Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday February 07, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

You guys must be really desperate for news. If any of you knew Alex Katz, you would know that he is a first-rate reporter who is as objective as a reporter can be. Like Cynthia Gorney said, there is no proof of any bias in Katz’ school stories. And what would you do in his place? Give notice to the Oakland Tribune before you had secured another job? Don’t be idiots. If you are real journalists, you know that stories are often held for days after they’re written, and any story printed on Friday, Jan. 13 or Monday, Jan. 16, was obviously completed, or near completion, before he gave notice on Jan. 12. Do you really think it was Katz’ intention, by writing a story about the closing of the Castlemont High School Library, to aid OUSD in their negotiations with the teachers’ union? Sounds to me like the Daily Planet has big newspaper envy. 

Meghan Ward 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If you question the ethics of Oakland Tribune reporter Alex Katz , I question your decision to print the “Ethics Issues” story without getting a perspective from Katz or the school district. Writing “neither the district nor Katz was available for comment” doesn’t mean anything. Did you call him multiple times? E-mail him? Pray tell. 

Such weak reporting goes on the op-ed page, not as a news story. 

Jason Blalock 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Letter-writer John McMullen says he is “aghast” that a “point-of-view” advertisement is posted in a BART station, a public space that is subsidized by taxes. While his letter is carefully couched to avoid expressing a point of view of his own, I wonder what on Jefferson’s green earth he could possibly be thinking. Last time I checked—and, I admit, the situation is changing rapidly—we live in a democracy, in which citizens are meant to conduct political discourse with one another in order to wrestle toward resolution the constant and shifting conflicts that arise among people whose opinions are not marshalled by thought-police into neat, conforming rows. Does Mr. McMullen mean to suggest that political discourse ought to be a private matter, conducted in dark alleys and behind closed doors, where each of us can be safely and hermetically isolated from those whose points of view diverge from our own? I sure hope that’s not where we’re headed. As the still-controversial third president of the United States once observed, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.” While I myself go queasy at the content and tenor of the anti-choice ads that so upset Mr. McMullen, it would be a nail in the coffin of democracy to agitate against the right of those with whom I disagree to express themselves in public. Whose mouth gets duct-taped next? Mine, maybe?  

Steve Masover 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Our compliments to the Daily Planet for Suzanne La Barre’s interesting article “Watchdog Group Will Sue Pacific Steel.” Many have called or e-mailed us with the same questions: are you proposing to clean up PSC once and for all—or close them down? What about the jobs and the tax base? We’d like to clarify our position:  

We have never asked for the closure of PSC; we clearly have demanded they stop polluting our air! It is up to PSC to determine if, how or when they will do so. is not in favor of dirty jobs and companies that expose their workers and our neighborhoods to toxics 24/7. We side with, and fully support, our neighborhoods.  

I know this is a tough situation for many—including the Ecology Center and local politicians who have complex loyalties and relationships with the powers that be in B-Town, but our focus is dedicated to the citizens living in our neighborhoods who have long suffered from both the toxic rain of PSC and the lack of political will to fully remedy the problem. will continue to try to find ways to work on the PSC problem with any and all individuals and groups who are interested in cleaning up the noxious, toxic vapors that PSC relentlessly vents into our air from its chimney stacks on 2nd Street. Anyone who has suffered from this nuisance may join this suit. 

We will be posting regular updates on our progress at 

P.S.: Please let your readers know about Councilmember Linda Maio’s community meeting at 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Berkeley Senior Center. Everyone who is interested in this situation should join the and other interested groups and attend this public meeting. (We understand that PSC will actually show up this time to meet the people they are endangering daily!) 

Willi Paul 

Founder and Project Director  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In Friday’s article on the Downtown Plan Committee, it was mentioned that the committee “was formed as a condition of the settlement of a city suit against the university, filed in an attempt to mitigate [UC’s] impacts on the city and local taxpayers.” 

The settlement agreement does not have this committee as a condition.  

In fact, the settlement agreement envisions a planning process well-removed from the public. 

According to the settlement agreement, the Downtown Area Plan is to be prepared by a joint UC/City of Berkeley planning process with one FTE planner from each entity. The staff from the two entities “will meet to ensure the orderly and timely completion of the plan” within 48 months. 

The agreement continues to reinforce that the Downtown Area Pan is a creature of the city and university: 

“All public meetings regarding the Downtown Area Plan ... must be jointly sponsored by the city and UC Berkeley.” 

“... because the Downtown Area Plan is a joint plan, there shall be no release of draft or final Downtown Area Plan or EIR without concurrence of both parties.” 

“UC Berkeley reserves the right to determine if the Downtown Area Plan or EIR meets the Regents’ needs.” 

The exclusion of the public and the Planning Commission from the planning process, in violation of our city charter and municipal code is one of the reasons I and three other Berkeley residents decided to sue the city and the university over the terms of the settlement agreement. 

For the text of the settlement agreement, see 

For information on the lawsuit, please e-mail 

Anne Wagley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like to thank Mayor Bates for his invitation to his State of the City address. 

I have a few questions about what is to be covered in this address. 

In his January 2005 Mayor’s Policy Briefs/Re-inventing Berkeley Government, he mentioned his support of an in-progress sunshine ordinance “to ensure and open and transparent government.” The mayor stated, “The Clerk has prepared an excellent working draft and we must complete work and adopt it this year.” That is, in 2005. 

In the upcoming State of the City address, I hope the mayor will tell the people what he did on this issue in 2005 and how soon this ordinance will be ready for public review and implementation.  

This is especially relevant in light of the city attorney’s current refusal to release information under a Public Records Act request for documents related to the revision of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, the “surprise” grant application for the Ashby BART station development, and the secrecy leading up to the UC settlement agreement. Perhaps those three incidents from 2005 will also suggest some additions to the draft sunshine ordinance. 

Sharon Hudson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Tuesday night President Bush spoke on our need to change the way we power America. Yet his “solutions” are pitiful stand-ins for actual progress. I am no longer amused while wondering if he’ll pronounce “nuclear” correctly, rather I am terrified that he calls it “safe and clean.” A process that leaves barrels of toxic waste cannot possibly be described as safe or clean. 

He claims that by 2025 we can reduce our dependency on Middle Eastern oil by 75 percent. What he failed to report was that the Energy For Our Future Act, a current piece of legislation, would save as much (not three-fourths of) oil as we import from the Middle East within 10 years, not 20. 

When will we demand truth and action and stop being satisfied with simple sound bytes that carry no substance? How about today? 

LC Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Becky O’Malley deserves praise for her articulate defense of Cindy Sheehan’s First Amendment rights. It was indeed outrageous that Capitol Cops should have thrown Sheehan out of the State of the Union address for simply wearing an anti-war slogan on a t-shirt. 

And it was equally appalling that the same cops should have removed the wife of a congressman who wore a “Support Our Troops” shirt.  

Moreover, O’Malley deserves kudos for noting that Code Pink people were out of line for bashing BART because it ran a “pro-life” ad. This should have not come a surprise to O’Malley as she can’t help but have noted the regular hypocrisy of local leftists when it comes to freedoms of expression. For example, surely O’Malley remembers the successful efforts of her pal, Barbara Lubin, to keep Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking in Berkeley.  

Unfortunately, while Ms. O’Malley’s editorial was in the finest tradition of an editor’s support of First Amendment rights, I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t include the most egregious recent demands for censorship played out on an international stage, the demonstration of millions of Muslims worldwide in condemnation of cartoons published depicting their prophet Muhammed. As this happened before the Daily Planet was put to bed, it is curious to note the absence of any editorial commentary by Ms. O’Malley on this odious attempt to abridge freedom of the press.  

I hope to see some future response by O’Malley on the above as we have already seen representatives of the EU threatened by thugs in Gaza and a speech there from a Palestinian religious leader stating: “We will not accept less than the severing of heads by those responsible.”  

Dan Spitzer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Muslims may object to being portrayed as berserk bombers, but their recent reaction to the Danish cartoons would seem to prove that very point. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like to respond to the Jan. 27 letter by Chris Kavanagh regarding the reasons for Berkeley having a much higher unit registration fee than that of San Francisco and Oakland. He states first that San Francisco has an “honor system” between owners and tenants. This is true only if you believe that a contract, i.e. rental agreement, can be broken with impunity, and that tenants are a childlike lot who have no hope of understanding that agreement. He states that Berkeley has a city operated “tracking system” for all rents; this is known to the rest of us as a database--rents are not wild geese being chased down the Pacific flyway. In the era of Costa-Hawkins, all that needs be known is the initial rent, services provided, length of lease and the date, and the “correct, legal amount” can be automatically calculated from there. For pre Costa-Hawkins legacy tenants, all this information is already in the archives. Even if you believe that it is necessary to send out a mailing listing the allowable rent each year, it should not take a $3 million bureaucracy to do it. 

Other services which he asserts the Rent Board offers are:  

1. Mediation-hearing examiner process. How often has this been used in the past year?  

2. An agency legal counseling service for both property owners and tenants. This sounds so even-handed, but how many landlords have actually trusted the Rent Stabilization Program to give them advice, and how many tenants have taken advantage of it with all the other free legal advice available to tenants in Berkeley?  

3. Information newsletters/mailings. People actually read these things? I get one in every utility bill, credit card and bank statement etc. 

Lastly, Mr. Kavanagh claims that the staff receives over 10,000 “inquiries” per year. This sounds impressive until you do the math. Assuming the office is open 250 days in a year, for 7.5 hours in an average day, this works out to 5.3 inquiries per hour. I’ll bet this number includes the “How late are you open” kind, so how many staff members need to be devoted to this? Most of the substantive inquiries would hardly be necessary anyway if the board did not adopt convoluted and perverse interpretations of plain language in State law, to which they grudgingly submit, and common sense, to which they don’t submit at all (e.g. see their interpretation of the meaning of “original tenant” in the Costa-Hawkins law.) 

I can’t help but think that the $3 million, and rising, each year which the Rent Stabilization Program consumes could be put to better use in an assistance program targeted to people who really need it. It could fund a subsidy of $250,000 per month for the neediest people in Berkeley, helping hundreds of families directly without the rancor and ill will of the current regime. 

Mike Mitschang 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

1. Has no one else heard the rest of Osama bin Laden’s message? He threatens, yes, but then offers a truce. Sounds good to me. Stop the killing! 

2. What’s an insurgent? 

3. How much does a shopping cart cost? How much of a $40 grocery bill am I donating, like it or not, to pay for a stolen grocery wagon? 

I have a simple answer to most of our complex problems: Cancel the war and close the worldwide string of U.S. military bases (how would we like a foreign base in our neighborhood?) and use the money for universal free health care as good as Congress gets, housing the homeless, educating everybody tuition-free, and so on. 

It would work! 

Ruth Bird 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A recent Daily Planet article reminded me of the many happy times our family spent riding on the Southern Pacific train through all the winding tracks and tunnels in the Santa Cruz mountains to our summer home one block from the beach at Seabright. 

I recall eating sandwiches and apples sitting on the passenger car seats and smelling the smoke from the locomotive each time we went through a tunnel. And the taxi ride from the Santa Cruz station to the house at Seabright with all our baggage.  

I remember how we ran out to the gate each time we heard a train coming, to watch the plumes of smoke approaching until the fire breathing, clanking monster rolled across Seabright Avenue pulling its train of sand-filled cars from Felton behind it. 

The sheer awesome power of those massive clanking locomotives with fire flickering in their belly and an engineer in the cab was fascinating to a 10-year-old. You had to experience it first hand to truly appreciate it. 

There was a camel bridge over the railroad that if we were lucky we could stand on top of as the train went under. Smoke all around us and steam too if the engineer blew the whistle. Those are memories I will never forget. 

Stephen Jory 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

One word to describe the State of the Union Address: boring! Not that I held high expectations but how much non-information can someone squeeze into an hour (or 40 minutes minus the applause)? Aside from the blatant overuse of culturally latent words like “liberty” “diplomacy” and “freedom” (that all mean essentially the same thing) I am unable to draw a single conclusion as to what Mr. Bush plans to do with our country and the world for the next 1,000 days. One thing is clear: Bush and his supporters are not taking global warming seriously. The goals to cut our dependence on foreign oil, cut down CO2 emissions, and to stabilize an economy that is not based on oil are admirable. However, the methods proposed last night, such as investing more money in technology, are minimal measures at most. There is a bill in the House of Representatives that addresses all of these issues and doesn’t cost Americans a dime. It’s called the Energy For Our Future Act. This bipartisan initiative will raise fuel-efficiency standards for cars, trucks, and SUVs to 40 miles a gallon. This new standard for American car makers would save as much oil as we now import from the Middle East. It would slash our contribution to global warming by 250 million tons over a decade. Last, but not least it would save consumers 45 billion at the pump on gas. 

Bronwyn Dietel 


For Peet’s Sake 

“In Alameda County, the whitest tract isn’t in the outlying suburbs. It’s in progressive, university-town Berkeley.” 

—San Francisco Chronicle 


Pretty soon, 

A black man will have to 

Present a visa 

In order to enter 



Even the well-dressed 



But look at it this way 

At the downtown Peet’s 

You get your own 



—Ishmael Reed