley’s unique artistic community has always been a strong element of the city’s local heritage and traditions.  

The nine members of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board sincerely seek a reasonable and balanced resolution of the Drayage Building situation, and respectfully urge the City Council and city officials to resolve the situation with the best interests and consideration of all parties in mind.  

Chris Kavanagh  

Commissioner, Rent Stabilization Board 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Anne Wagley’s May 6 letter in the Daily Planet, regarding the proposed public art installation at the Berkeley–Oakland border offers an opportunity to announce that East Bay artists Katherine Keefer and Steven Gillman will be completing the installation of their whimsical and inspiring “HERE THERE” piece in the coming weeks. A public reception for the work will be held on site, with representatives from Oakland and Berkeley, on Tuesday, June 7 at 3 p.m. Elected officials, arts supporters and neighborhood organizations from both cities will be invited to attend, to celebrate the joining of our communities in a lighthearted and mutually complimentary literal statement.  

By its very nature, public art is inclined to spark inquiry, interest, controversy and sometimes puzzlement. These responses are good, and are pleasant distractions from pressures of everyday life and work. While some may view public art as wasteful and unnecessary, especially in tight economic times, and may see divisiveness and territorial claims on objects in the landscape, this is exactly the opposite of the views of most observers of public art. Christo and Jean-Marie’s temporal installations, Claes Oldenburg’s super-scale sculptures, or Rigo 98’s word art pieces “Sky/Ground” commissioned by SFMOMA, and even Charles Tilden’s figurative works, all have supporters and those who intensely dislike them and find them wasteful. It is not possible to please everyone, especially when it comes to public art. But the value of such art is in the raising of questions in each of us as to the meaning and the purpose of art in our own lives.  

Controversy in art is good, and perhaps the Keefer/Gillman “HERE THERE” installation will encourage those who are concerned about divisions among communities to think of real solutions to bridge certain gaps, and to find that “Here” is really “There,” too.  

David J. Snippen 

Chair, Berkeley Civic Arts Public Art Committee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was amazed to learn about the plans to put an art installation piece at the Berkeley/Oakland border titled “Here/There.” Huge steel letters that literally spell out the words “Here” and “There”; “Here” on the Berkeley side, and “There” in Oakland.  

I understand that art is oftentimes meant to spawn controversy, but I feel that this is a blatant jab at the already existing tensions between the neighboring cities of Oakland and Berkeley. And this is especially surprising after we’ve tried to move past the infamous Gertrude Stein quote that drove this very same idea home years ago, as she described her hometown of Oakland as having “no there, there”. 

And this “art” coming from a town such as Berkeley that is so steeped in the tradition of the “love thy neighbor” mentality?! How are we supposed to love our brothers right next door, when you’re installing a permanent reminder that Berkeley is “Here,” in the now, and where it’s at, and Oakland is well, just, “There”? 

Rob Woodworth 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I opened the May 6 edition of the Daily Planet and saw the following stories on pages 2 and 3: “[Mark] Danner and [John] Yoo Debate Wars on Terror and Iraq,” “Landlord Group Fumes Over Rent Board Fee Increase” and “Doctor’s Presence at Protest Questioned.” I decided it was time I finally sent the Planet a fan letter. How many newspapers cover their communities with such marvelous breadth? Not to speak of the space you’ve given to the spirited (but some would say arcane) debate over the merits of some Belgian buses. 

A few months ago, at a discussion on the worsening state of the media in the country, Ben Bagdikian (author of the now-classic Media Monopoly) singled the Planet out as “splendid.” Not for nothing did he say that. 

Hale Zukas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Friday’s report that the City Council had surrendered to UC, by giving in to their offer of a paltry $1.2 million charitable donation to the city’s coffers, a cause for weeping and anger.  

The council gave away city air space for an unnecessary “bridge” over Hearst Avenue. They voted to increase property owners’ sewer bills largely because UC will not pay its share. And now they are caving once again to that institution’s high-handed refusal to pay a fair share for the city services it appropriates. 

For once, in demanding more, and by using convincingly intelligent legal arguments and means, the city might have prevailed. Who knows? If the reasoning were properly presented, a judge might possibly have agreed with the city’s requests. It was worth the try. 

Pity the constituents who continue to see our city swallowed by ever-increasing UC expansion and appropriation of our tax base.  

Pity the city’s property owners who bear more and more of the UC burden. 

Pity, and weep, if you can. “Berkeley” will soon be no more. 

Sharon Entwistle 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

First of all, thanks for your coverage of the toxic cleanup issue. Your paper and Richard Brenneman’s reporting have made this the diary of this process. 

As a direct reply to your May 6 editorial: 

We at the Richmond Progressive Alliance are under no illusions about how the state Department of Toxic Substances Control may conduct the oversight of the cleanup of the former Zeneca toxic site or any other for that matter. I can recall no instance where either the state Environmental Protection Agency or the federal EPA was pro-active in regards to looking out for the health and safety of the public. They had to be sued and pushed by community activism, usually, after the community had paid a heavy price in suffering due to horrendous health effects. 

In fact, it could be argued that what the federal EPA has done with its publishing of supposed “safe levels” of exposure to radiologic, cancer causing or mutagenic toxic substances, is made what in a clearer frame of reference is unacceptable, acceptable. In light of what we have learned over the last few decades about the health consequences of protracted exposures to sub-lethal doses of toxins, the EPA is one more level of bureaucracy running interference on behalf of corporate polluters being held to account for their actions. There is no “safe” level of exposure to dioxin, only levels that erode one’s health slowly enough that apologists for corporate barbarism can wrap their disclaimers in the blanket of legitimate sounding scientific skepticism. 

No, the DTSC is no panacea. The EPA and environmental standards were and are an important victory on the path to social accountability for the actions of private interests. But history shows any reform, no matter how noble, can be turned against the citizenry if that citizenry fails to remain organized and vigilant. We want access to the more stringent standards and the protocols for community input, which do exist with the Water Board. It will be up to us as community activists to hold the DTSC to its mission. 

Tony Sustak