Letters to the Editor

Friday June 24, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

My friend Zelda keeps getting in deeper and deeper. Someone needs to throw her a life raft. Let’s talk a little about the UC lawsuit. 

Substance: The only hook Berkeley had (because the university is exempt from local regulation) is a flawed environmental quality report. What the lawsuit could have realistically accomplished, had it been tried, was to force a new report. Nothing more. What the settlement did accomplish was more than that for the cash-starved city. Of course, the city is starved for cash partly because short-sighted folks (including Zelda) voted down some needed tax measures last November. 

Process: The City Council met with its attorneys to discuss settlement in closed session. Just as it always does in lawsuit settlement talks. I should know, it always happened when I sued the city on behalf of someone. If that is anti-democratic, it is surprising that it took Zelda so long to find out about the practice (reported in all local papers for as long as I have lived here—approximately 50 years). 

Taxes: It surprises and disappoints me that good, formerly progressive people like Zelda would vote to deprive the libraries and the city of necessary revenue at a time when the governor is starving the cities and counties in an attempt to avoid or reduce needed taxes. People need to understand that, as George Lakoff reminds us, taxes are the dues we pay for the civilization we enjoy. 

One final note: It hardly needs an entire letter to point out that Marie Bowman’s screed is long on taxes and number of employees but short (actually, absent) on the service we provide here in Berkeley that the cities she uses for comparison do not provide. But then, truth was not her weapon. 

Mal Burnstein 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I send the letter below to the Daily Planet because although the San Francisco Chronicle once published about half my letters, it has published none since last October and will not respond to my query about whether it maintains a blacklist, which increasingly appears to be the case.  

More important, however, is the shameful way in which the U.S. media has largely ignored the implications of the Downing Street memo and those that have followed it as published in the British press (but not here), as well as the way that the Conyers hearing was ridiculed by the leading newspapers that bothered to report it. The lack of coverage of these extremely important documents and of that riveting hearing is one of the greatest indictments of U.S. journalism, even as the Republican assassination of Dan Rather, Newsweek, and many others shows that there is no safety for the press in cooperation with the present regime.  

Editors, San Francisco Chronicle: 

Anyone who read the Cox News Service account of the historic June 16 hearing held by Rep. John Conyers on the significance of the Downing Street Memo (and those that have followed and buttressed it) would have virtually no idea of what those of us who watched the hearings on C-Span saw and heard, let alone of who testified at the hearing, why it had to be held in a cramped basement room, or why those memoranda appear to point to impeachable crimes. To its credit, the San Francisco Chronicle printed the text of the memo along with the drab little article, but it did so on page A20 and provided none of the essential context needed by readers to understand its dynamite implications.  

Now that public pressure is forcing the mainstream U.S. media to pay attention to a document published over a month ago in the Times of London, pundits at the leading newspapers and network news are justifying their tardiness by echoing the White House claims that the evidence of deliberate deception by the Bush and Blair administrations is miraculously absurd and stale news at the same time, and that anyone who pays it heed is a paranoid wingnut or, more inconsequentially, an anti-war activist. In its failure to adequately cover this explosive story, the U.S. media shares culpability with the twin administrations which deceived the world into an ever-deepening disaster from which there now appears no escape.  

Gray Brechin  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We’ve recently been reading about the Downing Street Memo covering a meeting that Prime Minister Tony Blair of England had with his top advisors in March 2002. This memo revealed incontrovertibly that President Bush and his administration were already planning to invade Iraq illegally. The memo shows that they were planning to “fix” the weapons-of-mass-destruction reports from the intelligence agencies. We now realize that this misinformation was used to get Congress to authorize an illegal invasion of Iraq so that by March 2003, the United States and Britain could join together to topple Saddam Hussein and bring about the death of 1,700 U.S. citizens and more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens. 

Congressman John Conyers and 35 other members of the congress have just held a hearing to call on President Bush to answer questions raised by the Downing Street Memo. Bush is not likely to do so since this administration has been using cover-up tactics to avoid a frank discussion of the memo. It is time to consider impeachment of President Bush for the crime not only of starting a war illegally, but of creating a horrendous situation in Iraq for which there appears to be no end (is that what President Bush meant when he talked about “endless war?”). 

Impeachment could not proceed without a congressional inquiry into lies Bush might have told congress to get its permission to invade Iraq. Therefore, we call on the Daily Planet to urge the Berkeley City Council to call for such an inquiry based on information brought to light by the Downing Street Memo. 

Jean Pauline  





Just what is Ms. Wheeler trying to say in her June 14 commentary? Her title suggests that the library has discarded books on the subject of elder abuse, but she cites no titles and provides no evidence that this is the case. She rightly points out that the library has no books on the subject. I suspect what she’s requesting is that the library acquire some references (for which it sounds like she may have a list). To this end, the library’s website has a “Suggest A Purchase” link on the top right and I bet they’d be pleased to take donations. 

I didn’t even know the public library had an “Adult” collection! 

John Vinopal 




I have three friends who have all experienced violence in their families recently. One dead son in a car-jacking, one critical son because of an unprovoked road-rage shooting and a godson who was shot seven times in the abdomen six weeks ago in a robbery. These assaults have all been committed by “kids.” I find it self-defeating for our society that these “kids” at the age of 10 are taught everything there is to know about sex but that it is unlawful for anyone to tell them about God, that God has laws, and that if everyone put God first in their lives there would be no violence such as this. 

Catherine Willis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reading the several articles regarding the proposed renaming of the Jefferson Elementary School, leads me to believe that all citizens of Berkeley are not so well informed on the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings controversy. I refer your readers to www.angelfire.com/va/TJTruth and www.tjheritage.org. Read the full Scholars Commission Report from a link here and the book review, “The Jefferson-Hemings Myth: An American Travesty.”  

Nothing proves a Jefferson-Hemings relationship but it still fuels the slavery debate.  

Herb Barger 

Jefferson Family Historian 

Assistant to Dr. E.A. Foster on the Jefferson-Hemings DNA Study 

Ft. Washington, Md. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s always a bit worrying when a citizen commissioner interjects themselves into a city staffing issue because of their personal agenda of hostility. Humane Commissioner McFall speaks loudly at public meetings and writes letters to the papers but never reveals her status as a commissioner. This gives the impression she is just a very informed bystander—she is not. She has an ax to grind with Councilmember Dona Spring and with certain other progressive commissioners and she grinds it ceaselessly. In her public statements she crudely berates the councilmember who has fought tirelessly for animals and the animal shelter, long before it was fashionable to do so and certainly long before Ms McFall was given her position on the commission—Dona Spring. 

It is unseemly for a commissioner to speak up for any job cuts in the agency she oversees, but her statements make clear that she has taken a position to endorse one position, which in effect endorses cutting of another. She then finds reasons to justify the cut while making a broad call for no cuts. How shallow and how very transparent. 

There is not another member of the Humane Commission I know of who has taken this position. The rest of us, knowing better, are advocating for more staff, not less. This department has been cut, every year for four years. We cannot afford, in a time of greater public anxiety about dogs, to be cutting back on any staff, whether they be field operations or shelter-based. 

McFall’s ugly attack on Spring for not going to the shelter and her accusation that Dona knows nothing about animal sheltering does not take into account that as a disabled woman in a wheelchair, crossing the railroad tracks makes Dona anxious—with good reason. Neither does it take into account that Ms. Spring has consistently appointed commissioners with know how and experience to advise her on the shelter. 

Jill Posener 

Berkeley Humane Commissioner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Federation Communications Commission”? (Daily Planet, June 21.) Is Star Wars what blew Brenneman’s mind? 

And as to Police Blotter aficionado Foldvary (Letters, June 21), I’d say he misses the main point as to the annoyance in reading the blotter. I can’t believe anyone reads that thing because of what (s)he sees in it as “wit.” With all the tons of writing styles available in crime stories plastered all over the media in our present-day society, would anyone go to a police blotter for entertainment? Foldvary seems typical of quite a few Berkeleyans who hold some concept that the way they think is the way “people,” “most people” or “righteous people” think. 

The Police Blotter is just plain annoying in that it forces one to put extra effort—because of archaic crime slang or whatever—into simply reading a useful feature for getting a rough idea of crime problems in one’s vicinity. 

May the Force wipe the nonsense out of the Daily Planet Police Blotter! And, oh yeah, train whistles: O.K., they’re nostalgic...but only if you live the right distance from their tracks. And then there’s BART, which doesn’t even need a whistle to grate on your nerves while walking the Nimitz Trail two mountain ridges away, every time it turns on a radius of almost the same distance! 

Ray Chamberlin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As the chair of Vote Health, I want to alert your readers to a proposed raid on Measure A funds, which Alameda County voters authorized in March 2004 to be spent on providing healthcare services to low-income and uninsured residents. Measure A, a half-cent sales tax increase, specifies that the new funding is to supplement, not replace existing county spending. Yet Dave Kears, head of the county’s Health Care Services Agency, is proposing to balance his department’s budget by using $5.4 million in Measure A funds to pay cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to several health care providers. These COLAs are essential, given the surging costs of providing healthcare, but they should come out of County funds, not Measure A tax receipts. 

This proposal also violates the Board of Supervisors policy of last December, which stated that the community primary care clinics would have priority for any Measure A funds above the anticipated $20 million per year. That’s where this $5.4 million comes from—more taxes have been collected than anticipated by the board’s original allocation of $20 million from Measure A. 

Another major problem is the failure of the supervisors to appoint the citizen oversight committee required by Measure A. 15 months after the election there is still no independent monitoring of how our tax dollars are being spent. 

We agree that the county is facing fiscal problems, in large part because it is in turn being raided by the state and federal governments. But the county administrator somehow found an additional $20 million to plug holes in the sheriff’s budget—that extra funding should have been more equitably distributed to all county departments being forced to make cuts.  

The Board of Supervisors adopts the county budget this Friday, June 24, starting at 10 a.m. Call President Keith Carson at 272-6695 to protest this abuse of Measure A funds and insist that the COLAs be paid out of the county’s pocket! 

Kay Eisenhower 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like to offer some suggestions regarding the city’s current budget crisis: 

1. Re-negotiate all city employment contacts to eliminate the practice of including automatic annual COLAs and to require each city employee to contribute to his or her own retirement, as other cities do. 

2. Place Public Housing under HUD (Oakland has done this successfully). The city has more than met housing goals set by ABAG; the department costs per unit for management appear excessive; and the department has not been in compliance with HUD rules. 

3. Eliminate Berkeley’s redundant Health Department and use the county Health Department. We already pay for Alameda County services as well as for Berkeley’s. The city could assume an advocate position. 

4. Evaluate the effectiveness of current youth programs before adding any more. 

5. Our sewer fees are four to five times higher than those of other cities, while our sewers continue to deteriorate. Is it perhaps because the city siphons off sewer funds and applies them to other projects? 

6. $60,000 for turtles to enhance a non-functioning fountain? This surely is a joke!? 

The above cuts could give us the police and fire protection the citizens of the city deserve. Anything less is malfeasance on the part of city government. Eight policemen on the street at night is dangerous, as is eliminating a fire truck. The primary duty of government is to ensure public safety, and we should make that a priority. 

Evelyn Giardina 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the June 21 story, “Transportation Commission Declines to Choose Ferry Site,” by Richard Brenneman: 

For the record, the Waterfront Commission’s recommendation was the same as that reported for the Transportation Commission, i.e., to consider all potential sites for providing ferry transit service to the East Bay: 

“Request that WTA proceed with environmental review and detailed site selection for a terminal location that includes all potential sites in Berkeley and Albany and direct city staff to provide support for the analysis of parking and traffic impacts.” 

Brad Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his crusade against California’s teachers, Gov. Schwarzenegger crassly manipulates a misconception: teacher tenure as inured incompetence. In fact, there is no such thing as a permanent K-12 teacher. Tenure, conferred after two years’ satisfactory service, is simply the right not to be dismissed without a fair hearing. To prevent this “sunshine” status from taking effect for three additional years, so that during any of the five years a teacher could be dismissed in backstage mode without review, is no recipe for good teaching—and certainly not for the ésprit de corps that we Californians remember in our best teachers. 

Anne Richardson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mayor Bates’ remark at City Council on Tuesday night that he does not read the Daily Planet is frighteningly reminiscent of the isolation of another one of our leaders, George W. Bush. 

If you do not know what your constituents are thinking and what issues concern them, you will not be able to make informed decisions. And that is what we see happening on both the national and local level. 

Yes, it is hard to be a politician in a town that has an independent paper, with good investigative reporters and a very attentive readership who generously contribute their views in letters and op-ed columns. 

But difficult as it is, politicians cannot survive in an hermetically sealed environment, and should actually be thankful for the wonderful form of democracy a local, independently owned paper presents us with. 

Gregory Pedemonte 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Not Albany residents, only 49 percent of 400 hand-picked residents through a push poll, expressed an opinion that indicated they did not want a “mega mall” built on privately owned asphalt at Golden Gate Fields. 

How the pollsters came up with “mega mall” when no plans have been made about the scope of the project is anybody’s guess unless they think about the backers of the big bucks survey. One is the developer of Fourth Street who doesn’t want the competition, and the other is an internationally active organization whose local representative doesn’t live in Albany, doesn’t even live in Alameda County. 

I say to them, “Get your noses out of my town’s business.” Richard Brenneman missed the big story at Monday night’s council meeting, probably because he was not there. The citizens in the audience did not come to the microphone to discuss the pros and cons of development. They stood to express their outrage at Councilmember Lieber’s statement at the end of the presentation that the issue was dead because his numbers showed that there was no support for development so it would never happen and the people of Albany had nothing to say about it. This was said in a forum designed for open discourse! 

Lieber also said he had nothing to do with the poll, but later said he helped design some of the questions. When questioned on that point he retreated to the previous “no involvement” stance which turned out to be that he had not contributed any money to take the survey. Mr. Lieber has a lot to learn about Albany. He overlooked Measure C, and he overlooked the fact that concerned Albany residents who care about more than a single issue are not about to be pushed around by this front man for outside interests and his potty-mouthed minion. 

Lubov Mazur 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Concerning David Wilson’s letter of June 17 on the UC Settlement, either Mr. Wilson and I are looking at different texts, or Mr. Wilson is guilty of shoddy scholarship. I am looking at the text of the settlement agreement on the mayor’s website. Section III.D. reads as follows: “The parties acknowledge that if changes in state law modify the monetary legal obligations of UC the parties shall renegotiate this agreement with the purpose of maintaining the same total amount of allocations, inclusive of any new obligation.” I do not believe this necessarily says that the City of Berkeley is signing away the rights that would be created by a change in state law. It arguably says that the new obligations will be met and the renegotiation will attempt to keep the total allocations the same, if possible. It does not necessarily imply that the stated purpose of the renegotiation will necessarily be met. I think David Wilson is right, however, that the wording is ambiguous, and this creates the danger of an unjust court ruling, but ambiguity is generally sufficient to ensure that the city has not signed away its rights, because the signing away of rights must always be unambiguous and clearly evident in the wording of the contract. As for Mr. Wilson’s second point, it does not seem logical. If the settlement agreement terminates, all of it terminates, including any provision relating to attorney’s fees in a future challenge. 

It is disturbing that Mr. Wilson has not responded to my essential point, which is the very point on which the mayor and the city officials have most clearly deceived the people. The fiscal impact report on the city manager’s website breaks down the $13.5 million into three categories: on-going costs of providing services ($8.1 million), one-time capital costs ($2.7 million), and sewer/stormwater costs ($2.7 million). Ostensibly, the university is liable for the $8.1 million under the San Marcos ruling. It is liable in addition for the second charge of $2.7 million under the subsequent legislation, Government Code Section 54999, et seq. It is only the one-time charges for capital improvements, which are also known as special assessments, that the university is clearly exempt from. This is the key point on which the mayor and his lackeys should be challenged. Of course, they should also be challenged on the secrecy issue, which Antonio Rossman believes is even more serious than any of the very serious substantive issues. The issue of signing away the sovereignty of the city is also an extremely important issue. 

As an immediate concern, we now have the City Council attempting to perpetrate another fraud on the public. Item 15 on the action part of the agenda for the regular meeting of June 21 is a deceptive fraud upon the people. It is entitled “Alternative UC Sewer Payment Method,” and within the text it continues to perpetrate the fraud that it is merely a different method of payment that is at issue. In fact, the purpose of the new legislation is to exempt the university from paying the lawful sewer/stormwater costs. This purpose was made explicit in the settlement agreement. Subsection VI.C. of the settlement agreement reads in relevant part as follows: “City will promptly pass a resolution and take any other legal steps necessary to exempt UC Berkeley from the imposition of the sewer fees adopted by the City Council on April 26, 2005.” What is now planned is most obviously not an “alternative method of payment,” but an exemption from the true charges and a substitution of token charges in their place. This is a deceptive fraud upon the people, just one more in a long list of such fraudulent acts by this city government. 

Peter Mutnick