Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday March 24, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the “urban legend” that an underground stream exists near MLK and Ward, one need look no further than the 1878 Alameda County Atlas or the 1884 Oakland/Berkeley map by King/Dingee (real estate of course). 

In 1878 the area was undeveloped, owned probably by F.K. Shattuck.  

In the 1884 map, two streams meet at Shattuck between Derby and Ward. The combined stream runs southwest and crosses Ward between South Milvia (now Milvia) and Dover (now MLK). It runs down Stuart for two blocks past Ralston and Dwynell (now Grant and McGee). 

The 1899 USGS Topo suggests the creek is slightly to the south. The 15 minute USGS Topos from the 1940s show two streams meeting around Ward and Milvia and running to Grove park (where presumably it was culverted). The 7.5 maps from 1949 on don’t show any stream at all so it is possible they were culverted in the late ‘40s. The contours are much smoother than on the early maps, so I’d guess that there was a lot of infill. 

But don’t believe me, go look for yourself: 

John Vinopal 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

To daylight the culverted creek that runs underneath my house the city would have to the daylight the curve in Euclid Avenue after Eunice Street and put in a bridge. The city would have to tear down my neighbor’s house, my house, and the next three of my neighbors’ houses. Then they would have to dig up and remove the newly renovated playground and basketball court in Cordornices Park. The city would then need to remove the 60-foot man made embankment that supports Euclid Avenue and separates Cordornices Park from the Rose Garden. The city would then need to build a bridge over Euclid Avenue. Then the city would then need to tear down the Rose Garden and daylight the creek that is culverted beneath it. 

I’ll stop there, but you can imagine the path of destruction and reconstruction that would be needed to get this culverted creek daylighted all the way to the Bay where the state or federal government would need to also daylight Interstate 880. 

It’s time to get real and repeal this ridiculous creek ordinance. 

Scott Alexander 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The city’s Creek Ordinance would affect more than 2,400 homes adjacent to open creeks or located on top of or adjacent to culverted creeks in the city. The Creeks Task Force seems like it will recommend that these homeowners be subject to a series of highly restrictive measures—such as observing 30-foot setbacks on either side of a creek if any work is to be done on the property. This is a huge problem for homeowners, as many lots are completely encompassed in a 30-foot setback, making it close to impossible to get a permit for necessary repairs like replacing a rotten deck or a fallen-in garage.  

There are other serious problems with the ordinance. The city has drawn a map and list of the properties affected by this ordinance based on surveys of where creeks historically existed—many properties on the map and list are not adjacent to a creek while some properties with creeks are not on the list. The city is considering requiring that the property owners pay out of pocket themselves for a costly survey to determine the location of a culverted creek on their property in order for them to be removed from the city’s list. Shouldn’t this be the responsibility of the city, since many families are being notified for the first time that their property is located on top of decades-old culverts. 

The most stunning issue in the ordinance is that the city wants to make property owners financially responsible for repairing creek culverts, even though the open creeks and culverts function as the city’s storm drain system. This is prohibitively expensive—already one Berkeley homeowner has been forced to live in her car because a sinkhole from a collapsed culvert (partially on her property, partially in the street) will cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair. 

Why should this ordinance be thrown out? Because it’s bad public policy—it’s poorly conceived and unfair. It creates two classes of property owners in Berkeley: those without creeks, who can alter, add and repair their properties without the additional expense and time of prohibitive reviews. And those people currently on the creek list—families who lose out. The city will potentially prevent them from repairing a deck, adding a garage or rebuilding their house in case of an earthquake or fire all in the name of zealous environmentalism. The creek ordinance punishes young families and elderly homeowners whose home is their only asset, and it is misguided and divisive. Let’s clean up and attend to the health of our public creeks and leave those who have been good stewards of the environment all these years, and their properties, alone. 

Eric Armstrong 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gloria Atherstone of the “Gaia Arts Center” accusing Anna De Leon of being manipulative is comic. Every use of the perhaps well-intended “cultural bonus” has depended on some naïve group being at least temporarily roped into the mix to provide cultural cover for pure greed. 

The “cultural bonus” has created so little honest art opportunity for the public, and so much graft, that there is no sensible way to fix it. The “cultural space” in a building ought to be dedicated to public arts amenities, as they were intended, not private groups who bicker over hours and square footage. 

And please, quit calling it the “Gaia Building” now that the bookstore which oiled the monstrosity’s creation is long gone. I suggest the “Gotcha Building,” or perhaps, “Patrick Kennedy’s Keelhaul.” 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I urge you come November to vote out the incompetence. Linda Maio, Zelda Bronstein, and those on the Zoning Adjustments Board who are pushing the current West Berkeley plan of “saving the last of the industrial jobs.” The City of Berkeley does have the power to make Pacific Steel clean up its act once and for all. Stop trying to pass on the responsibility on to The Bay Area Air Quality Management District. It is called rezoning and shutting Pacific Steel down! Six hundred jobs lost to the thousands of us who also live and work in this neighborhood who breathe in their toxic second hand smoke on a daily basis. We pay taxes as well!  

Pacific Steel will never clean up its act. It is a dinosaur facility that no longer belongs in an urban densely populated environment. Pacific Steel will just drag things along for as long as possible in the name of self preservation. The owners of Pacific Steel are more then likely just laughing at us and thinking to themselves, “We made it through this before, let them throw law suites at us. We can pay a small fine or two, how about another air quality study that will keep them quiet for a little while. Besides we have Ignacio De La Fuente representing us. He will take care the heat and do some good PR work.” According to Ignacio De La Fuente, “That plant has been there 70 years and that plant has done everything to reduce emissions. This is a responsible company that has put in numerous resources to improve the quality of life for workers and for people who live in the community.” What BS! Enough with the Berkeley hypocrisy!  

How can our mayor call it a “green city” when we get smoked out of our backyards on a daily basis?  

Patrick Traynor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Think you live far enough away from UC in your quiet neighborhood that the university’s activities don’t have an impact on your daily life? Think again. Have you noticed the growing number of potholes, block-long fractures, and areas of crumbling pavement on many of our main streets? Some people seem to think this is normal wear and tear. Hardly. 

UC Berkeley’s virtually endless construction projects—beginning in the northeast part of campus, followed by the massive Underhill residence halls, and leading up to the latest behemoths of Stanley Hall and the huge Underhill parking structure—have all required significant excavation. Tons and tons of dirt and concrete debris have been hauled away in trailer trucks through our city streets, pounding and pounding our roadways, and severely damaging this important public resource. Other developments have played a small part, too, but UC is by far the biggest cause of this deterioration.  

It might be reasonable to expect UC to pay the cost of repairing some of this damage, or even be responsible for repaving the main arteries that its trucks travel on every day. Reasonable, yes—but not reality. UC uses public resources the old fashioned way: it just takes them. 

Holes in our streets mean holes in our city budget. Berkeley taxpayers pay for street repairs much sooner than would have been required because of UC’s overuse of our roadways. And this means that other important programs don’t get funded. It’s time UC was required to follow the lesson we all learned in kindergarten: clean up after yourself. Regardless of the cultural benefits that UC brings to our city, the university should be required to minimize, repair, or mitigate all of the damage it causes to the Berkeley community. 

Doug Buckwald  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last Saturday night, the folks at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, with the help of their friends, put on their monthly feed for 130 hungry people. Following the dictates of the City of Berkeley’s recently announced policy of “zero waste,” the staff sorted all materials into categories used at the Second and Gilman Street drop-off yard (e.g., aluminum foil, tin cans, bottles, cardboard/brown paper, etc.).  

By following the Oakland practice of mixing dirty paper products (napkins, drinking cups, etc.) with food stuffs, the staff was able to feed all these people with less than one pound of “garbage” which in this case consisted mostly of various types of plastics found in food packaging, cutlery, single serving Tobasco packets, bulk cookie trays, mylar cookie wraps, blister packaging plus some adhesives like name badge labels, and composites like a fiber tube of Parmesan coated with aluminum foil on the inside.  

Almost zero waste isn’t hard; you just have to pay attention.  

Arthur R. Boone 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This Saturday morning when I went out to my car with my family there was a note on my windshield that said:  

“You let Juan Ramos bleed to death outside your home. 

Question: What kind of doctors would let a teenager die without offering to help? 

Answer: Your kind.” 

I live next door to the home where a young man was stabbed to death at a party that got out of control. I don’t know who wrote this letter. I don’t think they want me to know, because there was no name on it. I assume they meant it to upset me, and my family, and it did. 

The night this young man died I had no idea he was hurt, so I couldn’t help. It was upsetting to have this happen so close to my home. I admit, I assigned some blame at first, too. I was angry that no one who saw the stabbing yelled out for help or called 911. I’ve realized now that those kids who knew what had happened were probably too scared to think. I wish they had called out for help though. 

That night around 11 p.m. we realized there was a party next door. We were watching a movie on the other side of the house before and didn’t even know there was a party. We weren’t sure what you are supposed to do when your neighbor has a loud party. It seemed rude to call the police or go bang on their door. At 11:30 it got louder and I went outside to ask the kids to quiet down and go home. I was reassured by several kids on the sidewalk that everything was OK. They said the party was over and they were all going home. How could I imagine that somebody had been stabbed and nobody was yelling out for help. I still don’t know if they were trying to cover up what happened or just didn’t know themselves. I went back in my home.  

Now I know that a bleeding young man was probably being dragged down the street in the other direction at that time. The next several days I thought a lot about how someone can get stabbed right next door and we didn’t even know. Maybe even if they had yelled out help, maybe even if my husband and I and all the doctors and nurses on my street had been there to help, maybe we couldn’t have saved him. I’m not a surgeon. Even if I had been, I wouldn’t have been able to operate in the middle of the street. I would have called 911. The paramedics would have gotten him to the hospital faster. But I didn’t even know he was hurt. 

Aside from feeling threatened and hurt by the note on my windshield, it makes me worry that one of the lessons that needs to be learned from this hasn’t been realized: If you don’t call out for help, nobody can help you. I hope teenagers do realize that they are part of a community that wants to help them when they are in need. There is a street full of people who wish we had known what was going on, so we could have tried to help. There are paramedics who stay awake all night long hoping to help others. There are surgeons who spend years training so they can try to save people who have been stabbed. But none of us can know that someone is hurt if no one calls out for help. 

Name withheld 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am a native who has lived in the Bay Area most of my life. As such, I know something about the critters that inhabit this area, including rats. I don’t particularly like them but over time I respectfully have learned something about them.  

During this time of year, there is a rat problem everywhere, even in foothills of Berkeley. It happens whenever there is a lot of rain. This year there has been a lot of rain. So, these critters are coming up from the storm drains, and from the swollen creeks. Just like a bilge of a ship that is taking too much water, they are seeking higher and drier land. Contrarily, it’s their nature to stay in the bilge unless they are threatened by drowning.  

Before we spend a lot of money on exterminators, who may or may not pass on this information, look at what else helps to control the rat population. Cats, dogs, snakes, hawks and skunks are their natural enemies. Some of these other critters actually depend on the rats at this time of year to feed their young. And they have to live, too. Without enough of these critters eating rats, there is probably going to be more rats, at least until it stops raining. Remember, most of these creatures were here first, even before our ancestors arrived.  

Maybe we should stop and consider this. Has anyone seen any skunks lately? As I recall, this is the time of the year the skunks search around our garbage. And as soon they are able, they will bring their little broods with them for something to eat. And isn’t that where rats hang out? Sneaking though the ivy and agapanthus to get there, to surreptitiously get their needed staples, our leftovers in the garbage cans?  

Consider this that maybe the rats don’t like us either. Rather than put up with us, they are eating out in dangerous places, than go into extinction without a fight. Thus I think these are smart rats.  

Dea Robertson-Gutierrez 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Now that the bids for the final section of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge are being considered, perhaps we should start a campaign to preserve the existing eastern span, for logistic as well as historical reasons. It would be a backup bridge in the event the new one is a failure and it would be a nice place to walk or ride bicycles and picnic. Saving the old bridge would be a nice homage to the builders of the 1930s and a prudent effort perhaps, considering the problems we’ve had building a new one. 

Hank Chapot 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The recent pot bust in Berkeley was not merely a massive waste of police resources—it violated city law. It is against the Berkeley Municipal Code for Berkeley police to make arrests for violations of marijuana laws or to spend money for marijuana-law enforcement (BMC, Sections 12.24.040 and 12.24.050). The marijuana laws are required to be the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority (BMC 12.24.030). It is up to the City Council to ensure that the police follow these laws (BMC, Section 12.24). The council failed to do that in this case.  

Berkeley has real crime problems, from murder to rape to robbery. To these we now must add two others: a police department that disregards the law on marijuana arrests, and a City Council that fails to police the police. 

Martin Putnam  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I urge the City Council to strengthen the Berkeley Creek Ordinance. 

Hardscape surfaces built close to creeks accelerate bank erosion, permanently steepening adjacent slopes. By preventing rainfall from soaking into soils for gradual release, they also exacerbate flooding and bank erosion in downstream neighborhoods. New roofed construction should not be permitted within 30 feet of an open creek and a creekside vegetated buffer should be required so other construction such as parking lots are set back from creek banks. 

The city should develop incentives for property owners to daylight culverted creeks and better manage those that are open. It’s clear that armoring creek banks with concrete is damaging over the long term and should be prohibited. 

Please base your ordinance on good science, so that downstream property is protected and wildlife needs are accommodated. 

Mark Liolios 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mayor Bates and his City Council buddies don’t have time for sunshine in government. They want to move their agenda with minimum public-right-to know and be off on vacation. 

At the March 21 City Council meeting a number of expedient maneuvers were in place to oil the tracks for the controversial $60 million Oxford Housing/ Brower project, and send it off without credible public process. So the Oxford Housing was first on a special 5:30 p.m. redevelopment meeting, at a special time. Next it appeared as two separate items on the consent calendar of the regular City Council meeting starting at 7:00 p.m. 

You should know the consent calendar allows no discussion. All items (22 this time!) are passed in one motion unless pulled by a councilmember and moved to the action calendar. 

Furthermore, controversial items, especially from Mr. Barton of the Housing Department, are often listed as “to be delivered” (TBD). This means they are not available in time for review and scrutiny, but are generally approved nonetheless. In this case the Oxford Housing item at the 5:30 special (redevelopment) meeting was TBD as was its City Council item number 17 on the consent calendar. Follow that? 

Councilmember Maio had recommended at the March 13 Agenda Committee that the Oxford Housing be put on consent and not on the action calendar (where discussion occurs). Maio has special interests in this issue because the developer, RCD (Resources for Community Development), is an organization she started. This project is considered pork barrel for the City Council majority of seven councilmembers endorsed by the left ideological slate BCA. 

Merrilie Mitchell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s obvious that the City Council will only do what is politically advantageous to them. Property owners in the City of Berkeley haven’t figured out that they live in a Communist city (from each according to his ability, to each according to his need...). Why is it that every time the city needs money, the only thing that they can think of is to stick it to the property owner in terms of increased parcel taxes? What has the city been doing with the storm drain taxes which property owners have been paying for years? Wasting it on “nice to do” but totally non necessary items like building roundabouts along AllstonWay, setting out holiday decorations, and planting in the median strip along University Avenue? That’s so much easier to do than tacking the aging storm drains.  

I think even the city, once they get their heads out of the dark spot the heads are in, have to admit that the sewer system/storm drain system benefits everyone, not just property owners. So why are only property owners asked to pay for it? Because we’re deep pockets, that’s why. The appropriate way to finance this is by a sales tax, that way every one gets to participate in the cost. It’s my guess that the tree-huggers of the creeks group wouldn’t be nearly so anxious to daylight creeks if they also had to help pay for it.  

Since the city can’t seem to figure out how to get the money, here are some suggestions. Stop spending money on non-essentials as noted above. Get rid of the Berkeley Visitor’s Center, the Berkeley Historical Society, and close the city’s Health Department. The County of Alameda has a perfectly good Health Department which serves the rest of Alameda County. Anyone who reads the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Chronicle Watch” about what is broken in various neighborhoods has to have noticed that a lot of what’s wrong in Berkeley involves Public Works and Claudette Ford. Does everyone know Ford was fired by the City of Oakland?? So of course, the City of Berkeley hires her, right? Ford should be fired for her inability to run Public Works properly.  

All of the above should bring in a few million dollars and the city can use that money for sewers and storm drains. Heck, the city could even use the money they collect from property owners as storm drain money for storm drains—what a novel idea. Even the City of Oakland can do a better job than Berkeley is doing. It appears that Berkeley is the only city which demands that property owners repair any storm drains under their property. If there is another city in the Bay Area which makes this requirement of property owners, it certainly isn’t common knowledge.  

I think the Creeks Ordinance should be totally abolished and property owners should be able to do what they want with the properties they have worked so hard to purchase.  

D. Day 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

During my long career as teacher I have noticed that encouragement at the first sign of interest in reading goes a long way. Parents and teachers should be willing to bend rules and change routines so that a child absorbed in words is not disturbed. 

At university in Punjab I was free for five periods a day between the first and seventh periods of literature and philosophy classes. I would go to my nook in our seven-story university library, pull out a pile of books and settle in for reading. I would get so engrossed I would miss my seventh-period class. My department chair learned of my absences. He wrote a note to the librarian permitting me to check out 50 or 60 books if I wanted. I had expected a reprimand; instead I received the strongest encouragement. 

Romila Khanna 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Tenants suffering even the most obvious but unscrupulous scams at the hands of shyster landlords in Contra Costa County are tragically on their own and can expect no redress or remedies whatever from their local corrupt and self-pardoning officialdom. 


At Civic Plaza Apartments in El Cerrito we exposed the fact that a clause of its rental agreement provides for a monthly flat-rate billing for the “shared allotment” of trash while the property’s billing company, National Water & Power, bills tenants for trash at not only a monthly variable but invariably increasing rate. 

Adding insult to injury the billing company (NW&P) based in southern California fraudulently masquerades as an actual utility company protected by state laws governing utility companies whenever confronted with tenant complaints concerning its supposed prerogative to charge additional punitive fees; to perpetuate its fraudulent prerogatives this billing company invariably resorts to quoting rules and regulations established by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), which has absolutely no jurisdiction whatever over this billing company but which has also proved strangely indifferent to the fact that NW&P fraudulently claims CPUC protection as if it were an actual public utility entity (which it’s not). 

Clearly the case calls for civil class action litigation filed on behalf of all adversely affected tenants. 

Most recently though the matter was brought to the attention of James L. Sepulveda, senior deputy district attorney, Special Operations Division for Contra Costa Country. 

Unsurprisingly, Sepulveda disclaimed any jurisdiction over the matter and explained away his disclaiming apology with a long-winded rationalization, equivocating that NW&P misrepresenting itself as a public utility company violates no “criminal” law and that “fraud” in the state of California is not a crime per se but rather just a “civil theory” which he refers to as being “meaningless”—setting off the word “fraud” in quotes for added emphasis not once but three separate times. So Sepulveda asks rhetorically: “Why would we investigate?”   

Oh, silly me! As Sepulveda’s office resides in the fraud unit of the Contra Costa district attorney’s office within the Consumer Protection (civil—not criminal) department, why would he investigate indeed—especially after being duly informed with easily documented evidence that the parent apartment company (also in southern California) in cahoots with the utility billing company execute contradictory contracts (the apartment company’s contract with the utility billing company versus the apartment rental contracts) deliberately designed to bilk tenants of incalculable amounts of money by means of a single hidden fine-print rental contract clause: flat-rate versus variable-rate trash billing! And that said fraud and mis-representation are blatantly occurring in the county whose public interest he’s entrusted to protect. 

So why would he investigate indeed? Apologizing as a public official mooching off the public dole, Sepulveda would impress me even more with his indifferent whitewash of the matter if he could rationalize with equal fervor action over inaction. 

Joseph Covino, Jr. 

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Lately I’ve been working the phones and crashing cafes seeking wisdom from people in all corners of Berkeley politics. Connecting the dots. is waiting for Pacific Steel Casting (PSC) to respond by the end of the month to our counter demand letter that requires the ancient foundry to devise toxic chemical and community health testing programs ignored by the infamous December 2005 back-room settlement with play pal BAAQMD.  

Now Linda Maio wants to talk with me? 

We need to keep our citizen band antennas on PSC. PSC’s carbon bed absorption technology for Plant No. 3 has been placed on a “fast track” hearing schedule by the Planning Department. The public has been by-passed before in this arena and needs to know much more before a permit is considered. What emission sources are abated at PSC and which ones are not? What about particulates? Bay Area Air Quality Management District records show that the carbon bed technology currently utilized in Plant #2 has not limited the complaints to that part of PSC’s operations. Those who attended the 1999-2000 Odor Abatement Hearing remember Round One all to well. Let’s get it right this time! Track this process and come ready to ask Planning Dept. staff tough questions. Find a wealth of PSC information at  

There are many other issues in District 1—from our stalled AMTRAK station rehab to toxic playing fields and polluting incinerators; sidewalks filled with day laborerss and term limits; an in-fill and Rapid Bus Transit plan waiting to cruise into San Pablo Avenue. Not to mention Tom Bates’ interest in bringing auto dealers to our choking highway edge and the insidious challenge to overturn current manufacturing zoning areas in the West Berkeley Plan (WBP). One politico just whispered to me that the old WBP will be put out of its misery and re-crafted soon. But to who’s benefit? 

Everybody is bitching and moaning at me about how ungreen Berkeley is—especially as the toxic grunge and back door deals fly through our burnt-pot-handled atmosphere in District 1. “Green Berkeley,” they ask? Yah, I don’t see it either! But through my work with small towns and neighborhoods over the years, I would define green planning and design as an integrated, holistic, participatory process that champions public noticing, long-range schedules, periodic evaluation and rigorous debate from start to finish. Built for the people, by the people; sustainable. Let’s see what “fast track” really means down at the city Planning Department in the days ahead. 

Lots of coffee and egos still to go. 

Willi Paul 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Voters should contact their political party leaders and members of Congress and urge them to support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the other senior members of the Bush administration for impeachable high crimes. The president and his cabinet members have launched an illegal and bloody invasion and occupation of Iraq based on reasons that were mistaken at best and lies at worst. They have been criminally negligent in their response (or lack thereof) to Hurricane Katrina and the plight of Katrina survivors. They have conducted illegal domestic spying. They have ordered individuals to be kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured at secret prisons. Finally, they have imprisoned people indefinitely without charge, trial, or conviction, in harsh and inhumane conditions. 

Administration officials have demonstrated utter contempt for checks and balances, public disclosure, human rights, and international law. This is not democracy; it is an imperial administration that uses fear, secrecy, and deception to hide and justify its crimes and erode our freedom, all the while insisting that it seeks to protect us. This will continue until we, the people, demand that this administration be held accountable through impeachment proceedings. 

David Mitchell™