Letters to the Editor

Friday September 30, 2005


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I live in that neighborhood. With a tip of the hat to Mr. Banger, the landlord of the building, and in the spirit of an “open source” business plan, I suggest a combined cafe and grocery store. 

The neighborhood is mostly served by Berkeley Bowl which, though excellent, is often very crowded. Neighborhood residents would likely flock to a densely packed small grocery store within comparable walking/biking distance, even if that meant paying a slight premium for staples. It would likely do well to offer a selection of good prepared foods. Yes, a small coffee-bar and a table or two outside would probably be profit-makers. Beer, wine and smokes would be easy money-makers short of a full-blown hard-liquor store. Skillfully negotiated, I’d bet dollars to donuts that Berkeley Bowl would give such a store a good wholesale deal on some of the inventory and introductions to other wholesalers for much of the rest. The BB kitchens might be a great source for some of the prepared foods. 

The economic pattern of Northside’s “Produce Center,” “Juice Bar Collective,” “Saul’s,” “The French Cafe,” “Peet’s” et al. show how these kinds of services, densely packed, add up to successful businesses. 

If I had the seed capital I’d be writing up my small business loan ASAP, but I don’t. So I hope the Daily Planet will at least help me share the idea. 

Tom Lord 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

How dare they? How dare the federal government put the kibosh on naming Berkeley’s Main Post Office after Maudelle Shirek? Ms. Shirek has spent the majority of her 94 years as a community activist, on the side of the poor and disenfranchised. Their reason for denying the request is that she lacks the proper values. Leading the whispering campaign to deny the request is Steve King, (R) Iowa, who informs us that Joe McCarthy was an American hero. So maybe we should name the Post Office after him. Right! So, let’s get on with it, Berkeley. Since when have you listened to “no,” especially from the feds. Etch Maudelle Shirek’s name on the post office, writ large, and let the chips fall where they may. If the feds don’t like it, they can come out here to the one part of the country they most fear and erase it. That should be big fun. 

Madeline Smith Moore 

A Berkeley-lover from Oakland 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I couldn’t disagree more with J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s recent column where he maintained that Ignacio De La Fuente’s son’s recent arrest for rape was irrelevant to the Oakland mayoral issue. Ignacio De La Fuente Jr. kidnapped a teenaged girl right off the street, raped her and beat her for several hours, and then dumped her back on the sidewalk. And you’re saying this isn’t a reflection on Ignacio De La Fuente Sr.? Most Americans would sharply disagree with you. Why do you think every politician in America uses every photo-op possible to show off their clean-cut, smiling brood to the voters? Precisely because it does matter. If this guy De La Fuente can’t even run his own household, why should he be entrusted to run Oakland? If this specimen is the best that Oakland has to offer, if this is the kind of man that you want to represent Oakland, then all I can say is: God help Oakland.  

Ace Backwords 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks to the Daily Planet for its ongoing coverage by intrepid reporter Richard Brenneman on the City of Oakland’s efforts to extend redevelopment into all of the North Oakland flats.  

His most recent article (Sept. 16) covered the decision by Councilmember Brunner to withdraw the proposal. But her message to constituents which trumpeted supposed benefits of redevelopment, along with the tenacity with which the proposal was promoted by city staff, should not encourage any of us who worry about the numerous downsides of redevelopment—including eminent domain and robbing the city’s general fund—to let down our guard.  

While Brenneman was kind enough to mention Alfred Crofts and myself as ringleaders of the effort to thwart the extension, in reality several of us who met at the pivotal meeting on May 9 are involved. We formed a new group, Neighborhood Preservation, and plan to remain active. After all, many of those who came forward at this and other meetings on the subject wanted improvements we all can support, and ways should be found without redevelopment to accomplish them.  

But this happy (for now) outcome might not have happened without the Daily Planet—where would we be without it! Brenneman even covered our Sunday public forum with Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, preservationist/author Jane Powell, and Montclair/Greater Oakland Democratic Club President Pamela Drake. (Our event was missed by the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle, ostensibly our local “paper of record,” which had an entire bureau of nine at the Burning Man Festival.)  

Anyone interested in attending an upcoming local event on issues around redevelopment and eminent domain is encouraged to attend the “Conference on Redevelopment Abuse,” 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Park Plaza Hotel, 150 Hegenberger Road, Oakland. Reservations: Muncipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform, (714) 871-9756. $65. (Need-based reduced rates available.)  

Robert Brokl  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The August BUSD board meeting was exciting to watch as this summer’s maintenance and building programs were showcased. Mostly paid for out of bond money, they ranged from routine upkeep to large scale construction. Each project seemed beneficial for our students. 

At Malcolm X, the area outside the fence was re-configured to ward off a recurrence of winter storms that flooded many classrooms. At Washington, the standing water pond behind the play structure was drained and the overall yard upgraded with more seating and trees. Le Conte’s drop off and pick up area began to be improved and the butterfly yard started to be repositioned. 

The largest area of construction was at the middle schools. Willard began a full rehabilitation of its main academic and administrative buildings. M.L. King is constructing a dining commons along with a new science building. Berkeley High School is having its “C” building repainted, lead paint removed, and the Donahue and South Campus gyms renovated. Meanwhile, the old East Campus buildings have been leveled. Additionally, there are plans for redeveloping West Campus and move central administrative offices. The garden/play area at Franklin Adult is also being completed. 

While some sites will be ready in a few weeks, most will not be finished for some time. Remembering similar past BUSD projects, I wondered how many would actually be finished with current bond monies available. Often projects have remained incomplete until new bond measures were passed. 

And then the first issue on the agenda was the report back on the fiscal feasibility of the closed site option for the Derby Street playing fields. (This report was issued by BUSD’s own Lew Jones and is “must” reading for people involved in the issue, to check for exact numbers). The review team reported that $900,000 remains set aside for improvements at this location. However, the closed site option, totaling hard and soft costs, would be around 6 million dollars. The Board asked for a reconciliation of these numbers, and a further study of “bare bone” cost comparison between the open and closed site options. However, it’s obvious that there will remain a gap in the millions between the money available and what’s needed for the closed site plan. 

And so, the question is, how will this shortfall be funded? By raiding some of the wonderful improvement projects begun this summer? And if any extra BUSD money is available, it seems that there are other projects already in line, e.g. the completion of the South Berkeley High School plan. BUSD has already admitted not having enough money to finish this project And what about the warm water pool on the high school campus? Since BUSD’s financial situation is widely viewed as still very shaky, this doesn’t seem the time to begin raiding other programs, not completing ones already started, and not fulfilling agreements.  

Waldo Esteva 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zelda Bronstein’s Sept. 27 column demonstrates the worst kind of thinking from supposed do-gooders. Berkeley’s retail quota system is clearly outdated, and I’m thrilled the city isn’t bothering to enforce it. Ms Bronstein writes, “To be truly neighborhood-serving, a commercial district needs variety.” If folks like Ms. Bronstein had her way, we’d have commercial strips lined with stores that nobody patronized. Which would lead to a rapid decline of those neighborhoods. 

Variety is failing in our neighborhoods, and you know what? That’s OK. I don’t know about Zelda, but my world view extends beyond the half-mile radius outside my home. If Berkeley excels in food service, great! However much she oh-so-wishes we’d shop at our neighborhood hardware store, well, I’m sorry, Home Depot is not that far away, and I can get great deals online at Amazon. And clearly, I’m not the only Berkeleyan of this mindset. 

Also, why pick on food service? Restaurants and cafes strengthen community through the contact that happens there. People from the neighborhood linger and talk. Retail stores encourage isolated shopping and brief interchanges. I’ll take a packed coffeehouse over an empty ACE Hardware any day. 

Peter Merholz 

South Berkeley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This war of sorts between Berkeley Honda and the union has dwindled over the months. There are still a few picketers outside every day standing at attention in the morning waiting for customers to drive in, and sitting in lawn chairs in the afternoon overseeing the giant rat displayed on Shattuck Avenue. During brief discussions with a few of them the general consensus is that “We’ll stay out here as long as the union pays us.” The union is so afraid that somebody might want to patronize our dealership that they are paying people to stand outside. I do not think this dispute should be fought out in a cold war-esque sort of way in the local newspapers. I suggest to the general public to find out for themselves if Berkeley Honda is a quality place to do business. This will give people a first-hand opportunity to listen to both sides of the argument and make the decision if Berkeley Honda is a good place to do business. Next time the Honda owners in the local area need an oil change, light bulb replaced or anything on their Honda please stop by and see for themselves that Berkeley Honda is a good company with skilled quality employees that lives up to, or exceeds, the legacy of the former owner.  

Barry Strock 

Service Advisor 

Berkeley Honda 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley Honda customers should be aware that the service department there is not AAA-approved, despite the AAA-approval logo that appears on their letterhead and the AAA sign that hangs over the service entry. The shop’s name does not appear in the current “Directory of Approved Auto Repair Facilities” that Triple A issues. 

When AAA gives their imprimatur to a shop, they are guaranteeing the work that is done there. That is why this designation is so valued by customers. But to receive their endorsement, a shop must be in business under it’s current ownership for at least one year. Berkeley Honda’s owners purchased the dealership on June 1 of this year. 

Rather than continuing to generate the false assumption among its customers that AAA is backing their work, Berkeley Honda should immediately remove its sign and the letterhead logo. In the meantime, AAA is referring this matter to their legal department. 

Judy Shelton 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In a Sept. 23 letter to the editor, John Stillman writes that Carol Denny’s letter to UCB Chancellor Birgeneau (also published in the Daily Planet) makes “not one but two threats against the man. ‘It’s a good way to avoid riots’ is just another way of threatening to create a riot if Denney and her other whining friends don’t get their ways.”  

Actually, Denny’s letter about People’s Park was a quite friendly one, if ironic in places. Let’s look at the context from which Stillman has lifted the quote he takes from her:  

“We try to show a little respect for other people and trees and stuff, and check in before we do anything dramatic like cutting down a tree. It’s not that hard to write a letter or post a poster or have a meeting or something, and it’s a good way to avoid riots.... Come on up and help build a bench with the salvaged wood from the tree, for instance. I think that would be a really nice gesture, or at least don’t arrest the rest of us when we go ahead without you. But don’t be afraid to join us, we’re kind of a nice bunch.”  

These words (and the rest of Denny’s letter) do not contain any kind of personal threat to the chancellor.  

That said, People’s Park is certainly not the utopian community that some of its supporters have made it out to be. But the reasons for its failings are deep ones, not touched on by Stillman’s remarks.  

Raymond Barglow  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like to offer a long-standing southside resident’s view of the recently removed clothes box from People’s Park. 

That box has long been a nuisance. True it’s unsightly just being in the park, as it quickly ends up all over the sidewalk. But anyone who spends any time watching the ways of the park and adjoining neighborhood quickly observes that once delivered to the box, the donations quickly end up in various piles on sidewalks, in front of doorways, in parking lots, and so on. There seems to be a relatively small group of the chronics who wait for delivery, then immediately try to sell it to the local recycled clothing stores. In fact you often find the aforementioned piles of donations abandoned in close proximity to these stores. 

Then there is the issue of those who don’t necessarily try to sell the donations, but just use them temporarily to wear or sleep in for a night or two, then simply abandon at will. Anyone who lives/works in this are can see the resultant blight seven days a week. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight. 

What this means is that most homeless are not really benefiting from clothes donations; just a few shrewd street people. However local residents and businesses are left to clean up or put up with donations-to-discards; and this is every day! 

Clearly this operation is a failure if you ask local residents and businesses. 

Dean Hunsaker 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Carol Denney’s article is a good example of why there is so much conflict on the issue of People’s Park. While I may not agree with the university’s actions, I can understand their frustration at dealing with longtime advocates for the park such as Denney who refuse to see the park as anything but a wonderful paradise free of problems. 

Denney paints a picture that makes it seem like the free clothing exchange box is a peaceful wonderful way to clothe the homeless. Her refusal to even mention the problems associated with the box explains why no compromise can be made. Unless Denney and others are going to be honest about the situation with the box, no solution other than the university removing the box will occur. 

Denney doesn’t mention that the clothes donated to the box have become valuable currency to people who turn around and sell the clothes to Buffalo Exchange and other used clothing places near the park. The people getting first dibs at the clothes are not the old ladies who need Aunt Mabel’s sweaters, but aggressive people who see the box as a way to get easy cash. Denney doesn’t mention the violence and physical fighting that has happened as people argue over who gets the more valuable items left in the box. Denney does not mention how the worthless clothes are discarded around the park, making a mess. Denney doesn’t mention the fact that people “simply moved to help others” are accosted as they approach the box and have had bags ripped from their hands by overly aggressive people who want to get at the valuable clothes that are easy to sell before anyone else can get to them. 

While the box is a well-intentioned project, the reality is that it has become a source of violence and danger for many. 

Selective truth is not going to create a solution. Denney calls for discussion, but that discussion must include an honest assessment of a kind project gone bad and her refusal to do so and her playing the university as the big bad guy only continues the polarization of this issue. 

Sherman Boyson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mayor Tom Bates is crowing about the “era of cooperation” between the city and the university while the university throws clean clothes in the dumpster. I either want to see some cooperation protecting the tradition of free clothing exchange or I want something besides self-serving rhetoric from Bates.  

The people I personally know who suddenly found their residential neighborhoods governed by an ever-changing and ever-expanding secret “downtown” plan in which they were allowed no voice are livid about it.  

When Shirley Dean was mayor and the university geared up to attack the free food exchange in People’s Park, she made it clear to the university and the community that the city, at least, had better uses for city police and fire resources.  

I hope we can expect at least as much from Mayor Bates and acting Mayor Kriss Worthington, so we don’t waste time and money throwing people in jail for trying to give away a warm sweater.  

The city could easily establish its right to maintain clothing exchange receptacles in several locations on the median strip around the park, making it clear to the university that the clothing exchange tradition will continue as usual, at least on the park’s periphery. Without some leadership from the city, a whole lot of taxpayer money is about to be pointlessly wasted.  

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

While people think the Iraq war will be and should be ending soon, I warn you that the U.S. is preparing for another war. It was in the news a week ago that the U.S. is deploying the entire 101st Airborne Division (20,000 soldiers) together with their war hardware to Iraq. The U.S. has started sending this division a week ago. This division is supposed to be in Tikrit, Iraq for a year. 

There is no reason to send this division that specializes in air raids and rapid deployment of troops by helicopters to Iraq at this point. According to the news, this division will train the Iraqi police. This is a lie. The 101st Airborne Division is over-qualified to train soldiers and police. Besides, they do not need all their helicopters to do the training. The only purpose is to invade either Iran or Syria. The timing will be just right for the November 2006 election. 

Be prepared for another war and blood shed. 

Mina Davenport 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Today the sound of chain saws greeted me as I left my house to go to work. A neighbor on the next block was having two large, old palm trees cut down. The loss of large trees is always of great concern to me but in this case I was even more upset because barn owls have established a nest and raised young in those palms. The owls had one brood in the spring and had a second group of young very recently. I asked my neighbor if he knew about the owls in the trees and asked him why he was cutting down the trees. “Liability” was his response. Old palm fronds were falling on the sidewalk and his next door neighbor had expressed a concern that the palms were swaying in the wind and might fall on her house in a storm this winter. Apparently ignorant of the fact that old fronds can be trimmed and palms do sway in the wind without falling as these had for decades, my neighbor decided to cut the trees down. When I expressed concern about the owls and, at least waiting until the young had left the nest, he responded that the workers “are here now” and, you know, “liability.” So when I came home today the skyline was empty where two old palms had stood sentinel for several decades and the young owls had gone—but where? A little note of nature’s grace in the city is now gone from my neighborhood. And why? Because of “liability.” 

I am grieving the loss of those trees and the future generations of barn owls who will not be part of my neighborhood. People, have some respect for the great trees that grace our city! And please be aware that when you trim or cut down trees there may be young birds in those trees. Arborists can be consulted to solve tree issues and those solutions are often short of cutting the trees down. It took many years for those palms to become the neighborhood landmarks they became and only one day to obliterate them from the landscape. And why? Because of “liability.” What a country! 

Christopher Kroll 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Many letter-writers lump the local school district and the city together. This is serious misconception. The two have no common components. In fact they learn more about what each other are doing via the local papers than by any formal means of collaboration. This is how I explain to myself the cognizance rift between the two. Neither benefits by the learning curve of the other. 

I am surprised by how faintly aware are local citizens and officials of the great local building project of the past 12 years, the refurbishment and replacement of all of Berkeley’s K-12 public schools. The school rebuilding, a $300 million project nearing its completion, scarcely finds its like anywhere in the U.S. It began not with the school district bureaucracy but with citizen activists who raised the alarm after the earthquake, organized, computed the price tag and how it had to be paid, and persuaded the School Board to act. 

The early projects had some problems. But this has been a long, high-stakes learning curve. Near the end the school district was a smooth-running machine for processing public input and cranking out splendid buildings which have largely delighted constituents. (The machine has gathered a little rust recently.) Among the lessons were successful and unsuccessful models for applying public input. Another discovery was the reservoir of local citizens’ practical vision. In retrospect it was obvious that such would reside in a place like Berkeley, but there was never before such a vast occasion for turning citizen vision into concrete and sheetrock. 

I feel we should have a shot at deploying some of that local “genius” in behalf of our downtown, our “commons.” 

We know where to turn to obtain planning services. World-class professional designers are among us. But the vision which informs design must not be something we “buy”—or seek from our benign local university. We can and should author it ourselves. On the DBA design subcommittee we have thought a lot about this. Here is an idea for how it might be done, mentioned earlier in the week by in the Daily Planet: http://busduse.org/VisioningDowntownProposal.html. It is not yet approved by any organization but being shaped by citizen “brainstorming.” 

Bruce Wicinas 

DBA Design Subcommittee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

James K. Sayre’s commentary on Bush and FEMA contained an appropriate amount of righteous political anger at the misplanned and mis-executed federal responses to Hurricane Katrina—appropriate if focused on the bunglers at the top. But the situation on the ground was and is much more complex than he described, and not everything failed because of a simple-minded right-wing plot. As a Red Cross volunteer who’s personally dealt with hundreds of heart-wrenching requests for help to our national hotline from those affected by the storm, I recommend taking a broader perspective. 

It’s essential to consider separately the three phases of post-disaster work: search and rescue, emergency assistance, and long-term recovery. Search and rescue is a job for highly trained professionals, not spontaneous volunteers, and FEMA was entirely right to initially exclude the Red Cross and other entities from New Orleans and other flooded zones. That’s the agreed practice, not the result of incompetence or worse. This necessary first-phase delay of help explains exactly why every emergency preparedness agency always teaches people that they will be on their own for up to a week following a major disaster. No amount of preparation will ever eliminate that grim reality. 

In the current emergency-assistance phase, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and a multitude of other public and private agencies including FEMA have been acting exceptionally well from the ground up to first provide life essentials—water, food, shelter and clothing—and then to start work on longer-term issues of housing and local infrastructure. In the zones most damaged by the hurricane—which are generally even worse to the north and east of New Orleans than that mediagenic city is—it’s only now in the fourth week that the first multi-agency service centers have begun to appear. In many of those places, such as the Gulfport-Biloxi coast, even the emergency shelters and Red Cross disaster operations centers were destroyed—there was literally nothing left standing to use for public help.  

And that chaotic circumstance, caused by physical destruction beyond all contingency planning, cannot smugly be laid at the feet of “the illegitimate Bush regime.” 

It’s only in the third phase of longer-term recovery still to come that we will truly test FEMA and the federal response. Political media tours to the French Quarter will no doubt be frequent, while Hattiesburg and Mobile will continue suffering in the shadows. My own fear is that the politicians, bureaucrats and disastercrats will focus all our attention on the future Disneyfication of New Orleans while they leave the countryside to rot. Effective disaster response will require just a bit more than building a few new telegenic theme parks to create the illusion of full recovery when the tourists return. 

As I’ve been learning on the phone one-to-one, whole communities that never make the network news have shared utter destruction. Hundreds of thousands of evacuees now face the disorienting prospect not only of starting life over in a new place, but also of doing so in other more individualistic and more shallow-rooted communities. The rest of the country may be used to anonymous urban communities but those “roots” folks certainly are not. There’s no chapter in the FEMA handbook on how to deal with cultural displacement on a national scale, and no reason to expect them to deal with a problem that’s now local to all of us. 

So while we certainly need to give Bush and FEMA an F for the first Katrina grading period, they still rate only an Incomplete for the full course. Meanwhile, let’s remember how great a job every local disaster worker and committed volunteer has been doing day after day, in all 50 states, and let us strive with them for a grade of A on the recovery tests we face together right here in California. We will all need to do our best to support the evacuees among us—more than 1200 families in the Bay Area alone—through the even more difficult times ahead. 

Alan Tobey 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While flooded Gulf-state residents begin to reclaim their homes and communities, it looks like the inundation of federal money is going very, very well for Bush’s supporters and handlers. Look who’s receiving $100 million dollar no-bid contracts: the Shaw Group, KBR-Halliburton, Flour Corp., Bechtel, and the Shaw Group (a double-dip for them!). These corporations are clients of Joe Allbaugh, lobbyist. Remember Joe? Bush’s campaign manager in 2000, then Bush’s appointee to head FEMA before passing the patronage to his buddy, Michael “Brownie” Brown. He got money shunted to these corporations before the ink was dry on Congress’ approval of relief funds. 

Something stinks, and it isn’t just the fetid flood water in New Orleans. The administration that rivals Warren G. Harding’s for incompetence has surpassed them in corruption. And where is the press? People were outraged when they learned about Teapot Dome. Taxpayers should take note of Bush’s words when he hands such financial largess to the oligarchy, “it’s your money.” 

Bruce Joffe 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I write this letter in response to the Sept. 12 letter of A.R. Tarlow of San Pablo regarding his/her unfortunate slip and fall at Wildcat Canyon while hiking. Just today while I was carving a piece of wood with a utility knife I noticed a faint lettering on the handle, “Warning: sharp blade.” Furthermore, as we all well know, at the cafe there are signs reading, “Caution: hot coffee” and elsewhere signs reading, “Caution: slippery slope, steep drop”, etc. Now, to further augment these idiot guides to the the outside world, A.R. Tarlow suggests that the Park Service squander their time and public money to put up signs reading, “Caution: slippery acorns”! I ask this of A.R. Tarlow: What other signs should be put up? “Caution: It can be a bit chilly at night, bring a sweater,” or “Caution: uneven ground on this nature trail, watch your step so as not to fall,” or better yet, we should put up signs that warn people not to trip over signs! I would not even be surprised if A.R. Tarlow tried to file a suit against our wonderful Parks Department, which would be just another example of someone trying to find someone else or some organization to blame for their own shortcomings of motor coordination. 

In closing I suggest three things: First, A.R. Tarlow should just stay home where it is relatively safe and leave that beautiful “stately tree” free of insult from yuppie, bourgeois placards. Second, A.R. Tarlow should take the time to learn a thing or two about the “stately tree” and know that this acorn tree does indeed drop “ball-bearings” at a certain time of the year and, lastly, on his/her way to that tree A.R. Tarlow should read and re-read the sign outside his/her door reading, “Caution: the outside world.” 

Helder Parreira