Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday February 17, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have followed the issue of the Ashby BART transit village, attending both the Jan. 17 community meeting and the Feb. 11 city-called meeting, and listened to the many, many who have expressed opinions on this topic, and it is very clear to me that: 

The common good must be defined and affirmed by the many, not the few. 

What might be gained on one specific project is meaningless if trust is not established and maintained. 

And though I do not doubt anyone’s intentions here, nor wish to impugn the same, I believe the city has bungled community participation in the proposed project and should withdraw the Caltrans grant application, begin a six-month community outreach and true community process, and resubmit the grant application in October. 

Further, I question whether any development at the South Berkeley Ashby BART site (a public asset), with air rights held by the City of Berkeley (a public entity holding another public asset) should ever include a for-profit, private developer; many of us oppose privatizing national forest properties, school vouchers, and the move to shift social security funds into private investment. Why should we permit privatization in our own city? 

John Selawsky 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kriss Worthington deserves applause for forcefully questioning the paucity of students and minorities on Berkeley commissions. It seems to me that the issue is related to the shortage of young people and minorities on non-government as well as government agencies in Berkeley. The problem has long been ignored, in part out of reluctance to confront a prime cause. 

Berkeley has a huge glut of 1960s hippies, aged white radicals who happen to be experts in fields that lead to city commission or NGO positions. Years ago, averse to working for The Man, the longhairs chose to spend most of their waking hours researching, studying, writing and networking. They managed this lifestyle by living in communes, co-ops, and in lofts of Berkeley brown-shingle homes. The occasional financial problem has been handled by aid from the “square” brother or sister who “got a real job.” 

Berkeley of the ‘60s had its black hippies, but the sense of obligation to fight racism “in the hood” made most drift away. So, Bobby Seale, who spent many a day speechifying and selling the Black Panther newspaper in Sproul Plaza, went off to teach at Temple. Another Panther paper peddler at Sproul who went off to work with the masses in Philadelphia is Mumia Abu Jamal. He recently wrote fondly of his days in Berkeley. 

Kriss and the council could go beyond the hippie experts by creating commissions for which youth and minorities are the experts, such as a commission on poetry slams, commission on gospel church choirs, and commission on imports from India. A timely agency with an immediate task would be a commission to find a hiring hall for our day laborers. Numerous other “progressive” cities have established such halls. 

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Those who have listened to KPFA over the past decade will not be surprised to see Larry Bensky note (Daily Planet, Feb. 14) the loss of a quarter of its listening audience over the past decade and, despite the growing anger toward Bush’s failed policies, the loss of nearly 20,000 listeners from last summer to the present day. To understand this precipitous decline, Bensky need look no further than his own news department, whose incessant reduction of everything its designated villains—the United States, Israel, and white heterosexual males—do as evil incarnate, has succeeded in marginalizing a once appreciated community resource into a voice valued solely by ideological simpletons. Some at the station may believe that the new director will reverse this, but they are woefully mistaken as this personnel change will only be akin to putting lipstick on a pig. 

Speaking of which, a few Hamas spokespeople’s dressing in suits for news conferences underscores that attempting democracy in a Palestinian society where it never previously existed is also comparable to attempting cosmetic surface alterations on a sow. As these spokespeople have articulated, the basic credo of Hamas remains the same: genocide, discrimination against women and homosexuals, censorship, etc. So when Helen Finkelstein (Letters, Feb. 14) denigrates Daily Planet cartoonist DeFreitas for depicting thuggish figures dressed in black and brandishing weapons, she fails to note that DeFreitas’ drawings are only reflecting the most basic values of that organization, as well as the way Hamas has publicly exhibited itself since its inception.  

Dan Spitzer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

A Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance has been “in-progress” for many years, but our City Council majority may prefer to keep citizens in the dark. Consider a new City Charter change “Signature In-Lieu of Candidate Filing Fee.” Neither the charter nor the city clerk’s office has the correct information available on when the signature gathering officially begins. Yet knowing this timely information can give a candidate six or more weeks head start in official campaigning!  

In 2004 after this charter change was adopted, the council majority’s favorite candidates, Daryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, and Max Anderson, knew what to do. 

They used the signature-gathering time to meet and greet and get signatures from unlimited numbers of their district voters who can sign only one council candidate’s papers. Independent candidates seemed clueless about this process because information was so late. 

Even now, correct information is not available for the “Signature in Lieu” period for the November (mayor, council, auditor, schools, and Rent Board) election. But possible candidates should expect the “signature” process to begin as early as May.  

Merrilie Mitchell  



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just read Joe Eaton’s Feb. 14 article on potato bugs aka Jerusalem crickets. They have long been my favorite insect in the Bay Area. However, I must disagree with you that they don’t bite. Recently at school, I was holding one and everyone asked whether I wasn’t afraid. I cavalierly said that they aren’t dangerous and don’t bite, at which point the bug bit me hard, so hard that I couldn’t shake it off. No, not dangerous, but yes, they do bite! It actually broke the skin. Thanks for an informative article otherwise. 

Mary Wheeler 

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Bay Area badly needs transit-oriented development (TOD), and particularly needs major amounts of housing within walking distance of rail stations. It makes no sense for the land around Ashby BART station to serve only as parking lots.  

Tom Bates, Max Anderson, and Ed Church have mulled this over for a considerable time, appropriately to their roles as mayor, local councilmember, and SBNDC consultant, respectively. Early last fall, Church saw an opportunity to snag a $120,000 state grant for new planning work, including public consultation. He quickly filed an application to meet the deadline, letting the City Council know of this small coup as soon as it would listen. Now Church and his elected partners are being accused of closed-door crony politics and worse. This groundless charge seems mainly to vent their attackers‚ generalized mistrust of government.  

At the same time, the 2004 feasibility analysis sponsored by the East Bay Foundation probably over-limits itself by trying to shoehorn about 500 apartments into the four acre triangle west of the station while keeping heights to six stories and declining to think about exploiting nearby space given to roads. There are plenty of things to discuss about this proposal, and about the Ashby project broadly construed. Bates, Anderson and Church have signaled eagerness for such discussions, which could certainly be helped along by the small Caltrans planning grant if it is awarded to Berkeley.  

Some of the people who are calling for the dropping the grant application, and casting themselves as Davids fighting Goliath, have made genuine contributions: Robert Lauriston has put up a perceptive and informative web-site at “” A good “policy wonk,” as he calls himself, is a pearl of great price in this kind of work, and he shares with Kenoli Oleari a populist vision and an articulateness which are much needed in such public decision-making.  

Mayor Bates should maintain the city’s application for the Caltrans grant. In addition to the neighborhood living room discussions now planned, he could well put together a working group including Anderson, Church, Lauriston, Oleari, a flea market vendors’ rep, and others, perhaps including reps from BART and the MTC, to roll up their sleeves on serious, ambitious TOD planning for Ashby. 

Peter Lydon 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Justifications offered (sarcastically) by Peter Levitt (Letters, Feb. 10) and remarks by Tom Bates and city staffers about obliterating the Ashby BART parking lot to put up yet more big buildings rely on assumptions that 1) something is wrong with the parking lot as it is, 2) “the neighborhood” will benefit from more buildings and businesses, and 3) that concerns over housing force a decision to proceed. 

A look about town reveals any amount of empty, recently built retail space and vacant older stores and offices. There is no crying need for more. And if we are talking about luring new business to South Berkeley, too many existing businesses now paying taxes to the city are on the verge of collapse. More competition will not do local small business people any good. 

The parking lot, on the other hand, does a lot of good for people who use BART, flea market vendors, and residents of the area who use both of these resources while enjoying the last bit of open space. Reducing available parking is a step backward—regardless of claims that filling “the air space over the parking lot” with more wood and stucco will somehow increase use of public transit. 

Housing? New apartments have sprung up all over town like mushroom children of the love fest between the city and developers. Rent prices are down and there are more vacant apartments in Berkeley now than in the last 20 years. Housing is not a pressing need either.  

Mr. Bates’s slip of the tongue by referring to “condos” during the recent meeting to drive development of the Ashby BART parking lot may offer a better clue to who the real beneficiaries are (and the reason the city attempted to circumvent public participation): dollars today for developers and builders and dollars forevermore for the city.  

Berkeley’s small businesses and working citizens should not always take a back seat to the machinations of the Must Have Mores, and we should all acknowledge that open space in Berkeley is precious and finite and needs to be preserved. 

Glen Kohler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Feb. 7, Mike Mitschang blithley dismisses any need for a city-operated rent level tracking/database system monitoring each of the city’s 19,000 rental units. 

Mr. Mitschang declares that the city’s Rent Stabilization Program “should not” maintain any computerized record keeping system, or provide an annual mailing to renters and property owners citing each unit’s legal rent amount. 

Instead, under Mr. Mitschang’s scenario, the Rent Stabilization Agency’s rent level monitoring system should be fully dismantled and abandoned, and the computerized database eliminated. 

Subsequently, Berkeley’s tens of thousands of tenants would then submit to an informal “honor system” between individual renters and owners to correctly monitor each unit’s legal rent level year by year. 

Other rent level variables such as the “Annual General Adjustment”—the annual unit rent increase (or decrease)—property owner capital improvement expenses, increases or decreases in rental property services, etc, would, presumably, also fall under Mr. Mitschang’s new, informal renter/owner honor system policy. 

Obviously, Mr. Mitschang’s vision of a “database-free” system represents not only the dismantlement of Berkeley’s voter-approved Rent Stabilization Ordinance, but would also contribute to a lack of renter housing security and stability. 

A rent level information blackout is exactly what Berkeley’s renter and owner communities do not need in one of the nation’s most expensive rental housing markets. 

Very briefly, to respond to Michael St. John’s Feb. 14 commentary: if the City of Berkeley were to follow Mr. St John’s “advice” and allow the conversion of “200 to 500” rental units per year into condominums—or “remove all restrictions” on conversions—the consequences would be devastating: mass tenant evictions from their units would follow and use of the state Ellis Act (used to empty buildings of renters) would likely increase dramatically.  

Mr. St. Michael’s idea should be considered dead on arrival. 

Chris Kavanagh 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Robert Clear delivers a simplistic and self-serving critique (Letters, Feb. 10) of Daily Planet editor Becky O’Malley who has expressed legitimate concerns regarding Berkeley’s current development bonanza. It is a good idea for cities along the I-80 corridor to reasonably increase downtown density to slow the spreading suburbs and the added global warming car trips that come with it. Berkeley’s downtown density already exceeds other towns because we are home to a huge University of California campus and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), state and federal facilities who already have acquired much of our taxable base through their awesome budgets and land acquisition powers.  

Mr. Clear, an employee of LBNL, is just supporting his employer’s position on lab-university mega projects by not mentioning the obvious differences between Berkeley and other corridor cities like Fremont or Crockett.  

The development plans are contrary to the best interests of most of the other people and families who currently reside in Berkeley and threaten the balance that has made the town an interesting and barely affordable place to live.  

Mark McDonald  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a person of color and a producer at WBAI, KPFA’s sister station in New York City, I would like to point out a racially biased comment in the article “KPFA Staff, Board Eye New Pacifica Director” by Judith Scherr. Scherr wrote: “Pacific radio is facing familiar challenges—how to bring in new voices without silencing the old, how to diversify the audience without dumbing down programming and how to keep peace in the often confrontational staff.”  

Ms. Scherr assumes that in creating programming for “diverse” audiences, which today is typical code language for people of color, one might be tempted to engage in a “dumbing down” process. To clarify my objection, let’s change the phrase to “how to attract more women listeners without dumbing down programming.”  

Now is it clear?  

Actually, people of color audiences in the United States tend to be more sophisticated about foreign and domestic policy, racism, sexism, justice, etc. Typically immigrants speak more than one language while Americans are notoriously monolingual. The Indigenous peoples of the United States, who only receive token air time in Pacifica, likewise are highly educated like other peoples of color in the political reality of institutional racism.  

Speaking of institutional racism, it is the near failure of Pacifica to open the gates to peoples of color as producers (who will then attract “diverse” audiences) that is dumb. It is institutional racism that led to the defeat of affirmative action in Pacifica’s bylaws. Thanks to the racist gatekeepers in Pacifica, this year the majority of the Pacifica National Board is white, and Pacifica is going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which it grants to “minority” stations. With political leadership like that, who needs Alito?  

So the issue is not whether Pacifica’s programming has to be “dumbed down” but rather can we be inclusive and smart enough to attract and meet the needs of sophisticated audiences of color. I suggest the Daily Planet interview a “diverse” range of the many talented voices within Pacifica, and not let someone like Larry Bensky, who is viewed by many progressives within Pacifica as the “voice of PNR,” speak for the network. People on the outside of Pacifica like Scherr may not understand the struggle over race and power in Pacifica is now couched in terms of “money” and “budget” and “quality programming” with a drive by some forces at WBAI, (which is referred to by some as a “black station”), to “bring back white audiences,” an argument itself based on the colonialist assumption that audiences of color have no money and can be equally well served by well-intentioned, predominantly white programmers and boards. Bensky’s total disrespect for the Pacifica boards must be understood in this context.  

Pacifica’s future does not lie in mainstream mimicry, in recreating a dumbed down white male dominated national star system. Rather, we must lay our free-range eggs in many small grassroots baskets. Next time, Daily Planet, interview Tiokasin Ghosthorse of First Voices, or Eddie Ellis and Ayo Harrington of On The Count. Or talk to some of Pacifica’s radical anti-racist white programmers, or to the producers of the upcoming national Spanish language programming coming out of KPFK Los Angeles, or talk to reporters at Free Speech Radio News out in the field in Nigeria, Iraq, or in the jungles of Nepal. As Arundhati Roy said, a new world is coming, and if we listen carefully, we can hear her breathe.  

Sheila Hamanaka  

Producer, WBAI Women’s  

Collective, East Asia Radio  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

If KPFA wants to reverse its decline in listeners all it has to do is to emulate the editorial policy of the Daily Planet. How satisfying it is to read Planet commentary and letters from all sides of Berkeley opinion. But it is not so easy to get your voice out on KPFA. 

The number-one arbitron rating radio station in the Bay Area, for decades now, is KGO: 24 hours of audience talk-back. KPFA’s audience is vastly more articulate and educated than KGO’s. But except for a few shows, KPFA’s audience is shut out. And listener participation on KPFA is moving backwards. When C.S. Soong took over the noon hour Monday to Wednesday he immediately eliminated callbacks. Instead of Bill Mandel taking calls about the Soviet Union we have the one way voice of “North Africa and Middle East.” And who can ever replace Mama O’Shea? You always knew what she thought, but she was gracious and good-humored to everyone. 

OK, so I agree with about 75 percent of what I hear on KPFA. But if you want to win converts and new listeners and sharpen your own ideas, you have to have open dialogue. You can have self righteousness or you can have an expanding audience, but not both. Let us hope that the new Pacifica manager is aware of the choice. 

Laurence Schechtman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m curious: How did neighborhoods get veto power over all development? When South Berkeley residents oppose development at Ashby BART, by what right does their opinion outweigh those of others who might like to live there, but who can’t because of the shortage of housing?  

Nicholas Kibre 

Redwood City 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Yes, you can stop your City Council from doing stupid, costly, pointless things. You can stop the manipulative, imitation-grassroots manufacture of phony citizen groups. You can save your own tax dollars and the City of Berkeley from coming up with another laughing-stock opportunity to embarrass itself nationally, but only if you act now. 

It’s so easy. Tell Linda Maio and Tom Bates to quit it. Just quit worrying about the sound of train whistles. People who hate the sound of trains shouldn’t live in Berkeley, let alone West Berkeley, any more than people who hate the sound of the ocean should live at the beach. 

Train sounds may be an acquired taste, but once acquired, they seem as natural as moonlight, and as evocative as a saxophone. If Linda Maio and Tom Bates have their way, an “alternative system” will be put in place robbing us all of the sound of trains. 

They’ve even sent their flocks of operatives knocking door to door for petitioners, so the “alternative system” will resemble a response to a grass-roots request. Don’t think for a minute they knocked on mine. 

West Berkeley has problems. It has serious pollution, the life-threatening kind, which Maio and Bates only pose as opposing. It has constant threats to the plan which attempts to preserve its low-income art communities, probably Berkeley’s last, while Maio and Bates champion every condo project they see. Linda Maio was the crucial vote which brought my neighborhood the horrible Blockbuster/Pet Express building where once there was literally a beautiful gateway to Berkeley, and Bates, well, look around. 

West Berkeley needs a lot of attention in a lot of arenas; the list would be long. What it doesn’t need is a lot of money wasted on a project that is just a long, red carpet for the big condo project planned near the tracks, condos which won’t sell for as much money without the “alternative” to train sounds. 

Put down your foot. Pick up the phone. Tell your neighbors, and above all, start your own petition. Act now, before your town is, once again, the favorite focus of late-night comedians. 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Vandals or other agents unknown have smashed three of the four BHS warm pool south window panels. The breakage occurred in the lower portion of each panel. As a result, the panels, tall and narrow, slowly slip down in their frames. The frames are breaking up and need to be replaced as well as the glass. 

The south window provides generous and welcome sun and light to the south pool room. The users all appreciate the south window’s function. We all want the window for its function. We want and need the window repaired. 

The plywood and boards recently put in place over low portions of window are temporary, to hold back broken glass from falling on people. Weeks have passed sine boards were placed there. Months have passed since plywood was placed there, inside. Plywood blocks the light. 

It may be years before the warm pool moves elsewhere. We community users realize that various forces within the school district feel the warm pool no longer serves the school district. If by magic we could lift the building to a new home site, everyone might be pleased. Planners make it look easy to move functions around as if by magic. Planners have promised everyone happiness by moving the warm pool function. 

An architect told me today that “the warm pool rooms are rock solid” in their structural construction. Kers Clausen, structural engineer, told me essentially the same thing six or seven years ago; leading to the new roof at the south pool. I’ve always felt the same about the structure. 

For these reasons, I believe the window repairs should take place. More damage can only further endanger the users. More damage due to vandalism can occur “unnoticed” if present damage is not repaired. Lexan can replace glass to avoid future softball breakage. Rusted ugly screen can then be removed. The wire glass employed at the south window failed under the type of blows impacted. 

Terry Cochrell