Letters to the Editor

Friday June 17, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was one of the authors of a letter that was critical of the research by Dr. Chapela regarding transgenes in Mexican corn. In our letter, we suggested that Dr. Chapela was probably correct in his assertion that there is contamination of native corn with transgenic corn—gene flow between the U.S. and Mexican corn is inevitable and has been going on for many years. Our critique focused on his assertion that the transgene had been moving from place to place within the genome. Because we are maize geneticist and do this kind of work all the time the flaws were pretty obvious. While subsequent studies may have shown that there is transgene contamination in Mexican corn, no one has shown that the transgenes move from place to place within the genome, nor has anyone shown the “contamination” has resulted in any loss of biodiversity. Our concern was not with discrediting Dr. Chapela, but with correcting a patently flawed analysis. What should we have done? Should we have ignored it, remained silent because Dr. Chapela was on the side of angels?  

Should some science get a free pass if it tells us what we want to hear? Sadly, Berkeley (and Washington D.C.) is full of people that do just that. They trust science only the extent that it reinforces their own preconceptions. 

Damon Lisch 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks to the foresight, hard work, and taxes paid by San Franciscans a hundred years ago, the Bay Area enjoys the sweetest, cleanest drinking water of anyplace on the planet. Go drink the water in any other big city and see if it doesn’t taste like treated sewerage compared to the cool, clear water from our Hetch Hetchy reservoir. 

I can only shake my head in astonishment at the mis-named “Environmental Defense” organization and others who campaign to destroy the O’Shaughnessy Dam, in order to “restore” Hetch Hetchy to its previous condition. Isn’t the environmental movement concerned with preserving and improving the quality of our air and water? For these Environmental Defense people, nothing good can be enjoyed, not even a refreshing glass of pure water. 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

A few years ago, a respected newspaper would never have considered printing the expletive that appears in a letter of the June 14-16 edition of Daily Planet (“Pinkman in Paris”). 

I miss those days. 

Joan Mikkelsen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Eric Knudsen, in his column June 10 commentary “What’s in a Name?”, correctly points out that upon entering a library, many patrons falsely perceive any staff member within the library walls as a “librarian.” He goes on to say that library management should recognize and embrace this misperception by changing all job titles to various levels of the word “librarian.” Knudsen feels that such a title change will help all library staff to treat their colleagues with more respect than they currently receive under an organization that assigns some staff “lesser” titles such as “aide” or “assistant.” 

I wholeheartedly agree with Knudsen that all library staff should indeed value and respect each other, since the shared goal of all staff is to serve the needs of patrons. I would, however, like to point out a glaring omission in Knudsen’s column. What he fails to inform the reader is that the job title “librarian” is reserved for those staff members who hold a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree. Like most master’s degrees, the MLS is a post-baccalaureate program that typically takes two years or more of specialized study to complete. Library staff members with MLS degrees have been trained in areas such as reference, cataloging, management, children’s and young adult literature, and collection development. 

Titles such as “technician,” “aide,” and “assistant” are thus used to designate those staff members, who, while they may have years of experience and extensive knowledge of library processes, have not completed an MLS course of study. Without an MLS, these staff members are generally prohibited from obtaining a number of higher level positions. 

While library staff members do work for a common cause, not every member of the staff shares the same qualifications. Knudsen’s advocacy for an egalitarian use of a professional title is therefore misguided and unfair not only to those who have worked hard to achieve it, but also to patrons, who have a right to know that trained specialists are available to them. Similar to titles like doctor, engineer, or attorney-at-law, the title “librarian” should be reserved only for those who have earned the professional degree. 

Caralee Kahn 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your reference to “ZAB’s approval last month of the ‘Flying Cottage’ at 3045 Shattuck Ave.” is incorrect. The 3045 Shattuck proposal per se was not up for hearing; the ZAB voted only that the application could be approved at staff level. 

We have appealed the subsequent staff-level design review decision to the Design Review Committee, and it is on the DRC’s agenda for June 16. Whichever way the DRC votes, its decision will be appealed to the ZAB, the ZAB’s decision to the City Council, and perhaps the council’s decision to the Alameda County Superior Court. 

Since there is no design review of residential projects in residential districts, the project at 2901 Otis is quite different. The neighbors are lucky the developer didn’t ask for the full six stories the zoning code allows. 

The ZAB could have reined in the project by enforcing the code’s restrictions on locating parking spaces in the required yard, as they have many times over the years. Unfortunately, the ZAB threw away that important tool when it ignored the law to rule that 3045 Shattuck could be approved at staff level. Until the City Council takes action on this matter, we will see a string of similarly inappropriate “popup” buildings. 

Robert Lauriston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing in response to your publication of Ms. Helen Rippier Wheeler’s commentary in the June 14 edition of your paper. In her article, Ms. Wheeler seems to assert that Berkeley Public Library has weeded its materials on the topic of elder abuse. In fact, when I checked our holdings, I discovered that we have several relatively new books on the topic, as well as some that are more than just a few years old. The books are located throughout the system, including in Central’s circulating collection, in the Reference collection, and at branches. 

One powerful tool Ms. Wheeler does not mention employing in her search for materials on elder abuse is speaking with a librarian. Had she done so, she would have been presented with literally dozens of books that address the topic. An example of that type of book is the multi-volume Gale Encyclopedia of Health. While the library’s paper copy does not circulate, its full contents are available online, through our database subscriptions. Staff at all sites retrieve articles for patrons who cannot or do not want to work online. 

Several other factors seem to have come between Ms. Wheeler and her discovery of these materials. In her letter, Ms. Wheeler supplies a description of how she explored Berkeley Public Library’s catalog in its “Subject” mode, which requires the use of Library of Congress Subject Headings, and how she explored Alameda County Library system’s catalog apparently in “Keyword” mode, allowing her search terms to find a greater range of materials. In fact she could employ the Keyword strategy in Berkeley’s catalog as well as the two catalogs are constructed in the same way. 

Certainly Ms. Wheeler’s difficulty alerts us to the need to provide more and better subject headings. And certainly we want to hear from those using the library’s collections to compose resource lists who find our holdings substandard. We welcome suggestions for purchase both in writing or through the catalog’s opening screen link to “Suggest a Purchase.” Ms. Wheeler has shared her difficulties through your paper but has presented us with no specific suggestions for purchase. 

I hope that Berkeley Public Library users gain a better understanding of the fact that asking staff for research assistance can enrich the resources found to respond to their information needs, and that users become more aware that they are, indeed, empowered to make specific suggestions for improving what we can offer the public through our collections. 

Francisca Goldsmith 

Collection Management Librarian 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Peter Mutnick’s letter regarding Dean Metzger’s and my article on the UC settlement agrees with us on the big point: The city has entered into a ”miserable agreement.” 

But on one critical point, he does not see the deal as being quite so bad. The issue relates to what would happen if the Legislature or the courts suddenly allowed us to tax the university. Mr. Mutnick seems to think Berkeley would get the benefit of the change. But Section III-D of the document says that if the law changes the monetary obligations of UC “the parties shall renegotiate [to] maintain the same total amount of allocations, inclusive of any new obligation.” Since the “total amount of allocations” is $1,200,000, it is hard to see how the city could get more, even if the Legislature or the courts change their minds. The city has basically agreed to cap UC’s contribution for the next 15 years, while Santa Cruz, for example, has kept its options open. 

Mr. Mutnick also urges the city to violate the agreement, thereby forcing it to terminate, and ridding us of “bad rubbish.” While this may turn out to be an attractive alternative, we need to pay close attention to the “poison pill” provision. If the ultimate result is a challenge to the long range development plan, the University may be able to make us pay for its lawyers (of which there are many). 

It is a shame that none of this came to light during debates before the settlement was approved. But unhappily, the council kept everything secret until after it voted, depriving itself of Mr. Mutnick’s views, as well as our own.  

David Wilson. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While seeing the issue of medical marijuana in the pages of the Daily Planet is appreciated, the pessimistic tone in “Medical Pot Users’ Hopes Dim After Ruling” (June 10) deserves rebuttal. 

While multiple petitions to reschedule marijuana have been rejected by the federal government, the article fails to mention the petition filed in 2002 and  

currently in front of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Secretary Mike Leavitt recently stated that HHS would provide a decision on the rescheduling petition by August 2005. 

In addition, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s largest medical marijuana patient advocacy organization, filed a petition in 2004 with HHS through a little-known administrative vehicle called the Data Quality Act. This Clinton-era policy allows people to challenge the data on which regulatory agencies rely. Since the federal government has ignored for decades the mountain of studies and evidence illustrating marijuana’s medical value, ASA is challenging HHS on the flawed data it uses. 

A poll released shortly after the Gonzales v. Raich decision (by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C.), showed that 68 percent of people said the federal government should not prosecute medical marijuana patients even though it has been given approval to do so. 

And in perhaps the plainest terms that describe the significance of this issue and the resolve by patients and advocates to persevere, days after the Raich decision came down, the Rhode Island Senate passed a medical marijuana bill by a vote of 34 to 2. So, even without the help of Congress and the Supreme Court,  

states will continue to pass legislation and initiatives to legalize medical marijuana. 

By no means is the fight over or lost. Just stay tuned! 

Kris Hermes 

Legal Campaign Director 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Do you change the rules at the end of the game because you don’t like who has won? 

Two years ago, a group of parents and teachers at Jefferson School decided they wanted to change the school name. They asked for the School Board’s policy for changing a facility name, and they followed the required procedures. At several points, the PTA. the principal, and pro-name change groups asked the board for interpretation of the policy. 

The question of student voting was one of those points. None of the groups at involved at the school site wanted the students to vote, but Superintendent Lawrence declared that the policy required student voting and, and so, there was student voting. The written board policy was followed every step of the way. 

The policy was not designed by anyone at the Jefferson School site. The current policy was adopted by the School Board in 1999, and was used in the renaming of Columbus as Rosa Parks School. If there were problems with the process, that was a quite recent opportunity for that school board to observe them and, later, amend the policy. 

A policy is changed before or after its implementation, but not during it. A question has been asked as to whether the broader community should have a voice in the process. Whether or not it should be involved in the process is not he issue before us now—the issue is following the current board policy. 

Now that staff, students and parents have voted, and Sequoia has been selected by each and every group as the new school name, the results have been presented to the School Board. Two School Board members have stated that they will follow district policy and approve the chosen name. The policy does not ask the board members to vote on the name; their role is to oversee the democratic process. Director Selawsky said, “The board should not be an endorsement of the school name; it should be based on whether or not the school community followed the board policy in reaching this vote.” 

Why are some other board members now suggesting violating their own process? If they do, it will send a clear and racist message that no matter how carefully certain people follow the rules, they cannot create peaceful, democratic change in the Berkeley Schools. Although the pro-name change group used talking, persuasion, and reason; although they affected people’s hearts and minds; although they prevailed in the selection of the name, certain board members would like to ignore and override their own policy... because they do not, personally, like the result of this democratic policy.  

Beverly Thiele 

Jefferson/Sequoia School Teacher 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I used to hear conflicting reports about Alta Bates Summit Medical Center but my experience at this hospital have made me question the credibility of most criticisms against this hospital. 

My wife’s eight-day sojourn at this hospital shed more light on their competencies. The Labor and Delivery nurses/doctors are amazing. Everybody takes responsibility. 

My wife underwent intense labor after induction which was dramatic to me being a first time dad but the professional approach of the nurses/doctors gave me courage that it would end well and definitely it ended well. This same wonderful treatment was meted out to us by various nurses and doctors at the recovery section. 

I know many people might have different opinions which ultimately we all have right to but I think it is paramount to sift the facts from fictions before making a conclusion or judgment about the competency vis-à-vis adequacy of Alta Bates. 

Kudos for job well done to everyone there, we are now enjoying our little gorgeous girl Jordyn. 

John Tanwani. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Could it be that all the rancor over the Berkeley City Council’s “secret sellout” or “closed-door capitulation” vis-à-vis UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan is overblown? 

I too originally saw the council’s vote on May 24 as a thoroughly embarrassing and humiliating action—more evidence that “the gown” really is swallowing this town. 

But then came the epiphany: What we really have witnessed is a faith-based settlement! 

Yes, UCB is a wonderful higher-education “door of opportunity” for tens of thousands, but it requires a municipal doormat to function properly. 

And that, in turn, requires a compliant council majority which has faith in the recommendations of their attorneys. 

And they, in turn, require constituents who have faith that their elected officials will do the right thing behind closed doors. 

And Berkeley as a whole requires citizens who faithfully believe their mayor’s assertions that the settlement is “the single best agreement between any city and public university in this state,” “a giant step forward towards a lasting and equal partnership,” and “will guide revitalization of the city’s core, protect historic resources, and encourage transit-friendly development.” 

Even for those who remain faithless doubters, there is still hope: The council’s vote on May 24 indicates that things are gradually turning your way. 

Note that in July 1990, the current council’s predecessors voted 9-0 to support UCB’s LRDP for the 2005/06 time horizon. This time, the vote was 6-3. In other words, you doubters picked up three votes in less than fifteen years!  

At this rate, doubters should have a solid majority by 2020. Have faith! 

Jim Sharp 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It appears that the only action taken to ameliorate the alleged “problems” at the Drayage artisan community live-work space over the past two and one-half months has been the jack-booted assault upon it by the city’s over-zealous code-enforcement storm-troopers. 

Where are the planners, builders, designers, community assistance representatives, and other capable professionals within the city’s bureaucracy who are dedicated to furthering the city’s oft stated goals of protecting the ever dwindling affordable rental housing stock in this city? Is the true goal of our city fathers and mothers to transform Berkeley into Blackhawk? It sure seems more and more like that’s the plan.  

From me to the city officials, a succinct but serious message: Don’t just condemn it; rebuild it! Fix it! Love it! To date you have only taken totally negative and destructive action towards the Drayage community—do something positive! Slash and burn is not a housing policy. 

Dan Spitzer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

It seems the Jefferson School name controversy still continues, whether to replace Jefferson (a bad, bad man) with Sequoya (presumably a good man, although some say only Jesus was truly good). 

According to Webster’s Biographical Dictionary, Sequoya (c. 1770-1843) was a Cherokee who took the name George Guess, so wouldn’t Berkeley honor him better by giving the school the name he himself preferred, Guess rather than Sequoya? 

The name “Guess School” would do double duty by honoring also the current pop fad of using Multiple-Guess tests to determine the worth of students and schools. 

Another option is to avoid name controversies entirely by just numbering the schools, as New York City does (PS117, etc.). My friend Veronica suggests Berkeley use BS (”Berkeley School”) for its school numbers. In my own school days I attended Berkeley schools BS 3, BS12, and BS 15. 

David Eakin 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a resident of the Oceanview area of West Berkeley, I have a comment on the recently built traffic circles in this section of town. 

While walking home the other day after a morning’s shopping, I noticed that a “short/stubby” Company 6 Fire Truck (headquartered on Cedar Street) had to proceed rather slowly around one such circle, not on an emergency. Its driver could barely negotiate the circle. 

Suppose its crew had been “on call,” necessitating a speedy response? Further, suppose this smaller truck had been a much longer “hook and ladder.” Would the longer truck have had to drive over the circle, or would its driver have been obliged to take a pre-determined alternate route? 

My questions: What bureaucratic genius came up the this idea? Was it buried in the budget summarily passed by our all-knowing council? 

Please be particularly attentive in covering West Berkeley fires. The lawsuit which may ensue could/will cost us plenty, especially if I file it. 

Phil Allen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

You are correct that the “... keeping a warm water pool available” was a priority of the late Fred Lupke. However, Fred’s feelings on the pool as a project had evolved over time. I am a member of the BUSD Citizens Construction Oversight Committee. Fred attended our meetings regularly. He was an active participant in our discussions on the future of the high school’s south campus. Shortly before his death, Fred told our committee that he was concerned how the rehab of the building might impact the operation of the pool. He suggested that it might be preferable to consider relocating the pool rather than having to close it during construction. 

I do not know how the city and the district share responsibility for this pool but the existing building apparently has serious deficiencies that cannot be blamed on deferred maintenance and the pool itself supposedly needs significant work. If this is so then the recommendation in the south campus master plan that the existing warm pool be replaced with a new pool and building across the street seems worthy of further consideration, especially considering Fred’s desire that the warn pool’s operations not be interrupted. 

Carl Bridgers 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am in complete agreement with Robin Berry’s May 31 letter. According to Kevin Bales, the author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, there are at least 27 million slaves in the world today. 

We must educate ourselves about this issue and find out how to start bringing an end to this practice through boycotts and other means. Mr. Bales has established an American branch of “Anti-Slavery International” under the name of “Free the Slaves.” Please access his website www.freetheslaves.net. 

Carol Beth 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is pure outrage that recent AC Transit election rhetoric featured the plight of seniors with regard to the adequacy and availability of public transit. We the electorate were given to understand that support for AC Transit meant support for seniors. Sustaining AC Transit meant sustaining seniors—providing for a reliable bus service, safe and accessible. Without such a service, many cannot live independently. 

I ride the bus almost daily and there has been a noticeable drop in the number of seniors choosing to make the trip. Who can blame them? The new Van Hool buses (common on our route) are a nightmare for anyone frail, anyone using a cane, or for that matter for any short adult toting a few grocery bags! Instead of sinking gratefully into the front seats, a less-than-able passenger is forced to negotiate a crowded aisle to reach the few spaces provided for the elderly. As this is a journey of many steps, with almost nothing to hold onto, finding one’s place could prove daunting, to say the least. Even then there is no guarantee that those spaces will not be fully occupied by passengers in wheelchairs. In order to continue the ride, what is recommended that the frail passenger do? Risk life and limb hoisting oneself up onto one of the wondrous “crow’s-nest” seats (a Van Hool specialty)? Cling desperately to the nearest available rider? Give up and sit on the floor? 

I refuse to believe that anyone charged with making the decision to purchase these new buses devoted even one moment’s thought to such things! And that is scandalous. All of us deserve better. 

Karen Keene 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

There is nothing altruistic about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s special election and it will do nothing to help working families or residents of California. Schwarzenegger’s special election is about increasing GOP power in California. This election is about power and politics, stupid. 

At his election proclamation speech Arnold said California is destined to have $22 billion deficits, higher car taxes and the threat of bankruptcy if we don’t follow his lead. Now the special election has turned on Proposition 13 as he warns elderly homeowners they could lose their houses to taxes if Democrats and union leaders get their way in the fall. This seems to be straight out of the Bush-Rove playbook. Scaring little old ladies, Arnold basing his campaign on fear-mongering, is there anything more pathetic?  

Republicans are giddy with anticipation over the prospect of a special election. Democrats and Californians need to wake up and see this for what it is. 

Ron Lowe 

Nevada City 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am extremely disappointed to learn that Gov. Schwarzenegger has disregarded polls and feedback and decided to have a special election in November 2005, despite indications that the majority of Californians oppose such an election. 

The special election brings up an important question: Will Californians be using the same electronic voting machines that we used in the circus of a recall, when we either did or did not elect Schwarzenegger to replace Gov. Davis? Then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley made a highly controversial decision that Californians would not be using electronic voting machines in future elections until the voting machines could provide a voter-verified paper trail. However, Shelley has since resigned, and I have not heard much regarding his successor, whom Schwarzenegger has appointed. 

I call on the California Legislature to assure that during the special election in November 2005, Californians use voting machines that provide a voter-verified paper trail. One wonders why Schwarzenegger is pushing ahead with the special election in the face of such opposition and at such an expense. A very real possibility exists that one reason Schwarzenegger wants to have a special election is to force a vote on his initiatives before California has a more transparent voting system, and this possibility has dramatic implications for the health of our democracy. 

Lara Wright 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Matthew Artz’s piece, “Former KPFA Employee Charges Sex Discrimination,” may address Dennis Bernstein’s curious behavior with me several years ago. I called him about a story I thought he might be interested in. He said he was, indeed, and suggested we attend a rally together in San Francisco. I thought that was unusual, but it was a cause I supported, I figured he didn’t have much free time, and we could talk there. 

So we spoke about my story, but I wasn’t sure how much he was listening. When we BARTed back to the East Bay Bernstein suggested we stop for a bite at Pasta Pomodoro. This seemed more like a venue for discussing the story and we did so and not once did I get chummy or much off topic and we certainly didn’t discuss literature. So I was a bit shocked when Bernstein asked me to his apartment to listen to him read his poetry. I declined as nicely as possible and I never heard from him again. 

Kathleen Roberts