Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday July 18, 2006



Editors, Daily Planet: 

When Berkeley public schools are discussed without acknowledgment of the basic policies that create both the achievement gap and the high violence rate it is necessary to correct the record. Of course African American students in Berkeley reflect Oakland under-achievement rates. They are, as anyone who observes after school traffic knows, substantially from Oakland. Berkeley is 13 percent African American. Berkeley schools climb to one-third African American substantially because of the unique BUSD policy of not enforcing legal residency. To some this unique policy is an extension of Berkeley’s quest for social change. To others it is yet another local government betrayal of the taxpayers and residential quality of life. Either way to word this unprecedented generosity as a curricular indictment is simply wrong. 

David Baggins 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zachary RunningWolf is the only mayoral candidate reminding us of an inconvenient truth: the human race is facing an imminent environmental and economic catastrophe. The “Stop Driving” campaign for which you hold him responsible (DeFreitas cartoon, July 11) might seem a juvenile and comic message to many job-holding, tax-paying, car- and house-owning citizens, but make no mistake, it’s a wake-up call. 

What is truly a juvenile (tragic) comedy is that we are the frogs in the quickly heating water, blithely driving to work, school and shops while hoping and pretending that nothing “bad” will happen for 50 more years. Meanwhile, daily the planet’s inhabitants suffer the consequences of our greedy, selfish, destructive behavior. Soon the waves of discontent will be lapping at your doorstep. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, heed the warnings. Make peace with the Creator. For no one knows the day nor the hour. 

Zachary G Wilson 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Yes, Tom Bates originally opposed the Peace and Justice Commission resolution urging congress to impeach Bush. Sure, putting it on the ballot now is a cynical ploy to win votes, and yes, the City Council disregards communities to accommodate greedy developers. But the City Council’s miserable performance is no justification for Ms. Gilbert’s deplorable and reactionary opposition to the Bush-Cheney impeachment measure. 

Considering that generating national dialogue is the reason for placing impeachment on the ballot, our usually wasteful City Council has, for once, has gotten their money’s worth. The publicity generated to date, including a full-page essay in Time Magazine, already exceeds the amount of TV time and print space that could be purchased for the $10,000 it cost to place the measure on the ballot. 

Ideas have power. When Berkeley proposed divestment from South Africa we were ridiculed, but a few years later Berkeley’s idea became national policy. National discussion of impeachment, regardless of whether or not impeachment succeeds, will weaken Bush, hopefully to the point Bush lacks the political support to start another war, drill for oil in environmentally sensitive areas or further shred our Constitution. Allowing legitimate anger over City Council favoritism to degenerate into reactionary politics is stupid. Filing lawsuits, running opposition candidates, and using initiatives and referenda to control government is the responsible way to fight back. Let’s speak truth to power by voting constructively, using our First Amendment right to vote in favor of impeachment, and our power as voters to pass a citizen landmarks initiative. That’s the conscientious way to rebuke the council for adopting bad land-use law that will obliterate our landmarks. 

Hundreds of small town governments are in the pockets of developers. Sadly enough, that includes Berkeley’s municipal government. I, and many other who will vote for the impeachment are outspoken in our opposition to the council’s pro-development bias. But it is wrong to become so obsessively focused on these flaws that we lose sight of what makes Berkeley special and unique: We are a candle in the darkness and a ray of hope. Think of it: Berkeley will be the first city in the nation whose voters, I predict, will overwhelmingly vote to “Impeach Bush.” That could generate a national debate on impeachment. That’s worth every cent of the ten thousand dollars. That is the kind of thing that makes many of us so proud to be from Berkeley. 

Elliot Cohen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I want to assure the Postal Service of Berkeley that there are probably hundreds (perhaps thousands) of households in the District Eight quadrant who want the Elmwood Post Office to remain at the corner of College and Webster, where it has been for many years. I suspect that reporter Richard Brenneman was under a time restraint when working on his article (“Post Office Might Close in Elmwood District,” July 14). I have no doubt he has thought of interviewing the vast majority of residents who have depended on and continue to depend on that wonderful Branch Post Office. I and my wife have lived on Prince Street since 1971, when the branch post office was on College and Russell. Over the years we have enjoyed immensely the convenience of being able to walk to our neighborhood post office. All Brenneman needs do is interview the folks who are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and live within walking distance. I would urge the editor of the Daily Planet make that his next assignment. Such a negative article about the branch is really a disservice to all of us who treasure the Elmwood Post Office. Its employees are always helpful and patient, everyday and on holidays.  

What is puzzling about the article is the complaint by one proprietor whose store is on a different street in the district. Also puzzling is the statement that postal employees who work at the Main Post Office opposite the downtown YMCA leave their cars in Elmwood. Those employees hike it up to Elmwood after work to get their cars? Can anyone follow this logic? College Avenue has timed meters all around the district. In addition, for anyone who has eyes, there is a parking lot for post office customers. I also find the complaint about postal service vehicles disingenuous. Nothing is said about the numerous delivery trucks that clog College Avenue as they deliver their wares to all those businesses, including that of the shop owners who are critical in this article. Perhaps Councilmember Wozniak should inform his constituents about the “need for repairs and renovation.” In any case, that is a red herring if repairs would be made once the “lease is renewed.” It is only further garbage to reinforce the negative tone of this story.  

Obviously, the shop owners talk about their own priorities. Yet, it is clear to us who depend on the United States Postal Service that those postal trucks have a much higher priority and serve a greater good. Perhaps the respect I raised my children to have for postal workers, whose jobs have always been demanding, is not a universal one. However, my hunch is that most Berkeleyans harbor that respect. 

Neighbors, we need to send a clear message that the Elmwood Post Office is appreciated and urge the postmaster of Berkeley to remain on College and Webster! 

R.J. Schwendinger 

P.S.: With the pressure by developers and chain stores to build or alter the nature of the Elmwood, the following scenario is a strong possibility: the post office lease renewal is turned down by the landlord, who razes the current building and builds a three-or-more story condominium apartment building or commercial building. That in turn will increase the number of automobiles owned by new occupants, who will use the adjacent streets as permanent parkers, not as fluent and fleeting as postal vehicles currently. The shopkeeper who is critical of the post office operation knows the ropes of applying for height variances, and he could be of aid to a developer seeking same. Would the neighbors residing near the Elmwood Post Office welcome such a development? 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mayor Tom Bates’ creation, the Agenda Committee (meets Mondays at 2:30 p.m., Sixth Floor Conference Room, 2180 Milvia) was presumably set up to determine the agendas for meetings of the City Council and the Housing Authority. Now it is expanding its mission by including substantive issues of City Council business.  

The committee is composed of four. The mayor and his appointees, councilmembers Linda Maio and Gordon Wozniak, are permanent members. Another councilmember fills the fourth seat on a rotating basis. 

The agendas for July 10 and July 17 included an item, “Review of Council Procedures regarding Public Comment....” Incredibly, at their June 27th meeting, the City Council allowed this issue to be referred to the Agenda Committee for recommendations as to changes in the council’s procedures for public comment. In other words, the Agenda Committee is functioning as a subcommittee on public comment, concurrently with its agenda-building function . 

The impropriety and irony of this situation is glaring. Deliberations over changing public comment procedures—possibly to include greater public participation—are buried in the Agenda Committee’s afternoon meetings. How many people know this is happening and/or can attend at that time? Exceptions would be the mayor’s invitees, such as a particular representative from the League of Women Voters. 

The council’s interest in public comment has been spurred by the possibility of legal action. SuperBOLD has given notice that it may file a suit to enforce the Brown Act by ending the council’s lottery system for public comment. This lottery currently denies many people the opportunity to speak on vital community issues. 

Gene Bernardi 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

They’re back. The same cast of characters who brought us Concerned Albany Citizens in 2004 has returned this year as Concerned Albany Neighbors (CAN). Concerned Albany Citizens was a political committee formed for the sole purpose of distributing an attack letter (rather vicious I might add) against two anti-mall Albany City Council candidates in 2004. Concerned Albany Neighbors was formed for the purpose of attacking the Albany Waterfront Protection Initiative and supporting City Council candidates who also oppose it. Whatever the name, the message is the same: Disinformation. Ask the members of CAN who among them hasn’t hosted a Caruso coffee in their home or spoken publicly in favor of waterfront development. 

If they were truly Concerned Albany Neighbors, they would honor the wishes of their 2,400 neighbors who asked to have the Initiative placed on the ballot. Maybe next year they’ll return with a more fitting name, like CAMP, Concerned Albany Mall Proponents, or perhaps SOLD, Stop Opposition from Limiting Development. 

Cheryl Taubenfeld 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m a flatlands Berkeley homeowner who is a relative newcomer to land-use issues, and after reading about possible changes in Berkeley’s Landmarks Protection Ordinance in recent issues of the Daily Planet I find myself with a couple of questions. 

The LPO, obviously, provides a legal basis for opposing demolition of an existing structure when it can be shown to meet certain criteria. But a good many of the remarks about the LPO which have appeared in the Planet lately seem to be more about blocking certain kinds of development than about actual preservation of what already exists. Can we have an op-ed from a preservationist or two outlining the basic philosophy behind historical landmark preservation? What is it for, how does it work, what’s its value, how can it be balanced with competing interests, like landowners’ needs/rights to use their property for their own purposes? More about that, and less about how much we need it to keep the likes of Patrick Kennedy in check, would be welcome. I don’t think blocking development is the intended purpose of a historic preservation law—let’s talk about what it is supposed to accomplish, and whether the old LPO or the new one or some other one would be best for that. Also about how it affects small property owners, as well as how it works for big developers. 

I like the idea of landmark preservation, but I doubt that the LPO is the right tool for blocking undesired development, and I am afraid that in the long term using it for that will discredit the preservation effort. Things like Julia Morgan’s churches and Bernard Maybeck’s houses need to be protected, but not necessarily every old shingle house—after all, nice looking new buildings that fit into their surroundings are not categorically impossible, and could even be an improvement on old, shabby buildings that have outlived their usefulness. Why can’t we separate the issue of whether to tear down the old from the question of what to erect in its place? 

David Coolidge 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Daniella Thompson is not correct about the history of the building at 2747 San Pablo Ave. (“Mel’s Drive-In Saw Birth of Civil Rights Movement,” July 7). No Mel’s ever occupied the building at 2747 San Pablo in Berkeley, and no civil rights actions are known to have taken place there. The stories she tells about Mel’s Drive-In and the Civil Rights Movement are compelling, important, and passionate but do not apply to the building in question. 

It appears her mistake comes from an error on the BAHA website. Our research in city building permits, county assessor’s records, Sanborn maps, telephone directories, and in conversations with the architect shows that the building was designed by William Henry Wisheropp, Jr. as an automobile sales office and body repair shop. It was built under a permit issued Nov. 29, 1952 by George Schmidt and W.H. Wisheropp, Sr., builders and developers of commercial property in the east bay, for Joe Donham, a car dealer in Oakland and Berkeley from 1930 to the late 1950s. The building was a car dealership from 1952 to 1956. It was used by the Ridley Company (tool sales) from 1957 to 1962. From 1965 to 1972, it was the Hadnot Liquor Store. From 1973 to 2000, it was Berkeley Equipment Rental. From 2000 to current 2747 San Pablo Avenue is occupied by the Berkeley Patients Group. 

Meanwhile, the first Mel’s Drive-In listed in East Bay telephone books was at 2399 Shattuck Ave. in 1954. In 1955, a second East Bay Mel’s was listed at 1701 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland. In 1962, a third East Bay Mel’s was listed at 501 Park in Alameda. These three locations were the only Mel’s in the East Bay during the 1960s when the civil rights actions took place. 

It is unfortunate that Daniella Thompson used erroneous information to suggest that the city is ignoring a landmark and created concern over history and events that never took place at 2747 San Pablo Ave. For the record, the current proposal for the site is a green mixed-use housing development on a major transit corridor in Berkeley, seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification through the U.S. Green Building Council. This could be the first LEED-certified multifamily residential building in Berkeley—itself something for the history books. 

David M. Mayeri 

Owner/Developer of 2747 San Pablo 

Laura Billings 

Project Manager 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her attack (Letters, July 14) on my “Pro-Business, Pro-Berkeley Agenda” (Commentary, June 30), Mim Hawley writes: “[Zelda’s] rigid guardianship of business quotas has brought sky-high prices for properties holding permits for business that are in high demand, such as restaurants,” thereby “creating the conditions that allow only chains to thrive” in Berkeley.  

Believe me, if I had that kind of power, I wouldn’t bother running for mayor. I do support limits on restaurants in some commercial districts. But, it appears, so did Hawley when she was on the City Council: Twice she joined the current mayor and the rest of the council in unanimously asking the Planning Commission to establish or consider establishing a food service quota system in the Northside commercial district similar to the systems on Solano, College and Telegraph Avenues.  

The council’s nods toward restaurant quotas came in response to the pleas of Northside business owners who were concerned about the proliferation of restaurants in their area. A similar situation led the Solano Avenue Association, the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association (TONA) and Berkeley city staff to create the Solano Avenue Commercial Ordinance, approved by the council in 1982. In another wild claim, Hawley says that I “was instrumental” in putting the Solano Avenue law in place. In fact, I had no hand whatsoever in crafting or enacting the ordinance. Indeed, in 1982 I wasn’t even living in Berkeley. 

Here’s why merchants and residents have sought quotas on food services: Commercial landlords prefer restaurant tenants, because restaurants yield higher rents than other sorts of retail. If you want diversified, neighborhood-serving commerce, you need to limit the number of food services permitted in an area. A business can always apply for a variance. If conditions change, the numbers can and should be re-calculated accordingly.  

Finally, contrary to Hawley’s claim, the public record shows that TONA did not oppose La Farine’s application for a food service use permit, either at the Zoning Adjustments Board or at the City Council. The TONA Board only asked that the city enforce the terms of the Solano Avenue ordinance for reasons that, I hope, the above discussion begins to make clear.  

Zelda Bronstein 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The recent Israeli military actions in Lebanon are a grossly disproportionate response to the capture of two Israeli soldiers. While the capture of the soldiers was indeed worthy of condemnation, killing scores of innocent Lebanese civilians and destroying critical civilian infrastructure is a completely unjustified and immoral act. As one of Israel’s long time allies and staunchest supporters, I believe the United States has an obligation to speak out about these atrocities. The United States should demand that Israel stop this violent response, and should withdraw our support for the Israeli government should the persist. 

Mr. James von Behren 


EDITOR’S NOTE: We received a number of letters similar to this one. More are on our website. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The mayor and four of the city councilmembers betrayed us voters Tuesday night when they voted to not put the Berkeley Clean Money measure on November’s ballot. The clean money organizers, including the League of Women Voters, weren’t asking the City Council to make any tough decisions about clean money. We were asking the council to allow the voters to make the decision—basically, allowing the council to punt.  

I want to congratulate Councilmembers Max Anderson, Darryl Moore, Dona Spring, and Kriss Worthington for voting to give us voters the choice of whether to support clean money in Berkeley this November. By doing so, they stood up for a cleaner local political scene. As Councilmember Moore said during the meeting, the perception of corruption is just as damaging to public decision-making as actual corruption. And ensuring that elected officials are financially beholden solely to the little people who elect them instead of the rich and powerful means that our local democracy will serve us, the people, instead of their largest donors.  

One quick note: Councilmember Olds ridiculed the idea that one $250 contribution from a single big business donor could “buy” a councilmember. Of course, she neglected to mention that the $250 donation is matched by a $250 donation from the donor’s spouse, adult children, business associates, employees, and so on, until that one $250 donation represents thousands of dollars. When Councilmember Capitelli can win an election with $27,000, ten $250 donations suddenly becomes 10 percent of his entire campaign fund. As a former candidate, I know first-hand how relieved I would have been if I had been able to collect 10 percent of my total from one donor! 

Jesse Townley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

After the City Council again refused last week to place the so-called “Clean Money” initiative on the ballot, we hope public campaign financing is dead for good in Berkeley. It is one of the most wasteful means of reducing the improper impact of money on politics there is. And in an attempt to reduce corruption in elections, public campaign financing only adds to it by using taxes to pay for political campaign publicity that is biased and may be deceptive or even completely false.  

There are other simpler, much more effective, and much less expensive ways of reducing the improper impact of money on local and state politics. That is why we have formed a citizens’ group supporting these more cost-effective alternative reforms and opposing Proposition 89, the public campaign financing initiative on the California ballot this November. We do not accept money from any source, and are not affiliated with any other organizations. We believe good ideas sell themselves. 

We support the following reforms to state and local politics: 

1. Make it illegal for any elected official to take official action specifically affecting any of their large campaign contributors. It should make no difference whether this action is taken before or after the contributions are made, or if the contributions are monetary or in-kind. 

2. Lower campaign contribution limits. 

3. Require all candidates for state and local offices to present their qualifications and positions in a uniform format to voters in the voters’ guides printed and distributed by the Secretary of State and County Registrar of Voters. 

The first two reforms above would cost taxpayers nothing, and would reduce or perhaps eliminate “pay to play” politics.  

The third reform would provide a “level political playing field,” reducing the impact of political advertising by giving voters a more complete and balanced source of information about candidates than is currently available. The cost to the taxpayer depends on how much of the costs of these guides will be paid for by the candidates. In any case, the cost to the candidates will probably be less than they would have to pay for their own publicity in the absence of such guides.  

For a complete statement of our position, and our reasons for opposing Proposition 89, visit our web log at Then please let us know if you support our position by e-mailing us at We promise we will never ask you for money. And we will not put you on a periodic e-mail list or reveal your identity to anyone else without your permission. 

Keith Winnard