Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 16, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Now that the City Council and ZAB have approved numerous oversized buildings without sufficient parking, they are ready for the residents to take up the slack. Today (Tuesday), the Berkeley City Council is poised to make it easier than ever to pave over the town. Oh well, who needs oxygen anyway? 

Georgette Wrigley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was surprised by how much Zoning Adjustments Board coverage there was in the May 9 edition. It was as if Jesus was going to rise up from Heinz Street Thursday and reappear at the ZAB meeting to cast judgment on all of Berkeley: All the good people would get to spend their days shopping at the new Trader Joe’s, while all of the sinners would have to live out eternity in the new Hudson McDonald building. Here’s hoping that John Gertz and the Peace and Justice Commission will have to share a studio. 

Anyway, please mix it up a bit. 

Georges Perrault 

P.S. This doesn’t mean I want more Israel-Palestine stories. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There is something odd about how Telegraph Avenue has deteriorated into a haven for homeless, drug users, drug dealers, and “crazies.” Who gave them the power to take over “the Ave.”? In my Berkeley neighborhood, the residents maintain order on our streets on a daily basis with the aid of the city. Why did the business owners, UC and the city just let this happen? 

Whether or not there was a subtle intention to let the area go, the result will probably be the same—urban renewal in the form of turning Telegraph Avenue into a street like the one that leads up to UCLA with its high-priced chain stores and high-rise buildings. Unless the community reclaims it now. With all the high-rise apartment buildings going up with the support of the mayor and city government can Telegraph Avenue be far behind? Already there are high-rise apartments going up near Andronico’s on Telegraph Avenue. 

And to the community who has supported Cody’s for so long, why not build that coalition to stop the deterioration now? Cody’s is a community resource which we cannot afford to loose. I don’t want to go to San Francisco or Fourth Street to find a good book and there are many others who feel the same way. You will find them on Shattuck Avenue at Pegasus, Barnes and Noble, and Half-Price Books and they can easily make their way to Cody’s if it is on Shattuck Avenue. 

So, Mr. Ross, please reconsider your decision to close the Telegraph Avenue store. You found the way to open the San Francisco and Fourth Street Stores. Find a way to keep a central Berkeley store. Also, open a website to sell books for those near and far who want to find a good book. 

Donna Carter 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kriss Worthington, you get credit for the state of the Telegraph Avenue. The ’60s are behind us and all the world has moved, on leaving the Avenue behind. There is no reason why socialism could not hold a dear place for commerce and mercantilism in its vision. Your lack of respect for business and economics and lack of a vision are driving the Avenue to ruin. Please gracefully step aside and allow others a chance to lead the Avenue.  

Peter Levitt 

P.S.: While this newspaper is doing soft interviews of/for Kriss in a full page recently, your competition is exposing and attempting to explain the Avenue’s decline. I have been criticized by this newspaper for calling on the editors to cheerlead for Berkeley, by pointing out real problems and debating possible solutions. Where is the Daily Planet’s explanation for the Avenue’s decline and Kriss’ Telegraph Avenue?  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Like so many longtime residents of Berkeley, I can’t begin to convey how distraught I am to learn that Cody’s Book is closing. Fred Cody remains one of my few heroes and his successor, Andy Ross, continued to run a superlative enterprise. But given what should be evident to anyone who boldly ventures on Telegraph at night, it is clear why Cody’s and other decent businesses situated there operate against the longest odds. 

I say “it is clear,” but what should indeed be crystalline has gone unspoken for too long. Urban predators know that they can come to Berkeley, receive copious goods and services, and get away with behavior not tolerated elsewhere. And the sense of very real danger that their presence produces keeps much of our citizenry from patronizing businesses not just on Telegraph, but on Shattuck and University Avenues as well.  

To this we can thank the “Us v. Them” mindset created by the likes of KPFA, Copwatch, and the Berkeley Police Commission. Calling “classist,” “racist,” or “anti-homeless” those who dare designate the drug addicts, alcoholics and other felons for what they truly are—predators of the worst order—and maintaining the illusion that that festering swamp of thuggery, People’s Park, is sacred ground, such demagogues have helped transform much of Berkeley’s commercial sector into what is fast approaching a decrepitude akin to downtown Richmond. 

But the real blame should fall in larger measure squarely upon the ideological simpletons of our City Council, Kris Worthington, Linda Maio, Donna Spring and Maxwell Anderson. Their incessant anti-business stance and sanctioning of anti-social behavior has clearly reached a point of diminishing returns. If these ideologues are not soon voted out of office, the loss of cherished enterprises such as Cody’s will only continue apace and the aura of fear so palpable in our downtown sector will continue to expand exponentially. 

Dan Spitzer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry and I sat in a kiddie pool outside Cody’s a few years ago to protest Andy Ross’s anti-homeless/anti-street artist policy of repeatedly hosing down the sidewalk specifically under the butts of the people they didn’t want on the sidewalk in front of the book store. We called it Cody’s Shower and Watersports Program, but both of us knew it was something Fred and Pat Cody, the original owners, would never have done. I wonder how much more business Andy Ross would have had if he hadn’t been so hostile toward the poor.  

Carol Denney  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The departure of Cody’s Books from Telegraph Avenue will be a sad occasion for the entire city of Berkeley, but it may also be a tremendous opportunity for the city, Telegraph Avenue, and the University.  

Cody’s disappearance as a major feature of the South Campus area leaves a large building in a prominent location and the opportunity to use the site for something new and innovative on a street that has not launched a truly innovative project in 30 years. One suggestion: A combination art gallery/coffee house/art and literature bookstore. The space is big enough to house a full art gallery, one large enough to include sculptures and large paintings, with maybe a room for video and/or installations. There is no such gallery anywhere in the area. The bookstore could specialize in hard-to-find art books and small press literature that is not featured in many mainstream bookstores, and would thus not be overpowered by online booksellers. In addition, there would be room for a coffeehouse, possibly upstairs and possibly in the area where the magazines are now. There are art bookstores in most large European cities, and the coffeehouse-bookstore combination has been used to great success by at least one major American bookstore chain. The bookstore or the video room could also be used for the type of author appearances in which Cody’s now excels. Such an establishment could attract a wide audience of students, art and literature lovers, and University people, and may also help invigorate an area that, with the recent sale of the Mediterraneum Caffé, may be on its way back up. 

Dale Jensen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Isn’t it great to read the words of our so-called leaders discussing the demise of Andy Ross’ bookstore on upper Telegraph Avenue? How happy I am to see that our Chamber of Commerce, our mayor and anybody but Kriss Worthington has so much faith in the urban commercial zone called “Telegraph Avenue” that they would state their profound support for such an important urban commercial zone? 

Andy Ross states, “the city has played a negative role, having ignored Telegraph Avenue. The city has decided to treat downtown as an economic opportunity and to treat Telegraph as a crime problem and not as an economic opportunity.” 

Mayor Tom Bates says he suspects that “older” (read post-yuppie prigs) book buyers feel more at ease shopping at Cody’s store on trendy Fourth Street. “It’s more upscale and more comfortable,” Bates said. “Telegraph Avenue is a great place, but some people (read upscale gentrifiers) don’t want to go there.” Yeah, yuppie elders and Bates supporters hate young, indigent people. 

Community Development Project Coordinator Dave Fogarty says “There are migratory youth and drug dealing,” noting that people “are acting out obnoxiously,” shouting and sitting on the sidewalk with their feet sticking out. “People find it unpleasant.” 

I’ll bet the remaining merchants on Telegraph are really happy with the public face Mayor Bates, who wants to be reelected, and the supposed supporters, have given to Telegraph avenue’s image. 

Hank Chapot 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her May 12 article on West Berkeley Bowl, Suzanne La Barre quotes Zelda Bronstein as saying “Approval of this project means that the future of West Berkeley is non-stop gentrification.” Well, Zelda, why should those of us (like you and me) who live near Solano Avenue keep all the gentrification to ourselves. Maybe if a little of it spilled over, West Berkeley could start paying a fair share of Berkeley’s excessive tax burden. 

Jerry Landis  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A couple important topics were absent from the commentary authored by Mayor Bates regarding his stewardship of our city as published in the May 12 edition.  

No mention that property crimes in Berkeley are far higher than other East Bay cities. In fact, Berkeley property crimes are much higher than even Oakland and Richmond. A report from the City of Berkeley website detailed 379.1 property crimes per 10,000 population in 2005. Richmond’s statistics are 291.9 per 10,000 and Oakland’s are 254.2. Vallejo’s property crimes are a mere 80.7. In other words, Berkeley’s property crimes occur at about five times the frequency of Vallejo! Too bad this topic was avoided.  

No mention that sales tax revenue is down in Berkeley, as much as 30 percent in the Telegraph area. Meanwhile, downtown gets the lion share of the attention and accolades.  

The City Council is considering making it easier to turn back and side yards into parking lots. The city already suffers problems with the storm drain system which will be aggravated by more concrete and more development. Our unique and precious architectural heritage is under assault as the mayor tries to weaken the Landmark Preservation Ordinance. Arson fires are being set in South Berkeley.  

Our quality of life is deteriorating with increased traffic, density, and crime.  

Mayor Bates, please tell us what you have done to address these problems. 

Robin Wright 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A favorite tactic of John Gertz and other apologists for Israeli state policies is to try to smear as “anti-Semitic” all critics of same. Well, first, there is the little peculiarity that Arabs are Semites. If we wanted to sink to the Gertz level, we would have to label the Israeli government as anti-Semitic because of its unjust policies towards the Palestinian Arabs.  

Then we would have to assume that the critics of Israel’s barbaric policies of occupation, preventive detention, home demolitions and regular land seizures would favor these policies if the Israeli government were run by gentiles! 

A person who is anti-Jewish hates Jews qua Jews, ergo for any other type of prejudice. Objecting to a foreign state which has received hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars is hardly outside the pale.  

Then we are supposed to ignore the unbelievable influence that AIPAC—the Israeli lobby as they bill themselves—has over our political system. They are more powerful than the NRA, AARP or anyone else on the Hill. 

I think the leaders of certain Jewish organizations that equate Jews with blanket support of Israeli policies are responsible for anti-Jewish attitudes.  

Finally, there is the victim card always played by Israel’s apologists. In this bizarre scenario, Israel, which is the fourth strongest military power in the world, is in constant danger of being annihilated by the people it oppresses. I refuse to call such apologists “Zionists” as the great majority have no intention of going to live in Israel. 

They are content to fight to the last Israeli and for that matter have no qualms about American casualties in wars such as the Iraq war that were egged on by AIPAC and deranged neocons. 

Kris Martinsen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

By all means, property owners wishing to rebuild after a disaster should have their obstacles minimized. The city can streamline the permit process as much as possible in the event of disaster. However, to make it policy that they can rebuild by right in the original footprint of the building would be, in my estimation, foolish in many circumstances. Specifically, if the original footprint of the building is on top of a creek or so near the creek that it is dangerous to build there, then a more careful process for permitting such building would be prudent. It may be possible, with unusually sturdy and erosion resistant techniques to build something viable on top of a creek. However, not all property owners are responsible enough or even competent to determine whether it is safe to build on or near a creek, or employ the appropriate construction strategies required. There are good arguments to be made that principles of hydrology dictate that it’s almost never really safe to build a structure on top of or near a creek. 

Has the city attorney given any opinion on the liability of the city should it permit a building to be constructed over or very near a creek, given known pitfalls and dangers of such construction? 

I urge the mayor and City Council to err on the side of cautiousness when it comes to property owner and tenants’ safety and financial risk of both property owner and city. 

Consider this situation: Earthquake disaster causes culvert failure and destruction of a home that was built on top of the culvert. What would be best course of action be in the aftermath? Take the opportunity to daylight the creek and rebuild a home at a safe distance from the creek? Rebuild by right in the original footprint of the home? Who is responsible for paying for the rebuilding of the culvert? Who pays for daylighting the creek? Which is more costly: maintaining a culvert system or maintaining open creeks? 

• Many advocates of the rebuild-by-right concept also insist that all the citizens of Berkeley should be responsible for cost of maintaining the culverts on private property. 

• The city cannot foot the bill for daylighting creeks, but it can create an environment in which federal or state funds for watershed improvement projects can be acquired for use in Berkeley creek restoration efforts. 

Alan Gould 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I attended last Thursday’s BRT forum put on by the Willard Neighborhood Association, and I read Rob Wrenn’s recent commentary piece. 

The BRT is supposed to attract many new riders—from among the people who now clog Telegraph, Bancroft and Shattuck with their personal cars. We probably don’t need the BRT to carry the current riders on the BRT corridor—the present 40L bus line does that fairly well. But we do need to do something about traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, air pollution and oil consumption. Car congestion looks likely to get worse, because of population increase and UC’s parking expansion plans. After the Caldecott Tunnel gets a fourth bore, the cut-through traffic from Highway 24 will get worse. 

I have a pleasant vision of the BRT. I see the big buses coming often enough that nobody is concerned about schedule. At the BRT stations, people get on and off rapidly, having pre-paid their fares. Crowds of customers throng to the stores and restaurants; students hurry to their classes and employees to their jobs. Telegraph remains a Berkeley place, but now takes on more of the ambiance of a European city. I have a similar vision for Shattuck, near the BART plaza. 

I’m well aware of the prevalent unease at any prospect of losing the convenience of one’s personal car. Merchants think all their customers come by car. Even many Berkeley environmental advocates, for any trip, still choose their personal car first. 

The principal question about the BRT seems to be whether its deployment truly will motivate enough bus riding to reduce car congestion. Cars removed from the roads will have to more than compensate for the reduction in road capacity caused by bus-only lanes, reduced on-street parking and so on. 

Of course those drivers will not be so motivated—as long we keep our other public practices in place. Such as what? Well, a big start would be for the University to stop plans to build more parking lots, and to increase their support for the Class Pass and the bus pass for staff. The other major employers of Berkeley should follow the university’s example. 

For a liberal university town, Berkeley is still deeply conservative about transit. During the last major expansion at Stanford University, public policy produced a plan which did not increase car traffic to campus. Similar achievements have been made at UCLA and University of Washington. 

Berkeley definitely needs the BRT, not more car congestion and air pollution. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In Friday’s article “Arson Fires Strike South Berkeley,” you quote 3045 Shattuck owner Christina Sun as saying her “plans were legal” and that the zoning code required no public hearings. Neither statement is true. 

Ms. Sun’s original permit was issued only because she deliberately misrepresented her existing and intended use of the property as a single-family residence. In reality, at the time of her application she had already converted it to what the Berkeley zoning code calls a “group living accommodation” (in layman’s terms, a rooming house) by renting out bedrooms on separate leases. When neighbors produced proof of this, the city issued a stop-work order, and the Zoning Adjustments Board nullified her permit. That nullification was held up on Ms. Sun’s appeal to the City Council and Alameda Superior Court. 

Planning staff committed several other mistakes in issuing Ms. Sun’s original permit. Converting a single-family residence into a rooming house requires a public hearing, as do putting parking in the required rear yard and locating residential storage space on the ground floor. 

Staff also failed to apply established design review standards: the only design requirement on her original permit was that the siding on the new portion of the cheap, hideous building match the original two-inch shiplap. It was the proper application of design review standards on her current application that led to the additional expense Ms. Sun complains of. 

Even Ms. Sun’s current plans cannot legally be approved without a public hearing, since they place the required off-street parking spaces in the required rear yard, which per zoning code section 23F.04 may not contain parking spaces. Legally, the permit can be issued only after a public hearing and approval by the Zoning Adjustments Board of a use permit under section 23E.52.070D.7. 

The city intends to issue Ms. Sun a permit anyway. This act would almost certainly be reversed if challenged in court. However, such a challenge would be counterproductive, since if the application were sent to the ZAB they would most likely resolve the problem by waiving the off-street parking requirement entirely. 

Robert Lauriston 


On our city streets, most anywhere, 

There’s a Starbucks opened there. 

Every store seems quite afflicted 

With lines of the caffeine-addicted. 

Throughout this nation, like busy ants, 

There’s quite a coffee ambiance 

From early morn to late night again. 

No wonder we need Ambien. 

—George Banks 




EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letters only appear our website. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

After the latest Bush administration attack on our privacy rights was disclosed, House Minority Leader Pelosi’s office stated that she “raised concerns when she was told about the collection of phone company records and the security agency’s surveillance activities.” But what did she and others that knew of this illegal program do to actually stop the disclosure of phone records to the government? Why didn’t they inform the public of what was transpiring? 

Do not give me the excuse of “National Security and the need for secrecy.” Many crimes have been committed by this administration using this excuse as cover. And too many Democratic leaders have gone along with these crimes using the same excuse. 

The world can not afford to wait for more of these outrages to occur. It is time to drive out the Bush regime and all its lackeys before we have no freedom left to protect. To learn more about this, see 

Kenneth J. Theisen 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wonder why it is OK with Bush and Cheney that the government take phone records of millions and millions of Americans, and analyze who was talking to whom, yet, they refuse the public’s demand to know who the oil industry people were whom they met with in 2001, when they formed our government’s energy and war policies. 

Their double standard isn’t simply an example of arrogant hypocrisy. It obstructs the people’s right to hold our government accountable. 

Fomenting a frothy fear of terrorism like they did when invading Iraq’s oil fields, Bush and Cheney are invading America’s privacy. 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Is the United States a rogue state? 

Ignoring all international agreements, led by a corrupt and incompetent organization, channeling all resources to its wealthy internal supporters,  

sure that God is the source of their policies, demonizing their opponents, and engaged in dangerous military adventures throughout the world? 

Comments welcomed. 

Brad Belden 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

By choosing to pursue any marijuana related-investigation, such as the bust described by Suzanne La Barre in your March 31 issue, the Berkeley Police Department wastes taxpayers’ dollars and thumbs its nose at the will of the people.  

As public servants, Berkeley police are sworn to uphold the laws of the city of Berkeley, whose citizens have repeatedly voted in favor of BPD’s giving lowest-priority status to marijuana-related violations. For the Berkeley Police Department to arbitrarily decide that they can ignore the will of the people is disturbing enough; recent news that they have now turned this case over to DEA agents is positively horrifying. 

Regardless of the Younger v. Berkeley City Council decision, which struck down the earlier 1973 Berkeley Marijuana Initiative, BMI II is a completely separate vehicle with different parameters, passed by a strong majority of citizens in 1979. BMI II clearly states: “The city council shall seek to ensure that the Berkeley police department makes no arrests and issues no citation for violations of marijuana laws.” (Ord. 5137-NS 3, 1979) It adds, “...nor shall any expenditure be made by the city” on enforcing marijuana laws.  

Some readers may be thinking, “But what about the guns that were found?” Second Amendment issues aside, consider this: When marijuana prohibition ends, growers will have less perceived need to keep firearms around for protection. The black market will shrivel. Marijuana “crimes” will disappear and significant resources will be made available to support investigations of truly violent crimes, or to be redirected into the schools, or to community services that address the root causes of criminal behavior. 

Berkeley has long been a beacon of progressive thought for the entire nation. As Berkeley leads the way toward a more enlightened view of marijuana use in the United States, we especially need the support of our local police forces. We need to be able to trust that they are using our resources wisely and implementing the laws we voted for.  

Berkeley police services are overseen by City Manager Phil Kamlarz, appointed by the mayor. Concerned citizens are urged to write to Mr. Kamlarz and encourage him to support the BPD in upholding BMI II, giving lowest priority to marijuana “crimes,” and resisting federal intervention in all situations involving marijuana in Berkeley. He can be reached at 2180 Milvia St. 94704, by phone at 981-7000, by fax at 981-7099, or by e-mail at 

R. DeKeuster 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Truly, on behalf of every western Iowan with half-a-brain, I profoundly apologize for the fact that anyone as stupid as Steve King could not only graduate high school but actually get elected to office. My only excuse is the ongoing brain drain that sends most of Iowa’s best and brightest any where else, especially California. Poor Steve is so dumb that he still hasn’t figured out that not only is Iowa not even an English word (its Siouan) but that Hispanic immigrants are the only folks actually willing to move here. Hopefully there’s enough irate immigrant meatpackers in Sioux City and denison to help kick the scheisskopf back to Kiron where he can peacefully resume his previous career as county sheep fucker. 

Ryan Roenfeld 

Glenwood, IA