Public Comment

Commentary: Letters To The Editor

Friday February 10, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The striking Berkeley Honda mechanics are launching a new program: “Ask a Union Mechanic.” 

This will begin Saturday, Feb. 11, from 1-3 p.m., and then continue every Thursday from 4:30-6 p.m. until the strike is settled. We will offer advice to anyone who wants to talk with us about their automobile mechanical problems, no matter what make car you own. This is an opportunity not only for us to help you, but also for you to meet and get acquainted with us, and to learn first hand about our concerns and problems. 

Repairing and servicing automobiles does more than just provide us with a living wage. We very much enjoy applying our professional skills to diagnosing mechanical problems and to repairing them to the satisfaction of our customers.  

You are also invited to participate with us at our Thursday rallies as well.  

We look forward to seeing you. 

Nat Courtney 

Gold Level Mechanic  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Keith Winnard (Jan. 31) just won’t get it. Public financing of elections is not designed to only cut down the cost of elections; but primarily to make politicians beholden to the commonweal rather than to large contributors. 

If he really wants public money to go to teach high school students to become voters, let him follow the example of Maine, which got universal health care for it’s citizens soon after it adopted public financing of elections. 

We ignore the effect of big money on elections at our continuing peril. 

Mal Burnstein 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I try to read every issue of the Daily Planet, and I have never seen anyone claim “...that global warming will be prevented by mass transit ...”. How can this be an “Urban Legend” (Editorial, Jan. 27) if no one espouses it? The use of strawman arguments seriously detracts from Becky O’Malley’s claim that the planners and smart building enthusiasts have got it wrong. Her trivialization of global warming is very disturbing, as global warming may be the most serious problem humanity has faced. Yes, some of us believe that we should be doing all we can to limit global warming—and that includes high density building which is pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit friendly. Ms. O’Malley offers us fatalism instead. She implies that demand for housing in Tracy and Fairfield is effectively infinite, and won’t be impacted by anything we do here. She is, in effect, a proponent of ugly sprawl (PUS). I suggest that the acronym is appropriate in portraying how such beliefs will affect our environment.  

Robert Clear  



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I enjoyed the article by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor about San Pablo Park. What will the people of Berkeley say about Derby Park 70 years from now? Which multi-use field will eventually be built? We can look at San Pablo Park and see the benefits of building the best park possible to serve the most students and community members. What if San Pablo Park had built a “practice field,” as the vocal minority wants at Derby? I don’t think anybody would remember the great practices they had there. 

Alumni, parents and supporters of Berkeley High track and field have raised money and installed a fantastic records board at the Track on campus. The students have been inspired, by seeing the rich athletic history of the Track team. They actually raised all the money to design and build the new signs. In fact, the fundraising picked up steam as the word got out and they raised more than enough money. We feel that kind of support is out there for the closed-Derby design of the park, if given the chance. 

We can inspire more kids by building the biggest and best park possible at Derby and MLK. A limited multi-use field on school district land that ignores the needs of students is a wasted opportunity. You don’t get many chances to build a new park. Let’s not settle for an inferior design just to save some money now. From the history of San Pablo Park, we can see the long-term benefits of investing in the best park possible for everyone. 

It should be simple: Close the under-used street for one block so the school district can build a park on their land that serves the most students and the most sports. Let the City Council know that the majority of Berkeley wants to close Derby for the best park possible. 

Bart Schultz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Daily Planet’s uncharacteristically feeble editorial comments on the whole Mohammed cartoon fracas brings to mind all the intellectual firepower of a Berenstein Bears five and under morality play. But let’s humor the premise that “stupidity” and “intolerance” are in fact equally distributed on all continents and among all ethnic groups and religions. Why not test out this mawkish premise empirically with a fairly simple social science experiment?  

Let’s gather three sets of cartoon caricatures extremely offensive to: 1) Nordic people and Christianity; 2) Jews and Israel; 3) Arabs and Islam. Let’s blow these caricatures into enormous posters and send them off with the Planet’s intrepid editor on an overseas fact-finding mission. 

The first stop on this adventure will be Copenhagen, Denmark. She’ll start by making a big scene in the city center with her most offensive Hagar the Horrible posters. After a few hours of these embarrassing antics, she’ll brush off the butter cookie crumbs that have been hurled at her and report back to us on her experience. 

Next she’ll jet off to Tel Aviv with her Holocaust mocking cartoon posters and plant herself in the center of Ben Gurion square. Here she’ll likely enrage a bevy of hysterical octogenarian Holocaust survivors who will let loose a torrent of verbal abuse on her. This reaction will doubtless be interpreted to prove that every group is equally prone to “overreacting” to offensive images. 

Last, in ever sense of the term, she will cross over that hateful apartheid wall into Gaza City with her offensive Mohammed caricatures to prove her point that “stupids” abound everywhere. In the unlikely event that an angry lynch mob surrounds her person, she can sententiously shout out her Christian cliché, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone,” which would doubtless immediately diffuse the mob’s rage. 

However, on further reflection, perhaps this whole experiment is conceived of backwards? Perhaps we should begin our quest to show that tolerance and intolerance are equally distributed the world over in Gaza City. After all, we read regularly how the Planet only gets by on a shoestring budget, so why not construct this important free-speech experiment in the most cost-effective manner possible and plan to donate the remaining frequent-flier miles to a good charitable cause like Amnesty International which champions freedom of expression worldwide? Let’s start a fundraising campaign now to speed up this vital mission! 

Edna Spector 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zelda, you are on record complaining about buildings in Berkeley that are too high, too cheap and now too ritzy. Based on your complaints you would have opposed Julia Morgan’s Berkeley City Club, the Campanile and for that matter all of the successful buildings ever built, that are today centers of our civic identity. 

The less we build, the more expensive existing housing becomes. The less intensively we utilize our nooks and crannies (this means height in Berkeley) the more pressure we place on open space, artisanal space and small business. Most endeavors of civic life takes place in these spaces. Build too little for our real needs and you stifle potential civic interaction in all its forms. 

You fear Emeryvillization? By “Emeryvillization” do you mean it’s diversity of race and class that it now houses (and Berkeley does not)? Or do you mean Pixar and it’s creations and creators—which would have been a wonderful tenant in our West Berkeley—where now nothing can be built. Or do you mean the slew of other services now offered in Emeryville that Berkeley citizens drive to every day because we lost them to Emeryville? What will you say when Emeryville trumps Berkeley with a light rail system or Hydrogen bus fleet that it’s innovation density will ultimately justify? 

How the cumulative effects of growth in Berkeley will positively effect our quality of life takes not whining but positive and constructive ideas. I suggest you consider how cities survive and how they flourish. It has become difficult to create anything. Calling developers greedy misses the point. We need good developers more than they need us. We need to attract good developers with a strong sound vision. This vision should start in your column. Nay saying is easy. Constructive ideas, not so easy. 

Peter Levitt 

Member of LivableBerkeley 

PS: When the mayor Bates proposes future development for the hole in the ground that is now Ashby BART station he should be commended, not called secretive and underhanded. He never suggested excluding the neighborhood from the future design. However the neighborhood is a far too myopic a place to start the planning and big idea process. If the neighborhood woke up one day to a Rockridge BART scenario they might be pretty happy. Stores, offices, schools, libraries, residences all up around their station, but with a South Berkeley feel. (And this would include a weekend flea market too!) The neighborhood, encouraged by this newspaper, has immediately taken the narrow path of gloom and doom! What is your vision for Ashby and North Berkeley parking lots? I am interested to know if you have one. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wish to share my sincere gratitude for help I received from Nick Traylor at the Berkeley Rent Board over the last couple months. I want tenants, especially, to know that there may be help for your problem too if you go to the Rent Board.  

I have lived in the same shared house in Berkeley over 13 years. In November my beloved housemate who lived here 26 years passed away unexpectedly. The landlord who had always been attentive to repairs and appeared to be a nice person suddenly suggested that he received such low rent he would like to raise it to half way between “market value” and rent control rate.  

I was still in grief at the loss of my long time housemate (who was the lease-holder). Thanksgiving and Christmas were on the horizon. I walked woodenly to the Rent Board and asked for guidance. 

I learned that since I moved in before 1996, I was completely covered by the rent law, and the agreement the landlord suggested would violate my rights as a tenant and compromise the law. 

Although I had signed no papers with the landlord since I paid my rent to my long-time housemate, I had proofs of my residence here since 1992—witnesses and shared house phone bills with calls to relatives and friends and a canceled check from 1995. After numerous visits to the Rent Board and several meetings with the landlord, he and I agreed to meet at the Rent Board so we could both get the basic advice on whether I qualified as an “original tenant” because I was in the house before 1996.  

We found an amicable resolution with the help of Nick Traylor and his co-worker, Mathew. It is kind of a miracle that the rent law was written to protect low-income people like me. But, without people like Nick Traylor who is there at the Rent Board to help tenants figure it out and find out what their rights are, it would just be a theory. Because of Nick I am able to continue to afford to live in Berkeley. I get to stay in the house I have come to call home for the last 13 years (even though my housemate is no longer here). It has been a hard transition to lose my day-to-day friend in the house. But, without Nick’s help, I was in danger of being “edged out of town” in the wake of my housemate’s death. Nick’s spirit and his confidence that tenants are people too and his clarity in knowing the law was a ray of sunshine in a dark and stormy time. Thanks, Nick.  

Nancy Delaney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding your article, “Residents, Environmentalists Debate Albany Mall,” as an Albany resident and member of the Sierra Club, I obviously support and enjoy parks and open space. However, after a careful reading of the newly unveiled CESP/CAS initiative (the “Citizens’ Planning Initiative to Protect Albany’s Shoreline”), there seems to be a major problem for Albany schools. 

The Albany Unified School District receives approximately $500,000 annually in parcel-tax assessments from Golden Gate Fields race track. In the new CESP/CAS initiative, “Planning shall assume that a large portion of the Albany Waterfront District will be dedicated or acquired for public park, open space, and environmental restoration purposes.” The remaining portion available for development will be “located as close to the Interstate 80 freeway as possible” and not within 600 feet of the shoreline. Looking at a map, I estimate this remainder at about 50 percent of the existing property. 

The developer of this small remainder—located right next to a roaring, polluted freeway—will then be obliged to build a “green, sustainable” development that somehow will generate $1.2 million in revenue annually for the city, to replace that lost from the race track. That’s unlikely, to say the least. But there’s worse to come: the developer will only pay parcel tax to the school district based on the square footage they own. That means the schools will lose about 50 percent of the current $500,000. That is, Albany schools will lose $250,000 per year, every year, if this initiative passes. 

Albany residents need to study this initiative very carefully. Our city and our schools are depending on it. 

Trevor Grayling 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

During the recent hearing on warrantless surveillance, I almost enjoyed listening to the realization dawning on even Republican senators that they are now as irrelevant to the executive branch as was the Roman Senate after Julius Caesar. Well they might worry for their own prerogatives—as well as for their necks if they get out of line—but they castrated themselves by confirming Ashcroft, Rice, Gonzales, Negroponte, Roberts, Alito, and so many others despite those nominees’ evasions and lies and the refusal of the administration to turn over requested documentation. Now, in the all-purpose name of national security, no citizen any longer has the safety formerly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.  

Like most of the press, the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board still cannot bring itself to say impeachment. The enabling mass media will soon lose what remains of the First Amendment as the Caesar from Texas further consolidates the power he has been permitted to take.  

Gray Brechin  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I remember “A cat may look at a king!” and wonder why the faith fantasies of Muslims should determine the subjects of cartoons. 

I surf the Internet and find gross caricatures of Jews on Islamic sites, yet non-Islamic cartoonists may not lampoon the hypocrisies and contradictions in just one of the multitude of religions? 

I think Islam feels very superior to other religions, a dangerous attitude. Faith cannot be the basis of human understanding and cooperation. People need mutual beliefs to agree on, not fantasies. Religion needs to be put into the closet, and be acknowledged as no more than a comfort blanket for the weak-minded. 

Please publish a cartoon to that effect. Thanks. 

Ormond Otvos 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

This paper’s coverage of the Willis-Starbuck shooting has constantly whitewashed the two most important facts. That Ms. Willis-Starbuck precipitated her own demise, and that her death was no accident. As the father of a Berkeley High School student I am saddened that more is not being said about the culpability of Ms. Willis-Starbuck and her friends. To understand this tragedy and attempt to prevent future misfortune it is essential that the core facts not be glossed over.  

Like a Greek tragic hero, Ms. Willis-Starbuck was destroyed by a fatal flaw in her character. All her promise and Ivy League education notwithstanding, Ms. Willis-Starbuck could not walk away from some disrespectful football players. The gangster imperative—that no act of perceived disrespect goes unanswered—proved too compelling. Bowing to this imperative Ms. Willis-Starbuck orchestrated her own death when she solicited her friend to avenge her honor with deadly force. In addition to being a tragic error this solicitation was likely a criminal act. If Mr. Hollis’ bullet had killed one of the football players instead of Ms. Willis-Starbuck she would now be standing trial alongside her accomplices.  

Moreover, the misguided friends of Mr. Hollis and Ms. Willis-Starbuck need to learn the difference between an accident and an intentional act. The tragic shooting of Ms. Willis-Starbuck was no accident. At Ms. Willis-Starbuck’s behest Mr. Hollis transported a firearm from Oakland to Berkeley. Intentionally aimed the firearm toward the people his friend was arguing with and proceeded to discharge the firearm. This is a textbook intentional act. That Mr. Hollis did not intend to shoot his friend is of absolutely no relevance. Mr. Hollis intentionally brought a firearm to a dispute and intentionally and without justification discharged the weapon with, at the very least, reckless disregard for human life. This is all that is required for a murder conviction. The district attorney does not need to prove that Mr. Hollis intended to kill any specific person.  

It’s very sad that the lives of three young people have been destroyed by their adherence to a gangster code. However, the situation is not improved by trying to downplay the culpability of the actors. 

Francis McGowan 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The development of housing and related commercial and community facilities on the Ashby BART parking lot strikes many people as something that is long overdue. There is a dire shortage of sites for new housing—for all income groups—that this city sorely needs. And, South Berkeley needs such a shot in the arm to breathe more life into the Adeline and Ashby shopping areas; the parking lot is a barrier that artificially separates them. It is a dead space that is unpleasant to look at and forbidding at night  

I think few would argue that the parking lot has charm or is worthy of preservation! Presumably, those who have decided to oppose any development don’t fear development per se, but fear the possible nature of what might get built.  

It was a visionary city leadership that negotiated for the air rights over the parking lot some 40 years ago. It gave our community the ability to make something good happen—to use the rights as a community building and strengthening resource. What Councilmember Max Anderson has proposed is to involve the community in a planning process to determine the best use of this resource. I would urge the entire community join in the process as visionaries who want to participate in the development of this property as a major step toward a better future for South Berkeley. 

Ali R. Kashani