Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday August 11, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet 

I wanted to thank Sharon Hudson for her insightful, honest, (and even humorous) commentary, “Notes on NIMBYism,” in the Daily Planet of Aug. 8. 

I appreciated her ability to clearly express some of the same complicated emotions that I, too, have felt brewing in side of me for the last few years. 

I recently took a trip to Vancouver, B.C. and while I appreciated the natural beauty of Vancouver’s setting, I was shocked at the ugliness of its overwhelming high-rise architecture. Now I worry about the loss of Berkeley’s beauty, Berkeley’s scale. 

Thank you, again, Ms. Hudson, for your courageous commentary. 

Diana Rossi 




Editors, Daily Planet 

As referred to in the Telegraph Assistance Package passed by the City Council in June, the lighting on Telegraph and side streets has been substandard for some time. Recently it was found that many of the street lamps have only had 200-watt bulbs instead of the proper 400-watt ones originally installed: This is 50 percent less light. No wonder the avenue has seemed a bit dreary after sunset. Let’s get this simple problem fixed and get on with the rest of the assistance package of budgeted city services being restored to the Telegraph community. Most importantly, we must have a dedicated community police and mental health presence on Telegraph to promote civic conduct and dissuade crime. Berkeleyans, please come down to this special street and contribute to its renaissance. 

Al Geyer, 

for the Telegraph Merchants’  





Editors, Daily Planet 

The Wellstone “Democratic” Club’s candidate forum was rigged. Had the forum been run in the genuine spirit of the late senator, I would have humiliated Tom Bates. 

When asked a sharp question about his role in forcing through the Ashby BART development, Tom skillfully misstated (with an affected laziness) that he empowered a “neighborhood association” to appoint the Ashby Takeover Force. 

The crowd then enthusiastically called for an opportunity for the candidates to respond to each other’s presentations. 

It took Jack Kurzweil, the event’s host and moderator, more than 10 minutes of aggressive, anti-democratic blustering to prevent the crowd’s request. 

By the time the “vote” was taken, everyone had “learned” that Jack wasn’t going to allow Tom Bates to be exposed—even if it took making an authoritarian fool out of himself. 

Unfortunately, and entirely unnecessarily, as in almost every other public forum in United States today, more people chose to raise their hand in support of tyranny than lift their hand to insist on the people’s right to genuine democracy. 

The “development corporation” flunkies that Bates is actually helping to carve up South Berkeley are the same goons gutting the rest of the city’s neighborhoods and historic landmarks. 

As I stated in City Council, if Tom Bates pretends not to understand that a crowd of 150 angry local residents protesting the fake democratic proceedings means that they do not want the development, then we have a “mayor” who is willfully acting against the people’s interest, and he must be removed from power. 

In these times that try men’s souls, we must uphold the true standard of all our most principled, fallen leaders. 

I ask you citizens of Berkeley to recognize me as Mayor on Nov. 7, and I will demonstrate the helpful, intelligence-creating, solving power of real democracy. 

Christian Pecaut 




Editors, Daily Planet 

Your portrait of mayoral candidate Zelda Bronstein’s campaign donors (“City’s Political Candidates Rake in the Campaign Cash,” Aug. 4) was incomplete and misleading. Zelda’s initial 103 contributors include neighborhood activists, owners of independent Berkeley businesses, artists and artisans, preservationists, teachers, writers and editors, the former presidents of two union locals and members of the Planning Commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board, the Housing Advisory Commission, the Transportation Commission, the Mental Health Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Peace & Justice Commission and the Public Works Commission.  

Austene Hall 

Bronstein Campaign Manager 




Editors, Daily Planet 

From the outside viewer, who has been in Berkeley a little over a year, I have been keeping an eye on the mayoral candidates, since this will be my first year considering to vote in my life. 

I love the City of Berkeley and its people, who have a lot to offer, and are willing to socialize. 

The upcoming mayoral election has three different political categories: 

1. Mayor Bates is a stooge for the developers, who come into this town, develop it as in Oakland, and then leave. This is obvious, although I don’t study politics much. 

At a recent City Council meeting, he admitted that he had a soft spot for developers. And then at the recent candidate’s forum, he stood in mock composure, right in front of the other mayoral candidates, and hid behind one thousand children, to try and get the Wellstone Democratic Club’s endorsement. 

2. Candidates who repeatedly complain on the same topic. 

3. Candidates with answers, not just complaints—namely, Christian Pecaut.  

Now this candidate, who is relatively new to the scene here in Berkeley, as I’ve come to understand from hearing about him, and seeing some of his fliers, to me shows the most promise out of all the candidates—and the most hope for any decent governance of the people. 

Because, unlike Bates, Pecaut is not out to buy the people—he’s by the people, for the people, and with the people—against the financial tyranny and gluttony of real estate developers, and against politicians, corporations, and individuals with their own agendas against the city.  

And I feel this candidate shows more promise than the rest of the candidates put together. So if I am going to vote for the first time, and I am 52 years of age, come Nov. 7, I will check the box next to Pecaut on the ballot. 

Ken Wagnon 




Editors, Daily Planet 

Eric Riley accuses me (Letters, Aug. 8) of lying about the size of the West Berkeley Bowl. In “Bates and the Bowl: Some Inconvenient Truths” (Commentary, Aug. 4), I stated that the new facility will be 91,000 square feet. Mr. Riley says that it will be 60,000 square feet. 

The actual number is important because it’s the basis for calculating the amount of traffic the project will generate. To state the obvious: the smaller the development, the less the traffic.  

The city’s notice of the council’s June 13 public hearing on the new Bowl refers to “two buildings with…a total of 91,060 square feet.” Mr. Riley arrived at the 60,000 figure by considering only the retail floor space and disregarding the project’s office and warehouse components.  

Common sense suggests that the project’s office and warehouse space should be included in the new Bowl’s size and its corresponding amount of traffic. (Think of the trucks alone that will be going to and fro.) And in this case, common sense is backed up by professional standards—namely, the criteria used by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). The ITE defines Gross Floor Area so as to include all leasable areas. Warehouse space and office space are leasable. 

Mr. Riley asserts that I’m lying again when I say that the new Bowl is the size of a Wal-Mart. Wal-marts, he writes, always have at least 160,000 square feet of retail space.  

The Wal-Mart website tells a different story. Turns out there are three kinds of Wal-Marts: Supercenters, which average 185,000 square feet; Discount Stores, which average 101,000 square feet; and Neighborhood Markets, which average 41,000 square feet.  

It so happens that the existing Berkeley Bowl measures 42,000 square feet. So at 91,000 square feet, the new Bowl is over twice as big as both a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market and the existing Bowl. 

By the way, is the Planet’s correspondent the Eric Riley who’s the partner of Tom Bates’ aide, Julie Sinai? 

Zelda Bronstein 



Editors, Daily Planet 

The Aug. 8 commentary by Ben Rietman contains numerous errors regarding ChoicePoint, especially when it comes to our mythical roll in various elections since 2000. For the record, here are the facts: 

ChoicePoint did not perform the review of Florida voter rolls used in the 2000 Presidential election or any other election in any other country, for that matter. ChoicePoint did acquire the company, Database Technologies (DBT), that performed the 1998, 1999 and 2000 voter registration reviews in Florida as required by state law, but only after DBT had delivered the initial 2000 voter exception list to Florida officials for verification. ChoicePoint ended the product in 2000 and has not been involved in any voting related activities since, nor will we be. You can learn more at our Web site——including the results of a U.S. Civil Rights Commission review of the 2000 elections that clearly states ChoicePoint was not involved and DBT was not at fault.  

As for the rest of the description about what ChoicePoint does, we are a public company that is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CPS. Simple research will reveal that we are not a foreign owned company and we do not engage in any of the activities, or offer the products and services Mr. Reitman claims we do.  

James E. Lee 

Chief Marketing Officer, ChoicePoint 




Editors, Daily Planet 

I read Chris Kavanagh’s defense of John Selawsky with giggles, especially the claim that the BUSD “maintains a solid and stable financial foundation.” 

It would be fun to hear Chris Kavanagh publicly explain the BUSD budget and the basis for such a bogus claim. After all it took the appointed BUSD audit committee 18 months to comprehend that byzantine buget, and they had BUSD staff members helping. Plus, I have heard a Board member publicly state that she couldn’t understand the BUSD budget, despite having been on the Board for over four years. The public has raised complaints about the obtuseness of the format in which the budget is presented, but BUSD has yet to present a budget that is comprehensible and useful as a planning tool. I must point out that during John Selawsky’s tenure, the general fund was way in the red, and the way BUSD avoided bankruptcy was to take our parcel taxes which we thought we were paying for class size reduction, and to use that money to plug the bleeding of their overspending. This includes $4 million over budget for the cafeteria. Class sizes zoomed to over 45 students in many classes at the high school. There weren’t enough chairs or tables for students. In some classrooms there wasn’t enough space for 45 chairs or tables even if the furniture was available. No wonder the truancy rate was high. One young man who I know and like, said he took to cutting classes because there was no place to sit. 

And so this upcoming November, this self same board whom Mr. Kavanagh describes as “competent and proven” want to pull the wool over our eyes again, by asking us to pay over $18 million a year in parcel taxes. Read the parcel tax language. The actual language lets the Board use the money for anything they want. Class size reduction is only a “goal.” BUSD has no requirement or obligation to use the money for class size reduction. With government, when they take your money and don’t give you what they promise, it’s called “good governance.” With any body else, it’s called consumer fraud. 

BUSD says it needs “flexibility.” If BUSD wants flexibility then it should submit a parcel tax that is voted on every 4 years instead of every ten. But don’t shove a 10 year parcel tax at us—so the voters don’t have the right to more frequent review, and then insert that worthless loosey goosey language so that the Board can have the “flexibility” do whatever it wants.  

And of course BUSD says “trust us.” Well, the past behavior of the Board has shown that it is not trustworthy. I will not vote for a ten year parcel tax, and I will not support a parcel tax that is not specific and enforceable. 

Jenn Haven 




Editors, Daily Planet 

I want to thank Chris Kavanagh for his kind words and public support for me. At this time, however, I have decided not to run for the city auditor’s position, primarily because I have two years remaining on this, my second, term on the Berkeley School Board. 

I also want to acknowledge others who have helped stabilize BUSD’s finances, budget, and systems, and add that this work is on-going, and never entirely completed: Superintendent Michele Lawrence, Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith, Neil Smith, Lew Jones, former interim Superintendent Steve Goldstone, and many, many other staff and teachers who have sacrificed and helped to carry the load during several years of lean times. Thank you all.  

John Selawsky 


Berkeley School Board 




Editors, Daily Planet 

In the Aug. 8 article “Candidates Chosen for Rent Stabilization Board,” by Rio Bauce, David Blake, one of the candidates is quoted as saying: “The slate is great,” “It is full of these long-time Berkeley activists who care about the future of the Rent Board. We are also very good friends. We need to work hard to defeat the Condo Conversion Initiative. Otherwise, there isn’t much for the Rent Board to do anymore.” 

The condo conversion initiative is barely out the gate. What the heck has the rent board been doing?  

Nancy Friedberg 




Editors, Daily Planet 

I find it staggering that a writer could argue (Death of Democracy, Aug. 4) that “democracy died in Albany” when the Albany City Council made a principled refusal to grant a developer an up-front guarantee of an environmental impact report (EIR) on a project for which the developer had not yet even applied. 

What does “democracy” mean? That all applicants who wish to build projects in Albany should be subject to the same rules? Or, as the letter writer argues, that wealthy developers should be given the opportunity to exact promises that their projects, no matter how offensive they may be to the majority of Albany residents, merit the lengthy, time-consuming attention of an EIR, a document that would not be prepared for any other proposed project that was not allowable under a property’s current zoning. 

If I wanted to build a heliport in my front yard, I dare say the planning staff would happily accept my application and fees, and the Planning and Zoning Commission would handily deny, without preparing the EIR that would be required if a heliport was a permitted use on my lot, my request for a use that is not allowed in the residential district where I live. 

Moreover, the writer of the letter declaring that democracy has breathed its last spreads some inaccurate information. First, the letter claims that the city “refused” to accept the developer’s application for many months but he has never submitted it. How could the city refused something that has not been proffered. 

Joanne Wile 





Editors, Daily Planet 

In his current suspense mystery, Dead Aim, Robert Perry writes of some of the attendees at a thrill kill training camp: 

“Some of the middle-aged men who had been born too rich and protected to have been forced into military training when they were young seemed to thirst for it now, to feel their incompleteness and inadequacy and want to patch it up now.” 

Sound like our current chicken hawk rulers? Who actually came to be as “Team B” (Bush, Sr., Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld, Cheney) in the mid 1970s. The CIA needed independent questioners, it was claimed, in a wave of exaggerated nuclear might (WMD) of the Soviets. Out Colby, in Bush, Sr., and the source of today’s sores. 

I was told once I have been living in a war economy since 1938. Brecht’s line “If peace is being talked about, war has been declared,” a European/Atlantic way of thinking, I find, is followed by the Israelis as if it were Kol Nidre. 

To support the state-of-the-art Zionist military mania, why do we not hear through the Bushits’ noise of “no cease fire, permanent solution,” nauseum ads, the real truth—goose stepped up production at Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, United Technologies, ad nauseum? In how many congressional districts does the right wing pork barreling rule the dark day?  

Jobs before justice. Use up our old and new weapons (and illegal ones—cluster bombs, white phosphorous, laser devices) to make more; it was thus in the Balkans ethnic cleansing of the last decade, at least, and remains emblazoned in stone tombstones, I believe.  

I just ask: no nukes until after the baseball season. And I still ain’t sure if I’d rather be blind or deaf.  

Arnie Passman