Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday February 23, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was so pleased to hear that the North Shattuck area was getting a facelift to include a plaza of some sort, so I attended my first meeting last Wednesday night. I was shocked to see the meeting literally overtaken, then shut down by a group of very angry, domineering few who seemed to be opposed to the plaza or at least the process. The lack of civility and outright rage sent the many “innocent” homeowners who populate the back of the room scurrying for cover, and wondering if we had entered a parallel universe. 

I am thrilled at the idea of beautiful improvements to that area, and hope the city allows the process to continue. Please keep in mind that there are hundreds of us who have heard about the project and are quietly happy about it but don’t have the time to attend meetings or plot shutdown strategies. Please don’t let the loud voices of a few stop this progress. Our neighborhood needs that plaza! 

Robin Galer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last week I was traveling on the bus and I noticed four commuters in dire need of medical attention. I felt helpless. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have much money. To whom could I turn and say, “Please help me get these people to a doctor?” If we lose a sense of human caring—a sense of human responsibility—for the needy person next to us, what good is it if we bring democracy to the wider world? 

Romila Khanna 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Underground parking structures at the proposed Brower Center and Oxford Plaza apartments would not be at risk of flooding, nor would they interfere with Strawberry Creek. Except for occasional localized debris blockages, the storm drainage system in Berkeley has adequate capacity, in fact better than was projected by analysis in the city’s 1994 Storm Drainage Master Plan. 

There has never been an overflow event at the inlet to the Strawberry Creek culvert one block north of the Brower Center site, and local runoff from streets and rooftops in that area is adequately handled by gutters and drop inlets to the storm drain system. 

The geotechnical study of the site ( encountered the water table at a depth of about 16 feet. 

If the underground parking garage will extend below that depth, the report prescribes appropriate, standard construction methods (sealing of the garage building envelope and/or installation of an interceptor drain and sump pump). Thus, groundwater would not cause “flooding” of the proposed buildings. Excavation on the Brower Center site would be no closer than 60-100 feet from the existing Strawberry Creek culvert (which passes diagonally beneath the buildings on the opposite side of Allston Street) and would pose no structural threat to the culvert. 

The bottom of the culvert is above the water table, so groundwater does not contribute to flow along that reach of the culvert. 

Gus Yates, PG, CHg 

Professional Hydrogeologist 

Berkeley, CA 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“The city’s housing trust fund contribution is lower on a per-unit basis that is the case for contributions by other cities to similar affordable housing projects in the East Bay in the current environment of rapidly rising construction costs. The city is getting a good deal.” (Rob Wrenn, Daily Planet 2-20-07) 

You don’t have to do any math to figure out what’s wrong with a fishy-sounding paragraph like this one.  

Rob Wrenn singles his Brower building opponents out by name for personal attack, but breezes by the issue of the dubious use of the Housing Trust Fund for this expensive, showcase “green” building, an absurd way to capitalize on an environmentalist’s legacy.  

No one who looked at the pretty plans for this building during the planning process was given a chance to choose an alternative use for the Housing Trust Fund money, which years ago would never have been used for a project like this, which benefits well-connected politicians and political groups more than the poor.  

Rehabilitating run-down rental units in dire need of retro-fitting or asbestos removal is not nearly as sexy as this showcase “green technology” monstrosity, but none of the boosters for the building are willing to weigh the human impact of wresting priorities away from obvious community needs, preferring the name-in-lights architectural prizes waiting at the other end of construction.  

Rob Wrenn’s inelegant celebration of the “per-unit basis” cost of the Brower building is absurd, considering the hundreds of low-income renters whose soft-story units will not survive the next earthquake, only some of which are noted on an official city map.  

These people are already here, already paying taxes, already hoping that city officials and planners have better sense than to drain the Housing Trust Fund for political purposes.  

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The opposition to Berkeley's Brower Center ("Referendum Drive Seeks to Halt Brower Center Project", 02-09-07) is disingenuous in the extreme. Far from losing out by transferring the City-owned parking lot over to the Center, the City is getting for one dollar an underground garage worth $2 million more than the land value. Not a bad rate of return. The insinuation that local environmental groups aren't going to move into the building is ludicrous. My own non-profit, International Rivers Network, is looking forward very much to moving into what will be one of the greenest buildings in the US, and an exciting community center for Berkeley's environmentalists. Many other organizations are not as lucky and have had to be turned away for lack of space. 

But worst of all is that the Brower Center's misguided opponents are trying to stop construction of 96 units of desperately needed housing for low income working families. 

The developers of the Brower Center fully deserve the support the City Council has given them, and the support of all who live and work in Berkeley. 


Patrick McCully 

Executive Director 

International Rivers Network 



I am writing to urge Berkeley citizens to refrain from signing the petition being circulated by a few opponents of affordable housing to reverse the Berkeley City Council’s repeated approval of the David Brower Center/Oxford Plaza.  

The organization of which I am executive director, the Center for Ecoliteracy, has been deeply involved in education and environmental work in Berkeley over the last decade, including providing funding and support for many organizations and schools in Berkeley. We are strong supporters of the David Brower Center/Oxford Plaza. We believe that the project will make a vital contribution to maintaining Berkeley's position as a leader in worldwide efforts to create environmentally and economically sustainable communities. The Brower Center/Oxford Plaza will create a Berkeley-based home for the environmental movement, while demonstrating the potential for environmentally sensitive development that combines office space for nongovernmental agencies with retail commerce, restaurants, and affordable housing for downtown workers.  

This project will be a model for environmental, commercial, and civic cooperation that will also generate long-term revenue to the City and vitalize the downtown business district. It represents a multi-million dollar investment in downtown Berkeley that will ensure revenue to the City, increase the viability of the business district, and attract visitors to environmental conferences and events that will expand Berkeley's national and international position as a leading center for environmental thinking.  





Zenobia Barlow 

Executive Director  

Center for Ecoliteracy 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m probably not the only Planet reader who deplores its continuing erosion of the traditional distinction between journalistic reporting and editorial opinion. But it’s still important to document when that deliberate policy takes another step toward all-editorial-all-the-time, as we have been seeing lately. Two patterns are worth noting: 

1. One-sided “news.” The stories about the new UC-BP research relationship—especially in the Feb. 17 issue—were notable in quoting only opponents of the arrangement. Traditional responsible journalism seeks out and publishes a diversity of opinion, so that readers can reach conclusions on their own. One-sided stories presume that conclusion and insult the intelligence of readers who rightly expect to hear multiple views.  

2. “Concerns” become the story—even the headline about the story. It seems that whenever anything new is “reported”—especially anything that has to do with potential positive change or development in Berkeley—the Planet story is not about the content of the proposal but primarily about the “concerns” some citizens have with it. With that cheap trick, nothing new can gain a fair hearing or any legitimacy in the public realm: one citizen with a “concern” is made more important than any dozen finding favor with an innovative idea. 

I have no problem with the Planet publishing anything it chooses to as clearly-labeled editorial opinion. But let’s not forget that actual news reporting is supposed to be its reason for existence—the objective reporting of factual occurrences along with comments about them that reflect a diversity of views. Failure to meet that standard means we need pay even less attention to a source that fails to serve the whole community. 

Alan Tobey 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The University needs to be defended against the irresponsible attacks by the motley cabal of superannuated hippies and others who value vegetables over humans. The well known fact is that Indians never buried bodies in groves of oak trees because they considered them sacred. Actually, the University’s scientific researchers in the Athletic Department have determined that native Americans never lived in the East Bay. If you look at the university’s research conducted by the UC President, there really never were any native Americans who lived anywhere in California. As a matter of scientific fact, well established by the architects planning the new athletic complex, North America was completely uninhabited before Columbus, except for a handful of Vikings living in Minnesota who invented the modern game of football and the University of Minnesota fight song. Thus, if one looks at this situation in a truly scientific way, the rooting out of useless trees and the construction of an athletic complex is a continuation of one of the oldest of American-Aryan traditions. The university bases its reputation on it. 

Carl Strand 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like to call attention to the Name Withheld letter in your last edition from the correspondent who called attention to the Anjomane Padeshahi organization which is calling for the overthrow of the present Iranian government. Although the present Iranian government is awful and treats its people badly and its women worse, the Anjomane Padeshahi organization itself is a front for a group of rich exiles who want to put the Shah back into power in Iran. Do we need another dictatorship to replace the one that is already there?  

John Parman 

Washington DC ( & Berkeley) 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Defending David Stoloff’s sleazy election as chair of the planning commission, planning commissioner Harry Pollack asserts that the 2006 election of ousted chair Helen Burke violated a commission tradition of making the vice chair the next chair. “‘The last time she benefited’ from breaking tradition,’ he said,” referring to the fact that Burke had not previously served as vice chair. “‘This time she didn’t.’” (Daily Planet, Feb. 16).  

In fact, the planning commission has no such tradition. I was vice chair before I became planning commission chair in 2002. But the previous chair, Rob Wrenn, did not move up from vice chair, and neither did my successor, Harry Pollack! If in 2004 Pollack had practiced what he is now preaching, he should have supported then-vice chair Gene Poschman for chair. Instead, he cast the decisive fifth vote for himself.  

On the other hand, the commission has customarily allowed each chair to serve out a two-year term. Thanks to Stoloff’s deceitful machinations, Burke is the first chair to be denied a full term in recent memory.  

Who’s chair is important; the chair sets the commission’s agenda. Disturbingly, David Stoloff’s standard operating procedure seems to be the backroom deal. Indeed, it appears that to get elected vice chair in 2004, he had someone manipulate ailing councilmember Margaret Breland into abruptly removing her then-planning commissioner, John Curl (who also planned to run for vice chair), the day before the election of commission officers.  

Curl recounted the sordid affair in “An Open Letter from John Curl to Mayor Bates,” (Daily Planet, March 16, 2004). He addressed the mayor because Stoloff was and is Bates’ planning commissioner. Curl reported that after being ousted, he was called by Bates, who said that he had not been involved. “I believe you,” Curl wrote. But he also emphasized that the mayor was responsible for and implicated by his appointee’s undemocratic tactics. “The manipulation of a councilmember and the abrupt termination of a commission member because of a vote for a vice-chair is reprehensible….Are you going to shrug and do nothing” about your commissioner’s “sleazy manipulation”? he asked. 

In 2004 the mayor did shrug off Stoloff’s chicanery. So far he has issued no public statement about his planning commissioner’s latest subterfuge.  

“If this is what the future holds for Berkeley,” wrote Curl, “I shudder for the fate of my city.” 

Isn’t it time we all shuddered? 

Zelda Bronstein 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I visited the art gallery on UC campus where the work of Fernando Bolero is on display. His work shows Iraqis are being tortured by the American soldiers. It is quite shocking. Thanks to Botero who has created these paintings to show the atrocities and crimes committed by the United States in Iraq. Of course, it is not only in Iraq, it is global now. 

I was thinking who these American soldiers are who have been committing these crimes. Whose sons and daughters are these soldiers who happily torture innocent Iraqis? Do you remember the photo of the female American soldier wearing a blue latex glove who was gleefully making a thumb up on the body of an Iraqi who had died under torture? It was all over the Internet two years ago. Whose daughter or wife is this American woman? Is she a mother?  

These folks are monsters in disguise of humans. I wonder what they do when they come back home. Do they bring photos of tortured Iraqis and share them with their relatives and neighbors for a laugh? How do the relatives and neighbors of these soldiers receive them? Are they proud to know these monsters? Do they care if one of these monsters is their neighbor? 

It does not end there. Americans are torturing people in the infamous secret torture flights. They kidnap people in Europe. Recently, an Italian court ordered the arrest of some 13 American kidnappers. A German citizen was kidnapped and tortured sometime back, gang rape of an Iraqi teenage girl by the US Marines and murdering her and her entire family, etc., etc. It is too many to mention. It stinks. What America has become? A nation of torturers? We even have a professor of law who justifies all this: John Yoo. 

Last week, a proud American was questioning where was Mr. Botero to make paintings of those being tortured by Saddam Hussein? Saddam Hussein was a dictator. Americans are the ones who claim they are bringing freedom, democracy, and justice to Iraqis and the entire world. But, yet they commit the most heinous crimes. This is exactly where Botero, Harold Pinter, and many others come in to reveal what the United States is doing. As we have been witnessing, Americans have been very quiet about this war and the media is even cheering. I believe that Americans should seriously look into themselves. 

Mina Davenport