Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday April 11, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

After listening to the speakers at the public hearing on the Berkeley Bowl project, I think I see the main problems. 

The proposed new store is far too big for a neighborhood grocery. Its location near the freeway facilitates access by out-of-town shoppers, all of whom will arrive by car. There will be a big traffic impact, which neighbors won’t like. Smaller businesses in the area will have their deliveries obstructed. Many slow-moving cars will add to our air pollution. The parking lot will be bumper-cars, worse than it is now at Whole Foods. 

The new Bowl will probably be successful, but if it is not, the proposed re-zoning will allow in a “big box” store like Wal-Mart. If the new Bowl is really needed, there should be a zoning variance made for it. We should not allow this one project to destroy the zoning planning that went into the West Berkeley multiple-use light-industrial (MULI) district. I don’t think we want to throw out the small businesses and the artists. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’d like to weigh in on the Berkeley Bowl’s proposed second location on Ninth and Heinz. As a 20-year resident of Ninth Street, I say bring it on! We need a grocery store in this area, and I believe lots of the folks who are my neighbors agree. The little old ladies who walk to the liquor store every morning for a loaf of bread, the kids who want a quick snack, the Latina moms and grandmoms who push strollers to the bus stop, and us folks who get sick of driving uptown to Safeway, will benefit. As for the vocal opposition coming from the French American School at the intersection of Ninth and Heinz, voicing concern for the increased traffic in the neighborhood, I say: Take a look in the mirror! How much traffic do they bring to that corner every day? How many miles a day do they drive to bring their kids to that fancy little school? The idea that these people, who don’t live in Berkeley and don’t pay city taxes are crying “Not in my back yard!” makes my blood boil. It’s not their backyard at all, it’s ours, and there’s a heck of a lot of us neighborhood folks who can’t wait to shop at the new Berkeley Bowl.  

Rachel Crossman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We live two blocks from the proposed Berkeley Bowl “Megastore” and we are totally against such a store in our neighborhood. We already have too much traffic and pollution at Ashby and San Pablo to want to invite shoppers from all over the Bay Area to drive to this location. What we really need is a smaller produce market with reasonable prices, more like Monterey Market.  

Berkeley Bowl is OK—especially since they finally allowed the employees to have a union. It’s well within biking or even walking distance from our house. Usually we ride our bikes and our side bags are adequate because we like to eat small amounts of fresh food. If we need to stock up more, we use a laundry cart. We would far rather walk or ride the eight blocks to the current store than put up with the pollution, traffic and parking nightmare that would come with this proposed megastore. It’s healthier to get a little exercise.  

Also, the Ecology Center has a great program to bring fresh organic produce into our neighborhood called “Farm Fresh.” Every Wednesday from 3:30 to 6 p.m.. they set up a table in San Pablo Park and offer fresh organic fruits and veggies at discount prices. The ideal would be to have this available every day at a smaller produce market like Monterey Market and perhaps have some other small stores that sell fish, bakeries, healthy restaurants etc. right on San Pablo at Ashby.  

What we have now are fast-food joints, auto body places that put out paint-fume pollution, and a giant dumpsite which was formerly a gas station. Leave the proposed Berkeley Bowl site light industrial. Bring in some smaller stores that truly “serve the neighborhood.” Don’t dump another ton of pollution on us.  

Alan Bretz and Helen Jones 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I appreciate the BUSD board members’ final, official vote to ask City Council to close Derby Street to proceed with building the multi-use fields. It’s a strong indication of their obligation and commitment to put the best interests of the students first. Obviously, the board members considered the costs in their vote. Don’t ignore their decision. Or Parks and Recreation’s majority (unanimous) vote in favor. Or the Fire Department’s support and cooperation of the street closure. Or the Berkeley students’ spirited support at public meetings. BUSD has patiently allowed the vocal minority their say in the matter. Unfortunately, that has included a lot of errors regarding the closed-Derby design. 

BUSD’s original intent was to build a field for the baseball program, as well as any other sport that wanted to play and practice there. In other words, a true multi-use field for all sports. At that point it was fully funded. Current BHS freshmen were first-graders. To stall our park for over nine years and then promote an inferior park design that excludes the very sport the park was proposed and designed for in the first place is missing the point: Derby Park is foremost for the kids of Berkeley schools. 

I am a neighbor and I recognize that it should be designed and built for the students who will use it for generations to come. The rest of us, including neighbors, parents, community members and even the out of town farmers using the Park as a market a few hours a week, are being considered and will clearly benefit more from the closed-Derby design.  

Bart Schultz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Doug Fielding is correct that the Gilman Street sports field complex is not a project of the Berkeley Unified School District, or of those of the other five participating local cities. My sources from several of these towns were incorrect and for that I apologize. The facility, funded by two state grants, has five sports fields including a regulation baseball field. These are available to school and private sports teams from Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, Richmond and El Cerrito. The Berkeley High baseball team will have access to the regulation baseball field when it is completed this fall. At that time they will have two regulation baseball fields, Gilman Street and the San Pablo field they currently use to play their 10 annual games on. Mr. Fielding has not explained why the baseball squad can’t be satisfied with a fully functional practice field at Derby Street while sharing the field with other sports teams and avoid disrupting the Farmers’ Market, the residents and the neighborhood folks holding out for the last usable open space in that part of town. The Farmers’ Market does not need Mr. Fielding to speak for them and they fully support the open-Derby multi-use plan. This plan is the only plan that has guaranteed from the beginning that the field will not be dominated by baseball and available to other outdoor activity including other sports. This plan is the only plan that has guaranteed that the public will have access when not in use. This plan is budgeted, funded, publicly approved and has been held up too long by the baseballers.  

Mr. Fielding claims that the city’s general fund will not be saddled with the unknown additional millions required for the regulation baseball field, but he neglects to mention just where the funding will come from. As one of the school district directors points out, these cost estimates do not include the extra costs of excavating the new sewer line, pipes and wiring as required by law when a street is decommissioned. We all have seen what a multi-million dollar boondoggle the Harrison Street field has become when toxics were discovered subsurface and though it is unlikely, serious excavation always stands a chance of exposing a burial site or pollution pocket with even more costs.  

The only children who will be affected by leaving Derby Street open are the baseball players who will only be able to practice there. Involving low-income at-risk disabled children who are not on the baseball team and who will have guaranteed access under the open-Derby plan is a cheap gimmick and it’s proponents should be ashamed of themselves.  

Two regulation baseball fields is more than enough. Share the field and spare the budget. Keep Derby open.  

Mark McDonald 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On behalf of the Ecology Center and the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market, I wish to respond to Ed Mahley’s recent letter, in which he asks the neighbors of the Derby Street playing field, including the Farmers’ Market, to let BUSD know what is needed for the site to work for everybody.  

The Ecology Center, which operates the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market on Derby Street, has repeatedly stated its seven basic needs to both BUSD and City Council. So far, BUSD has not shown any concrete commitment to meet these needs in either open or closed street scenarios. On the contrary, just last month the School Board president made a clear statement that the school district is not responsible for supporting community needs such as those at the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market. Statements like these reinforce concerns that the School Board does not see the Farmers’ Market as an educational asset in spite of the many ways we support its goals. Based on these comments, and prior history, there is little reason for the Ecology Center to believe that the School Board will truly support the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market should the market be forced to operate on school property in the future.  

We believe that if the district is to acquire community owned real estate for its own private use, existing community uses for that property should require a significant commitment from the school district.  

Linda Graham  

Program Manager  

Berkeley Farmers’ Markets  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Clearly some members of Neighbors of Urban Creeks will never be satisfied with the Creeks Task Force unless the task force calls for the trashing of the Creeks Ordinance. But the past year and a half of open, public dialog between task force members and the public has taken the teeth out of their reactionary calls to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  

The task force’s areas of agreement- points on which they’re unanimous about- include allowing all current structures illegal under the Creeks Ordinance to stand, and for the automatic rebuilding of them after a disaster. Balance Hydrologics submitted a survey in late March to the task force (Attachment A, March 22 meeting on the city’s website) which points out that the vast majority of buildings and patios near creeks don’t conform to the Creeks Ordinance. The task force has worked out a compromise between property rights and the public good which everyone should applaud.  

Three other points of agreement: Culverted (i.e. buried) creeks should be treated differently than open creeks, and the city needs to find money to help pay for creek restoration, storm drain repair, and overall watershed management. The buried creeks are also to be treated like storm drains, therefore there’s a good chance that- depending on how current lawsuits work out- residents may be able to count on public money to help out with repairing private culverts.  

Finally, the rainy season again highlights the disaster-related issues often overlooked by the hills-heavy critics of the task force. Large areas of West Berkeley flood during the rainy season, causing property/economic damage and traffic hazards. It’s simple: concrete speeds water up compared to natural creek beds. Current storm water and creek culverts are crumbling and undersized for the amount of drainage our city needs as we remove absorbent soil and increase non-absorbent surfaces—mostly cement and asphalt.  

Anyone who is doubtful about the need for a Creeks Ordinance should walk to the end of North Valley Street, a tiny nub of a street off behind Allston and Acton and look down. Be careful though, as the street has been eroded by the force of the water shooting out of the crumbling culvert into the open section of Strawberry Creek behind the Strawberry Creek Lodge. As it has crumbled over the years, the culvert’s opening receded many feet, bringing it closer and closer to the private home that’s now just 15 feet away from it. Compare that with the meandering creek a half-block away in Strawberry Creek Park, where the water is not rushing pell mell out of a concrete corridor and eroding the creek banks. Our revamped Creeks Ordinance, thanks to the fabulously collaborative and reasonable task force and the City Council, will protect us from such jarring situations throughout this century and well into the next.  

Jesse Townley  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I find Jesse Audette’s letter regarding annual windturbine raptor kills at Altamont a little disingenuous. He tells us only two birds per turbine are killed without mentioning the total number of turbines at Altamont are 6,000, most of them the old technology design, ie. the more lethal type. The wind farm is next to the largest golden eagle nesting area in the state. Approximately 116 golden eagles are killed a year. Three hundred red-tailed hawks, 380 burrowing owls, and 2,500 meadowlarks (grassland birds “being the most rapidly declining bird population in our nation.” ) An estimated total of 4,700 birds killed a year at Altamont. As for raptor collisions with cars, how many near misses have you had going down I-580? Birds have an amazing ability to avoid cars and I would guess jet turbines are much more of a hazard. Most of the people I know who are interested in birds and nature including members of Golden Gate Audubon from which the above figures are sourced in the June 2005 “Gull” are involved in local and international environmental issues. For the entire article and how the kill rate can be lowered if industry was willing, see the June and September issues at 

Judi Sierra 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Once again, columnist J. Douglas Allen-Taylor presents the unsolved question of escalating violence in Oakland (“Oakland Fails to Deal with Violence Problems,” April 7). But this was different—a shocking reminder of the roots of violence. As I read the harrowing childhood tragedies, I am also reminded of those who promote only more punishment, more jails; and ridicule such history as “excuses.” 

How can children, without intervention, who are so cruelly abused, so severely wounded in mind and body, know how to live with respect for others or for themselves? I was hoping that Allen-Taylor would conclude his tragic accounts with at least a hint of some successes for these victims. But he only closes with a truth: “There’s work to be done.” 

I may have found a partial answer, ironically, on your letters page! James Hopkins writes that he is committed to finding work, and to “having power over his own future. Since his release from prison over two years ago, he has been continuously frustrated, in his searches, and even when employed, by “the indignity of abrupt dismissal when a background check is completed.” 

Would not Hopkins and other ex-prisoners, who have “experienced the day to day horrors of prison life,” have much to teach the desperate victims that Allen-Taylor speaks of? It would be ideal if these motivated prisoners were educated in this role while in prison, but as a start, there are Oakland churches, and there are Oakland homeless shelters, etc. which provide needed aid to such teens and young adults. In helping troubled young people to find new options and self-esteem, ex-prisoners may increase their own as well. 

James Hopkins is a gifted writer, who is determined to show his own son a righteous path. The public needs such reminders of the indignities and the waste of capable persons who have paid for their mistakes and may now ask only to be heard!  

Gerta Farber 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There are many items in the April 7 commentary by John Gertz that could be refuted, like “It is now universally acknowledged that Arafat was not a leftist.” We do know “universally” that he was a Christian and the PLO is a secular movement. Arafat can be explained by Jeffrey Blankfort or Edward Said’s writings, rather I will use Gertz’s rationale for his assertions as a counter argument since footnotes are not used in this matter. All is justified by the phrase it is “universally acknowledged.” Isn’t it “universally acknowledged” that General Sharon was shifting money to his son? Isn’t it “universally acknowledged” that the general was responsible for the Sabra and Chatila massacres? Isn’t it “universally acknowledged” M. Begin was a “terrorist” to the English when his underground group killed Brits and Palestinians?” Isn’t it “universally acknowledged that the Israelis helped the apartheid regime in South Africa, the dictator in Guatemala with military weapons and advice? Is it not “universally acknowledged” that the Bush neo-cons with 98 percent of the Democrats considers the preemptive attack on Iraq a good effort, and Iran should be next as both Democrats and Republicans state Israel is the closest ally and friend of the United States? Isn’t it “universally acknowledged” that this deadly cabal is likely to lead to more savagery in the name of theocracies here and in the Middle East? Isn’t it also “universally acknowledged” that the United States’ raptus religious right supports Israel’s religious right whose aim is to eliminate, kill or exile all Palestinians from Israel so the Second Coming can arrive? The last is so “universally acknowledged” that Gertz surely knows of this and is on line to be one of the 144,000 Jews who will be taken to heaven with the raptus folks. 

R.G. Davis 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last Friday’s Daily Planet story about Albany’s City Council approving a burrowing owl habitat contained a couple of errors. Richard Brenneman, apparently attempting to provide some background on the owl, wrote, “An endangered species, the burrowing owls had been spotted nesting on the site, and constructing the new habitat was a condition of the mitigations spelled out.” In fact, the burrowing owl is not an “endangered species,” and there have been no observations of the bird “nesting” at the ballfield site. In 2004, Fish and Game rejected a proposal to add the burrowing owl to the list of threatened or endangered species. Burrowing owls “nest” in the spring and summer. Two nesting surveys in 2005 failed to detect any owls. This year, a winter survey observed one owl “present” at the site, but not “nesting.” Based on this it is not clear that Berkeley ever established the finding that the ball fields project had any impact on resident birds. 

More importantly, I think that the Daily Planet missed the real story here. A story about incredibly tenacious, organized, and politically connected environmental groups hijacking the Gilman Street sports fields CEQA process, and manipulating it to their own ends. Albany’s conceptual plan for the 20-acre plateau called for active recreational uses at the site. The rest of Albany’s upland portion of the park is already completely devoted to preservation or conservation. While the environmental groups objected to the plan for the plateau area, the record shows that the plan was developed through a very deliberative, public process. The owl habitat and utility road will now eliminate public use of more than half the plateau as recreation open space. Maybe, Albany residents should be grateful. The environmental groups originally proposed fencing off the entire plateau! 

Clay Larson