Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday March 03, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet:  

In 2004, Berkeley’s citizens voted overwhemingly—by a 72 percent landslide—to mandate instant runoff voting (IRV), also known as “ranked choice voting,” for all future Berkeley candidate elections. 

On Tuesday, March 7 the Berkeley City Council is scheduled to discuss and act upon this Berkeley voter mandate. A rally in support of IRV will be held on the steps of the City Council Chambers at 6 p.m. (before the council meeting at 7 p.m.). 

It is imperative that the City Council move forward immediately to implement an IRV voting process for the upcoming November 2006 general election.  

If necessary, the Berkeley City Council must consider the option of hand counting IRV ballots. Hand counting of IRV ballots was used successfully in San Francisco during the city’s November 2004 election for Board of Supervisor candidates. This process took about three hours to complete without any glitches or problems. 

San Francisco’s successful 2004 IRV voting process serves as a model for Berkeley and other California cities scheduled to transition to IRV voting. San Francisco’s IRV process is permanent and will be used again during the 2006 elections.  

Ballot hand counting is also used in countries around the world, including Ireland which uses an IRV voting process to elect that nation’s president. Ireland hand counts over a million ballots within 24 hours. 

I urge the Berkeley City Council to act with all deliberate speed and implement an IRV voting process for the November, 2006 election. Berkeley’s voter mandate—72 percent “yes”—for IRV must be acted upon and established without delay. Berkeley’s voters deserve no less. 

Chris Kavanagh 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am puzzled by Becky O’Malley’s editorial of excessive salaries. First, she tries to address the issue of high (albeit often excessive) salaries in the private sector. Then takes strange potshots at fellow journalists to highlight the excessiveness. Wake up, Becky! If you ask most of us, we’ll tell you how we struggled for years on very low salaries, hand-outs (serious thanks to my parents and relatives), and how landing that first, real, regular gig was the hardest time on Earth.  

What’s to point out here is that in a city like Berkeley, which has so much local media, we don’t know if the Planet even pays a living wage to its writers and contributors—or if its freelancers can survive on just the work they’re getting published. Most, if not all managers in newspapers, television and radio earn high salaries because they deserve them. Many having likely worked in their formative years on not much at all. Then again, for the interest of the public and fellow journalists, Becky O’Malley is the editor of the Planet and her husband is the publisher. She told the Daily Californian in 2003 that she could run the newspaper with a monetary loss for up to two years. The couple bought the paper and invested in it using revenue from the 1996 sale of their software company, Berkeley Speech Technologies, for $15.5 million. Being independently wealthy is never a qualification to be the editor of a newspaper. The public and my fellow journalists should also be aware of the fact that of all the family-owned newspapers in California, only the Planet has a family member on its editorial board. Money can buy influence, Becky, but it can’t cover up stupidity. 

John Parman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m writing in regard to Eastshore State Park at the Berkeley Marina. As some of you may know the land was originally the Berkeley dump and then became a kind of wilderness where quite a few nature-lovers would enjoy exploring, some like myself often painting plein air. True, there was a dog problem, but this could have been solved while keeping it open to the public and making it welcome to shorebirds as well. 

Instead the park system, with considerable cost to taxpayers, has transformed it by clear-cut into what is essentially their private property, and the public is excluded except for an ugly path between wire fences where no one has yet to walk. 

This was planned by a commission of people in Sacramento who neither live in Berkeley nor will visit the area, and yet they have taken over the land and built a kind of zoo for geese and ducks. 

I love birds as much as anyone. I especially loved the flocks of blackbirds and finches that are now gone from the area, as well as all the snakes and rabbits and who knew what else, plus of course all the wild plants. 

Like many others, I’m all for welcoming migratory birds and offering space for those who would like to stay, but this could have been done without such draconian measures. Instead a group of people who care nothing for Berkeley residents have created an abomination of desolation where even bird watchers will have to do their watching through an ugly fence. 

In a society where so much of the land is private property, many of us are grateful for parks where we can enjoy what only the rich could otherwise afford, but those who control these parks are not always mindful of other concerns beside their own. The wild place that had grown from what had been a dump was a place of natural anarchy that such people tend to abhor, since they are the people of fences and locks and a kind of development that has become rampant across the planet. This new park is not a wetland restoration project, but one that was born from a computer many miles away. 

No doubt many of your readers support such a move. It is not enough for them to have the Doubletree motel cover the rest of the area, no, they must control it all and exert their will over it. In the meantime the fence will remain, the ugly black fence with the signs that say, “Keep Out. Restricted Area.” It breaks my heart every time I pass by and remember how open and lush the land was before. 

P. Najarian 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am a college student in Berkeley. Recently, a troubling subject has come to my attention, and although it has been going on for most of the last decade, I personally have been wrapped up in an environment that places little importance on what happens outside of the immediate community. Now in Berkeley, I hear news all the time, and the only thing that’s been circling my brain for the last several months is the Chechen situation. 

A UCB student says it best in a recent article: 

In the case of Chechnya, we have a population of people that have historically been physically fragmented by deportation and war. Chechnya itself currently exists as a federal subject of Russia despite having declared independence in 1991. To date, no other state has recognized them as independent from Russia. Given their struggle with Russia how the “rest of the world” identifies them is not irrelevant but in fact inextricably tied to their destiny. Without being recognized as a sovereign state by the world, any conflict it experiences with Russia remains, technically, a civil war. 

Essentially, because the rest of the world only sees Chechnya only as a part of Russia instead of an independent country under constant attack, no one thinks twice about the atrocities that go on there year after year. If we were to view Chechnya as its own country, then perhaps powers like the United Nations would become involved, and the Chechen people could make progress toward the societal stability they so desperately need to establish. 

I think that there are many people in this community and other surrounding communities who, like me, have heard little to nothing on this subject. What I get from news sources has a decidedly Russian slant, referring to them as “separatist Chechen guerrillas,” and the fact that the “Russians have dealt with the separatist republic of Chechnya.” 

With all that I’ve learned about Chechnya and its struggles, I’m left with one question: What can I do (as an individual)? Perhaps the answer to that question is to rattle a few cages and become a catalyst to challenge the public’s perception. If there is more public interest, perhaps the powers that be will step in to regulate the situation so that it is not so violently one-sided. 

Diana Sanders 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ask your recent letter-writer how many people have died after receiving psychartric treatment or drugs? 

Should they be banned from advertising? 

What is the source of the writer’s information and did they investigate the circumstances related to the events they claim or was that merely hearsay? 

I’m glad they have the ability to espouse their opinion and they should defend the rights of Scientologists to do the same. A little investigation will show that Scientologists are very careful about what they claim, and by the same token what others may claim about their religion. 

Patrick Luefan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wonder if others are as disappointed in the sound system at City Council as I am. Ever since Mayor Bates has become mayor, attendance at City Council meetings has been an exercise in futility. If you want to know what the mayor is saying, you have to strain to read his words on a monitor. You can hear him mumbling, but not what he is saying. 

I wonder if the mayor even wants to be heard by the public. I am positive he makes sure he is heard by those he makes deals with behind the scenes. 

I am especially concerned because there are national issues of privacy at stake in our own local area now. Homeland Security is cultivating positions on a computer server hooking into our city computers. At the Feb. 21 City Council meeting there was a consent item No. 9 passed asking the city manager to report what has happened and what is planned. Unfortunately, there is no deadline for him to get back to the council. This is an urgent matter. Our privacy and our democracy may be at stake. Councilmembers Spring and Wozniak authored the request for the report. City Council may not know what is going on, but I find it hard to believe that the mayor doesn’t know. 

We need our City Council, and our mayor, to protect our privacy. We need them to keep us clearly informed about how Homeland Security is hooked in to our local connections and city networks. We need town hall meetings to discuss what has been done and what is being planned regarding this involvement. 

How about it, Mayor Bates? Can’t you improve your ability to speak up so we can hear you? We need to hear you at council meetings, and we need to hear you are protecting our privacy and our right to holding town hall meetings in several parts of town that are well publicized in advance. 

The assault on our privacy at the library is now being compounded by further erosions of our democracy in our city networks. Will you please speak up so we can hear you?  

Nancy Delaney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Downtown planners embrace density. Sure, togetherness is a wonderful thing but why sit so close to someone else’s table in a restaurant that you can hear all about your neighbor’s latest medical procedure? Berkeley is not New York. 

Planners advocate maximizing space by cutting it up into little spaces. I wonder if density advocates live in little apartments above restaurants, or if they have plenty of space to lay out their plans. How much space can be created by treating our downtown like a California Closet System? 

An apartment with tiny rooms is OK if you don’t want to make noise, have hobbies, play music or let the kids run around. At some point, an apartment becomes a pod. Many people live in their heads already, with electronic equipment to create private space. 

I think that windows should open to let in air and light. Every room should have one. You may think this is not only unrealistic, but insane. After all, cubicles are the norm for office workers, why not for apartment dwellers? 

Packing people together ever more closely doesn’t bring out the best in individuals, or to downtown life. Many Berkeley houses already have new units where the miniature back yards used to be. How much space do people need or deserve? Enough to put on a shirt without scraping one’s knuckles? 

Finer minds than mine debate urban planning. I simply urge the planners to consider maintenance over redevelopment where it is feasible. I realize it’s more glamorous to dedicate an new building than it is to dedicate an upgraded storm drain to the hardworking people who build our town. It’s easier to knock a building down (although some of them are pretty sturdy) that it is to build new ones. The new ones take a staggering amount of resources, so let’s build them sparingly and upgrade some of what we have. 

Many density advocates believe that increased urban density saves farmland from being developed. Even if residents are stacked like cordwood in downtown Berkeley apartments, developers will still build large single family homes in outlying areas. 

I am a citizen for more transparency, air and light. I know I’m already dense enough, I don’t know about you. I may sit eighteen inches away from you in a downtown restaurant and find out. 

Jean Hooker 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

First, congratulations to those who said all along that Berkeley Honda doesn’t want to settle with the union. You were right! On Feb. 15, the eight-month anniversary of this labor conflict, Berkeley Honda got a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board, where they sought permission to hold a decertification election to dissolve the union. The shop’s strike-breaking workers signed the petition for decertification, but does anyone doubt that management was behind this action? Especially since the petition was delivered by the Assistant Service Manager? The NLRB will issue a decision within the next month. 

Second, congratulations to Berkeley Honda for taking another giant step towards your real goal of breaking the union, while solemnly swearing for the entire eight months of this strike that you truly want to settle with the union. And thank you for your relentless efforts in the service of lower wages, poorer health care, the displacement of long-time workers, and an insecure, pension-free old age—the fruits of union-busting.  

Third, should the NLRB rule in management’s favor (a strong possibility since the Board is headed by Bush appointees) be assured that nothing will change for the Berkeley Honda Labor and Community Coalition. The shop’s anti-worker agenda is immoral, and we will continue to respond to that, whatever the ruling. So just in case management has forgotten our pledge to them, we now reiterate it yet again: “Berkeley Honda, we will be here one day longer than you.”  

Nat Courtney 

Garry Horrocks 

Jon Rodney 

Harry Brill 

Judy Shelton 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The erudite virtuoso, Dan Spitzer of Kensington, writing down on KPFA, frames these exquisite words in the Feb. 17 Daily Planets: “Speaking of which [the “ideological simpletons” at KPFA], Hamas spokespeople’s dressing in suits…underscores that attempting democracy in a Palestinian to attempting cosmetic surface alternations on a sow.” Read that over carefully and I won’t need to say anything more about it. 

To further enhance Mr. Spitzer’s brilliant elaboration of the Zionist position on Palestine, Palestinians, and democracy, (as well as his egalitarianism) we ought compel him to view Steven Spielberg’s film Munich alternating with John Pilger’s film Palestine is Still the Issue for 40 days and 40 nights. A ridiculous proposal, of course, since the problem is mainly that of the U.S. journalism corp which, under scrupulous guidance, knows just about everything (inflect that as nothing) about Palestinian actualities but everything (and really everything) about what ideological frame they get paid to buttress.  

Small facts for the record: Hamas has fairly well upheld a year of suspension of attacks within Israel, while the daily targeted killings by Israel with weekly dozens of innocent Palestinian victims—many of them children—continues unabated. Today, the Israeli cabinet voted to put destitute, homeless Palestine “on a diet” (Israel’s jocular terminology not mine) up to the point of starvation of the general population, cutting off 50 million a month much of it the Palestinian’s own money Israel collects in taxes. The Israelis have never, ever in 50 years suggested they would withdraw from the giant cities they have erected after seizing Palestinian west bank lands (which all sounds amazingly like the Afrikaner Nationalist Party of old).  

This week our U.S. government raised Israel’s poker bet by also withdrawing 50 million of aid per month of its own. This game is called “be subjugated, or die.” They excoriated Arafat; they ridiculed Abbas; they hate Hamas; they hate Palestine, they deny it exists, and wonder why many Palestinians—Hamas in particular--deny Israel’s right to exist. And this is the new American way. Like Iraq, this is the national legacy our children will have to live with: war on the defenseless to take their lives and resources, then call them terror.  

Marc Sapir  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Those critics of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who say that the board is out of touch with the average American for passing their impeachment resolution should take a look at the Zogby International poll that was conducted from Jan. 9-12. 

The poll found that 52 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.” Since Bush has admitted bypassing the courts to run his surveillance program the Board is in line with the views of the majority of Americans. 

If we also add in all of Bush’s other misdeeds, such as his illegal wars, the deaths of Katrina victims, the condoning of torture, etc. it is clear we can not afford another three years of the Bush regime. 

In addition to the immorality and illegality of Bush’s actions we also have unconscionable monetary costs. The National Priorities Project recently concluded that the war in Iraq has translated into a $40 billion dollar cost to the people of California. The war has cost Berkeley residents $115 million. 

The money being used to kill and maim people in Iraq could be used for health care, housing, education, and so many other priorities. 

I hope that the Berkeley City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will soon follow the lead of San Francisco by passing similar resolutions. 

For more information on how to oust the Bush regime before it is too late, see 

Kenneth J. Theisen