Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday May 12, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m confused. Berkeley touts itself as “green” with its 25 years of curbside recycling and its clean-burning garbage trucks, yet the City Council wants to make it easier to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. There are so many reasons to retain green space—the biggest one being oxygen. Has everyone forgotten that trees and plants provide the oxygen we need to breathe? What the council is proposing will reduce oxygen production and increase toxic fumes right beside your bedroom or living room. Other reasons to retain restrictions on backyard/lawn/side yard parking: 

• Noise. If you park your car there, you can also repair your car there. Loud car radios blasting as cars are driven in and out of yards. Fumes and noise from vehicles warming up before driving pouring into my home is not something I relish. Motorcycles and classic cars with loud engines no smog control. Will of course aggravate the problems. 

• Drainage/flood control. Anytime you mess with the substructure of the earth, you weaken the chain that holds it all together. Each weakened link in the chain of root systems and soil structure increases the likelihood of earthquake damage and flooding. Privacy will be drastically decreased. If you don’t want to wake up and find that your backyard haven is now next to a parking lot, please contact the Berkeley City Council before May 16, and let them know you’d like to keep Berkeley green. 

Diana Sewell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As the humane commissioner who is proposing the mandatory spay/neuter code for pitbulls, related breeds and some pitbull mixes, I’d rather not have a fight with a dog advocacy organization, but Judith Scherr’s article about the proposed spay/neuter law sheds light on the scare tactics employed by a powerful lobbying group like the American Kennel Club. 

When the spokeswoman states that the AKC position is to target “the deed, not the breed” she and I are in agreement. Our code seeks to ban the breeding, not the breed. Breed bans do not work. Spay/neuter does. I support responsible dog breeding, and any code would include exemptions to the law and permits for breeding. 

But perhaps she doesn’t live in the world the rest of us do, where homeowner’s insurance has been denied to owners of bully breeds, where rental units or condo regulations specify no pitbulls, where parents refuse to let their children play near or around a pitbull or cross breed. These dogs cannot find homes—they are bred and discarded. What part of that doesn’t the AKC understand? Or is it that to protect their monopoly over dog breed standards and championship shows, and the profitable interests that flow from that, the plain realities of life for most dogs is unimportant? 

Seventy-five percent of dogs killed in shelters in the Bay Area are pit bulls or pit mixes. You don’t hear the AKC crying foul over that. Killing’ em is OK, but trying to stop the breeding generates outrage. 

Jill Posener 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for Suzanne La Barre’s May 5 article on the disarray in the Berkeley Unified School District Maintenance Department. If the meltdown in maintenance came as a shock to the administration, it can only be because they were not paying attention to the employees, their union, community members involved in oversight and the school community that relies on their services. The warning signs had been obvious to anyone looking for some time. The recently departed maintenance director lacked the experience, training and ability to oversee the department and its budget. That she was hired in the first place was astonishing. That she was allowed to mismanage the department into disarray must be laid squarely at the door on the BUSD administration.  

While we remain optimistic about a change in direction in maintenance and stand ready to work with the BUSD to improve matters, we remain concerned about another looming disaster that the administration is bringing about. In the new BSEP measure, the superintendent has eliminated all funding for facilities enhancement and improvement. In the current measure, BSEP only provides seven cents out of every dollar for facilities, a very small amount. However, those monies allowed the district to upgrade all its playgrounds to replace worn-out and unsafe equipment as well as meet new mandatory state and federal safety regulations. That project costs hundreds of thousands of dollars that weren’t available anywhere else, certainly not from the overburdened general fund. Certainly such a sum wasn’t available from Measure BB that just covers the cost of employees, equipment, vehicles and outside contracts in the maintenance department. And remember, such playground upgrades are not discretionary. Either the district meets federal and state safety regulations or students cannot use the playgrounds. Without the BSEP funds, many school would not have been able to use their playgrounds. There are many other facilities’ improvements that BSEP provides. That seven cents has gone a long way over the years and to eliminate it is not only short-sighted but leaves the district’s general fund financially vulnerable. It is another indication of the administration’s inability or unwillingness to plan properly for critical, essential facilities and maintenance needs. We can only hope that the community and the School Board corrects this defect in the new BSEP measure and restores the minimal amount from the current measure for facilities maintenance. 

Stephanie Allan 

Business Representative 

Stationary Engineers, Local 39  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s odd how a three-year resident of Berkeley and District 4 wonders about the whereabouts of District 4 Councilmember Dona Spring, one of two or three of the most accessible and responsive councilmembers in the city. Dona Spring has served District 4 with distinction since 1992, and has faced many challengers over that span of time. She has handily won re-election each time because the residents and voters of District 4 recognize her commitment to their needs and to the needs of the city as a whole. She has been and will continue to be a tireless representative who truly encourages and promotes public process and community input, and has been a leader in the areas of open government, full disclosure, and fair campaigns and campaign funding. 

Developers and business interests have for years tried to unseat Ms. Spring, because it has always been clear who Dona represents: the residents of District 4. I believe the voters of District 4 will see this new challenge as yet another example of moneyed interests attempting to wrest control of the city, and will once again re-elect Dona Spring to the City Council. 

John T. Selawsky 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A “secret design charette”? I was surprised to learn that the culminating event of greatest public interest of the “Downtown Design Process” was held behind closed doors. I hope it was at least videotaped as these customarily are. The valuable time donated by eminent designers was a gift to the people of Berkeley but, alas, consumed only by city insiders. What an opportunity lost. The city officials’ “safe environment” assertion is silly. These professional designers are accustomed to public glare; it exhilarates them to best performance. What does our city think of us? Here is disdain for the “genius of Berkeley” seen in other venues. (Never mind for now the “contrary orneriness” of Berkeley!) I don’t want to consider other possible motives for the city’s secrecy. 

I hope to see a full and fair sharing of all—debate, dissent, proposal. The populace must “own” any resolution of downtown in order it to succeed. Hence we must have a voice in fashioning it. There are more people tuned in, and far more with a great personal stake, than those who have time to attend “DAPAC” meetings. 

Bruce Wicinas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The May 9 front page article on the press and public being locked out of the TAC meeting on Friday, May 5, reminded me of the tactics of Vice President Dick Cheney. We all remember his energy policy formulation meetings of 2001 attended by oil company representatives. These too were closed to the public. The arguments used by Cheney and Principal Planner Matt Taecker come from the same playbook. According to Taecker: Committee members need space to meet without the glare of public scrutiny. “It’s a safe environment for them to just blurt stuff out.” Change Taecker’s name to Cheney and the same comments are appropriate. If Cheney had said these things, the Berkeley community, mayor and City Council would be rightly outraged. 

Will there be any such expressions by our public elected officials regarding the public having no say about how downtown Berkeley will be developed? Will this be like the agreement between the university and the City of Berkeley where no public debate was permitted before the City Council votes? Is this type of meeting, having nothing to do with privacy regarding personnel matters, covered by the Brown Act that bars many secret meetings by California governments? Speak up Mr. Mayor and councilmembers and get the doors opened to the public and the press. 

Don McKay 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just finished reading your story entitled “Neighborhood Corporation Chooses Panel to Plan Ashby BART Village.” 

I couldn’t see anything on the page to denote this as an op-ed piece, so I can only assume that it was intended to be a news story. It concerns me that you’d publish a story with such a strong directional bias. Richard Brenneman wrote: “Ed Church, the consultant picked by the board to ramrod the development of a major housing and commercial complex at the BART parking lot, had refused to say how many would be picked.” 

When one writes a sentence using the word “ramrod” it implies negative judgment to the action taken by Mr. Church. He could have easily said “the consultant picked by the board to manage/supervise/lead/etc.” I doubt that the board would agree that they selected anyone to ramrod anything, and I didn’t see any evidence in the story to support this claim by Berkeley Daily Planet. Is your reporter saying that he’s identified that the City Council and the redevelopment team are doing something illegal or unscrupulous?  

The next statement also makes some leaps of faith. “The project would feature up to 300 units of housing, presumably condos, built above commercial space.” 

As far as I can tell by reviewing the facts available, there isn’t enough information to “presume” that condos will be built. Maybe they will build condos, maybe they’ll build a hotel, who knows? Again, if there’s fact to back up the assumption, I didn’t see any in the story. 

I also saw an interview with only one person in the story, who was not in support of the development, however no attempt was made to contact those in support of it. There was however an attempt to make it seem as though your reporter did do so: “Anthony referred all questions to Church.” 

Written in this way, it makes it appear that the Daily Planet/Richard Brenneman contacted Mr. Anthony and was referred to Mr. Church. However, earlier on, we see that he’s just referring to an e-mail. Where’s the journalism? I can read e-mails just as well as anyone else. Why didn’t you guys just make a phone call? Is it really that difficult? 

I really feel that you are doing your readership a great disservice by having op-ed pieces published as real stories. Doing so unfortunately puts you in the same league as Fox News. I genuinely hope that this was oversight rather than a new Daily Planet policy. 

Tony Bautts 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your May 9 article “Neighborhood Corporation Chooses Panel to Plan Ashby BART Village” characterizes Ed Church as “the consultant picked by the [South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation] board to ramrod the development of a major housing and commercial complex at the BART parking lot.” You’ve got that backwards: Church picked the SBNDC. 

Ed Church came up with the vision of a Fruitvale-style transit village at Ashby BART on his own, and spent several years quietly refining his plan and discreetly shopping it around before getting the support of District 3 City Council representative Max Anderson and Mayor Tom Bates. To apply for a Caltrans grant, Church needed a tax-exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit as a front, so he and Anderson enlisted the SBNDC. 

The SBNDC has been remarkably cooperative, even going so far as to allow Church to pick new board members. Given the conclusion of Church’s 2004 feasibility study (available on that the kind of for-profit project he’s promoting could not subsidize any below-market-rate housing, it’s hard to understand why Jesse Anthony and the other longtime SBNDC board members have been going along with this. 

Robert Lauriston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Where do blacks stand on immigrant rights? Your juxtaposition of two contrasting views in the May 9 issue could not have been more poignant. For Van Jones the immigrant movement is a bandwagon that resurrects from the grave the spirit, the hope, the excitement, the expectation and the determination of the black struggle of decades ago. Jones bases his view on participation in the march. He “walked that walk” with the Latinos in the street. 

On the other hand, the article by Jasmine A. Cannick and Earl Ofari Hutchinson represents much that is wrong with some professional political pundits. They cite a poll and compare the publicity releases of black and brown leaders on the immigrant issue, and they conclude that black and brown are not communicating. They chastise Latinos declaring that they “must make a visible and concerted effort to reach out to blacks.” But where are the big black marches for Latinos to join? Jones laments that they seem a thing of the past, so, he marches with the immigrants. He mentions songs during the march. He was probably humming along, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” 

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A footnote to Becky O’Malley’s editorial on the Star Spangled Banner and my piece on the (checkered?) artistic career of Margot Schevill. Margot reports that at the 1961 Democratic Convention that nominated John F. Kennedy, she sang the Star Spangled Banner with the Rat Pack. She noted (no big surprise) that “I was the only one who could hit the high F on ‘land of the FREEEEE!’” 

Dorothy Bryant 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I burst into tears when a young student at UC told me that Cody’s was closing, and I’ve kept on crying whenever I think about it. Also, I’m in a rage. The first words to come out my mouth about the closing were: “That’s the death knell for Berkeley.” Theatrical, I admit, but let’s face it, there are people in Berkeley who haven’t walked on Telegraph Avenue in 30 to 40 years since the last riots. They’re up in the hills or down in the flats; I’m not. I’m in the neighborhood. 

During the riots—against the university, against the Vietnam War—Cody’s was the only store on Telegraph Avenue that didn’t get a brick through the windows; the late Fred Cody was that respected. Cody’s was a haven and, for me, at any rate, it still is. Even though on the evenings when I want to hear an author speak there, I feel obliged to run for my life to my car afterwards. Cody’s, I should add, is within walking distance to my house, but not after dark. 

Now, let me tell you about my rage. If you’ve ever gone to Stanford, you’ll notice that its gateway is named, not surprisingly, University Avenue. We’ve got one, too. And it doesn’t look that great to me, either, but we’re talking Telegraph here, and Telegraph is not inviting, to say the least. It looks OK in daylight, mainly because people thronging it cover up the decrepitude of it, but come the night, it’s a different story. It is frightening to gentle souls and enraging to the civic minded (me, for one). The street lighting is yellowish—a gesture to environmentalists—and casts a gloomy spell over the street, and people you wouldn’t notice during daylight are present—maybe they’re innocent, maybe not, but as I race to the car I don’t care to interrogate them. 

Telegraph Avenue is a blighted area. It is the gateway to the University of California at Berkeley, which I’ve noticed through the years, does little to contribute to the support of our city without a big fight. It is our neighbor and it is not our friend. (According to the newspapers lately, it looks like UC is no stranger to corruption—we, the citizens of Berkeley might find this a good time to ask for some of that under-the-table money that seems to be available.) 

But I digress.  

Take a look, say, at the City Council of Berkeley: When it comes to dealing with the university, it has been in a holding pattern with it ever since the riots. There’s been an apres vous, monsieur routine between city and state. Nobody budges without a lot of baloney slicing, and then the slice is scarcely visible. Surely, after so many years, the city and the university could have found a way to make the gateway—Telegraph Avenue—attractive to investors, to shopkeepers, to consumers, to strollers. But, no, the stalemate continues. 

I applaud Andy Ross, the owner of Cody’s and the very decent spiritual heir to Fred Cody, for sticking it out for years, and I don’t blame him for giving up. This is a heartbreaking chapter in Berkeley’s life. I do blame the city. I do blame the university. And I do blame myself, my neighbors and fellow residents up on the hills and down to the shore for letting an important part of our town go to hell. 

Heidi Seney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A few readers have written saying that the BART plaza redesign is not needed, that the current design works well. These people apparently have never tried to cross Shattuck Avenue while walking on the north side of University Avenue. 

Because Shattuck splits into two branches at the BART plaza, northbound through-traffic passes through this crosswalk at the same time as pedestrians are crossing. With two lanes of through traffic turning right through the crosswalk to continue north, this is a very dangerous crossing for pedestrians. I myself know two people who were hit while crossing here, one of whom was permanently disabled.  

This dangerous crossing is partly responsible for the poor business conditions on the northeast corner of University and Shattuck, where there have been vacant storefronts for many years. People have told me that they tend not to cross to this corner because of the danger. In addition, parking has been removed on the north side of Shattuck between the two branches of university to accommodate the northbound through traffic, and it is not pleasant for pedestrians to have that heavy traffic right next to the sidewalk.  

Two of the alternatives for the BART plaza redesign, options 2 and 3, would solve these problems by making the west branch of Shattuck two-way. This would make Shattuck and University work like a normal intersection. North-bound through traffic would not have to be routed through the crosswalk while pedestrians are crossing.  

To the people who say the BART plaza redesign is “a solution in search of a problem,” I recommend that you try starting at McDonalds and walking eastward across Shattuck, so you can see the two lanes of through traffic bear down on you when you cross. I do not recommend turning around and crossing again walking westward; if you do this, the through traffic bears down on you from behind your back, which is an even worse safety hazard.  

Once you try crossing here, you will realize that the current situation is a very real safety problem and that the BART plaza redesign offers a solution. 

Charles Siegel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There were some inaccuracies in the letter of mine that you printed last Tuesday. 

After the UC police officer’s completely unwarranted harassment of Mr. McMullan (for having his son move a traffic barricade placed across the driveway of People’s Park so that he could pull his wheelchair into the park), Mr. McMullan refused to surrender his ID, at which point the police officer placed his hand on Mr. McMullan. Mr. McMullan asked the police officer repeatedly to remove his hand, at least three, if not four times, at which point the other officer placed his hand upon Mr. McMullan’s wrist, in what turns out to be a pain compliance hold, at which point Mr. McMullan got out of his wheelchair and started resisting arrest, including “spitting” upon officer Uranus. A plainclothes cop ran up when the two officers were not able to cuff Mr. McMullan and jabbed his knee very hard into Mr. McMullan’s kidneys at which point our three brave police officers were able to get the cuffs on Mr. McMullan in front of his two young sons. 

Arthur Fonseca