Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday December 01, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Some cities around the United States have turned their declining downtowns into vigorous, exciting places including pedestrian malls. It is inspiring to read their stories. Success seems to follow a long sustained collaboration of citizens, merchants and government. Trust seems to have been a vital ingredient, from the start. 

How different is the cast of our downtown design “play.” A “commission” of appointed citizens—perhaps chosen because they have no personal stake. The small downtown merchants—with great personal stake—granted “voice” limited to the three minute “public comment period.” The city elite mostly looking on mutely with fingers crossed. 

Setting aside whether such an arrangement can yield a better downtown, what is on my mind is this discrepancy of “voice” and “stake.” No one charged with these decisions is subject to any cost for what they recommend. Every person makes their living by means independent of downtown’s viability. Perhaps this assures there is not bias due to self-interest. But it inevitably becomes a game. “Let’s close Park Place to cars.” “Let’s try this radical, high-risk Feature on Boardwalk.” “Ask the city to do a ‘land swap’ on Marvin Gardens.” This is fun! When the game concludes all walk away with no real-world liability. 

But this isn’t a game for a class of people among us—the small merchants whose livings depend upon the viability of commerce in downtown. The small merchants will pay with real money—with potentially their all—for casually considered moves in the Monopoly game of which they are not players. 

Bruce Wicinas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Friday after Thanksgiving, just minutes after 4 p.m., I noticed a couple of tow trucks and a Berkeley parking enforcement scooter on Oxford, just north of Hearst. While I did not stop to watch, I assume they were towing cars. There is no parking from 4-6 p.m. Yet, it was a long holiday weekend, at least at UC. There was no traffic to speak of. Why tow? As far as I could see it was completely pointless. The poor souls, the owners of the cars towed, ended up with nothing but grief, wasted time, and expense and for what? This mindless enforcement of rules is part of what generates much animosity and gives parking enforcement staff (and other bureaucrats) a well deserved bad name. 

Chuck Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Chris Kavanaugh’s Nov. 28 propaganda piece for the Green Party, touting the number of party members elected to office in California, omits one critical factor. Candidates for local office in our state must, by law, run on a nonpartisan basis—not as Democrats, Republicans, Greens or anything else. Dona Spring in Berkeley and Gayle McLaughlin in Richmond no more won because they were members of Kavanaugh’s party, than Aimee Allison in Oakland lost. They won or lost as individuals, just as all their colleagues did. 

Why anyone would boast about the Green Party is beyond me. It was their candidate for president of the United States who in 2000 handed victory in the Electoral College to George W. Bush, bringing about the disasters of the past six years. Another six years isn’t enough to forgive them. Two thousand would be about right. 

Revan Tranter 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the surreal reality-check of Ernest Grouns, a Bloomington, Indiana reader, comparing Berkeley folks to Jim Jonesers and Branch Davidians (Letters, Nov. 21): 

Perhaps our Midwestern friend missed the Nov. 10 article from the bigoted Berkeley Sea Scouts asking for donations for dock space rental. The city of Berkeley Legal Department and the U.S. Supreme Court both agree that the Boy Scouts don’t deserve the free ride since they discriminate against gays and atheists. 

Contrary to national impression, we’re not all politically correct here in Berkeley. Neither are we Jonestowners or Davidians. More like you, Ernest, only a few years ahead. 

Joe Kempkes 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It took a lot of effort, but we were finally able to find out when and where the UC Board of Regents committee will meet to determine the fate of the oak grove by Memorial Stadium—as well as the entire portfolio of six other massive projects that UC plans to inflict on the southeast part of campus and the adjoining neighborhoods. The meeting of the committee will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesay, Dec. 5 in San Francisco at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus in the Community Center building at 1675 Owens St. 

Many Berkeley citizens are, understandably, very concerned about the implications of these proposed projects, and they would like to offer public comment about them.  

Why has it been so difficult to find out the time and place of the meeting? 

Why is the meeting at a time when most people will still be at work? 

Why is the meeting about the oak trees in Berkeley being held in San Francisco? 

Answer: Because they don’t want us to show up! 

What should we do? Show up! Let’s all go and tell the Regents how we feel about this plan to destroy a beautiful, healthy grove of oaks that are between 80 and 200 or more years old. How dare they suggest that they will destroy the last remaining oak woodland in the entire lowland area of Berkeley! In fact, let’s all go early and have a “Celebration of the Trees” before the meeting. We can share stories, songs, poems, and anything else that shows how much we value the trees in our community. Please come. Stand up for the oaks! 

Doug Buckwald 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing to voice my concern about the Department of Energy’s new plan called “Complex 2030.” This plan redesigns and rebuilds every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. 

We have no need for such an investment in this destructive weaponry. We have the largest nuclear arsenal in the world as of today. Instead, we need to hold to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, setting an example for other nations to cease developing nuclear weapons. 

There will be public hearings on Complex 2030 on Dec. 12 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave., Livermore and also on Dec. 12 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Tracy Community Center, 950 East Street, Tracy. 

Attend these public hearings! Speak out against our tax dollars going into a dangerous, polluting project! 

Joanna Katz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Now that we have had a few weeks of respite from the prolonged uproar about the privacy invasion and health risks of the RFID program installed by departed Berkeley Public Library director Jackie Griffin, we are faced with another potential dilemma. Instead of a return to the more harmonious operation of our beloved library we may find ourselves dealing with a new director whose selection was anything but transparent or participatory or in sympathy with our local culture. 

As noted in the recent Peter Warfield/ Gene Bernardi Commentary piece in this paper’s Nov. 17 issue, the four candidates presented for public interviewing on Nov. 18 turn out to be the selection of a seven member advisory committee of librarians whose libraries either have or are advocating the use of RFID tracking devices. It is worth noting that no members of the reading public, no BPL staff members, no members of the SuperBOLD group were involved in this candidate selection process. Sound familiar? AND Dubberly and Garcia, the search firm that selected all the potential candidates, is owned by the two principals Ron Dubberly and June Garcia who are connected with Library Services and Systems, Inc. a company involved with outsourcing employees for libraries (and company profit). 

So now it appears that not only is it probable that we will have to continue to do battle over the removal of RFID tags on the books, magazines, videos and DVDs in the library but we also have to consider that the further dismantling of the professional and dedicated library staff, their union—and their union wages—will be a possibility while providing a profit to the company that sends in the outsourced. In Berkeley there is no controversy about the imperative of a first class public library staffed by local professional librarians. Our citizens pass almost every money measure for the library and raise still more funds through the Friends of the Library and the Foundation. 

What is happening to our culture that even public libraries, the honored legacy of over a century, have to be corporatized—even in Berkeley. Haven’t we all noticed that a corporatized medical system doesn’t work, that charter schools are rarely superior to our tattered public schools, that privately run for profit enterprises are no less bureaucratic than inefficient government agencies? Why must we repeat the merry go round of finding out the hard way that the systems we have had in place for decades to provide basic human services for the common good are a far better way to maintain and expand a democratic society? 

If Berkeley folks can’t see the folly of these trends—and reject them—we have most certainly lost our minds and our civic soul. 

Joan Levinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Councilmember Dona Spring needs to get her stories straight. It was indicated in a recent article that she would bring the issue of city agencies being part of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce because of the recent action against the Richmond Chamber.  

Councilmember Spring was referring to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle which stated that the Richmond Chamber spent $5,000 from their general fund to lobby against a particular local measure. Because of this conflict of interest, the Richmond City Council voted to drop its membership from the chamber. 

If Councilmember Spring had made a simple phone call to the Berkeley Chamber office, she would have found out that no money was ever spent from their general fund for political purposes. Membership dues that Berkeley Chamber members pay are used exclusively for the betterment of the membership. This was affirmed by an e-mail directed to all chamber members by Chamber President Roland Peterson the day after the Chronicle article came out. 

Is there such a thing as a “sore winner”? Councilmember Spring has won the election but continues to accuse the Berkeley Chamber of unverified information. The election is over. It is now time to get on with running the city and working together to ensure that Berkeley strives to be a great place to live and a viable place to do business. Other council members get the picture. Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Kriss Worthington recently attended a chamber sponsored mixer at the Rose Garden Inn. Information from the chamber office states that Councilmember Spring has hardly ever attended any function that the chamber sponsors. I would think that all members of the City Council would want to work and support the Berkeley Chamber to improve the business atmosphere in our city. 

Also, in an editorial during the election, it was suggested that Berkeley residents should show their concerns about political actions by the Berkeley Chamber by rethinking doing business with chamber members. People need to realize that the Business For Better Government PAC is a separate entity from the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. Both groups have separate Boards, budgets, rules and organizational structures. The Berkeley Chamber is more about business than about politics. 

And, if readers of this newspaper want to protest the actions of the Berkeley Chamber by withholding their patronage of Berkeley Chamber members, advertisers in the Daily Planet might want to know that, according to the chamber web site, the Berkeley Daily Planet is a member of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. Conflict of interest? 

Richard Hom 

Chamber Member 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The boundaries crossed by police officers at the University of California, Los Angeles on November 16 should remind all of us of the need for a public accountability process that ensures fair and professional standards for the administration of Justice. 

Last Thursday, a UCLA student was tazed multiple times for not showing a student ID card in the library, as shown on the website and news reports. When a few of the several dozen witnesses asked police to stop, police threatened to taze them too. 

What is unique about this incident is the distribution of video evidence made possible by a cellular phone camera and the Internet. The overwhelming majority of our police do not engage in any miscarriage of justice. Northern Californians far too often remember “Fajitagate,” and the Riders case in addition to Los Angeles experiences of the Rampart scandal and Rodney King beating as the most publicly visible examples of police abuse of authority. Like some of those cases, this incident involves allegations of racial profiling, heightening the importance of ensuring public trust in police conduct. 

These abuses are by far the exception rather than the rule, but it is easy to see in light of these scandals why the accountability process must be conducted in public in addition to internal investigations. The California Supreme Court recently decided in Copley Press v. County of San Diego Civil Service Commission that police disciplinary records are confidential and not available to the public, denying public records access to the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

What this means for cities with citizen police review commissions, including Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, is that some cities need to evaluate the institutional structure to ensure that they do not conduct disciplinary proceedings, which must now be done in private, and that they focus on investigations. 

Even so, these cities face police association lawsuits for upholding their public mechanisms for police accountability. Positive developments in Oakland and Berkeley to research or revamp the situation to ensure the cities can function outside of the Copley decision mean that local leaders see the importance of the public’s right to know. 

Secondly, the legislature should act to close technical ambiguities in the Copley decision before these institutions are threatened with legal action. As we should learn from the six shocking minutes that the student was tazed multiple times, we can’t afford to sacrifice open and public review of police conduct. 

Keith Carson 

President, Alameda County  

Board of Supervisors 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have two minor responses to Richard Brenneman’s Nov. 28 item on the Planning Commission. First, on the City Council’s directive for a zoning change to allow Shattuck dealerships for electric cars: These are cars that must be plugged into electrical outlets to be recharged. And where does the council think that electricity comes from? Mostly from coal-burning generating plants, far more polluting than cars. Of course, it does move the pollution somewhere else, rather than Berkeley—but we all share the global warming. 

Second, a little quibble, but a pet peeve. “Comprise” is a wonderfully economical word—it means “to be made up of.” As it came into vogue in recent years, it was immediately wasted by journalists whose lack of imagination did not grasp its economy and who simply substituted it for “compose,” thinking it sounded more literate. Thus the line, “Comprised of four members each ...” should read, “Comprising four members each ...” Nitpicking, I know, but maybe the Planet can help save this word. If you’re going to use it, try to use it correctly. 

Jerry Landis 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I completely agree with Eric H. Panzer’s letter on UC Berkeley’s architecture. The School of Environmental Design, ironically, is the most hideous building on campus, especially now that its grim, gray exterior is badly stained. It reminds me of photos of Soviet and East German apartment blocks. 

UC hasn’t put up a truly beautiful building since World War II. 

Nancy Ward 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If you were to pay a visit to the Summit Adult Day Health Center here is some of what you might experience. Abundant laughter and lively conversation coming from a group of seniors sitting around having a second cup of coffee or hot chocolate and discussing their lives, the news in the paper or the art of getting themselves up and going each day. The program aides are serving them up a snack while the PT/OT staff takes a few of them to the exercise room for some much needed exercise.  

Mid-morning, an entertaining adult educator comes in and does a class/session with them sometimes music, dancing, telling stories interactive games and conversation. The RN provides valuable health screening, prevention, ongoing assessment with daily BP checks, blood glucose monitoring, skin checks and liaisons with doctors. There is a full-time social worker who may have a drop-in group that day for wheelchair clients or provide a myriad of other social service needs.  

A hot meal is served at noon with dietary needs and restrictions followed. After lunch, another session with the Program Director or a cooking class or sewing project with terrific teachers. 

Mid-afternoon, the clients ride on vans to their doors helped by a cheerful and friendly bunch of drivers. Down the hall in the Alzheimers/Dementia unit a similar scene takes place toned down to suit the limitations of their clients while meeting their emotional needs, their need for socializing and their health concerns.  

The program is excellent, well-organized, well-attended and the staff “just can’t do enough for you.” 

Of course, when you do something this good, what happens? It gets cut. Just in time for the holiday season, in what Alta Bates Summit Medical Center is calling a “cost-cutting move” the program will shut its doors. 

The center is a valuable community asset serving low-income, underserved predominately African-American seniors. There are only two comparable programs: one in Berkeley and one in East Oakland and they cannot begin to absorb the numbers displaced. 

Is Alta Bates Summit going broke? Or are they choosing to put money towards areas which increase profit, not areas of greatest need? 

This is a heartless decision affecting the lives of a fragile and oft neglected population and the lives of their families and caretakers. Many will be placed in nursing homes as a result of this closure. 

There is also the matter of the employees themselves and their lost jobs, but I think they would all say it is more about the clients. 

We need media attention now—so community leaders, political activists, neighborhood organizations step up and take action. 

Nora Ultreya 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

If it ain’t been explained before, the Semites are peoples—both Arab and Jew—of southwest Asia, i.e., those of the “compromised land?” So to be anti-Semitic is a wide-ranging hit, and I believe only our great nosed satirist Darryl Henriques can twistedly straighten this all out; let’s send him over.  

A semite is fun! da? mentally a descendant of Shem (the good, the renowned. . . ) even a virgin birth, like Jesus or Perseus, first or second son of Noah.  

I do confess to be a veteran anti-Zionist and absolute absurdist, but certainly not anti-underdog as the response to my “You Can’t Visit Any Other Country” haikus of Nov. 14 connecting the snots and the war machine between the Bushits, the religious right, and Israel could be permuted or transmuted. (And yes, how could I leave out the bloody Brit source of Middle East madness!). In some event, somewhere between the mess in messenger and the gel in angel, I can only confoundly caution:  

Behind Borat, Dem 

Rout, religious right preys: 

“Bye, bye Jew Zionists.”  

Arnie Passman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If our elected representatives, who are supposed to be our “public servants” placed in office by the consent of the electorate (massive ongoing election theft by Diebold, ES and S and Sequoia notwithstanding) ignore the blatant violation of American laws, international law and our constitution by not immediately investigating this administration then we are sending a signal to the world that our country has become a rouge nation operating outside of any sense of conscience or lawful conduct. 

As an American I am deeply ashamed of the incredible thievery and murderous conduct of our leaders and can only hope that an agressive investigation followed by impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate will set the stage for our nation to start the process of reclaiming our stature by turning over this criminal administration to the world court for proper prosecution on war crimes charges. 

If we, the American people, allow the crimes of this president and his accomplices to go unpunished then we not only cease to be a nation of laws but we are telling the world that any American president may act with absolute impunity to all consequences for any criminal behavior. 

If we do not now act to reclaim the lost morality in our government then we risk losing all that our great nation has strived to achieve during the two centuries prior to the darkness that enveloped us six long years ago! 

Allen Michaan 





My Fellow Americans: 

Our 220-year-old republic is in critical condition and you will soon be in position to nurse it back to health, or watch it decline further.  

Recall that your founding document, the Constitution, was written in response to post revolutionary conditions and by providing for a new way of governing it not only healed but infused the republic with enough strength to survive wars, civil and foreign, economic ups and downs, westward expansion, and failed domestic policies.  

It may be that the republic has out-grown those daring principles—separation of powers, checks and balances; it can no longer activate them. Perhaps the Constitution is worn out; separation too slow, checks weakened, justice out of balance all on account of new technologies, global supremacy, military deployments. Whatever the cause, history will judge how much you helped or hindered the republic’s recovery.  

Your job, Congresspersons, is heavy. Your new majority party holds a mandate for change. Congressperson Pelosi, House Speaker-in-waiting, proclaimed “a new direction” and enumerated some initial en route markers—minimum wage, Medicare drug prices, student loans, and alternative energy.  

However, the republic’s condition requires more than these band-aid measures and voters expect you to reverse the assaults of the 108th and 109th that brought on the current malady.  

Legislate surgically, delete recklessness in the Patriot Act, restore Habeas Corpus, eschew torture, cut illegal wiretapping, restrain military spending, abandon occupation in Iraq, and above all expose and punish liars.  

When a building is on the verge of collapse it is wise to check its foundation. So should you, therefore, reexamine the list of rights from which, in a sense, the Constitution sprang. Be born again. Reaffirm and strengthen your commitment to the rule of law, to open governance, to equality and justice among all the nations of the world.  

Do this as you conserve without being conservative, persuade rather than bully, lead rather than push. 

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo