Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday July 14, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks to John Parman for his July 11 reply to my July 7 letter on West Berkeley artists/artisans. But I’m just a gadfly, not an organizer. I can, however, offer a possible suggestion for anyone who might have state connections (Loni Hancock?) and an interest in the issue. In my hikes around Angel Island I have often thought that the clusters of residential housing that appear to be kept in good repair could be refurbished and made quake-safe as retreats for artists or writers who need low-cost seclusion. If someone can make this happen, I’ll add my $500 to the pot.  

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Upper Telegraph belongs to the students. Is it possible Cody’s closed because the students are not interested? Can’t Cody’s “bemoaners” now go to Fourth Street? Maybe that’s the rub! Are the old guard Cody folks less bothered by street people than by looking at themselves reflected in the windows of affluence? 

Jim Hite 

Point Richmond 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Landmarks, community landmarks, about which I have heard decades of well-reasoned and supportive comment, are not all visual. 

Some are activities, like the friendly, vivid, social mixtures around food markets, children trudging or scampering to school, the endlessly renewed display of expert basketball at Live Oak Park, or—this is Berkeley—the topical exchanges in coffeeshops on divorce or Sanskrit. 

Some are sounds. The noon whistle, the campanile bells, and preeminently, the sonorous, melancholy, beautifully modulated “whistle” of the passing train. All over the world this same, dynamic, resonant emergence, presence, dwindling away, fitting metaphor for a journey—anywhere. Unchanging, literally, for centuries. And incidentally, the safest, cheapest, least destructive instrument of collective transit yet devised. 

A quarter near the railroad yards became a fashionable neighborhood in London.  

Living on a car-choked street or busy highway is next to intolerable. 

Viva trains! Viva the wondrous landmark of the train: its whistle! 

Ariel Parkinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I notice that members of the Health Care staff as well as visitors and delivery people light up right outside the Rehab Center in Berkeley. All of us know that second hand smoke is bad for our vital organs, especially for those of us who are ailing and elderly. The ailing are at the Rehab Center to heal. It is surprising to me that various workers and visitors at the facility forget to be generous to the ailing people. I would like to know how the spirit of caring for others can reach those who are addicted to cigarette smoking.  

Romila Khanna 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Poor Dave Blake (Commentary, June 13)! 

He wants us to face up to the dreadful fact that our beloved Berkeley Bowl is not a pro-union business. He seems to assume that to be a Bowl lover somehow makes one a union lover!? Many people in Berkeley who both eat, drink, and shop at the Bowl couldn’t care less about unions or even loathe them and would never consider joining or supporting one! More later on my brief membership in the railroad workers union.  

Both Whole Foods and McDonald’s and I think lots of other folks in the food business in Berkeley are quite opposed to union and have fought them off. Seems to me that the Bowl should be allowed to relate to unions free of local city interference. Let the unions battle Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, etc. and leave single excellent stores the hell alone—especially those that pay better than union wages.  

This somehow reminds me of my student days in Berkeley when the Sandal Shop on Telegraph Avenue was picketed and it had two employees. At this time I was working part-time for the Santa Fe Railroad in Richmond which was a very benevolent employer with a huge work force it didn’t need and was also Jim Crow all the way. I was fired because I used the black guys’ restroom and ate lunch with them twice. I wonder if Dave Blake was picketing the sandal shop? The year was 1961, I think.  

Over to you, Dave! 

Phil Wood 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’d like to add some perspective to Suzanne La Barre’s article about Allston House. While the author did provide a few balancing quotes, she unfairly depicted Affordable Housing Associates as the source of the problems at the apartment building, rather than an organization working towards solutions. No one who has spent any substantial amount of time with AHA staff members can doubt that they are caring, competent, and dedicated to improving the lives of their tenants. During my graduate fellowship with AHA, I heard several conversations about Allston House—staff members knew they faced an uphill battle in renovating a building that had suffered from years of neglect under previous ownership, but they were committed to making things better. AHA further showed its commitment to tenant safety and satisfaction by commissioning me to do an objective resident survey and learn what was working and what could be improved. I surveyed more than 80 households and personally interviewed 16 families living in AHA-managed properties (including Shattuck Senior Homes, mentioned in the article). Of course there were concerns about maintenance and safety—I can’t imagine that any urban apartment building is completely free of such issues. But for the most part, tenant complaints were focused on problems largely out of the property manager’s control and were outweighed by their overall satisfaction. The great majority of residents who gave me feedback were pleased with their apartments and AHA’s management. 

Allston House tenants’ legitimate concerns should of course be heard and addressed by AHA and the city. But to focus on AHA’s management as the primary problem does a disservice to all of the organizations that, with limited resources and staff, work to alleviate the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area. One reason that affordable housing is so difficult to build in Berkeley is because NIMBY neighbors believe it will be poorly managed or will drive down property values. In most cases, this is simply a stereotype—one only has to pass by AHA’s renovated properties along Ashby Avenue or its new buildings in central Berkeley and Oakland to see how affordable housing enhances the neighborhood. I was disappointed that La Barre used her story to make AHA’s job harder, rather than making the important point that non-profit developers need more support, and that broader efforts in community improvement and crime reduction must go hand-in-hand with housing development.  

Gloria Bruce 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

As the maintenance staff of Allston House, I need to respond to the article “Allston House Tenants Object To Foul Living Conditions.” The article suggests that new paint and carpet as mentioned in the article published in the San Francisco Chronicle last October was not present in the units inhabited by the families displaced by the hurricanes. It goes on, calling into question the whether the building is being maintained properly, citing instances of typical maintenance issues that would occur in a forty year old building, incidences of crime, and general upkeep. Left to the imagination of the reader, one might believe that the residents at Allston House Apartments are living in a rat and sewage infested tenement with drug dealers at every corner. 

Being responsible for the maintenance at Allston House, it is my integrity that is being called into question here, so let me set the record straight. Upon taking over the maintenance of Allston House in February of 2005, there have been substantial changes to the upkeep of the property. I have installed security lighting around the entire perimeter, secured and re-keyed the entry gates twice over the past year. The property has been cited and posted as private property making it easier to enforce trespassing. In conjunction with security cameras, the criminal activity at Allston House has declined in comparison to the past several years. As an editor I trust you would call these stats into question before printing it. 

Of the eight units rehabilitated for hurricane evacuees, seven were given new carpet. All of the units received new paint. Four received granite countertops, kitchen sinks and fixtures. Most received brand new appliances, the ones that didn’t, had appliances that were in excellent condition. In addition, our partners at Rebuilding Together and Prospect Sierra also provided beautiful furniture and households items for all the families. 

Of the 14 houses that surround Allston House, I see comments from only one to support your articles claims of increased crime. Could you not get comments from the other thirteen, many of whom I know have witness a positive change? You quote one tenant saying, “There need to be more security cameras, more vigilance with known drug dealers, better locks, better gates and brighter lights.” There is a security camera at every entrance to the building. No one come or goes without our ability to see who it is. There is a point when security cameras become an infringement to our personal privacy, must we take it there? Furthermore, the reporter came to the property, in no instance does she site proof the claims of poor security, or presence of drug dealers. 

It is true, Allston House has been plagued with many problems. However today, most of those problems no longer exist. The ones that do, are either being addressed in the rehabilitation beginning this summer, or are a bigger problem of the community within the surrounding neighborhood. For the record, I am proud of the work that I have done, alongside my co-workers at AHA to dramatically and continuously improve the conditions at Allston House. 

Edward Grylich 

Affordable Housing Associates  

Maintenance Staff 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As the executive director of Affordable Housing Associates (AHA), I wanted to take this opportunity to provide your readers with more detailed information and some additional context about AHA‘s role with Allston House. 

AHA took over the management of the property in October 2004. Many of the problems that were discussed in your article were the result of over 20 years of mismanagement or neglect by the previous landlords. When approached to lease, manage and eventually own the property, AHA saw the potential to improve the lives of the residents and neighbors of the property. Our staff has worked tirelessly over the past year and half to dramatically improve both the physical conditions as well as the security of the building. 

In general, the article cites two major problems with AHA’s management: maintenance problems and crime. On maintenance—AHA staff takes our job very seriously and has very clear policies and procedures in place to handle all repair issues. As stated in the article, we have already invested over $120,000 in repairing and maintaining the building and have a comprehensive rehabilitation scope planned and funded to begin in the fall. While Ms. LaBarre found two tenants who were unsatisfied with our maintenance work, had she asked any of the other 46 families, she would have had to write a different article. All of the repair issues she describes in her article (sewer problems, back up kitchen sink) were regular maintenance issues which were handled promptly and effectively by our skilled maintenance staff. 

On security, Ms. LaBarre chooses not to interview the many residents, community members who have joined together with AHA to improve the safety and security of the building. She chose not to include in her article that the three households causing the majority of the security problems have been removed from the building as a result of AHA’s management. She chose not to mention that prior to AHAs’ management, there were no security cameras or other security measures. She also chose to dismiss the police officer’s positive testimony because they did not have supporting data at the time she called. 

AHA is a non-profit organization dedicated to creating affordable housing opportunities for low-income community members. Our staff takes their responsibilities seriously and come to their jobs each day with the purpose of improving people’s lives. 

Susan Friedland 

Executive Director 

Affordable Housing Associates 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We are writing on behalf of the staff at Moe’s Books, located half a block away from the proposed location of a new Peet’s coffee shop at Dwight and Telegraph Avenue. We would like unanimously, unequivocally, and uproariously to voice in support of Peet’s. Whoever opposes the Peet’s application has no idea about the extremity of the deteriorating conditions of Telegraph Avenue, which a Peet’s could only benefit. A new Peet’s in this vicinity would help in the following ways: 

1) It would encourage walking traffic, which typically peters out at Telegraph and Haste, to continue on to Dwight Avenue, directly past Moe’s and Shakespeare and Co., the two remaining bookstores on Telegraph in Berkeley.  

2) It would enliven this neighborhood in a more general way, encouraging students and others to hang out in a safer environment. 

3) It could entice other vibrant businesses into the area. 

4) It would provide shoppers a favorite place to buy their coffee. People love Peet’s coffee, including us! The two other nearby coffee places do not sell their coffee in bulk; indeed, one is primarily a restaurant, and the other is a place no student has stepped foot into in the past two decades. Which reminds us, because Peet’s sells bags of coffee and coffee merchandise, it is absurd to call it a “fast-food establishment,” as some people seem to think it represents. 

5) Lastly but crucially, Peet’s is a successful homegrown Berkeley business, a critical point to make two days after Cody’s has closed its Telegraph doors for good. 

We encourage those opposed to putting a Peet’s here to come spend a few hours on our block. The experience could only change their minds. 


Moe’s Staff 


EDITOR’S NOTE: We received two more letters from Telegraph Avenue business owners in support of Peet’s. To read letters from Reprint Mint and Annapurna, see our website: 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Linda Maio needs to be voted out of office this fall.  

We need to find a clean, green candidate to replace a woman who just can’t seem to get environmental justice for her own district. We need a candidate that isn’t pandering to the dirty union hands at Pacific Steel Casting—and asleep at the pro-development wheel with old man Bates. We need Linda out.  

I will give my time and money to such a vision and campaign but it won’t be easy. Maio has a head-lock on all of the players in West Berkeley—even environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, think she’s doing a great job. Did you know that Maio is priming for mayor already? What a thought!  

John Hawkridge is lamenting about his toxic life from Hopkins Street these days. He’s complained, written to newspapers, written to Maio, Mayors Dean and Bates (who never acknowledged any of his e-mails), the EPA (who pointed him back to BAAQMD). Nothing has been done. Nothing is being done. The smells are getting much, much worse. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nothing is done. He says that his lungs feel like they are coated with this stuff. The smell soaks into his furniture and curtains and hangs in his home. Something needs to be done immediately. This 24/7 destruction of our health and environment is just not acceptable.  

He is not alone. 

Are you gonna run against this madness for John? For the children choking on PSC asthma? Or just sit on your couch and wonder what silly corporate-fueled agenda Linda Maio is (still) pushing on us now?  

Run for District 1 City Council. Most of us are ripe for the strike. 

Willi Paul 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Although I dislike prolonging the Zelda controversies, I want to point out that Zelda Bronstein’s commentary “A Pro-Business, Pro-Berkeley Agenda,” and the letter she wrote in self-support, prove she has a remarkable facility for scatter-shot, fact-free, history-defying attacks on anyone caught in the glare of her displeasure. 

It’s useful to look at the real-life results of the policies Ms. Bronstein promotes. For instance, her rigid guardianship of business quotas has brought sky-high prices for properties holding permits for business that are in high demand, such as restaurants. The result? Only prosperous chains can afford to open businesses in many locations in Berkeley. Zelda, of course, does not favor chains, but she’s creating the conditions that allow only chains to thrive. And she’s laying the groundwork for future controversies that will guarantee that her name will continue in the news. 

The strict business quotas Zelda was instrumental in placing into law for Solano Avenue kept La Farine from opening there for weeks and months. Most people in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood which Zelda, as chair of the neighborhood association claimed to represent, were told at Association meetings: “Oh, we don’t vote here,” by the authoritarian chair. But in the face of a noisy revolt, members were allowed a vote and the policy of opposition La Farine was voted down. The result? Zelda continued to assert that the neighborhood association opposed the opening of La Farine. The lesson? One shouldn’t expect “open government” with Ms. Bronstein at the helm.  

The moral of the story, for me, is that a vote for Tom Bates will be a vote for a continued search for inclusiveness, for thoughtful consideration of all facets of proposed policies, and for a determination to address the needs of all of Berkeley residents. An added plus—he favors the right to vote.  

Mim Hawley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for Riya Bahattacharjee’s excellent May 30 article on the problems at the downtown Berkeley YMCA. I’m a disabled man who was a member there for over three years, until March 15 this year. I was then “priced out” of the YMCA; the reduced rate offered me by the Financial Assistance Department was more than I could afford on a “poverty level” Social Security check.  

Like Kate Bernd Barnett, another disabled YMCA member mentioned in the article, I encountered many problems at the YMCA. May Cotton, a former lifeguard at the YMCA, who was very helpful to me and other disabled members, suggested I join the Facilities Committee to advocate for disability issues. 

I asked YMCA director, Peter Chong, if I could join the Facilities Committee. Mr. Chong’s response to me was similar to his response to Ms. Barnett. She wanted to form a committee of disabled members to advocates for disability issues, and was told she could only make suggestions. Mr. Chong said I should write him if I has disability problems. 

But I wrote three letters on disability problems to him this year, and got no response whatsoever. To Mr. Chong’s credit, he was sympathetic and helpful to me when a husky 6’3” man harassed me because of my disability in the locker room, 

In contrast, former director Fran Gallatti implemented several of my suggestions, especially the designation of one convenient areas of the Men’s Locker Room as a priority space for people with disabilities. 

My biggest problem with the YMCA is the lack of “pay-per-visit” type of membership. I am a wheelchair user with multiple disabilities, and cancer. My disabilities are such that I can only get to the YMCA once or twice an month, or three times a month at most. 

An able-bodied member of the YMCA coming three ties a week for standard dues of $62, would only pay about $4.75 per visit. The financial assistance staff offered me reduced dues of $36.58 per month. Coming three times a month, for reduced dues of $36.58, I would pay $12.19 per visit. 

As a person with disabilities, I would pay almost three times as much per visit as an able-bodied person. That’s very unfair. I consider that a violation of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Many people can come more often than three times a week. Front desk personnel at the YMCA have told me that membership fees assume that a person could come to the YMCA every day of the month. A person coming every day would pay about $2 per visit. 

In December, 2005, I did not make it to the YMCA one single time. YMCA dues are non-refundable, so my “dues” were actually a “charitable contribution” to the YMCA. Despite shortcomings of the YMCA, I think the YMCA is basically a good institution. On a “poverty level” income I cannot afford to pay for something I don’t get. 

When Mr. Chong phoned me about my harassment incident, I told him I couldn’t afford the rate offered by the Financial Assistance Department. He said he would review my financial assistance application, but again Mr. Chong made no response. 

The Berkeley Downtown YMCA seems to ignore issues of discrimination against people with disabilities. 

Tom Ross 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

During the “building” of the new landmarks ordinance that will soon be adopted by the City Council, some preservationist concern focused on one innovation: the proposed “request for determination” (RFD) process by which a property owner can obtain a neutral landmarks evaluation from the LPC without first filing a building permit application. Though the outcome of that process could be designation of the property as a landmark or structure of merit, in almost all cases an RFD applicant will be supporting a case that the property does not qualify for designation—and if the LPC agrees gaining a two year “safe harbor” period during which landmarking could not be revisited. This would allow the owner time to decide if any development project should be undertaken—more likely if the property is found not to qualify for historic status—and to develop and file actual plans. The advance knowledge gained by an RFC would prevent some permit applications involving newly-designated properties—saving property owners the expense of developing a more questionable application and saving preservationists the grief of having to oppose an unwanted project. 

Given the owner’s motivation, however, preservation activists were concerned that an applicant could simply “low ball” the application—intentionally submit less than complete information and require neighbors to take on an unfair burden to do independent research on the property. That potential loophole has, we hope, been closed in the last iteration by requiring an RFD applicant to pay for the city to obtain an “expert assessment” by a pre-approved consultant—much like an EIR is developed today. And one likely change in the often-bitter developer-vs-neighbor dynamic has gotten little attention. Property owners who decide to go the RFD route will be “sticking their heads up”—giving the neighborhood an early warning that some project may later be contemplated for the site. Since neighbors and owners will likely meet during the RFD process before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, that creates an incentive to start a neighborhood dialog very early in the potential development process, rather than meeting more confrontationally only after a permit application is filed. Such early discussions are likely to generate projects more in keeping with neighborhood sensitivities, and perhaps even to forestall some genuinely negative developments. 

Though it’s taken the city over six years to get here, the new LPO now contains several such hard-won compromises between the interests of property owners and the interests of neighbors and ardent preservationists. The new law should encourage more LPC neutrality on the desirability of development in general, less politicizing of the designation process, and—we all now hope—greater success in preserving our important historic resources. 

Alan Tobey 




Just a note to let you know how thoroughly I enjoy Ron Sullivan’s gardening and nature articles. Not only is the content invariably interesting, her prose is outstanding—always gracefully literate, sometimes clever and amusing, often verging on the poetic (examples of all are in the Douglas-fir article in the June 27 edition). I often find myself wondering how she can write so well so consistently with such obviously tight deadlines. By the way, I went back and re-read her series of articles on the best, most useful gardening tools available, and as I, too, have purchased many such tools at Hida Japanese Tools on San Pablo, I think her characterization of some of their wonderful tools as “esoteric, obscure, clever, or kinky” is perfectly fair, not racist, as a previous letter writer claimed. Bottom line, did it offend the Hida owners or staff? As for cleaning and polishing my tools in a bucket of oily sand as she suggests, it sounds like a great idea, but I probably won’t get around to it. When I lived in Japan there was a saying, “Dirt is the mark of your love of the tool,” and while I know that doesn’t mean you ought to let them rust, I do use it to sooth myself in the face of congenital procrastination and inevitable wear and tear. Anyway, thanks for giving us the opportunity to regularly read Ron Sullivan’s entertaining, informative and ecologically sound articles.  

Jessie West 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for your continued coverage of the Pacific Steel Casting Company issue. With regard to the sustained letter-writing in your paper concerning Pacific Steel, the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs reiterates three important points that seem to get lost in the discussion:  

• Pacific Steel can and should begin comprehensive Toxic Use Reduction (TUR) of all toxics and allow installation of publicly readable Continuous Emissions Monitoring (CEM) technology that shows exactly what comes out of the facility.  

• Pacific Steel’s union jobs are important in west Berkeley and should not be endangered. 

• Pacific Steel is responsible for protecting both its workers’ health and the community’s air quality and health. A few letter writers seem unaware of the possibility that Pacific Steel could use TUR and CEM solutions. The same writers, who are justifiably frustrated, have suggested that the foundry be driven out of town or shut down. These extreme suggestions are destructive to our local industrial economy, would export the pollution production to another unsuspecting community (likely a poor community), and would target many working class people of color with the loss of union jobs. Berkeley’s dedication to social justice should restrain such extreme action. 

There is still the potential for maintaining local union jobs and cleaning the air. Pacific Steel’s owners have failed to adopt adequate measures to insure clean air and safe jobs. With sufficient pressure from government and a change in Pacific Steel’s policy, workers, residents, schoolchildren, pregnant women, babies, elders, environmentally sensitive folks and visitors in affected areas of the East Bay could enjoy clean air and safe jobs. The Alliance is distressed because, without sufficient and immediate reduction of pollution (both odorous and toxic) Pacific Steel, the City of Berkeley, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District will provoke more frustrated community members to push for the relocation or closure of Pacific Steel. 

Janice Schroeder 

West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Guess who’s going to pay the cost of rebuilding the Gaza electricity plant that the Israelis bombed? We, the U.S. taxpayers, will be paying it because the power station was insured by a U.S. government agency, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (July 2, 2006). Well, that’s what daddies are for—to pay the bill when junior goes out and breaks windows. Or, maybe it’s about time we Americans wake up to the fact that we’re supporting a full blown, hardcore juvenile delinquent. 

Daniel Borgström 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Here’s a raging pet peeve ive had for years now. When people on TV or radio say: “ya-know,” or “youknowwhatimsayin’,” it indicates that they are confessing to being incapable of expressing what they mean. Therefore, we should respond loudly: No, we dont know! Tell us or quit talking until you can!” It’s all part of the insidious (I’m exagerating) plan to dumb down American.....ya-knowwhatimsayin’?  

Robert Blau  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was particularly troubled with one paragraph of the article written about the Gaia Building, where behavior is incorrectly attributed to me. The article states at the last paragraph on the first page: “Kennedy, the owners of the catering company and de Leon were able to craft the uneasy compromise that exists today, with de Leon in control of part of the ground floor and Glass Onion catering owners Gloria and Tom Atherstone in control of the two-floor cultural space.” This so-called “compromise” is utter fabrication. I have never crafted anything with Mr. Kennedy. His attorney crafted the lease which I modified and we both signed in January of 2004. I am a tenant of Panoramic Interests, paying market rent. My business comprises only 15 percent of the Gaia commercial space. 

Almost four years ago, when I was introduced to the owners of the Glass Onion by Mr. Kennedy, at a meeting that included Reed Martin, a co-owner of the Gaia, I made clear my unwillingness to form any agreement with them within a half-hour and left. A few days after the meeting, I brought them a copy of the Gaia Use Permit describing the necessity for cultural use in the belief that they might be unaware of the central condition of the use of the ground floors. Mr. Kennedy informed me in July 2005 that Glass Onion Catering had become the other commercial tenant in the Gaia Building about two months after I had already opened for business. 

I first complained about their sales of alcoholic beverages in the fall of 2005 since they did not have and still do not have a license to sell and people holding glasses of wine have come into my space. A check with the public records of the ABC website can confirm their lack of license. My central complaint centers around their primary use of the facility as a private dining hall/party venue rather than as the cultural facility for which Mr. Kennedy was given the two extra floors of revenue producing apartments. 

Clarification regarding cultural use: The Marsh Theater would be a perfect tenant for the theater space, especially since Mr. Kennedy, in his use permit application letter, promised the city a theater tenant with weekend use. Instead, he has rented the theater and mezzanine to a catering company which allows the Marsh only Wednesday and Thursday use, and one month of weekends a year. The Marsh has informed both the city and Mr. Kennedy, in writing, that they want to rent the space to use the theater for all weekends so they can mount a genuine theater season. They have made clear that only Wednesdays and Thursdays, with only a few weekends, is unworkable. Thus far, Mr. Kennedy will not lease the theater to the Marsh. A catering company, with high end private parties, is more profitable for him. If the City Council does not now simply require the cultural use the Use Permit requires, they will have effectively evicted the Marsh. 

Anna de Leon 

Anna’s Jazz Island