Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 23, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the United Nations, to celebrate their 60th anniversary in September, 2005, 150 heads of state agreed that there should be a new peace-building commission. We, as Women for Peace, applaud this effort and commit our energies to this goal. In particular, we want to see all the troops and private security withdrawn from Iraq by June, 2006. We want to see the closure of all bases, the release of all prisoners not already charged with crimes, and the phase-out of foreign contractors. 

To aid in this effort, we recommend the employment by the UN Commission of a panel of internationally respected experts in peace building. This panel would have the responsibility of assessing the current situation and developing a comprehensive plan for restoring peace and a reasonable quality of life in Iraq. Clearly such a process of restoration will take considerable time and resources. An appropriate and effective way to support the United Nations’ peace building efforts would be for the United States to redirect a portion of the vast sums currently being spent on the war to the newly formed peace-building commission. Other countries may then be persuaded to cooperate in restoring Iraq. 

The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will end, or at least substantially reduce, the violence. The existing civil strife may go on, but we must stop American occupation and let the Iraqis rule themselves. 

Tobey Wiebe 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue will soon be past history, a victim of one or more of the varying possibilities variously offered this week by owner Andy Ross, by an oddly self-serving Daily Planet editorial, and by any number of fellow citizens in Planet letters to the editor, coffeehouse conversations, and e-mails. The loss is enormous. Cody’s was (and I wince at typing the past tense) a great store that provided not only an incomparable inventory, but a reliable and astonishing array of international authors presenting their books. For years Cody’s also sold tickets without charge for literary and political events throughout the Bay Area that were sponsored by KPFA Radio and numerous other non-profit organizations. Cody’s provided copious other services that all too clearly came to be taken for granted by far too many residents whose lazy buying habits and prolonged abandonment of a few blocks of Telegraph massively have undervalued more than one great community resource. 

Cody’s is a self-proclaimed independent bookstore that isn’t really independent. It was dependent on all the publishers, writers and artists for its inventory, and it was dependent on its customers for its existence. As are all our other “independent” bookstores. Their owners and staffs need to know this simple truth, and we need to recognize and respond to it—if we are to have such authentic community resources shaped by this community, and protected by it. Don’t let the valued commons be degraded. Buy books in Berkeley. Be a caring member of this unique community. 

Andy Ross says it was “a family business.” He’s entitled. For many of us, I’m thinking, that family is a much larger one than he realizes. 

Bob Baldock 

20 years at Moe’s,  

Black Oak Books’ co-founder,  

KPFA Public Events Producer  



Editors, Daily Planet: 

You. Don’t just get into your car again. Take the bus! Check it out. AC Transit has well planned routes. Find the ones near your house and see where they go. By the simple act of getting out of your car you can relieve stress, air pollution, war, road rage, runoff and global warming. Enjoy leisurely looking out the window, people watching and walking rather than circling in your car for parking. 

It costs a little more that it should but I feel good about donating to the place I feel can most improve our quality of life. (And it’d really save you money if you can arrange a car free life.) Buses are usually on time, drivers are friendly and competent and the bus goes near most places. The one thing that AC Transit sorely lacks is you! It is absurd to sit in an empty bus surrounded by SUV’s with one person. (Tilden Park had traffic jams and exhaust last Sunday while the bus was empty.) Take the bus and we’ll all arrive sooner and healthier. 

Terri Compost 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Tom Bates is up for re-election. 

That’s the only reason for all of the Fix Telegraph Avenue (part 17) nonsense. 

People just don’t come to Berkeley to shop anymore because parking has disappeared (by city mandate) and it’s so much easier to drive to Emeryville, El Cerrito and the exception to the rule, Fourth Street (which does have parking—for now). 

The Berkeley mantra “Public Transportation—Public Transportation—Public Transportation” is the dream of fools and the main reason Berkeley is becoming a commercial ghost town. Like it or not most people like to drive and that is not going to change, gas prices hikes or no. 

The Act 1&2 Theater just closed and you can bet another movie theater will close next year. The auto dealers are leaving town soon. 

Welcome to Berkeley—Closed for Business! 

F. Greenspan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While you know we appreciate the free publicity and Berkeley street cred that comes with having the cafe on the front page of the Daily Planet, I just wanted to remind you that (despite popular belief) we are still in North Oakland and are not (nor have we ever been) in South Berkeley. 

Gabriel Frazee 


Nomad Cafe 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your May 16 editorial “Don’t Blame Telly for Cody’s Woes” romanticizes the Avenue and brushes aside the problems on the street as merely being the “rowdy edge” that has always been there. You posture about “free speech” instead of trying to address the balance of interests that sensible policy would require. You label Cody’s as ignorant of the Internet although you yourself are ignorant about Cody’s website that allows information to be accessed on a million books. Finally, you practically gloat over the supposition that advertising in the Planet might have made a difference in Cody’s fortunes.  

Both in content and tone, your column reflects oversimplification, carelessness with facts, arrogance and superciliousness. You are graceless in ignoring the contribution that Cody’s has made to Berkeley as a source of good books, a cultural center at which important issues are discussed, and a business that is kind to its customers with substantial discounts of which you also know nothing.  

Stanley Lubman  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Imagine our public institution of higher learning as a positive asset to the community. The libraries would be open to all, they would buy books through our treasured local book stores, they would subsidize the public transit system (instead of buying and running their own private empty buses!). They would act like a good citizen in city planning rather than an imperial invader. And the Board of Regents would fire anyone caught lining the pockets of the top brass at the expense of students, professors, workers, the public and the integrity of the university. 

And then there’s the deeper issues: A real public good university would have open intellectual and public review before, and likely preventing, the building of a nano-technology lab next to a tritium releasing lab on a major earthquake fault. It would deny deals with the biotechnology industry that render the university useless in fairly assessing the dangers to health and environment that this powerful science can release. It would treasure Gill tract for organic sustainable agricultural studies. And it would get out of the nuclear weapon making business. 

The university is rotten from the top. The regents can’t correct the problem they are the problem! David Nadel had a radical idea: democratize the regents. Fire them all and let the people elect who we want to run our university. 

Cyndi Johnson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I hear all the time that California schools don’t fare well in national educational tests. I wonder why school superintendents and other educators don’t want students to take the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). 

Teaching is an art. Not all credential holders are able to motivate students equally. A teacher who knows the art of teaching will make self-learners out of students. Such a teacher will identify each student’s strengths and interests and build on those. All students have natural gifts but many students need to be taught how to use these gifts to become better learners. 

Making a difference to the life of young learners is a deep and meaningful vocation. Let the State of California recognize and encourage those teachers who have mastered the art of teaching. 

I would request the family of educators to bring the academic standards of all enrolled students to the highest level of total health (physical, emotional, intellectual and inner self). The CAHSEE can motivate teachers to pour their best into teaching. 

Romila Khanna 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I chuckled through Mayor Tom Bates’ spin-soaked May 12 commentary, “Why I’m Running for Re-Election.”  

Bates claims the deal he made with the university over its Long Range Development Plan “allows our community a real voice in future university development”—an outrageous statement. The settlement agreement actually gives the university a measure of control over Berkeley’s downtown, as well as many residential areas near downtown, “regardless of ownership.” Did he bother to read this document before signing it? 

Bates quotes a San Francisco Chronicle editorial, published shortly after the agreement was revealed to the public, suggesting that the agreement “could serve as a model for many other California communities….” He fails to mention that subsequently, a group of citizens sued him and the five City Council members who approved it. Perhaps lawsuits against the city are so prevalent that he fails to even notice them (another day, another lawsuit). 

If he wants to know what people think about secret deals and the sell-out of the community, Bates should attend fewer selected task forces, and more meetings with neighbors, who would be delighted to let him know how they feel. 

Gale Garcia 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his May 16 commentary (“Condo Conversions Fee Bad for Landlords”), John Blankenship misses the proverbial forest for the trees. 

Mr. Blankenship claims to want “affordable ownership opportunities” for Berkeley rental property owners by lowering or removing the city fee required to convert rental units into condominiums, but he says nothing about the crushing, unaffordable rent burden placed upon many of Berkeley’s renters. Nor does he mention that conversions will lead to the permanent removal of what remains of the city’s affordable rental housing stock.  

According to the 2000 Census, 40 percent of tenant households across Berkeley received an income UNDER $20,000, while the median tenant household income stood at approximately $27,000 citywide.  

Berkeley rent levels are some of the highest in the nation. Affordable housing opportunities for renters is a much more pressing concern at the moment. For this reason, Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization (or Control) Program is crucial to maintaining existing rent level affordability and—most important—rent level predictability. 

During the 1999-2002 dot-com surge, for example, rent controlled units shielded most Berkeley renters from the dramatic—and unexpected—rent level increases that swept across the Bay Area at the time. 

Mr. Blankenship’s commentary is part of a carefully calibrated campaign now underway to set in motion the attempted dismantlement of Berkeley’s long-established condominium conversion public policy. In an earlier op-ed page commentary, Michael St. John also assailed the city’s conversion policy. 

Working in tandem with Mr. Blankenship and Mr. St Clare, the Berkeley (Rental) Property Owners Association is currently circulating a petition to place a rental unit conversion measure on Berkeley’s November ballot. This ballot measure—if it qualifies and passes—would permit the conversion of hundreds and hundreds of affordable rental units into condominiums across Berkeley. 

Like Berkeley and San Francisco, more than 200 California cities have passed rental unit conversion restrictions. The reason for these conversion limits is self-evident: Converting rental units into condominiums permanently removes affordable and moderate level units from a city’s housing stock. This imposes hardship and displacement upon low and middle income residents, especially working families, single parents, seniors, disabled and those on fixed incomes among others.  

Chris Kavanagh 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Once again, School Boardmember John Selawsky has cast a vote on the Derby Street field issue, an issue in which he has very close personal and political interests. 

Though the local and state Fair Campaign Practices rules can be surprisingly hard to nail down, technically, Mr. Selawsky is right: His house is outside the 500-foot mark that is used locally as the conflict-of-interest boundary, by about 150 feet.  

But I think most voters would agree that the spirit of the rules is to avoid both real and perceived conflicts of interest, and Mr. Selawsky clearly violates that spirit whenever he votes or works with and lobbies other city officials on the Derby Street issue. 

And, of course, the contacts with City Council members raise the same questions his votes do: Is he speaking as a Derby Street neighbor, a politician serving his home base and future ambitions, a School Board member who was elected in a citywide vote, not a vote of one small district?  

Mr. Selawsky—especially when he’s on the defensive—is good at coming up with rationales for his actions; he’s very good at the detailed and seemingly irrefutable argument. But when you stand back from the polished logic, the duck is still walking like a duck and talking like a duck, and still a conflict of interest. 

It is always disappointing when progressives play the same games for which they regularly excoriate their foes. Mr. Selawsky should recuse himself from this issue. 

James Day