Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday February 28, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

It seems to me that President Bush is getting his comeuppance on this business of a Dubai company managing our ports. 

Bush has used the politics of fear for some time now—the false weapons-of-mass-destruction justification for Iraq intervention, warrantless wiretaps and Patriot Act excess. Bush, of all people, should not have been surprised by the present public reaction. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ron Sullivan’s article on the majesty of Canary Pines brought tears to my eyes. Canary Pines are street trees on two streets in Berkeley. Hillcrest Road is one of those streets. The residents took pride in the trees until PG&E got ahold of them. We understand that Canary Pines have a shallow root system so we can only hope that they can withstand the butcher jobs PG&E requires. We are concerned about all street trees in Berkeley and in California that are subjected to PG&E’s brutality. Hillcrest Road residents have met with the arborist for the City of Berkeley and with the “arborists” for Davey Tree Service. Both say that PG&E supercedes any local regulations and that PG&E refuses to revert to its former practice of esthetically trimmed trees. 

Sally Williams 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a faithful reader of the Daily Planet over many years, I was horrified to find a pink brochure tucked inside the Daily Planet, advertising the Church of Scientology. The brochure included 200 questions relating to a person’s personality. The brochure offered a free analysis for those who complete the test. Those who complete the test must supply name and address, phone number, etc., occupation, sex and age, and signature; those under 18 have a parent or guardian sign. 

My impression was that this was just another Scientology scam, inserting their propaganda inside the cover of a respectable newspaper to attract converts. My first decision was to call the paper and alert it that this had happened. But no! Embedded in the paper were three more advertisements. Why did this happen? 

In 2004, the San Francisco Board of Education voted to eliminate the Scientology “Narcanon” drug program from classrooms, stating that it taught pseudoscience, and was in fact a recruitment for vulnerable young people. Many families have been damaged by this pernicious cult. 

I thought better of your newspaper. And I am disappointed. 

Patricia Crossman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing this as a substitute teacher, who has been working for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) for over three years. It is really difficult to see why the OEA should worry about “scab” strike-breaking substitute teachers crossing picket lines to handle classes which are already difficult to teach.  

Although OUSD has been recruiting additional substitutes to use as a weapon in case of a union job action, it is hard to imagine how OUSD will actually use these scabs. The Subfinder System, which OUSD uses to call in substitutes, is already broken so often that beleaguered teachers and school principals are calling substitutes directly. The OUSD’s automated substitute calling system is already down about as much as it is up. Most of the substitute teachers who used to work with OUSD are now accepting job assignments primarily from other school districts.  

Imagine what is now like to be a substitute teacher, who receives calls from an automated telephone system in which nearly half the job assignments you receive do not even contain job site locations and where the Substitute Help Desk has been abolished. Then, imagine what is like when most of the remaining assignments you are called for by the Subfinder System do not resemble the profile you submitted when you originally signed up for the Subfinder System. Finally, imagine what it will be like if you decide to cross picket lines.  

The chances that there will be a large pool of willing and able substitute teachers eager to cross picket lines is an OUSD pipe dream. 

Joel Monkarsh 

San Leandro 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I couldn’t agree more with Ray Kidd (Letters, Feb. 24). The falsely-named “Smart Growth” is the biggest load of useless hooey to come slithering down the pike in a long time. The answer isn’t “Smart Growth” but “no growth.” We have to stabilize our insane level of population growth. And the only way to do that is to cut way back on our insane level of legal immigration (which, by the way, is at a level unprecedented in human history) and eliminate illegal immigration. We’ve been adding three million new people to the U.S. population every year, almost entirely because of recent immigrants and their offspring. Does anybody happen to know where the three million new homes per year are where these people are going to live? I don’t think so. But I can tell you where millions of homeless Americans are: sleeping on the sidewalk. Ric Oberlink of the Sierra Club put it best: “Unrestrained, never-ending growth is a sign of a cancer, not a healthy organism. ‘Smart Growth’ makes about as much sense as ‘Smart Cancer.’”  

Peter Labriola 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mr. Kohler, in his Feb. 21 letter, related his perception of the opening of Blackberry Creek at Thousand Oaks School 10 years ago as being disharmonious. I would like to point out a few things about how it came about. 

The PTA at the school asked Gary Mason, a landscape architect, if he would help them write a request to the California Department of Water Resources for a grant to open the creek at the school site because the school was seismically unstable and would be replaced. The culverted creek was under where old play equipment was that the city was going to remove, because they were dangerous and not up to code. The city was not going to replace the equipment. At that time the city had no funds to replace play structures in their parks. They were partnering with citizens who could raise funds privately for new equipment that was up to code and the city would contribute its labor for installation. 

The PTA was successful in obtaining a grant for $144,000, which was co-sponsored by BUSD and City of Berkeley. The planning process included participation by a large number of diverse community members. There were indeed, advocates and critics (after all this is Berkeley), all of whom contributed to the process. When the tai chi group asked for the redwood tree (which was in the way of the planned creek channel) to be saved, the design was changed and tree is still there. 

There will always be problems with contaminants getting into streams. The students at Thousand Oaks School were instrumental in getting the city to persevere in searching for the main sources of the contaminants in the creek and successfully putting an end to that problem. It was a great learning experience for the students to learn how to deal constructively with problems both environmental and civic. There is sure to be other contamination, because of the aging infrastructure in the city. And we know that humans have trouble keeping their planet’s air, soil and water clean. The urban environment does have to deal with many man-made stresses, but then even the Sierran streams contain giardia and cryptosporidium bacteria, as well as toxins from mining operations. 

The City Council and the BUSD board of directors unanimously approved the PTA’s project. The BHS student member of the School Board spoke for the board when she remarked that in urban places where so much has been done to destroy the natural environment, that she could not believe that we would not take this opportunity to undo some of that damage to nature. 

Carole Schemmerling 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Feb. 24 article on the adverse effect of unnecessary motorcycle parking on local businesses is maddeningly typical of how important decisions affecting real people are too often made in Berkeley: 

A city department, or an employee, with virtually no accountability to anyone, perceives that there is a problem. No one bothers to check on whether there actually is a problem; the perception suffices. Another employee gets a Bright Idea for solution. With neither the knowledge of nor input from the community, the Transportation Commission or the City Council, the department implements the Bright Idea. After completion it is discovered that not only does the Bright Idea not solve the perceived problem, it has created others both unforeseen and undesirable. Now there is a real problem, though one quite different from the original perception. The law of unintended consequences is alive and well in Berkeley. 

Eventually the issue comes to light, and an irate public demands that the city retreat, reconsider, possibly rebuild. How much this fiasco costs the taxpayers is anyone’s guess. 

Examples of this process abound (Marin Avenue reconfiguration), but are by no means restricted to parking or vehicular traffic issues. Consider the Ashby BART air rights debacle. 

At the conclusion of the article, the chairperson of the Transportation Commission states the commission “does not review every single thing the city does.” Small wonder, since much of the city’s decision making process is beyond public scrutiny. 

Evelyn Giardina 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a 30-year resident who lives near Fulton and Ashby, I was a little surprised and puzzled at an omission from Marta Yamamoto’s otherwise interesting piece on South Berkeley in the Feb. 24 edition of the Daily Planet.  

The Ashby Stage is now home to the remarkable Shotgun Players, who also use it to host other itinerant dramatic offerings. Patrick Dooley and his merry band are perfectly positioned both geographically, with BART a stone’s throw from their door, and artistically, with their go-for-broke, cutting edge offerings and stunning quality of acting and direction. They play a big role—you’ll pardon the double entendre—in both my family’s cultural life and in this area’s growing arts district aspirations. 

Which brings me to Joanne Kowalski’s very insightful letter in the same issue of the Planet. She questions what residents who are currently BART users would do during overlapping construction of the Ed Roberts Campus on the east parking lot at Ashby BART and a “transit village” on the west lot. (Never mind what they’ll do once both are built!) 

It is fashionable in some circles to assume that parking is useless, wasteful and “un-ecologically sensitive.” Everyone can just walk, bike, or I suppose arrive by helicopter. God help me, as an inveterate walker and bicyclist I used to feel a bit that way myself. But now that we’re no longer 29 and my husband is partially disabled, in order to use BART—which we do at every opportunity—we need to drive there and park. How will we do that if both parking lots are torn up and eventually gone? 

How does that serve BART’s goal of increasing ridership? 

And what of the impact on our beloved Ashby Stage? Keeping a performing arts venue alive takes tons of talent, bushels of hard work, and, as the old real estate phrase has it, location, location, location. Without parking at Ashby BART, theirs will be just that much less desirable. 

Can we please take these sorts of issues into account in the dialog on the “transit village”? 

And can the Planet do a feature on the Shotgun Players to make up for their omission in Yamamoto’s piece? 

Donna Mickleson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ah, if the situation was simply the esthetics of HudsonMcDonald’s modified project for the Kragen site. That the design is more “handsome” than the previous designed (described by ZAB members as resembling a prison or a cheap motel) is something we are grateful for, however a pig in a silk dress is still a pig, just a well-dressed one. 

Mr. Siegel’s wistful tone hoping for “sweetness and light” when the project goes to ZAB and the City Council reminds me of Rodney King’s plea for us to “all get along.” Beyond esthetics, some elements of the “modified” project which preclude neighborhood support include: 

• A project 11 percent (16,882 square feet) larger than the previous project. 

• A project five feet taller where it meets the residential neighborhood. 

• A project 20 units larger than the applicable zoning law and procedures require. 

• A project with severe traffic and parking impacts on residents and anyone who drives downtown or attempts to patronize the existing retail businesses along MLK and University Avenue. 

That the meeting was non-confrontational was by design: Its purpose was to offer a forum for HudsonMcDonald to present their re-designed project to neighbors and other interested citizens, answer questions, and receive comments. If HudsonMcDonald wants neighborhood support and hopes to avoid a lengthy and costly approval process they will implement staff and ZAB recommendations and produce a project no larger or taller than the previous design and offer effective traffic and parking control measures for the inevitable wave of shoppers a Trader Joe’s will draw into our neighborhood from all over Berkeley and surrounding communities. 

HudsonMcDonald has reached into the Planning Department Cookie Jar and chosen the biggest possible cookie—it remains to be seen if they can extract it without breakage. 

Stephen Wollmer 

Neighbors for a Livable  

Berkeley Way 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In your coverage of the Oakland City Council vote to tax fast food, liquor stores and convenience markets for littering Oakland streets, I was surprised you repeated the arguments of the Chamber of Commerce without analysis. These commercial establishments, by delivering every serving in throwaway containers, have increased their profits through the elimination of a huge portion of the true costs of doing business by shifting trash-related costs onto the city, the environment and the streets and since most fast food restaurants and coffee shops no longer deal with plates, forks, spoons and cups used by their customers, they no longer hire dishwashers, busboys (and girls), waiters or food servers. Gone are these entry level jobs. They put their product in cardboard and plastic. 

The overwhelming majority of their containers ends up in city-sponsored garbage receptacles, while a small percentage ends up on the street or in the gutter. The Oakland litter tax is a small recompense for the windfall profit they reap by eliminating these food service-related issues. 

These industries will claim “the customer wants the convenience of throwaway containers” or they blame it on the public’s penchant for littering, and threaten lawsuits. Let them squawk. While locals are busted and fined for illegal dumping of “household” or “business-related” garbage, the highest form of illegal dumping is your local McDonald’s franchise that expects the city to provide garbage service for free. These food corporations and restaurants have shifted their waste problem on to the city and the street. Kudos to Jane Brunner for her small attempt to shift the responsibility back where it belongs. 

But, you and I are not off the hook. Every one of us who takes a cardboard cup, a plastic lid, a paper or clamshell food container, whether dumped in the trash can, the garbage slot or the gutter, are complicit in this capitalist enterprise of shifting the costs of our convenience onto the earth, our children, the city and the future. 

Hank Chapot 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Seven Emirs + 6 Ports = 1 dirty bomb = 1 martial law = 1 dictatorship.  

You do the math. 

James K. Sayre 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Feb. 14, the Daily Planet published an argument by Michael St. John arguing for relaxation of Berkeley’s current ban on condo conversions. On Feb. 17, Chris Kavanagh wrote to say that St. John’s idea “should be considered dead on arrival.” 

Unfortunately, Mr. Kavanagh does not answer St. John’s arguments. Condominiums are the best solution for lots of Berkeley problems. There is a surplus of rental units in Berkeley, where vacancy rates are well in excess of 5 percent. Rents have been falling, and when inflation is considered are even lower than in 1999. There is little incentive for landlords to renovate older, rent-controlled buildings, which are often in disrepair, and undervalued on the city’s tax rolls.  

At the same time there is a grave shortage of opportunities for persons who want to put down roots in the community. At a time when detached, small “starter homes” are selling for $700,000, tenants wanting to own their own homes have no choice but to leave. Condos are the last affordable alternative for firefighters, teachers, and other low– to moderate-income people who want an ownership stake in this city. 

Mr. Kavanagh ignores all of this. Instead he resorts to scare tactics, claiming that condo conversions result in “devastating, mass tenant evictions.” He says nothing about the legal rights Berkeley tenants enjoy: they may not be evicted except for narrowly defined “just causes.” Even where there is a bona fide owner move-in, local law effectively grants a life estate to five-year tenants who are either disabled or over 60 years of age. It also guarantees “relocation assistance” of $7000 per person to all displaced tenants, irrespective of age, income or disability status. These provisions, plus the very substantial costs of conversion, are ample protection against “mass evictions.” 

What Mr. Kavanagh forgets is that there are a lot of people out there who want a chance to own equity in the town where they live. Condo conversions, with reasonable controls, give them this. They would also result in tax relief to existing homeowners, and would rejuvenate neighborhoods, especially in the flatlands, where existing structures languish as a result of policies adopted decades ago, and never re-examined. 

David Wilson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I thank Chris Kavanagh (Feb. 17) for taking the time to reply to my Feb. 7 letter, but he doesn’t appear to have taken the time to actually read my letter. The issues I raised had to do with the enormous cost of the Rent Stabilization Program and with its punitive attitude toward landlords, not with the existence of a rent database. I pointed out that calling this database a “Rent tracking system,” or in his recent letter a “Rent monitoring system” makes it sound more complicated, and expensive than it should be. In “Mr. Mitschang’s world” there would be a database, but it would not cost $3 million. If the Rent Board was serious and honest about monitoring, by the way, it would admit the obvious—that market rents in Berkeley are dropping. 

Mr. Kavanagh, after setting up the straw man of my wanting to eliminate the rent database, fulminates for three paragraphs about my advocating a fearsome “information blackout,” and does not answer any of the specific questions about the actual work the program is doing. Does this remind you of certain national politicians when asked uncomfortable questions? What is needed is an audit of what the program is actually doing and the activities to which staff time is devoted. I think that it is only because the high fees are paid by a narrow segment of the community that they have been tolerated. 

In that regard I have a modest proposal: All 19,000- odd rent-controlled apartments in Berkeley should receive a $13 a month rent reduction. In return, every tenant would be billed the $156 per year that housing providers now pay. Do you think people will want to know what they’re getting for this money? 

Mike Mitschang 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Caribou and butterflies are colliding in my head, vying for attention, asking to be heard. Both ask me to recognize their plight, the danger to their home, their habitat. The porcupine caribou has been heard, at least for now, with the defeat of drilling plans for the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Caribou seem to loom large in our “American” psyche; we envision beautiful herds in an icy land, untouched by the despoiler’s hands. Our ancestral longing for purity and simplicity connect us to the Gwich’in and their ancient dance with the caribou. Collectively we scorn Senator Ted Stevens who described the Refuge as nothing but a “blank, white slate” ( may not be the exact quote). 

Butterflies dance in and out of our psyche, bringing moments of magic. But they can’t capture a place in our imagination. Unlike the caribou, they have no pristine wilderness that calls to mind something pure we may have lost within ourselves. How do we answer the call to save a habitat that more intimately connects with our own? How do we protect their vast habitat for the journey from Mexico to Canada? We seem not willing to protect their home in our backyards or in the “vacant lots” city leaders and developers are so delighted to infill. Because of our desire to civilize the natural world in which we reside, we are quickly destroying the ecosystems which give butterflies their life. No one scorns when an open space is depicted as a vacant lot—an open space filled with milkweed for larvae and nectar for butterflies. 

As I walk down San Pablo Avenue I am haunted by one of the new buildings under construction in the 2500 block—the former home of butterflies, bees and birds who counted on the “weeds” for survival. I don’t know what the new site will sell, but I do know that my soul and my survival do not need its wares, they need butterflies. 

Have we limited our love affair to the Alaska Wildlife National Refuge because it is as removed from our daily lives as we have become from the web of life? It asks nothing of us but a periodic call to our senators and a donation or two. To save the butterflies will require more thought and more change, more action and less romance. 

It won’t be enough to protect the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the earth needs butterflies, the old growth redwood forest ecosystem and the bears being killed by winegrowers because they eat the grapes that have replaced their habitat. We are on the collision course. Through protection and restraint and change we just might recapture our souls and, in the process, save our web of life. 

L. Darlene Pratt