Public Comment

Commentary: Omissions and Commissions: Correcting the Facts

By Dan Knapp
Tuesday November 28, 2006

Now we’re told (Daily Planet, Nov. 24) that the misleading Chamber PAC mailer violated state and local election laws by omitting the identity of the groups who got it out to Berkeley voters just days before the election. Three of the potential four perpetrators have weighed in with denials: the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce (we’re not the PAC); the Chamber PAC (we outsourced the work and didn’t proofread prior to mailing); and the printer/mailer company (we just print and mail the stuff we’re given). That leaves the company that supplied the content and artwork, Brand Guidance/Design Intelligence, and its chief hooter Mr. Steven Donaldson.  

Unfortunately, Steven was out of town and unavailable at press time. I hope the Daily Planet continues to press its inquiry, because this fellow seems to specialize in misleading hit pieces just prior to big decisions affecting his friends.  

I have firsthand knowledge of this. In the Daily Planet’s June 13 issue, he said something false, misleading, and damaging about my reuse and recycling company, Urban Ore. Here is what he said: 


...And special thanks (for killing the West Berkeley Bowl) to the owners of Urban Ore, the City of Berkeley subsidized business that has put up the good fight to keep their business operating with a positive cash flow from your taxes and who has continually opposed the Berkeley Bowl locating in West Berkeley.  


First off, far from being killed, the Big Bowl sailed right through the council with only three abstentions. With Steven’s connections to wealth and power in Berkeley, he probably knew full well which way the council vote was going to go, but rather than defend the project on its merits he chose to attack its critics, including me and my wife Mary Lou Van Deventer.  

Next, Urban Ore is not “subsidized” with “positive cash flow from...taxes.” Urban Ore is a free-standing independent business. A full 99 percent of our income derives directly from our primary service to Berkeley’s businesses, individuals, and institutions: keeping resources from being wasted at Alameda County’s few remaining permitted landfills. We receive discarded materials all day long at Seventh and Ashby from many sources, then sort, process and sell them either for reuse or recycling. This is an important disposal service, for which there is no direct cost to Berkeley at all. In fact, we pay lots of taxes: sales taxes, property taxes, payroll taxes, and business license fees, which is one reason our books have to be so accurate. Berkeley receives a share of our income, via fees and taxes, which we are glad to pay.  

Just 1 percent of our revenue is a direct payment from the City of Berkeley, but it is service fees that are paid us, not tax dollars. The distinction is important. Right now it costs $100 per ton for anyone to dispose of mixed discards at the City of Berkeley transfer station. The city collects this money and uses it to finance its site operations. Overall, the city’s waste management service is profitable: about $4 million per year on revenues of over $26 million. Urban Ore makes a direct contribution to this profit amounting to about $50,000 per year. How? Urban Ore is licensed to provide salvagers at the city’s transfer station every day whose job is to recover usable materials from this incoming supply. These employees work hard, and come back home to the Urban Ore Ecopark each night with weight slips amounting to from two to six tons saved from landfill. For this service we are paid $28 per ton. Again, these are not tax dollars, but a share of disposal service fees paid at the transfer station fee gate. The city gets to keep $72 per ton for all of our tons because they don’t have to haul these materials to landfill. We salvage over 750 tons per year currently; at $72 per ton that’s worth over $50,000 to the city. If we bring anything back next day, we pay $100 per ton to dump it, just like any hauler, so there is no subsidy there, either.  

We got two business loans from the City of Berkeley, which paid for leasehold improvements to the old Pacific Pipe Company building we occupy at Seventh and Ashby. We’re working hard to pay these loans back early, with interest, so the city can recycle the money to other deserving businesses. Loans aren’t subsidies, and cities commonly provide various kinds of financial assistance to businesses they want to retain or attract. These loans were preceded by a unanimous Council resolution directing staff to work to retain Urban Ore in Berkeley when we were forced out of properties at Sixth and Gilman by our landlords’ decisions to sell back in 1999. Council called us a “Berkeley Treasure” at the time.  

And the last falsehood: Urban Ore was very careful never to oppose the original plan for the West Berkeley Bowl, which would have been a store the size of Andronico’s or Whole Foods. We opposed tripling its size, which we thought and still think will cause triple-sized traffic impacts that all Berkeley citizens will subsidize with their time and patience while stuck in the Ashby, Seventh Street, and San Pablo Avenue traffic trying to get to and from this new regional draw. Nevertheless we, like all the other nearby business opponents, were continually smeared with the charge that we were opposed to any neighborhood grocery store in our vicinity.  

Interestingly, the notorious Chamber PAC mailer also targeted Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring for defeat in the just-concluded election . They were two of the three abstaining votes on the Big Bowl council decision, and the only ones up for re-election. This pro-development bunch punishes their opponents, and they brook no opposition, even from the truth.  


Dan Knapp is president of Urban Ore, Inc.