Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday August 15, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

My backyard is a special place, so you can put me on the NIMBY list. In my yard over the years I planted fruit trees in all directions while my husband cautioned that someday I might not be able to find my way back. And beyond the harvests, what better place for kids to be in, what better place to host the annual party “to verify our existence”? 

Another yard I’m keen on is one nearby labeled Wild Life Habitat, which is full of trees and greenery of all kinds to harbor its namesakes. As I stood at the gate marveling at this unexpected find, a whirr of wings emerged out of the yard’s green recesses to fly up and away. 

There are other backyards to preserve. To deprive them of their growing, present or future, would be far worse than being a NIMBY. It would be criminal. 

Dororthy V. Benson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We were disturbed to read the inaccurate and mean-spirited letter from Christian Pecaut (Daily Planet, Aug. 11). Mr. Pecaut, who was completely unknown to any of us at the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, sent an e-mail requesting the club to include him in our endorsement process for mayor of Berkeley. We invited him and allotted him equal time with Zelda Bronstein and Tom Bates. Zelda is a member of our club and a long-time activist, and Tom has been a friend of the progressive community during more than 30 years of public service. Although we assumed that club members would be choosing between them, in the sprit of democratic inclusiveness, we decided to invite Mr. Pecaut as well. 

After each candidate had spoken and answered questions for the same length of time, and the time allotted this point on the agenda had been exhausted, the chair (Jack Kurzweil) closed this part of the endorsement session and began to move the agenda to the next item. There was a protest against this, and a motion was made to suspend the agenda and allow the candidates further time to question each other and respond in depth to all the issues raised. The overwhelming majority of the club members voted against the motion and to move on.  

Mr. Pecaut clearly did not like the results of that vote. That’s the funny thing about democracy. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. Does Mr. Pecaut think that democracy means that his viewpoint prevails? We take votes in the Wellstone Club and we respect the outcome of those votes. 

But respect is not Mr. Pecaut’s strong suit. We have no problem with Mr. Pecaut being critical of the policies of any other candidate. However, hearing Mr. Pecaut, who admitted in the question period that he had lived in Berkeley for only four months, arrogantly savage others who have long and proven track records of serving this community, leads us to suggest that he should look for another line of work. America has more than its quota of mean-spirited politicos. 

We knew nothing about Mr. Pecaut when we invited him to speak. Now we do.  

Matthew Hallinan 

Jack Kurzweil 

Wellstone Democratic  

Renewal Club 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Stevie Corcos, in her letter to the Daily Planet, makes several false or misleading claims, and I’d like to address just three of them. 

She says that she “is opposing the new parcel taxes BUSD is seeking,” when she must know that in November we will be voting to renew existing parcel tax funding for our schools, at rates already approved by Berkeley voters. BUSD is not proposing any new taxes or any tax increase. 

Furthermore, she claims that “Berkeley pays the highest parcel taxes in the state for education.” This is also flat-out false. I did just a little checking on EdData, the state’s website on education, and quickly found at least two school districts with far higher parcel taxes for education than ours. In Piedmont, it’s $1559/parcel, and in Palo Alto it’s currently $1014 per parcel, while my own 2004-2005 property tax statement shows that I paid $222.80 for “Berkeley School Tax.” Our parcel tax is calculated by house size, and mine is probably about average size for Berkeley. Some people have much larger houses and pay more, but not many can be five to seven times the size, which is what they’d have to be to pay what every parcel is charged in Palo Alto or Piedmont. 

In addition, she repeats a charge printed in an article in the Daily Planet, stating that Berkeley has “the highest achievement gap” in the county. This is true, but misleading. Piedmont Unified, for example, has no economically disadvantaged students or English-language learners; their small “achievement gap” is between white students and Asian students. Oakland Unified also has a narrower gap between the highest performing group (white), and lower performing groups (economically disadvantaged, English language learners, African American, Hispanic, etc.), but only because their white students do not perform as well as Berkeley’s white students. Berkeley’s excellent public schools attract more children of well-educated white households than do public schools in many, if not most, diverse urban areas. Our teachers and administrators are dedicated to improving student learning at every level. Let’s work together to renew local BSEP funding for our Berkeley Schools, and continue to support academic achievement for all of our students. 

Julie Holcomb 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Once again the Daily Planet shows itself as a less then reliable source for facts by simple sloppy reporting. I refer to Richard Brenneman’s piece on the LPC’s Aug. 3 meeting in which he writes “...Commissioners delayed acting on Gale Garcia’s petition to landmark Iceland, acting on a request of the owners’ attorney, Rena Rickles...” While Gale has been an active supporter of landmarking Berkeley Iceland, I think she would be surprised to know she is the petitioner. A simple search of your own archived articles would have shown that the LPC itself moved to designate Berkeley Iceland as a Landmark ( Daily Planet, April 14) and a look at the application for landmarking, a public document, would have shown that Elizabeth Grassetti and I submitted the necessary paperwork. 

The article also fails to mention that Elizabeth and I, as the applicants, supported the owners request for a continuance. We know from our communication with both the owners representatives and the city officials that serious talks on the future of the rink are taking place. We would rather have the limited management resources of Berkeley Iceland focused on these talks rather then landmarking. By getting facts wrong and incomplete on facts that are easy to confirm, it makes one wonder about facts in articles that are less familiar to the reader. 

Tom Killilea 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Due to budget cuts and rising costs, the South Berkeley Senior Center will be forced to discontinue the senior lunch program at the end of August. Balanced lunches have been available to Seniors on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for a number of years. Dora (in her eighties) has called the lunches her main meal of the day. The lunch attendants have bonded and made the occasion a social and supportive event looked forward to. The closing will be a very sad event.  

Harry Gans 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

John Koenigshofer’s recent commentary argued that “blind endorsement of progressive catchphrases and associated programs (smart growth, affordable housing, rent stabilization) lead us down a road of unintended consequences.” True enough, but the dilemmas that are at the heart of the problem bear closer examination. Many, perhaps most, of the opponents of current building development trends agree that Berkeley needs more housing and that it’s sensible to place larger residential buildings along major transit corridors or downtown. The problem is the excessive bulk, density and/or height of many of the new buildings already in place or in the works. This feature increases visual and other impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. Who wouldn’t be a NIMBY when faced with some of these buildings as a neighbor? 

The excess bulk partially results from the tool progressives have crafted as an alternative to rent control (which the state Legislature effectively quashed years ago). This tool is the requirement for provision of below-market units in new buildings. As Berkeley and other progressive cities in California moved in this direction, however, the more developer-friendly state legislature enacted provisions to require cities to give builders something in return—more units than local zoning would otherwise allow. The result is that some lucky tenants (or condo buyers) benefit, the neighbors lose, and the developers come out more or less even. 

The unfortunate reality in a town like Berkeley is that, for people of modest means, affordable housing equals below-market housing. And in a market economy, private developers are not too keen on providing such housing without something in return. Progressive cities can try to shift some of developers’ profits into subsidies for below-market housing, but the power of developers (and their fellow travelers in construction unions) at the state level will likely limit such tactics. The tough question that requires some honest discussion is this: how do we make housing in Berkeley affordable for the less well-off without unfairly harming residents who live near the areas earmarked for new buildings? 

Steve Meyers 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am very concerned about the wastefulness and destructiveness of our American way of life. We consume far more than our share of the world’s resources, thus contributing greatly to pollution and global warming. I want to help form a “network for responsible living” to support one another in caring, sharing, and being ecologically mindful. Interested people can contact me at: I would be glad to have comments and suggestions.  

Arthur Gladstone  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was taught growing up that one’s character is measured by the smallest thing that arouses one’s anger.  

Arrests in England and Pakistan of young men plotting mass murder dominate not only headline news but cause authorities to disrupt everyday life for hundreds thousands of travelers. Is our courage measured by the things that frighten us? 

Not only is the union of nations impotent to stop massive state and non-state destruction but our future prospects as individuals are frozen in myopic fear. Safety trumps sanity. Are we, as a nation, no bigger than the couple of dozen obsessed young men who might have committed mass murder?  

Given human-on-human bloodletting on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, spoliation of our habitat, global poverty, crime and disease, etc. our reaction to a threat of what might have happened hardly does us credit.  

On the tree of life we rank high, “…a little below the angels...” it says in Psalm 8, verse 5. Yet, we succumb to an all encompassing fear, we abandon the “crown and glory,” the enabling courage, extolled in the Psalm. 

Is state security what we have in mind when we ask “God [to]bless America”?  

Marvin Chachere  

San Pablo  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If anything can save our earth from it’s own human destruction, it will be our new vast world-wide network of education. Lies, propaganda, ignorance, are probably inescapable, but now the truths are as well.  

Thank you, Berkeley Daily Planet, for being an important part of this process. 

Gerta Farber 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a working member of the press (Laney Tower), I applaud the free speech perspective expressed by Becky O’Malley in her Aug. 11 editorial “The Importance of Protecting Free Speech.” I encourage all interested in free speech to participate in the California First Amendment Coalition’s First Amendment Assembly to he held in Berkeley Sept. 29-30. It’s free of charge if you register early at  

Joe Kempkes 





Editors, Daily Planet 

On Aug. 9, 2005, the Atlanta 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the unjust convictions imposed on five Cubans. Arrested in 1998, these men were monitoring terrorist groups in Miami. Although the five were fighting terrorism, the same administration that has launched the so-called “war on terrorism” has kept them imprisoned. These courageous men are not criminals; they were only defending their country from terrorist acts. Groups operating out of Southern Florida have caused the death of more than 3,500 Cubans. The U.S. government has not just turned a blind eye to these terrorist groups but has supported, trained, sponsored and financed them from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion to the Bush administration. Why is it that while the five are languishing in U.S. prisons, these terrorists walk the streets of Miami free? One year has passed since the reversal of their convictions, but they are still imprisoned. The world demands justice for the Cuban Five. It is time for them to go home. 

Alicia Jrapko 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I need advice!  

I have lived at Savo Island Co-operative Homes, Inc. for 26 years. I moved in on the day before my son was born—and he will be 27 years old in October. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter pushed legislation through Congress that gave every city and town in America a HUD housing development exactly like ours. So far so good. 

But here’s the problem: After 26 years, the place is falling apart. The roofs leak. The cedar shingles are falling off the sides. The drainage system sucks eggs. We need a rehab! But it appears that not only are we not getting one, we will be facing foreclosure as well. 


Because, after years of resistance to this rehab project from three of our market rate co-op board members (we are a totally project-based Section 8 housing co-op) because they are afraid that a rehab loan might cause their rent to go up, we still haven’t gotten the rehab. And the board members on market rate and their allies are still stalling the rehab—even though they know that if their rent goes up too much they will then be eligible for Section 8. 

All of us board members just got a letter from our bank’s loan officer. It said, “...we request [the board’s] approval in extending [an agreement with Savo Island’s management company] through at least the permanent loan closing,” approximately two years from now. “Should [the contract] not be extended through at least this time period, we may not be in a position to provide a positive underwriting review.” That’s banker talk for we won’t get the loan. And then HUD will foreclose on Savo Island. And I’ll be living in a cardboard box under the freeway. 

At a board meeting on Tuesday night, the board voted to table approving the new management contract “for further study.” HUD is getting very antsy. Our lender is getting ready to back out of the deal. Our roofs are decaying. The drainage is bad. This next rainy winter is going to be our doom. We can’t get rid of the board because some of the market rate board members won’t be up for re-election until January. And by that time it will be too late! 

What should I do? 

Jane Stillwater 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

First, what great news to hear that the hard work of Telegraph Area Association’s (TAA) Neighborhood Partnership on Homelessness has resulted in the creation of a bona fide detox center for Alameda County. Bravo to Bill Riess for his determination to see this through for Telegraph and to the countless other “unlikely allies” who came together to make this story a success. 

Second, thanks for the report on the new focus on addressing Telegraph’s community and economic development issues. However, I need to make several corrections for the record. I have not been hired by the City of Berkeley as a consultant to address Telegraph issues. I have been retained by TAA’s Executive Committee to address TAA’s financial and operational issues only. Once those issues are addressed, TAA’s Board of Directors will then decide whether to disband TAA, reorganize TAA, or propose that TAA’s non-profit shell be utilized by others with a similar mission to revitalize the area. Lastly, I appreciate the time the reporter took to explain how low-income college neighborhoods are not necessarily seen as low-income by necessity but by choice when applying for grants. I’m not sure if this is implied or not, but there are many people living in the Southside, who are not students, who are near the poverty level and who live in the Southside out of necessity—not choice. For these residents, who cannot afford to pick up and move on a whim, it’s critical that neighborhood concerns be quickly addressed so that they too can enjoy the quality of life that more prosperous areas have. 

Kathy Berger 

San Anselmo 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Many of the neighbors that I have been talking to on the campaign trail are increasingly frustrated over the number of businesses leaving Berkeley. Cody’s, Habitot, Power Bar, Radston’s, Gormans, Clif Bar —the list is getting longer by the day. I was particularly vexed over an article I saw in the Berkeley Daily Planet regarding the departure of Power Bar. The first paragraphs of the story focused on how gleeful some residents were that the PowerBar sign would be coming down from the building. Wait a minute...the sign? We’re going to lose 100 jobs and we start off talking about the sign? Come to think of it, it was kind of irritating that the employees of Cody’s on Telegraph were hogging up the coffee shops during their work breaks and all those noisy toddlers from Habitot—can’t we get those young-ins to keep quiet? And if only the Berkeley Rep or the Aurora would go away so I could get a table at Downtown or La Note on a Saturday night. 

Seriously, Berkeley needs to wake up to all of these jobs lost. Loss of business revenue drives up taxes and fees. I volunteer for a drug and alcohol rehab center from time to time. The other day one of our house managers—with no income at all—got a $200 ticket for riding his bike on the sidewalk. Good grief. Losing hundreds of job is not progressivism. It’s nihilism.  

It’s become trendy to beat up on the university, and it’s sometimes justified. What the clattering class should realize, however, is that, as businesses leave, soon Uncle Charlie will be the only business we have left.  

If you’d like to join the conversation, please check out 

George Beier 

Candidate for Berkeley City Council, District 7