Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 17, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

This is my home town. It has changed a lot in my lifetime, I have a thousand stories about Berkeley life, some lively and a few deadly. That is probably like most towns. But I have always thought Berkeley was special. I chose to spend my copious amounts of free time (a joke to those who know me) on preservation issues.  

Preservation is not a lonely word—it goes hand in hand with community-building. We do not look at buildings in isolation, but as part of the fabric of community and society. We operate with principles and guidelines, and in unison with other like-minded groups all over the state and the country. This is National Preservation Month, and oddly enough, while we bomb the hell out of other countries (thank goodness this town says that is wrong) the country celebrates recognizing that if we do not stop and smell the roses, those with money to be made or power to be had will strip away what we hold dear, and future generations will be left without knowing what came before.  

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has been working on ordinance revisions to comply with the permit streamlining act—and has produced a draft for the first of two phases. Development interests seek to put in their own language—they want to demolish and rebuild without obstruction. There is no nicer way to say it.  

For those who were inspired by Zelda Bronstein’s insightful article last week, there are ways to get involved. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association holds educational events throughout the year, and you can contact them for more details (www.berkeleyheritage.com).  

For those of you who have chosen to make Berkeley your home, I would ask you to look around as you walk or drive through town—think about what makes it important to you. How do we turn our dreams for a better future into reality? Preservationists will tell you it starts with understanding and learning from our past.  

Carrie Olson 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your recent article about curtailing commission meetings left out a few points. We value our commission contributions beyond measure. Members of Berkeley’s 40-plus commissions contribute their time and effort voluntarily. They study issues thoroughly and craft thoughtful recommendations to the City Council. To a person, they are committed and dedicated to their task. Our proposal to reduce the number of commission meetings per year was made in the spirit of compromise and with the city’s budget shortfall in mind. 

Our proposal does not go as far the city manager’s proposal, yet makes some reductions to help address the city’s budget deficit. Where the manager recommends meetings be reduced from 11 to six per year, our proposal reduces meetings from 11 to eight per year, with the flexibility for the commission to call an extra meeting if their workload so demands. This just means the commissions will take a longer summer recess and eliminate one meeting during the winter holiday. People travel or are otherwise distracted during these times. For other commissions which do not usually have heavy agendas, our proposal increases the manager’s recommendation of four meetings per year to six meetings per year with the option for an extra meeting if needed.  

The city has been in budget-cutting mode for two years. Every department has had to cut staff positions, employees have taken leave voluntarily and given up their cost-of-living increases. Some council aides have reduced their time voluntarily to put those funds back into the general fund. Community groups have had their funding cut and general expenses have been reduced across the board. Almost everyone has accepted belt-tightening with a team spirit, for which we are grateful.  

We are not pleased with having to impose reductions anywhere. This compromise proposal tries to be responsive to commissioners’ concerns about reducing their meetings and the reality of the budget. We propose it for review and comment, offering it as a compromise proposal which we felt was warranted. 

Tom Bates, Mayor 

Linda Maio, Councilmember 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While listening to a marathon council meeting, I became physically ill, with guilt perhaps, listening to the desperate needs of homeless providers and knowing that many millions would be needed if BUSD insists the warm pool be rebuilt across Milvia, just because some officials at BUSD might cave to various pressures to eject the disabled and other community swimmers from the campus at BHS. 

We all should be grateful to the City Council for supporting the exercise programs at warm pool, BHS; especially thanks to Ms. Betty Olds, Mr. Worthington and Ms. Spring for their amendment to urge keeping the present structure and location with attendant much less expensive additions and alterations. 

With help from a lifeguard who wishes to study architecture I am working on schematics for a remodel within the two sturdy pool rooms. With 12,000 square feet of existing enclosure there are many good options. 

Terry Cochrell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m relieved that enough planning commissioners manifested the common sense to rein in the zeal of others who were intent on stripping the Landmarks Preservation Commission of all its meaningful powers, and especially the power to deny demolitions. 

Yet some grave perils to our Landmarks Preservation Ordinance are still ahead. When planning commissioners Burke and Wengraf recommended “strict adherence to the standards of integrity set out by the secretary of interior standards, as recommended by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO),” they subverted the spirit of the SHPO’s own language, which was quite inclusive and allows a building to be designated on the strength of its historic, cultural, or social merits quite apart from any architectural merit or integrity it may or may not possess. 

On the issue of structures of merit, Burke and Wengraf’s recommendation was to abolish the designation for now and to “create a new designation with lesser protections, distinct from a landmark designation, as suggested by SHPO.” Again, the SHPO never suggested such a thing. It merely asked the LPC to think about the issue of having two separate categories with equal protections. 

I’ll say it again: The SHPO asked the LPC—not the Planning Commission or any other body unqualified to deal with architectural and historic resources. The LPC was going to deliberate the structure of merit issue at a later date. Let the experts do their job without meddling. 

Especially in light of the real-estate interests’ outcry for architectural integrity in landmarks, the structures of merit category makes eminent sense, for it allows buildings that have been altered but retain their historic, cultural, or social significance to be designated and protected. 

What Berkeleyan would want this city to lose the Durant Hotel, or the Weisbrod Building at 2001 San Pablo, or Weltevreden (the Cal Band house) on the Northside, or the Squires Block at Shattuck and Vine? These are all designated structures of merit. The appellation “merit” was not given without reason. 

Daniella Thompson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Well, it’s a race for the bottom. County government hits a new low. The Grand Jury wrote a scathing, completely biased and often inaccurate report on the Medical Center. The authors clearly hate unions, love consultants and didn’t bother to talk to the workers they were so willing to slander. At first I thought it read like something Arnold Schwarzenegger would write, pissed off at nurses and not thinking clearly. 

Then it hit me, many of the statements sounded like quotes of things Sheriff Plummer has said at Authority Board meetings. According to some sources Sheriff Plummer and the Civil Grand Jury are pen pals; he writes them little notes. The sheriff sure must be mad that the Grand Jury report uses lots of his exotic ideas and even some of his language and doesn’t give him credit anywhere, they didn’t even say they spoke to him. 

Then the same day the Grand Jury Report comes out slamming the Medical Center, we learn that the Board of Supervisors plans to appoint Sheriff Plummer to the Hospital Authority Board; corruption or coincidence, you be the judge.  

Ann Nomura 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read Richard Brenneman’s article “Do-It-Yourself Electrical Repairs May Get a Lot More Expensive,” at first with disbelief and then anger. Initially I had hoped it was intended to be a Friday the 13th joke. 

If this type of nonsense is permitted to be implemented, it is only a matter of time before we will have to obtain a permit to change light bulbs (how many bureaucrats does it take to change . . .?) It is administrative arrogance such as this change in the new California Electrical Code, that caused California voters to adopt Proposition 13. 

I doubt very much that any California homeowners, including this writer, would ever get a permit for any of the activities that your reporter cites in the article, nor do I foresee many contractors rushing out to obtain an $85 permit for the 20-minute house call to change a switch. So why make us law-breakers? Why is this insanity happening? There must be an awful lot of civil servants in our government who have nothing better to do but to inconvenience and harass the hands that feed them. 

Perhaps we will need to mount the barricades once again. While I am not generally in favor of legislation by referendum, instances such as this are causing me to change my mind. It is apparent that we have way too much governmental overhead, if our civil servants have the time to concoct this type of regulations. 

Peter Klatt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The people of Alameda County recently voted to tax themselves in order to fund public medical institutions (such as Highland Hospital and community clinics). But the so-called liberals on the Board of Supervisors aren’t content with the added funding. They still want to gut, cut and privatize these vital public services because the costs are a drain on the public budget. (Isn’t that a given? As the medical crisis nationwide continues won’t it cost more to provide public health services?) Their attack now has evolved from spending millions on a consulting firm (Cambio) given the job of eliminating “inefficiencies,” to putting the sheriff (will the posse comitatus be next?) on the hospital’s board of directors.  

Charlie Plummer says that medical services are “not an employment agency for the unions….and every agency has to live within their budget.” This is Bush-type ignorant yahooism. Plummer likes to tell us what the Medical Center “is not” but he doesn’t discuss what it is. He isn’t served by it; he’s not among the tens of thousands of uninsured in the county; he’s just a bureaucrat who is competing to take his share of the public pie for the sheriff’s department. Shame on the Board of Supervisors. Let’s throw those bums out and elect people who will truly fight for public rights. As for Charlie, he’d best leave his six guns behind when he comes to town, because this ain’t Dodge and we don’t need a sheriff running the health care system.  

Marc Sapir 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Wow, our neighborhood soda fountain, the last of it’s kind for at least a 25-mile radius or more, is closing again. Every time it comes as terrible news and threatens the few historic elements left in the Elmwood District, not to mention another hard-working and interesting purveyor of historic Americana has to move on. It is true that this one small district lacks a breakfast spot, though many are all around elsewhere. It seems like a great potential for the owner of the current shop (no longer a pharmacy) and she could benefit from the customers earlier in the morning, if she could really understand the client base a little better. Obviously it costs to be open longer hours, but if you know how to run things then one can benefit from the situation. Perhaps expand the newsstand aspect of the place. Michael has great energy and fits into the scene so well; now what will we get? Perhaps the end of a very long and wonderful era. It is the one place in the neighborhood where people can really easily hang out due to the counter-style seating, pop in for a spot of ice cream or lunch (breakfast would really be handy) and catch up on some neighborhood news or just learn from the old timers what they have to share. 

Too bad!  

Valenta de Regil 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Recently, I learned that high schools in California allow animal slaughter on school grounds within the agricultural curriculum. However, the state Education Code affirms that “each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils…the humane treatment of living creatures.” Not only is animal slaughter instruction a squander of educational funds, it also encourages violent behavior among youth. Countless studies have established a connection between animal cruelty and human violence.  

I was happy to learn that Assemblymember Johan Klehs introduced AB 1685, which would outlaw animal slaughter on school property. By prohibiting slaughter in schools, a strong message will be delivered that the promotion of animal cruelty will not be tolerated in California schools. 

Christine Morrissey 

Director, East Bay Animal Advocates 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the ongoing discussion of traffic circles, I have not yet seen this important point: When traffic circles are in an intersection designed for them, as in Marin Circle, they have a very different effect on non-motorized traffic than when they are squeezed into intersections where they do not fit. I easily can believe that circles that leave room for crosswalks and bike lanes have an excellent safety record. Any circle should reduce head-on collisions. The problem is with squeezing together the car, bike, and pedestrian lanes running in the same direction. The circles springing up like mold in the Berkeley flatlands push cars towards or into the normal crosswalk space, and certainly through any bike lane space. Traffic rules dictate that when there is no gutter lane space, bikes have a right to what lane exists. Having the bike lane fade out at each intersection is dangerous. As a pedestrian, my daughter freaks out whenever the cars going the same nominal direction as her, veer at her as they go around the circle. If they are going too fast for good control, she is in increased danger. To reduce the danger in some places, they are moving the crosswalks back away from the intersection; they also will need to modify curb cuts to the new crosswalk positions. This may affect parking spaces, one of Berkeley’s most important resources, so it’s sure to stay interesting. 

Barbara Judd 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The religious extremists in America are no different than the religious extremists in the Middle East except that they drive nicer cars. Same MO: Secrecy, deception, intimidation and infiltration. We saw the same modus operandi used by the Taliban and we see it with the fanatics in the Middle East. Religious zealots have infiltrated the U.S. government, the Bush administration, the Republican Party, the Kansas school board and boards of education around the country. It is time we stop using flowery language when we talk about this takeover crowd. If you don’t see this happening you’ve been very inattentive and are in for a rude awakening. These crusaders use the pseudonyms of fundamentalist, evangelical, and Christianity as covers for their extremism. Pervasive is the only way to describe this spreading cancer. 

Ron Lowe 

Nevada City