Letters to the Editor

Tuesday June 21, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have read in the Berkeley Daily Planet that the 24 residential rental units at the Drayage are not residential rental units because they weren’t “legally established.” It is unfortunate that 24 residential dwelling units, occupied by real people for over two decades, are to be afforded no legitimate legal status by the city’s planning-building-zoning-housing departments. Since when has it been city policy to destroy affordable live/work artist housing, not to mention devastate a community that has contributed so much to Berkeley over the years?  

Tom Meyer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Just a quick note, Conductors on the railroad don’t blow the horn, engineers do. A conductor is basically along for the ride unless there is a need to pick up or drop off railcars in route to their destination. Good article about train whistles, just can’t understand why people build next to or near train tracks. Much like when people complain about speeding cars in their neighborhood and ask police to shoot radar, statistically the individuals who get caught speeding are the same ones that called to complain in the first place. But with the railroad and whistle complaints it is usually the same people who complain that end up illegally going around crossing gates when a train comes, and get hit, then in court they testify that the engineer didn’t blow the whistle enough for them to realize that a train was coming, resulting in millions paid out every year to so-called victims of crossing accidents. Don’t get me wrong, I may work for the railroad but I do not necessarily defend them, but in this day and age an ever-increasing number of civil and criminal suits in these crossing accidents are filed. The train crew are the ones that are being sued. When the high-priced railroad lawyers beat the so-called “victims” in court they look to the crew of the train to fill their pockets. Personally I think if you bought a house next to the airport, railroad tracks, fire station, etc., that you must have had a terrible realtor who led you there in the first place, or you did not research the area well before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home without really knowing where it is that you were about to live. I challenge you to do the following: Do a Google news search everyday and see what the two main headlines are concerning railroads. Here is what you will find. The number one railroad-related news in the media is railroad crossing accidents, the number two is residents complaining about loud whistles and proposed “quiet zones.” All I can say is, take responsibility for what you do; if you move in next to the tracks don’t complain about the noise; and if you go around crossing gates and get hit, don’t blame the railroad, or its employees (that is, should you live). 

Dick Ehrhardt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I didn’t respond at first to Linda Maio’s proposal to silence the West Berkeley trains because I couldn’t stop laughing. Apparently she is serious about spending scarce public funds to destroy one of the most beloved sounds in the world. 

This town does nothing about enforcing the laws against gas-powered leaf-blowers, which would cost us nothing and even make money off the considerable fines. If noise pollution is an honest concern, start there. But don’t interfere with the West Berkeley train songs without a hearing, so that all points of view can be heard. While some may be bothered, most, including me, would miss them terribly. 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If Alan Wofsy wants to publicly rant against both the old and new Left (Letters, June 14) that’s his choice. But let him be aware that strong emotions alone do not a persuasive argument make. They create instead a form of village gossip based on a wall of sound.  

Wofsy tries to discredit the woman who filed sexual harassment charges against Bernstein by stating that she “devotes her time...to propaganda on behalf of a notorious cop killer.” This is no more than a smear. Based on it, are we then to conclude that her harassment charges are invalid?  

True, Mumia Abu Jamal was convicted of killing a policeman but he’s still innocent, based on facts Wofsy tunes out: the four eyewitnesses who cleared Mumia, the forensic evidence that discredits the prosecution’s case, the repudiated confessions, and the bullets that don’t match the bullet holes.  

Wofsy has thus become part of that groupmind where facts are of no consequence compared to passionately held, unproven opinions.  

Wofsy’s last slingshot is that KPFA is undermining America, apparently by airing views he disagrees with. The O’Reilly virus strikes again.  

Lastly, what Wofsy has demonstrated is that he’s one angry dude. He may want to Google the proper target for his rancor.  

Maris Arnold  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The City of Berkeley is doing it again! Year after year, the safety and welfare of the citizens of Berkeley have repeatedly been disregarded by a majority of members of the City Council as well as the city manager during the budget period by threatening to cut the heart of vital basic services, in this case, fire safety and emergency services. Is this a deliberate attempt by the City Council and the city manager to force its citizens to adhere to increased taxes? 

If this is the city’s way of dealing with the budget deficit, then why is the source of the structural deficit being ignored? Over 60 percent of the deficit is due to rising costs of employee salaries and benefits. Health insurance costs are rising by 18.5 percent a year. The council chose to ignore the recommendation of the now defunct Citizens’ Budget Review Commission (the first commission to be axed) to transfer the 8.4 percent share of retirement costs to its employees. Employee costs are projected to rise at a much faster rate than city income (general fund is projected to increase at only 2-4 percent per year) and unless the city deals with this issue, essential city services will be threatened year after year. 

I question the manner in which the city gives it priorities to public services. While public safety is being threatened, the following projects are being given priority: 

• $120,000 for equipment for Train Horn. 

• $80,000 for Berkeley guides. 

• $50,000 for bike path fence. 

• $61,148 for start-up money for real-time parking signs. 

• $30,000 for solar bond funding match. 

• $300,000 technology investment for customer service improvement. 

I can go on and on about different programs which the city can no longer afford but insists on having by passing the burden to the citizens of Berkeley. With only half of its property owners paying property taxes, why is the city bent on further burdening its taxpayers instead of looking at ways of cutting unnecessary programs, streamlining its operations and increasing city income? 

Cecilia I. Gaerlan 


Shasta-Sterling Neighborhood Group 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the debate over Oakland’s sideshows, has anyone recognized the similarities between the sideshow phenomena and Critical Mass? Both events involve marginalized people using whatever means are at hand to retake some public space, have fun, meet new people and enjoy the good weather. It may seem a stretch to compare African-American youth with no space in the entire city of Oakland to poor bicyclists squeezed out and hated by motorists, but the similarities are there. 

Sideshows and Critical Mass are both leaderless but self-organizing, spontaneous but predictable, fun, alt-community events with political overtones that threaten to keep youthful rebellion alive. Both phenomena are confusing and frightening to the uninitiated and both make demands for breathing room in the public arena. 

The other similarity is the way the media, the police and city are reacting to sideshows; very much like the way the San Francisco mayor and police behaved when confronted with Critical Mass. First, they ignored us, then they tried to control us, then for a while they facilitated the ride, then they tried to fight us by cracking heads, impounding bikes and making mass arrests, then they got over themselves and went back to helping the ride pass through unmolested, like any other civic nuisance that mucks up public streets on any given day. And though it still goes on every month in a town near you, unless you’ve been stuck in it, you haven’t heard much about Critical Mass in years, because the shock value has waned and the media has moved on to the latest menace du jour like sideshows and terrorist preschoolers. 

Perhaps we should think outside the mayor’s box. 

Hank Chapot 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I write to note a couple of omissions in your story regarding the condominiums which have risen behind the old Rose Grocery. 

First, I recall a decade ago when affordable housing developers proposed renovating the site to provide housing to low-income people living with HIV. Living several blocks from the grocery, I served at that time on a Neighborhood Advisory Board along with some of the good people who have helped realize this new iteration. It is worth pausing to contrast the unbridled enthusiasm for “luxurious townhouses”—for which the Landmarks Preservation Commission “received 37 letters from neighbors in support and none in opposition”—with the often bitter neighborhood opposition to affordable housing units for people in need. 

Second, I was surprised to learn this weekend that former Zoning Adjustments Board member and current City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli—“who helped expedite what could have been a very lengthy process”—is listed at the property as one of the sellers’ real estate agents. If the Daily Planet story is accurate, it is dispiriting to see a public official poised to benefit directly from a local development project in which he had a direct hand in promoting. 

Although no one can lament the rehabilitation of the neglected property, these omissions from your story offer a cautionary tale about the future of our city. In a culture of increasing wealth disparity, self-interest—whether by our neighbors or our elected officials—will continue to drive decisions that over time risk diminishing and impoverishing us all. 

Jeff Selbin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bruce Joffe seems singularly uninformed about his own water supply. If, as stated in his letter, he lives in Piedmont, his “sweetest, cleanest drinking water of anyplace on the planet” is supplied by the East Bay Municipal Utility District from the Pardee Reservoir on the Mokelumne River and not from Hetch Hetchy at all. And the same is true of Berkeley, Oakland, and Richmond. It seems that Mr. Joffe is simply looking for an excuse for his ad hominem attack on “Environmental Defense people.” 

Gene Rochlin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As far as I know, there is only one person in Berkeley who regards making any further cuts to the Berkeley Animal Shelter budget as in any way acceptable, and that’s the city manager, who demanded a 10 percent cut in spite of the fact that the shelter has been losing a staff member per year for several years. (If the ratio of police officers to Berkeley residents were similar to the ratio of Animal Shelter employees to companion animals, Berkeley would have about three police officers.) Presented with the city manager’s demand, Shelter Director Katherine O’Connor told him that she would have to cut either one kennel attendant, one animal control officer, or the volunteer coordinator position, and that, forced to make a choice, she would choose to cut the animal control officer position, because that would be the choice least damaging to the welfare of the animals housed at the shelter. This is because there is one basic reason for the difference between the Oakland Animal Shelter’s 54 percent kill rate for shelter animals and the Berkeley Shelter’s 10 percent kill rate: volunteers! There are at present more than 1,000 volunteers, more than 300 of whom are active volunteers. More than 35 new volunteers are recruited and trained by the volunteer coordinator every other week. The average weekly time put in by volunteers, June through November 2004, amounted to 230 hours per week. In December 2004 that number jumped to 418 hours per week. 

The volunteer coordinator works 40-50 hours per week turning this huge volunteer workforce into a productive reality. She supervises and supports dog walkers and cat socializers who keep animals adoptable and make them more so because animals are given human contact and positive reinforcement. (Imagine the impact of someone—or no one—visiting you while you serve a prison sentence.) She assesses animals that come into the shelter and prepares them for exposure to potential adopters, organizes and mobilizes offsite adoption events that attract hundreds of members of the public every weekend and result in adoptions that would never happen if the animals weren’t visible in this way, counsels potential adopters in every adoption, so that the choice is appropriate and permanent, creates shelter events and makes them happen, in order to supplement the shelter budget, coordinates website postings (an essential tool for adoptions today,) manages the Youth Education program, and performs various other duties. 

When I asked Director O’Connor what would happen if the loss of one animal control officer position resulted in a one day per week closure of the shelter, she said that while it would definitely be a bad situation, it would have nowhere near the deleterious effect on the welfare of shelter animals as the loss of the volunteer coordinator position, and it would occur on a weekday if it happened, and it would never result in animals being deprived of basic care. A different opinion was expressed in a recommendation put forward by Councilmember Dona Spring at the June 14 City Council meeting, that “it will be less detrimental to cut the volunteer coordinator position rather than an animal control officer position.” Ms. Spring, who never goes near the Animal Shelter and has no training or experience that suits her to express an opinion so much at variance with the shelter director’s opinion, had received so many angry e-mails from volunteers by June 14 that she had already backed off and amended her original position by that evening’s council meeting. I expect to join other volunteers at the June 21 council meeting to voice our disagreement with Dona Spring, and our opinion that a “volunteer volunteer coordinator” is an unrealizable fantasy. But I hope to be joined by large numbers of readers of the Daily Planet—perhaps that more than two-thirds of Berkeley who voted for Measure I and 7.2 million dollars for a new animal shelter in November 2002—who may still persuade the City Council to vote against any further cuts tot he shelter at all! 

Chadidjah McFallU