Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday August 08, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Once upon a time, Judith Scherr was a good journalist. What the heck happened? 

Her Aug. 4 article (“City’s Political Candidates Rake in Campaign Cash”) was an embarrassing effort to take straight-forward facts and twist them into some a contorted story about the big-bad out-of-town developers that are supporting Tom Bates while poor Zelda Bronstein is pounding the grassroots in search of true believers. 

Ms. Scherr—in the true Daily Planet tradition—doesn’t let the truth interfere with a good party line. Be that as it may, it is worth noting Tom Bates’ and Zelda Bronstein have received virtually the same portion (20 percent) of their contributions from “out of towners.” Further, while the average contribution to the Bates campaign is $142, the average contribution to Bronstein’s is $165. (I’m no expert on this stuff, but it seems to me that having more and smaller contributions is actually a sign of broad-based support.) Could it be that Ms. Bronstein is actually the stealth candidate of the landed gentry? 

But alas, why let the facts get in the way of Zelda’s zealots. How many times will the Planet publish Ms. Bronstein’s assertion that the new Berkeley Bowl is the size of a Wal-Mart? (Same issue, “Bates and Bowl: Some Inconvenient Truths.”) With retail floor space of 60,000 square feet, the Bowl isn’t even close to the size of a Wal-Mart, the smallest of which have 160,000 square feet of retail space. I guess Zelda and the Planet have learned a most important lesson from the Bushies—if you repeat the same lie enough times, pretty soon people will believe you. 

Eric Riley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As the weather grows ever more freakish and as the oceans warm, rise, and empty—even as Barry Bonds, home accessories, and Israel command people’s thoughts—I suspect that Arnie Passman’s quote by Gar Smith (Letters, Aug. 4) is correct: it is probably too late to save our progressively plundered and poisoned planet. Earth is not a machine that we can fix after breaking it, but like the machines we today so thoughtlessly throw away, it will discard us as it seeks a new equilibrium that does not include most of the nature we know. When that realization dawns, Berkeleyans will understand that they face more pressing issues than their damned landmarks ordinance. 

Gray Brechin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am a Cal alumn and mother of two, ages 10 and 14. We recently experienced an alarming change at the SCRA Pool parking lot. Sadly, the University has installed a pay-to-park program, which severely limits the community to have access to one of the best resources for recreation there is in Berkeley. It sends a negative message to potential patrons: “If you don’t have much money, don’t swim here.” Our family has used the facility for camps, etc., for many years. We have spent in excess of $10,000 on UC sports camp alone. It is a shame to penalize those who are past patrons and to turn away families who are lower income. 

Kyle Miller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her Aug. 1 letter criticizing Berkeley School Board Director John Selawsky, Sandra Horne declares that Mr. Selawsky would be an “inappropriate” candidate for city auditor. 

In fact, the exact opposite is true: John Selawsky will be an outstanding candidate for city auditor based, alone, on his decisive leadership and performance during his first term as a School Board Director. 

Prior to Mr. Selawasky’s election in 2000, the Berkeley Unified School District was unexpectedly plunged into financial turmoil: at the time, the school district faced the prospect of involuntary state receivership (take over) because of unprecedented deficit spending, mismanagement and inadequate financial accounting/recordkeeping. 

As School Board president, Mr. Selawasky led the effort to rectify this potentially damaging financial situation, and avoid the fate of the neighboring Oakland and Emeryville school districts—a state take over of their respective school districts (which still continues to this day in Oakland). 

Under Mr. Selawasky’s oversight, the school district’s accounting practices were reformed, and the district’s annual budgets closely monitored and audited. Today, the Berkeley School District maintains a solid and stable financial foundation. 

There is no question in my mind that John Selawsky will be an excellent—and proven—candidate for city auditor. 

Chris Kavanagh 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ll let Bates and Bronstein battle over their “true” position regarding the West Berkeley Bowl issue as they wrestle through the mayoral contest, but one statement in Ms. Bronstein’s recent commentary (“Bates and the Bowl: Some Inconvenient Truths”) stood out in its bold-faced inaccuracy: “So he (Bates) ought to explain why in the matter of the Bowl, he ignored all the stockholders but one: the owner of the business.” 

At the June 13 City Council meeting where the Bowl won majority approval, there were dozens of people in attendance who spoke in favor of building the Bowl— neighbors, business owners, families and concerned citizens. At one point, one of the speakers asked for all those present who favored the Bowl being built to stand, at least half of the capacity crowd stood. None owned a stake in the business of the Berkeley Bowl. 

It seems Ms. Bronstein found that small fact a very inconvenient truth. 

Cameron Woo 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

With regard to the large amount of well-deserved press coverage on the battle over changes to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO) and specifically on the criticism of how structure of merit designations are used in Berkeley: 

It is, when considered out of context, inappropriate for the structure of merit designation to be used as a protection that extends beyond the scope of its original intent. When considered in context however, such a use implies that those other processes which should address that overlapping scope have in fact lost their ability to function properly within the realm of checks and balances that should exist. 

In other words, if gear A is being asked to do too much work, it’s because gear B is not working properly. What bothers me is that focus on gear A doing too much work is occurring in such a way that it is masking culpability of gear B—an actual source of imbalance in this analogy. 

I think that in the context of this general idea, it is both legitimate and important to ask whether it is appropriate that the city Planning Department play such a strong advocacy role in the interest of developers (in other words, large new development projects) in order to promote their own internal interests which may very well be as simple as assuring that they have enough to do to keep themselves busy. If such a bias is determined to adversely affect the public interest and the public good as a whole, then a good portion of the imbalance can be said to be located there. 

Developers should have a voice commensurate with their place in the dynamic public continuum. It is unfair for bodies which should be impartial such as the City Planning Department and the Zoning Adjustments Board, to also carry their flag. I have sat in City Council and watched with rapt amazement as representatives of city planning have demonstrated almost rabid antipathy towards the will of the community, of people who will actually have to live around the projects they promote, while at the same time using all their considerable power of intimate systemic knowledge to push even inappropriate projects through by any means necessary. 

This reality is known to those who have been directly embroiled in these proceedings, but I fear it is not within the public perception of events in Berkeley because, again, newspaper accounts tend to focus on the problem with gear A while disregarding or failing to see the issue of gear B. Impartiality demands of course that gear A have two sides: those attacking and those defending—but discussion of gear B remains largely mute—and that, I think, leaves a rather large hole in the fabric of the debate. 

Joseph Stubbs 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As one of the authors who participated in the last CIL Author’s Night fundraising event that Susan Parker alluded to in her July 25 column, I must take exception to her “sour grapes” reaction at being overlooked as the perfect person to represent the disabled community. I found it deceptive that Ms. Parker neglected to mention that the theme of that evening’s program centered on cultural diversity and included three women authors—one Asian-American, one of mixed race, and one (myself) having a lifelong disability from birth—reading from our books about the experiences of navigating life as minority women within the context of a broader society. I wouldn’t have considered any of us to be spokespersons for our community, just good writers wanting to tell our stories—hoping that something we would be reading would resonate with our audience to provoke humor, insight, identification, or some grasp of realization that no matter what our experiences we’re all cut from the fabric of humanity. 

There’s one additional point I’d like to make regarding that column. I’ve learned as a writer that once I’ve put my words “out there” to be read, I have no control over how they’ll be interpreted. Criticism is one of the pitfalls of the trade. I may not like it, but I live with it, and, much of the time, I learn from it. It makes me a better writer! 

Denise Sherer Jacobson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Do you know that the Sierra Club has endorsed a Republican senator, Lincoln Chafee, in Rhode Island? Do you know that the current Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator James Inhofe, says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”? Why would an environmental organization support, in any way, a party that places someone like Inhofe in such a position? It doesn’t matter how Mr. Chafee votes when he participates in a (now majority) party that is anti-abortion. 

NARAL, the abortion rights group, has also endorsed Mr. Chafee, and we all know what the Republican party is trying to do with that issue. 

Chris Gilbert 

Former Sierra Club and NARAL member 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is painful to sing anything but praise for an article reporting on the city’s “scathing critique of UC Stadium Expansion Report.” But, I do believe there was one factual error.  

The Planet article states the hazard risk thus: “Noting that the DEIR declares that even with a seismic retrofit, the risk of injury and death from earthquakes at the stadium can be reduced ‘to less than significant levels,’ Marks said, ‘It is essential that the campus seriously consider and analyze the option of relocating the stadium to other sites.’” 

I have doubled-checked the city’s letter and also the draft environmental impact report (DEIR), and I believe you meant to say that the risk of injury and death cannot be reduced to less than significant levels.  

The City of Berkeley’s comment letter states as follows: 

“In light of the DEIR’s statement that the proposed seismic retrofit cannot reduce the potential risk of injury and death to less than significant levels, it is essential that the campus seriously consider and analyze the option of relocating the stadium to other sites.”  

Moreover, the text in the SCIP DEIR (p.4.3-22) states as follows:  

“The degree of risk due to fault rupture cannot be quantitatively expressed with the current information. Such risk will be strongly influenced by the structural design details yet to be developed; however, the risk cannot be completely mitigated by any design. Therefore, while the mitigations suggested below would reduce risks, this impact is considered significant and unavoidable.”  

On the next page of the DEIR, the “risk of loss, injury, or death resulting from strong seismic ground shaking” is estimated as also “significant and unavoidable.” 

If my understanding of the city’s letter and the draft EIR’s impact analysis is correct, I believe a correction is in order.  

Janice Thomas  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While letter writer Keith Winnard professes to support the goals of the Proposition 89 “Clean Money and Fair Election” initiative of putting an end to “pay to play” politics and “leveling the political playing field” (Letters, Aug. 4), the means he suggests to attain these goals are unrealistic. How, as he suggests (Letters, July 18), would it be possible to enforce a law that made it illegal for an elected official to “take action affecting” a large campaign contributor? Mr. Winnard also suggests the laudable goal of lowering campaign contribution limits, but as Vermont recently found out, the Supreme Court will step in to prevent this—but it will allow a candidate the option of “going clean” and not taking any contributions. 

As for his final suggestion of limiting candidates to presenting their positions solely through government printed voters’ guides, this is the type of reform—along with free and equal use of the air waves—which might be attainable once the system is changed by Proposition 89. Right now it is a political impossibility. Moreover, supporters of Proposition 89 are not seeking “the keys to the State Treasury” as Mr. Winnard suggests, but quite the opposite: Proposition 89 would take the keys away from special interests, and return them to the people. 

The cost—the price of a latte and a muffin for each voter—concerns Mr. Winnard as it should, but it’s a cheap price to pay to staunch the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars into the hands of special interests under a system currently founded upon legalized bribery, instead of being used for the public good as determined by the voters. 

Tom Miller 

Advisory Board Member, 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A few days ago the cars in my area were papered with flyers for Christian Pecaut’s mayoral bid. He may want to know that he is in violation of Berkeley Municipal Code 9.08.090, which outlaws placing ads on windshields—considered a form of litter. Apart from that, I find most of the items of his platform agreeable, except for one: “Reduce Parking Tickets, We’ve Paid for the Streets Already!” We obviously haven’t paid for their proper maintenance, since many are in sad disrepair. More seriously, we haven’t paid for a modern traffic control system. Most of the major intersections in Berkeley are without left-turn arrows, and those that exist are on fixed timers rather than sensors to monitor cars in the left turn lane, so that oncoming traffic must wait for the arrow to time out, even when there are no cars turning. The next time you drive up Ashby, keep track of the time you waste waiting for cars in front of you to turn left. Modern traffic control could well reduce the time required to traverse the city by 25 percent, which would reduce congestion at any moment by the same amount. Consider, too, that every minute cars have to idle while waiting for traffic to clear just pumps more pollution into our air.  

What we really need is a ballot measure requiring all revenue from parking tickets to be applied to street repair and improved traffic control. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is sadly true that adding a lease or deed documentation requirement will not fix the chronic failure to enforce enrollment. Here are some proposals that might help. 

First, respect the teachers. Their union has tried to tell the board that this is a critical issue. Teachers in my experience know which of their students are from out of district. They are in the best position to decide if a cheating pupil is detrimental to the class. Teachers should be empowered to help by a promise that if they report a student as not appropriate for service the administration will investigate with a presumption of action if the report is true. Second, require birth certificates or adoption papers as proof that the pupil is under the care of the adult filing for service. That’s evidence harder to fake. Finally, for now, reconsider transfers to impacted Berkeley High. Students take turns to have the desks! Berkeley High should be a Berkeley experience. 

David Baggins 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

John Selawsky, a member of the Berkeley Board of Education, in his letter to the editor wrongly claims that the school district is well audited. The school district is poorly audited because the school district is not reviewed for efficiency and effectiveness. Selawsky’s letter states that BUSD’s finances are only reviewed for “legitimacy” (prevent fraud), “accuracy” (is the math correct?) and “the district’s ability to meet all obligations” (pay the bills).  

These standards are inadequate. BUSD needs further review on whether it operates efficiently and effectively. For example, BUSD still does not have a computerized system to keep track of supplies, equipment, tools, books and other materials. 7-11, Berkeley Bowl, and Long’s all have computerized inventory systems, but not BUSD.  

The type of auditing we are advocating is a thorough review of efficiency and effectiveness so that our tax monies really and truly benefit the children and improve education. If BUSD was a $100 million a year corporation, the SEC would require it to do performance auditing. Berkeley pays the highest parcel taxes in the state for education. Berkeley schools have the highest achievement gap and high numbers for truancy and high school drop-outs, which are issues desperately needing attention. Under its current auditing system, it is perfectly legitimate for BUSD to spend money for cherry paneling in lunchrooms and custom cabinets for a principal’s offices, while installing cheap particle board cabinets for the chemistry department. The particle board doors easily broke and so supplies and equipment could not be secured. 

BUSD says it cannot afford the $55,000 a year needed to keep pools open so students can learn to swim, but it can afford 15 percent plus pay raises for administrators which greatly exceed $55,000. 

These are not examples of spending which benefit children and improve education. These are not examples of efficient and effective administration. And clearly, the current auditing system is inadequate, which is why BUSD needs to implement performance auditing. I wholly support public education. But I do not support waste. And unless BUSD is willing to submit to performance audits, it does not deserve our tax dollars. For these reasons I am opposing the new parcel taxes BUSD is seeking. 

Stevie Corcos 

Founding member, BESMAART 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In your Aug. 1 editorial about Lebanon, Becky O’Malley states, “During the American revolution, the revolutionary army hid among civilians, but the British army didn’t retaliate by shelling cities.” This statement, even if it were true, would be irrelevant, since the British military regarded most of the inhabitants of American towns and cities as loyal British subjects. In fact, though, O’Malley’s statement does not correspond to the actual history of the Revolution. While it is true that the Continental Army had no fixed address, it did not “hide” in the manner O’Malley implies, and—unlike the British and the Hessians—usually quartered itself in the hinterland, rather than in cities or towns. Early in the war, moreover, both sides showed themselves quite willing to shell cities. 

The Continental Army shelled Boston, from March 3 to 5, 1776, as a matter of military necessity, in order to prevent the British occupiers of that city from detecting the Americans’ night-time fortification of Dorchester Heights. An American lieutenant, quoted in David McCullough’s book 1776, reported: “Our shells raked the houses, and the cries of the poor women and children very frequently reached our ears.” A few months later, on July 12, 1776, as the British were commencing their conquest of New York, British ships were fired on by Continental artillery at the south end of Manhattan island. In a show of force, the British responded by shelling the habitations of neighboring Greenwich village. The persisting problem, which is relevant to all wars, is: how are we to raise the standard of care in weighing military necessity against the risk of civilian suffering and loss; and how can this standard be enforced upon all warring parties, including “non-State actors”? 

John Gussman 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Although Berkeley has many residents with family members living in Israel, some under the fire of Hezbollah rockets hitting Haifa, it is reflective of the Daily Planet’s bias that a local of Lebanese descent was made the subject of a BDP interview rather than anyone with kin in Israel.  

Given that Ms. Ghammache, whose ignorance of current and past Israeli/Lebanese interaction is appalling, is a member of the Albany School Board and that Israel-demonizer supreme Barbara Lubin is a former member of the Berkeley School Board, can anyone wonder why our local educational system is in such shambles? 

Dan Spitzer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

For all those who have written about the Hezbollah/Israeli conflict, of any religion (especially Jews), remember “Never Again.” The Holocaust will always be too fresh. 

Rita Wilson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The ignorant and arrogant response in Congress to Israel’s destruction of Lebanon will ensure that we are fighting the war on terror (and creating it) for many decades to come. Bomb away! Congress and the U.S. media are pathetic. 

Carl Zaisser 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Quite often when I’m reading or watching television in the early evening, an airplane flies over my apartment building—a low-flying plane. Sometimes the plane sounds too close for comfort and I rush to the window to determine if it’s a commercial airliner or a private plane. As yet I’ve never made this determination, and I can’t say I’ve been unduly alarmed by these occurrences. But last week, while watching an Edward R. Murrow documentary with graphic scenes of the London bombings in World War II, my mysterious plane flew overhead at that exact moment. Suddenly I was struck with the realization that we Americans have never experienced the horror of falling bombs, houses demolished, cities gone up in flames. Yet, ironically, in the past century we’ve unrelentingly rained bombs on cities and countries all over the world—Hiroshima, Dresden, Vietnam, and now, shamefully, Iraq. Have the citizens of these distant places posed a danger to this country? Have I ever been threatened? I’m filled with shame these days when I see heartbreaking pictures of thousands of Iraqi mothers grieving for their dead sons, small bodies lying on blood-soaked streets and, just as tragically, the growing list of our military dead and injured. My shame actually began decades ago with the haunting picture of the terrified little girl running naked down a dusty road, her clothes burned off by the napalm bomb we dropped on her village. And who can forget the idiotic statement by a military officer, “We had to destroy the village to save it”?! 

Call it macabre if you wish, but the thought lingers in my mind, “Why have we, this country of ours, which has inflicted so much suffering, been spared the falling bombs and missiles that we’ve mercilessly inflicted on much of the world? Will our time not come?” 

Dorothy Snodgrass 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Miracle of miracles! Israel has managed to be both David and Goliath at the same time!  

Ruth Bird 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Middle East is on fire. The Dogs of War have been loosed and they are ripping the eyes out of the skulls of dead babies. And just to show you that I am no Mel Gibson, babies are being butchered in Israel as well as Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon. Have our “leaders” gone crazy? I lie awake nights crying because I’m so frustrated that there is nothing I can do to stop this gory dismemberment of our young. 

But there is one group of people who do have the political clout to stop this insane and bloody maiming of babies. You know who I’m talking about. The same people who haunt the malls and websites of America with photos of dead fetuses. The same people who lament and bemoan abortions. 

Pro-Lifers? Baby protectors? Where are you now? 

This savage and brutal slaughter of innocents in the Middle East is one of the most—if not the most—horrendous disasters to strike the infants of our world since the end of World War II. Not since Herod....  

Pro-Lifers? Baby protectors? Where are you now? 

The world’s babies are being cruelly mauled, exploded, massacred and dissected. Partial-birth abortion is not even close to being as extreme and nauseating as this. 

Pro-Lifers? Baby protectors? Where are you now? 

PS: Speaking of double standards, Where have all the Christians gone? And the Jews? And the Muslims? Have they gone to neo-con cons every one? Sing along, boys and girls. When will they ever learn? When will they—ever—learn? 

A Bush-Cheney neo-con with a lust for power in his heart and blood in his eye is not a Christian. An Osama bin Ladin neo-con with a lust for power in his heart and blood in his eye is not a Muslim. And a Olmert-Peres neo-con with a lust for power in his heart and blood in his eye is not a Jew. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. And make no mistake. We are the sheep. “Bon appetite.” 

Jane Stillwater 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The government of Lebanon has a national army of 80,000. That was more than enough force to comply with a U.N. mandate to disarm militias, all except one. Hezbollah was permitted to remain along the southern border with Israel. Not only that, but to dig in, and to receive military weaponry from Iran. What did the people of Lebanon think would happen? This is Iran’s pawn that killed 241 U.S. marines, and organized the Buenos Aries synagogue bombing out of the Iranian embassy. It’s like leaving a time bomb ticking in your basement. 

Palestinians lack the option of disarming their militias. If you or I had a bomb-making factory in the basement of our apartment building, we might want to ask them to move away from where families were living. A Palestinian wouldn’t dare. S/he would be mindful of how the second Intifada began—not by an attack on the Jews, but with a public hanging of eight “collaborators.” That put an end to people-to-people peace initiatives. So you would watch for the bomb-maker to leave, and note the color of the car he was entering. Then you would go back inside and on your cell phone describe it to the IDF. You know that innocent bystanders would likely die. But you also know that the only chance for a peace agreement is to get power out of the hands of the men and boys with guns. Hats of to the brave, anonymous Palestinians who brave the terror of their armed militias. 

Jim Young 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

When Democrats still had some say and influence, crude oil prices averaged $18 a barrel. Then Dick Cheney hosted a secret meeting with the energy industry. Who attended those meetings and what they discussed, we’ll never know...but we can guess. 

The price of oil has quadrupled and we’re told it’s a supply and demand issue. Supply and demand were high before so why is Big Oil all of a sudden raking in record profits? Is there some sort of collusion between the Bush administration, the GOP and oil companies? 

How many Americans are paying $50 bucks now to fill up their gas tanks? Thanks Dick and George for your secret meetings. 

Ron Lowe  

Grass Valley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Question: When is news not news? 

Answer: When information it conveys is crafted to persuade rather than inform. 

There is a sort of virus that is everywhere infecting the information we’re getting about the recurrence of war savagery in Israel and Lebanon. You don’t have to be pro or con to recognize that it’s not information but persuasion because two big facts about the war are hardly ever mentioned.  

Israel has a 10 to 1 advantage; 10 times more and 10 times deadlier weaponry plus ten times fewer civilian casualties. Here’s “asymmetric warfare” for real! 

The second fact is that when Hezbollah forces attacked an Israeli patrol killing five and capturing two, it was not the first day in the history of the world. If it were, then we could applaud our unbiased and healthy news crafters. As it is, we can only be sickened and ashamed on account of their ignoring the past while insisting that the right to exist and the right to defend sanctions the right to destroy.  

To recover from this virus we must discover, if possible, what news agencies are not telling us. I don’t know how to do that. Does anyone? 

Marvin Chachere  

San Pablo