Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday March 13, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was with growing apprehension that I watched my 13-year-old daughter whip through her advanced math and science homework last night. Because of her interest in science, I had been hoping that she might want to attend UC Berkeley in a few years, a close-to-home university with a world-class reputation. But judging on the track that they’re on lately, UC Berkeley’s reputation will be down the drain by the time she’s ready for college. 

The latest news from a gushing UC President Robert Dynes is that for $500 million, British Petroleum is more than welcome to the energy and resource research and development at Cal for the next 10 years. UCB is on its way to becoming BP University. 

Playing back the clip of the Feb. 1 press conference, I watched in fascination as Gov. Schwarzenegger, Chancellor Birgeneau and President Dynes stood, in turn, at the BP podium flanked by the flags of the nation, state and BP. They elaborated on how proud and honored they were that BP had “picked” California and UC Berkeley. It felt like a bad dream. I would never want my daughter to think she was attending a public university and instead be put to work for a giant corporation with a terrible international track record for human rights violations. But that’s beside the most important point, which is that it doesn’t matter what kind of track record it has: a corporation should not be taking over a public institution’s research and development. I want my daughter to be able to attend a reputable public institution that does its research for the betterment of humankind, not a corporation. 

This is not just a campus issue. BP’s corporate interest is taking precedent over scientific research for the public good. This is unacceptable. Taxpayers should not subsidize research for private companies. Chancellor Birgeneau, do not sign the contract with BP. Keep Berkeley’s reputation clean. 

Kirstin Miller 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Humans have a large capacity for hope, and it’s a good thing. But along with hope comes a tendency for self-deception. It is fascinating to watch people struggle to deal with this actually very simple issue! 

We need to immediately reduce the burning of carbon-based fuels to a minimum. That is crystal clear. There are only three possible sources of energy large enough to replace petroleum: coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. Burning coal or natural gas pollutes our air and causes global warming. Since natural gas is relatively clean, it should be reserved, if it is to be burned at all, for heating our homes. Nuclear energy is expensive, and unsafe in many ways, including the risk of radiation poisoning, genetic damage, and of course atomic warfare. 

That leaves energy conservation (reducing energy consumption) as the only viable alternative. And we know how to do it: public transit, bicycling, and walking. So why to we need BP and an Energy Biosciences Institute to tell us these obvious facts? 

Mike Vandeman 

San Ramon 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

All the concern at UC Berkeley for the BP grant is misdirected because no one is pointing out that the grandiose program will do little to get global warming under control. Why? Because it proposes nothing to remove the excess of carbon dioxide already causing warming and poisoning the oceans, perhaps irreversibly. 

A recent scientific paper cited in the July 6 San Francisco Chronicle indicated that that gas is raising ocean acidity to be killing off corals and their associated flora and fauna. This acidity effect was reported on in considerable detail in The New Yorker by E. Kolbert in her Nov. 20 article “The Darkening Sea.” Another report given ink by the Chronicle on Dec. 7 2006, indicated that the warmest parts of the oceans, now having temperatures above historic averages due to global warming, are showing diminished levels of phytoplanktons that used to take up 50 percent of the total carbon dioxide load on the globe. Those microorganisms are also the basis of the whole open ocean food chain so diminishing levels of phytoplankton eating krill have to occur leading to diminishing levels of whales, as most whales are built to eat only krill. So several effects from that gas are showing up now including a reduction in natural uptake of that gas resulting in increasing the excess. 

What has to be done to give the oceans a chance to recover from the poisoning excess of that gas is go black; that is, make charcoal from our most of our organic wastes that are becoming messy and costly problems with contamination from germs possibly getting a chance to spread in the environment. The pyrolysis process to make charcoal also distills off a considerable amount of organic fuel compounds with little if any carbon dioxide being released. Much of our organic waste now gets composted, which speeds rapid recycling of carbon dioxide back onto the globe after it had been trapped in biota. We may be feeding back as much of that gas by our waste handling, especially by doing composting, as by our car emissions. So pyrolyzing most of such wastes would give us a way to stop recycling some of that gas from the globe. All the biofuel crops could be pyrolyzed giving the fuel distillate and charcoal without useless emission of that gas that occurs with any kind of microbial degradation. Also we could pyrolyze collected solids from sewage and farm animal excreta. The fuel distillate would be burned to provide the pyrolysis heat with any extra being connected to steam driven electric power plants. The burying of charcoal, done to prevent waste-tire-like fires, would be doing what Nature did eons ago in burying biota to become coal with the result of removing some carbon dioxide from recycling. 

Nothing in the BP grant program will be doing removal of some of the excess of that gas from the globe to allow our oceans a chance to recover. If you want to see what doing nothing about the excess of carbon dioxide leads to, read the Chronicle’s March 11 story on page A6.  

James Singmaster 

UC Davis Environmental Toxicologist, Retired  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

There is no doubt that the program of research proposed by the BP contract entails significant risks to the academic quality of the university, to local public safety, and to the global environment. Yet, it is equally true that this research is vital and urgent in its very plausible aims to contribute significantly to energy independence (for the United States and other nations), to an environmentally sound energy supply, and consequently to global security and peace among nations. 

It is a strength of the university’s contribution to the proposal that, while yes, Cal is especially strong in its qualifications for research in synthetic biology and related topics, at the same time, Cal (and the larger community) is also particularly rich in experts on the potential ecological impacts, food supply impacts, justice implications, and so forth. Those other strengths—the ability to bring well-informed skeptics into the research—gave an extra boost to the bid for the contract. Those other strengths make Berkeley uniquely qualified to intelligently manage the risks while pursuing the urgent needs. What better place to conduct this research? 

I suggest that the skeptical voices being raised now are best spent not in trying to drive the contract out of town but, rather, to welcome it under conditions that ensure the research is conducted openly and with ample safeguards to public safety. 

Thomas Lord 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

People opposed to the controversial energy research being proposed in Strawberry Canyon might weigh in on the bricks-and-mortar underpinnings currently under review as part of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (LBNL) 2006 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).  

Up for review is the land use plan that will guide development at the LBNL hill site over the next 20 years. Commonly known as the Berkeley Lab, it is a government owned and contractor operated federal laboratory. 

As recently as 2003, the Bush administration required competitive bidding of the national laboratories financed by the Department of Energy (DOE). To keep the contract with the federal government the university has, it would seem, bought into the federal government’s research agenda.  

How this plays out locally is expanded development in Berkeley’s backyard.  

The acknowledged significant and unavoidable impacts include alterations in the site’s visual character (aesthetic impacts), toxic air contaminants resulting in an excess cancer risk (air quality impacts), a substantial adverse change in historical resources (cultural resources impacts), constructions noise impacts that cannot be mitigated (noise impacts), and degradation of level of service at local intersections (transportation impacts).  

The 2006 LRDP DEIR can be accessed on-line at 

The City of Berkeley is receiving public comment at a joint commission meeting on Wednesday, March 14 at 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center.  

Written comments on the 2006 LRDP DEIR should be received at the Berkeley Lab by March 23 and mailed to either of the following addresses: (attention: Jeff Philliber) Jeff Philliber, Environmental Planning Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, One Cyclotron Road, MS 90J-0120, Berkeley, CA 94720. 

The 2006 LRDP is a land use document and not a mission statement or policy document. It is tucked in and neat and tidy. But there are assumptions underneath that are less clear, more messy, and highly controversial. Perhaps we can together connect the dots.  

Janice Thomas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your story on Oakland’s police reorganization, announced at Mayor Dellums’ press conference (“Dellums Pledges to Reorganize Oakland Police,” March 9), was the most informative and detailed report to appear in the local press. 

A bit of context helps understand what happened and, more important, what is not being done. Oakland has half a police department, compared by population with Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland and most major cities (Department of Justice statistics can be found at Are we to believe that a reorganization will make OPD as effective as these cities? Incidentally, New York City and some others use the same area-based administrative setup that Oakland just adopted. It is hardly credible that all these cities are wasting money on police departments twice as large as needed. OPD is simply understaffed.  

Less than two weeks ago Mayor Dellums referred to Oakland’s $1 billion budget as “chump change” (Oakland Tribune, Feb. 28). Using a liberal figure for police salary, benefits, and overhead, it would take $72 million to bring Oakland up to the minimum of 1,100 officers that we need—7 percent of the budget (an increase of 400 officers at $180,000 per officer, the approximate figure used in the city budget). Public safety should be the first priority of city government, but neither the mayor nor the other officials at the press conference has offered a solid plan to get to 1,100 police. 

No wonder Oakland has a national reputation for sideshows, violence on the streets, and routinely places among the top half dozen cities in the country for vehicle theft. 

Charles Pine 

Oakland Residents for  

Peaceful Neighborhoods 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If the city of Alameda is seriously considering Lennar Corporation as a leader for the Naval Air Station project, they need to do a bit of research about Lennar’s track record. Spend some time on and read about how Lennar turns the American Dream into the American Nightmare for thousands of homeowners throughout the country, including California. 

Sen. Elizabeth Dole said it best when she was on the Federal Trade Commission: “... for too many Americans, the dream home has turned into a nightmare. You know as well as I do that as families move into their own little Garden of Eden, more and more are finding the apple full of worms. As a result, some homebuyers believe they are being bilked for thousands of dollars, and they are expressing not only anguish but outrage. Shoddy building practices can be concealed from many purchasers who cannot be expected to have the technical expertise to evaluate the structural soundness of a home or the quality of electrical, plumbing, or air conditioning systems…The patience of the American consumer is rapidly running out. . . . Consumers are demanding more protection from the government, not less. The consumer movement is no longer made up of small bands of activists with no troops standing behind them; the consumer movement is now part of our culture—it embraces every one of us. And it will not be denied over an issue so fundamental as decent housing . . .” 

This statement was made in 1979, but nothing has changed. If anything, with the raging housing boom, and the inability of local inspectors to keep up with inspections, this problem has become a national virus, and Lennar is the poster child for defective homes. 

If the city does select Lennar, they will need to implement a very aggressive inspection policy throughout the entire construction phase, not just final inspections, when the worst defects are already covered up with walls and roofs. 

One of the most egregious examples of Lennar’s callous disregard for the American Homeowner was the electrocution of a man in a new Lennar home that recently received a clean inspection. Now the widow and her children are involved in a lawsuit with Lennar, and Lennar is not accepting responsibility. The lawsuit details can be found at 

Mike Morgan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The attempt to limit and restrict participation on city commissions is yet another regrettable act by our current City Council. City Councilmembers have the right and obligation to appoint, and if they choose to, re-appoint, members to city commissions. Any individual councilmember who chooses to limit participation on our city commissions has every right to make that individual decision; to make that decision for every other councilmember is nothing short of arrogant. At the very least please do not enact this proposal until it has a chance to be vetted by every commission that would be or could be impacted. 

John Selawsky 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last month five members of the Berkeley City Council asked for legislation to be drafted that would impose term limits on members of four major commissions (Zoning, Planning, Housing and Landmarks) and would prevent anyone from serving on those commissions if they also serve on any other Berkeley commission. 

On Thursday the city attorney produced the actual wording of the ordinance. We were shocked to see that language has been added that bans rent board commissioners (and library trustees, and school board members) from serving on what Mayor Bates refers to as the “power” commissions. 

We never knew that serving on the rent board would deprive us of the right to serve our city and our councilmembers in the same capacity as any other Berkeley citizen. 

We don’t understand why the council majority has been trying to reduce citizen participation in public life, but for them now to propose limits on the civil rights of citizens over whom they have no appointment power begins to make their action look even less like the “good government” procedure they’ve billed it as and more like an attempt to evade the clear provisions of the Fair Representation Ordinance enacted by the citizens of Berkeley at the polls. Given that the city attorney has written legislation substantially different from what the council majority proposed, we ask the council not to act tonight, and to (1) inform the members of the three affected bodies of the proposed action as is traditional in these circumstances, (2) publicly notice their new language, and (3) hold a proper public hearing. 

Commissioners Howard Chong, Jason Overman and Eleanor Walden could not be reached in time to participate in this letter. 

Rent Stabilization Boardmembers: 

Jesse Arreguin, chair,  

Jack L. Harrison, vice-chair 

Chris Kavanagh, Dave Blake,  

Lisa Stephens, Pam Webster