Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday February 24, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet:  

These days it’s so easy to dash off an e-mail. Easy, convenient, and irretrievable. I’ve got to believe that the writer who commented on the Hamas electoral victory (Letters, Jan. 27) must have dashed off his unkind missive in a fit of fury, pushed “send” and then thought better of it.  

When someone paints an entire group of people as “filled with hatred and steeped in the culture of suicide bombing,” it surely calls for an apology. What if he had substituted Jews, or African Americans, Mexicans, or Canadians for his judgment on the entirety of Palestinians? Would that be acceptable?  

Palestinians are not just a group in a far-away place who might never read his harsh letter. They are our neighbors in this community. They operate grocery stores, businesses and their children go to school with our children. They are our friends.  

Barbara Henninger 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the Ashby BART debate: No one seems to remember that area used to be businesses with housing above. My boyfriend (later my husband) lived above the business on the southeast corner of Ashby and MLK when we met. I can’t say yes or no to this particular proposal, because I’m not currently living in South Berkeley. I can say I’d rather see housing instead of a parking lot almost anywhere in Berkeley. Could Adeline Street (Ashby to the next signal light) be closed on the weekends for the flea market? 

Carol Beth 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Recent editorial columns praise “President” Bush’s call for increased funding of education in mathematics and science. Recently the Charlie Rose program featured two prominent “science” personages to discuss the possibility that in the near future the United States may disastrously fall behind China and India in scientific discovery, invention, and technological innovation. 

While expressing strong belief that improvement in our grades K-12 are crucial, the Merck Company’s notable underlined that annually nearly half the recipients of U.S. universities’ Ph.D. degrees in the exact sciences soon take to other countries, usually of the students’ birth, their new U.S.-learned knowledge. 

In immediate reaction to this warning of—if not a brain drain—at least of the lessening of higher education slots for U.S. citizens, the other savant decried how the State Department assists in this dilution of our competitive edge in science: Students overseas who seek visas to enter the U.S. for advanced studies are asked whether they intend ultimately to return home, or will stay in the United States. Those who express a wish to remain in the United States receive visas less often than do those who intend to leave after completion of studies—often taken for personal economic advancement, rather than to serve needy homelands! 

Tie this with the fact that (at least the University of California, and probably at other public Ph.D. mills) foreign students pay appreciably higher tuition than that of state residents. Then contrast the complaints of teaching staffs, resident students and applicants with the complacency of overpaid administrators courted by prestige-greedy businessworld regents. 

Judith Segard Hunt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Much praise to Jane Powell (Daily Planet, Feb. 21) for saying what is too seldom said: “smart growth” does not prevent suburban sprawl. Those who invoke such words as “urban infill,” “smart growth,” “elegant density,” “transit village,” etc. give a feel of good environmentalism cover to developers and their current crop of allied Development Democrats such as Perata, De La Fuente, and Brown (J. and W.). Meanwhile, sprawl and infill continue apace, side by side, unabated. 

A connection could be established between the two. It’s conceivable that some sort of arrangement between urban areas and suburban/exurban areas could be reached such that if urban areas allowed a certain amount of infill then nonurban areas would restrict sprawl. At present there is absolutely no mechanism for this, which is, of course, the point.  

Until there is a way to connect urban infill with restrictions on sprawl, the structuring of which would have to come at the state level, then no further urban infill should be accepted on the basis of sprawl prevention. Any developer or environmentalist making such a claim should have to show exactly what sprawl, both amount and location, is being forestalled. Otherwise, such claims for urban infill housing are only a rationale for, in Ms. Powell’s words, out of control development. 

Ray Kidd 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing in response to the Daily Planet’s Oct. 25, 2005 cover story entitled “Commercial Growth Lags Behind Oakland’s Downtown Housing Boom,” by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor. 

The article talks about vacant commercial properties and other properties located in and around Jack London Square. It has long been my theory that there’s a missing off-ramp on the 880 Freeway, that causes traffic to bypass Jack London Square. 

When a freeway goes through town, the city gives the freeway access rights through the city. In return, certain concession are normally granted. In nearby Emeryville, for instance, the freeway wanted to widen itself in the City of Emeryville, they said, “Fine, as long as we get an overpass over the railroad track from the shopping center where Home Depot is located around to the shopping center where Ikea, Trader Joe’s and other stores are located.” Caltrans, in order to go through Emeryville, had to make that concession. We see that they have a ramp over the railroad tracks from 40th Street to the Frontage Road. 

In the City of Oakland, when one goes on 880 past the main post office on Seventh Street, there’s only one other off ramp, and it says, “To Alameda, Jack London Square, Downtown.” Anyone who knows where Jack London Square, Alameda, and Downtown are located would feel “That can’t be true! Downtown is two or three miles away!” That off ramp is indeed for the Port of Oakland, the city gets nothing! One goes around the curve from there thinking there has to be another off ramp. However, you quickly learn that City Hall, Downtown Oakland, Jack London Square and Alameda, have no off ramp. 

You are confronted with the logjam of 880 and 980 freeways before you can wave to the people of Oakland, as you pass though town on your way to the suburbs. There is no way to get off the freeway at that point. Curses and more to the responsible parties. Who did this? Sixteenth Street is the closest off ramp and that is a hell of a long ways from Downtown. That missing off ramp is just an oversight on the part of those brilliant freeway designers. 

There should be an off ramp at Jefferson Street. But no, that may interfere with the Port of Oakland’s on ramp. It is as if “What’s good for the Port of Oakland is good for Oakland.” Oops, I am sorry. You have to be careful what you say about the port. They will have the police shoot you in the face with some wooden bullets or maybe put some pepper spray in your eyes. Just fool with the Port of Oakland and you’lll be sorry. 

Jack London Square and downtown Oakland are suffering from the city fathers’ oversight. There is no through traffic. One only has to look at Chinatown and North Beach in San Francisco. Both had freeway off ramps until the ‘89 earthquake. They are now just a shell of their former selves. 

Catrans, the Port of Oakland and the city fathers have played anther cruel joke on the people of Oakland and the greater Bay Area. They have made me change my travel patterns. I never go to Jack London Square anymore. I really had some good times there. 

Richard Worthy 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Don’t think for a minute that the issue of landmarks preservation is not a class issue.  

The hills neighborhoods have larger, fancier buildings, built by famous architects, architects with names which stir recognition and favor in society and history. Large, impressive structures built by famous people tend to garner signatures and political support with elegant ease.  

The flatlands, where Berkeley’s first settlements began, might more often have been farmland, factories, tin sheds, and smaller structures where less famous but more typical lives laid the first foundations of the town we know today. These people’s victories, and the places where they organized and worked, should be granted as much respect as the structures which celebrate our wealthier, well-connected ancestors.  

The pioneers of a geographical setting often had harder roads, literally, and harder lives. The more we strip our landscape of the structures of merit which are often the best reflection of the more common history of our neighborhoods, the more we erase even the possibility of remembering and appreciating the lives that came before us, lives that resemble our own more truly and more clearly than any pantheon of trophy buildings built for and lived in by the rich and famous.  

Mayor Tom Bates wants to eliminate the structure of merit designation, the only hope available for preserving the smaller, less impressive structures which reflect working people’s history, perhaps not realizing the danger which the few remnants of our history face without this minor protection.  

Some towns have three tiers of landmark protection out of recognition of the necessity of somehow recognizing , celebrating, and protecting historical elements in our landscape from the scalding onslaught of profit-driven developments, an idea the mayor has yet even to consider.  

The developers will always be there, waving money in front of politicians’ noses, ready to bulldoze and build. Our history will always be there, too. We just may slowly become blind to it, as politicians sometimes are, without the rare signposts that signal our sensibilities that we are just a moment in the passage of time.  

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I find it disturbing that in a city with Berkeley’s reputation for free speech and healthy debate, Ed Church’s integrity, qualifications, and honesty are under attack rather than the decision making process regarding the Ashby Bart Transit Village. Is it necessary and appropriate for people who don’t agree with your opinion or proposals to attack your character before they know all the facts? 

I‘ve known Ed for over 12 years, and have collaborated with him on several boards, committees and special projects. In the past he has been instrumental in leveraging substantial amounts of funding which have supported programs for both homeless and low income persons. I will admit we haven’t always been on the same side, and don’t agree on several issues, but he has always proven himself to be someone I can count on to give an honest answer whether I like it or not. I happen to believe him, and the mayor, when they recently said the planning process is open-ended, starts with a blank slate, everything is on the table and no specific number of units are predetermined.  

It’s fine to be impassioned over neighborhood issues (so am I), unfortunately it seems that some people live in a world that’s only black or white. If you don’t agree with them you’re the enemy and they will lob grenades at anyone that doesn’t join them in their foxhole. Can there be no gray area? Or since where in Berkeley how about green area (blue and gold, Cal’s colors, make green). As some people say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game!” 

Winston Burton 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding your Feb. 17 story, “Neighbors Confront Developers over Project Proposal.” 

I was at the meeting about the proposed project at University Avenue and Martin Luther King Way, and (your headline notwithstanding) I was pleased that the meeting seemed more cooperative than confrontational.  

Several neighborhood people said the architectural design is handsome, and it is obviously a big improvement over the earlier design for the site.  

Many people wanted changes in details of the project. The most important of these was larger setbacks on Berkeley Way to avoid shadowing neighboring homes, and the developers seemed receptive to this suggestion.  

I didn’t hear people saying that they wanted to stop the project, rather than to improve some of its details. Maybe someone in the neighborhood wants to kill the project and preserve the Kragen parking lot and grease pit currently on the site, but I didn’t hear that at the meeting.  

I hope this cooperative tone continues when the project comes to the Zoning Adjustments Board, so we can get a design that works for the developers and for the neighbors.  

This project would be an immense improvement to this intersection. I hope it can move through ZAB quickly, and is not delayed so long that we lose the Trader Joe’s.  

Charles Siegel 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The real story regarding Pacific Steel Casting is something you won’t read about in any newspaper. Judith Scherr reported on the recent community meeting regarding the 72-year-old long-time east bay polluter (Feb. 17). 

Some would like to characterize this battle as between jobs and the environment, others would say its a David and Goliath tale between a neighborhood and a stinky giant. Others would say it’s all about the money; Pacific Steel is very profitable and the city benefits from the tax revenue. Still others would say it’s a battle between workers and residents, or property owners vs. industrial workers. The truth is Pacific Steel is in business and they will do whatever it takes to stay in business. That’s what companies do. They fight for survival. The real story of the evening is that 200 workers showed up for the first time since this battle heated up and there is only one plausible explanation: Pacific Steel (with advice from Dion Aroner’s PR firm) told its workers ... “You had better be there...your jobs are on the line.” What else could the workers do? How else do you explain their appearance? It’s the first and probably only time any workers will appear. Pacific Steel is pushing the “neighbors vs. the workers” theme because it takes the pressure of Pacific Steel to clean their dirty business. 

Don’t be fooled and don’t take your eye off the ball. Pacific Steel is a long time polluter that has affected the quality of life and the health of residents in West Berkeley for over 72 years. It’s time for them to clean up and no amount of “spinning” the story is going to change that.  

Andrew Galpern 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In agreement with all Glen Kohler (Letters, Feb. 17) had to say, I’d like to add a few comments of my own. Isn’t it lovely that our city government, in cahoots with the mayor’s buddies, the developers, is honoring David Brower with a massive, nine-story building downtown? Does anybody remember that what David cared most about was preserving open space? 

I’d also like to propose that in the future, all discussions about transit villages call them what they really are: transient villages. As developer Chris Hudson of the “Kragen project” arrogantly announced, we’re getting a five-story building, like it or not, with small apartments that are not intended for families. Does anybody else find it ironic that in a window on this very site sits a poster thanking Berkeley’s citizens for passing a measure for school bonds? How do you think Berkeley will vote next time around, with the erosion of our single-family community? 

Finally, to our Ashby BART friends, keep fighting. You are in our thoughts, and when they come after the North Berkeley BART station, we’ll be ready for them. 

Carolyn Sell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Has anyone considered the impact construction on both Ashby parking lots will have on BART riders? Where will they park? In the neighborhoods beyond the lots? At the Berkeley Bowl? And how will riders get to and from the station? Are the planners aware how inconvenient it is to pick one’s way around a construction site particularly while wearing a suit? In a wheelchair? Pushing a stroller? Since construction on projects of the size proposed generally goes on for years, isn’t it likely regular riders will stop using BART and go back to their cars thereby contributing to BART’s already diminishing ridership which will in turn lead to more fare hikes and even funkier service? Isn’t this antithetical to what BART and transit villages are supposed to be about? Rather than building both projects at the same time, wouldn’t it be less disruptive to fully complete one before beginning the other? Or, if we really need a transit village in Berkeley sooner, wouldn’t it be better to build it at the North Berkeley station? Or is one planned for there, too, that we don’t know about yet? 

And what about our crumbling infrastructure? Is it wise to build more housing, add more people and more pressure when our sewers are about to collapse? Shouldn’t we fix that first? Is it true this will cost billions? And how many new police, firefighters and teachers will we need for our expanding population? Who is going to pay for all of this? Homeowners? Shouldn’t the developers be expected to compensate the city for the long-term infrastructure costs which their projects will entail? And what about the state? Shouldn’t it be expected to reimburse the city for infrastructure costs necessitated by (over)development on state land? What are our representatives in Sacramento doing to make sure this will occur? 

Will the high-end market continue to flock to our shores when faced with skyrocketing taxes, snarled traffic and backed up sewage on the floors? And will all those new firefighters, library workers and teachers be content to live (and raise a family) in a box in a concrete Village and BART to work while the people they serve live in real houses with real yards and drive real cars? 

These are just a few of the things I would like to know. 

Joanne Kowalski  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ll second Myrna Sokolinsky’s comment in your Feb. 14 edition concerning the city’s intention to spend a further $200,000 on what it refers to as “traffic calming” circles. First, because I’ve never seen or heard any evidence for the necessity of calming traffic in my neighborhood. Second, because I regularly see evidence of them being potentially dangerous obstructions. Third, because Berkeley has many more really important needs on which $200,000 could be spent. And fourth, because, as a low-income citizen, I’m struggling to pay the tax demanded by the city simply to renew my business license. I could go on, but will only add that I hear people complaining about them all the time. Where’s the outrage, Berkeley? 

Whatever traffic needs calming is in areas of Berkeley with documented accident rates. I’m sure they are not in my West Berkeley neighborhood, which makes me wonder why we are getting so many.  

I think the traffic circles are a disgraceful waste of taxpayers’ money, which is especially galling as the city endlessly cries poor!  

Nicola Bourne 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Okay, have we had enough of the Marin Avenue reconfiguration experience? Maybe the bicyclists are happy—but I’ve seen only two bicyclists on Marin since the change—and I use Marin frequently. 

Maybe the residents are happy, but I don’t see why they should be because they have substituted traffic jams for speeders. (As for speeders, traffic officers could calm traffic and add to Albany’s coffers.) 

I used to live on Marin Avenue and kept my small children and pets out of traffic. I accepted that Marin was quite appropriately a four-lane thoroughfare and enjoyed its easy access to the freeway and local destinations. Now it’s a crowded mess. Anyone else for changing it back? 

Carolyn Bradley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Paving or building right next to a creek may expose it to contamination. Channelization reduces or eliminates creek and riparian habitat. Daylighting sounds great. I understand these basic points, but what I haven’t seen explained, and don’t understand, is why 30 feet from the creek centerline is a magic number within which construction of a roofed structure is not allowed. When a stream cuts a deep channel you often have little riparian area, and there is no obvious reason why 60 feet (both sides) is needed everywhere.  

Why isn’t it possible to build within five or 10 feet of a creek without causing significant contamination of it? Do we need 30-foot clearances on both sides for flood plain control? Is there no compensatory value in the non-riparian land freed up when building next to the creek?  

Fallingwater has been described as the “... supreme example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept of organic architecture, which promotes harmony between man and nature...” but it probably wouldn’t be legal in Berkeley. Perhaps we should think a bit more about what it takes to make a healthy environment for both creek and people.  

Disclaimer: My backyard is a seasonal swamp, but my property does not abut a creek or culvert. The opinions expressed above are my own, and to my knowledge I have no conflict of interest with any LBNL policies (see Mark McDonald’s Feb. 17 letter to the editor).  

Robert Clear  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding Redwood City resident Nicholas Kibre’s question (Letters, Feb. 17) why South Berkeley residents’ opinions on appropriate development at Ashby BART should outweigh those of others who “might like to live” in our neighborhood, that’s certainly debatable. 

However, Caltrans, BART, the City of Berkeley, and the controversial grant application all agree that they should. The Caltrans grant program is called Community-Based Transit Planning. The specific community is, per BART policy, a half-mile radius around the station. The grant application says that its “essential process is community-based action and public participation.” And the City of Berkeley’s resolution supporting that grant application says “a community-based planning process ... can help define appropriate development parameters for the site that meet ... community interests.” 

Kibre has a point that it’s unfair to cut nonresidents out of the planning process. One big defect in the grant application is its arbitrary and inappropriate exclusion of the several thousand Oakland residents within the half-mile radius. One flaw in Berkeley elected officials’ conduct of the process to date has been an apparent lack of interest in the concerns of our Oakland neighbors, some of whom live only a block or two from the station. 

Mr. Kibre, if you feel that you have a personal stake in planning for development at Ashby BART, I invite you to take an active part. However, since home prices and rents are cheaper in South Berkeley than in Redwood City, why not just move here? 

Robert Lauriston