Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday August 18, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Aug. 11 commentary assailing, once again, Berkeley’s voter-approved Rent Stabilization Ordinance, John Koenigshofer conveniently ignores rent control’s central, fundamental purpose: to protect renters from unwarranted, unanticipated, arbitrary rent level increases.  

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, for example, Bay Area rent levels increased dramatically—and unexpectedly—as a consequence of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent crude oil price shock. In addition, state Proposition 13, passed in 1978, slashed rental property owners’ taxes by 75 percent or more.  

In response, scores of California municipalities, including Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco, passed local rent control measures to protect renters from these unanticipated, egregious rent increases at the time. 

Again, during the dot-com economic surge between 1998 and 2001, Bay Area rent levels jumped dramatically and unexpectedly. Fortunately, hundreds of thousands of Bay Area renter households were shielded from these rent increases because of existing local rent control ordinances.  

Currently in San Francisco, average rent levels have increased by 15 percent since January 2006 for new renters moving into units. Existing tenants in San Francisco’s 200,000 rent-controlled units, however, have remained protected from these steep—and ongoing—increases. 

Without Berkeley’s 1980 Rent Stabilization Ordinance, the city’s unique, colorful character and low- to middle-income renter population would most likely have disappeared long ago. 

Chris Kavanagh  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Nancy Friedberg (Letters, Aug. 11), didn’t much grasp my concern about the Condo Conversion Initiative on the November ballot, which would denude Berkeley of a vast amount of rent-stabilized tenant housing. 

The present law, written by the City Council, maintains the rights of existing tenants while allowing for the annual conversion of 100 units into condominiums. The ballot initiative instead proposes to convert 500 units a year while giving tenants only 30 days to come up with the wherewithal to buy their residences at market price. Tenants who can’t buy can instead accept a 2 percent-of-sale-price immediate move-out inducement. This carrot-and-stick approach in essence amounts to eviction, since condos are largely exempt from rent stabilization and tenants who stay face the escalation of their rents to an uncontrolled level. 

The gulf between market price and stabilized rent price that’s arisen in the last six years of the heated Bay Area real estate market represents a potential conversion windfall that will instigate a rush of conversions. Duplexes, triplexes and quadriplexes, which contain about 5,000 of our rental units, are the most homey units; they also house the most longer-term tenants (and therefore offer the greatest potential windfall for their owners) and those tenants will be forced out first. The tenant population of our flatlands neighborhoods will mostly evaporate inside the next seven years if the initiative passes. As social policy the eviction-by-condo initiative is a near-perfect embodiment of the Bush administration housing goal of creating a “nation of homeowners” by studiously sacrificing everyone else’s housing interests. 

I hope to serve for the next four years on the Rent Board, but I also hope we won’t be facing a rental market whose supply is rapidly shrinking. Our existing rental stock is a blessing both for our tenants and our diversity, and should be preserved. 

Dave Blake 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I like to think that I’m intelligent, well-educated and fairly sophisticated—certainly not one to be attracted by the lurid tabloids to be found at the check-out stand at supermarkets. I wouldn’t be caught dead buying one. However, last weekend while in line at Safeway, my eye fell on two of these sleazy publications, which I’ll not name. One magazine blazoned the bold title, “Bush and Condoleezza to Wed!” The other tersely stated, “Bush Divorce—Laura Wins.” 

Now this was hot stuff! Glancing around to be sure I wasn’t observed, I snatched up the two offending rags (no way was I going to fork over hard-earned money for such trash), and moved my basket to the longest line in the store. There I devoured the sensational allegations, chortling with glee. Normally I wouldn’t place much credence in these stories, but I was willing to make an exception in this case. 

Bush and Condoleezaa! My joy knew no bounds! Were ever two people more deserving of each other? 

Laura, honey—don’t fight it. Let go, Sweetheart! If these rumors prove to be true, consider yourself blessed. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

TV and print agencies deliver news that is crafted mainly to advertise, entertain or persuade, rarely to inform. Example: The media showered General Abizaid, our military man in Iraq, with praise for his forthright responses before a Senate committee last week. Journalists unanimously agreed that his was the voice of a capable leader willing to face unpleasant realities.  

However, the general’s answer to Chairman Warner about whether the killings in Iraq constitute a civil war contains three evasive, non-forthright qualifiers. 

He said, “If not stopped Iraq could move toward a civil war.” I have underlined the words signaling the qualifiers. 

Why not simply declare that Iraq is engaged in a “low intensity” civil war?  

The reason the general does not want to admit that there is civil war in Iraq is that it would necessitate a new Congressional resolution—resolutions being the de facto manner that has come to replace the de jure constitutional way of declaring war.  

As Senator Warner implied, Congress might demand assurances that civil war referee is the last formulation in the series of reasons—WMDs, Liberation, Democracy—for expending vast amounts of treasure, human and fiscal, over there.  

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The recent pieces by Sharon Hudson made more sense to me than anything I have read in a long time. 

Erica Cleary 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Julie Holcomb’s letter defending our public school district, the data is irrefutable that despite the large amount of local tax money we pump into our schools, achievement lags in Berkeley, and the achievement gap in Berkeley is huge and inexcusable. 

Berkeley High School’s dropout rate of almost 14 percent is higher than the county average of 10.3 percent. Pacific Islanders have a whopping 33 percent dropout rate at Berkeley High, compared to an 11 percent dropout rate county wide. For Hispanic students, the dropout rate is just as alarming: 26.3 percent versus a county average of 13.8 percent. And even for white students, Berkeley High’s dropout rate is higher than the county average (9 percent versus 6 percent). 

People like to hem and haw and say that Berkeley’s numbers are because Berkeley is a “diverse, urban area.” This is a poor excuse for low achievement. I support children, and I support public school education but simply giving more tax money to BUSD without requiring quality performance from the school district is not the answer. BUSD needs performance auditing so it can explain to taxpayers, why student achievement is not commensurate with the spending.  

If studies show that the most important factor in student learning is the classroom teacher, what is BUSD doing to improve teaching? Why are Berkeley teacher salaries significantly lower than other school district’s? Palo Alto’s starting teacher salary is $45,000. Berkeley’s starting teacher salary is only $33,800. How can we attract the qualified teachers needed to produce excellent schools with a starting salary of $33,800?  

What is BUSD doing to control expenses? Why does Berkeley spend almost a quarter of a million dollars more than Palo Alto for its superintendent and board, even though Palo Alto has 18 percent more students than Berkeley? Think of what the music program, or libraries, or the garden programs could do with an extra quarter of a million dollars. Berkeley’s school board and superintendent cry poor, but is it really poor or just not well managed? Let’s look at the data some more. 

Yolanda Huang 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Driving around the Northwest this morn, I was happily tuned to the Stephanie Miller political satire show on Air America Radio, as is my traveling wont. One of her Eric Idlers was parodying Dubya spokesjoke Ken Melman and his insistence on “Stay the Course.” I heard it as “Save the Corpse!!” 

Arnie Passman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If Pluto is not a planet, then how can the Berkeley Daily—which, despite its name, has a multiple-day orbit—be one? On the other hand, if all of Pluto, Ceres, Charon and Xena are planets, anything that goes around comes around, and I say somebody back when neglected to plan it. 

Ray Chamberlain 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund grants may be a thankful welcome to some important community groups, it is really not the way a democracy should function. If Tom Bates hadn’t sold out the city of Berkeley by settling with UC we probably would be getting a more fair share of payment from the University to the city for all the services they use. Then the City of Berkeley, using our democratic method would decide where it would spend our money. UC is not democratically run. The citizens of Berkeley have no power in deciding how this grant money will be allocated. And given UC’s past contempt for the history and democratic decisions of our city it is frankly frightful to hand over the allocation of what should be city funds to the chancellor. 

Cyndi Johnson