Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday March 27, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

We have to blame the downtown problem on something other than the street people or parking. I go to the San Francisco Symphony regularly, and always encounter street people as we walk from BART to Davies Hall. None of my fellow symphony-goers seem terrified by these encounters; we aren’t even bothered by the regulars who ask for spare change at the top of the BART escalator. There sure are a lot of symphony patrons who don’t require parking; there’s always a big crowd of symphony and transit patrons waiting for BART to take us home to the East Bay. 

Steve Geller 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has been using its resources to hold workshops with the purpose of selling “smart growth” to politicians and community people. In conjunction, they have recently handed down a quota for new housing units they prophetically expect Bay Area cities to produce. The expectations for Berkeley were so high that even our city’s planning director protested. Berkeley’s downtown planners might heed the consequences experienced by the following cities.  

As reported in the Jan. 7 New York Times, the city of Vancouver has experienced an urban housing renaissance. Their “living first” motive is similar to “new urbanism” and “smart growth.” With encouragement from city planners, developers have built clusters of high density/high-rise residential towers near downtown jobs. However, the profitable use of city center land for high-rise housing has encroached on sites that should have been used for future commercial “job space.” Vancouver is now faced with the prospect of “thousands of people jumping in a car in the morning and heading off to the suburbs for a job.” 

A recent stay in Chicago revealed another twist in “smart growth.” Unrented high-rise office towers have been converted to living spaces; the resulting condos were purchased as second homes by wealthy suburbanites. They use them during the work week, but keep their suburban homes as a weekend getaway from the tumult of the city. Thus concentrating density in the central district has not created open space or farm lands. Chicago is a city with no height limit. One would think that the taxes on 60-90-story high-rise buildings would finance excellent infrastructure; this is not the case. The sidewalks are in poor shape, street signs are missing at intersections, the sewers are smelly, and the subway is dirty, noisy, and a rough ride through a 60-year-old tunnel.  

Here in Berkeley the Downtown Plan Committee is attempting to envision the dimensions and density of our civic center, while aware of the powerful influence of the University that holds a trump card veto. Beyond these factors we have the mighty Hayward Fault that has been of late reminding us of its existence.  

Modest growth reflecting the context of existing buildings, respect for historic sites, preservation of the adjacent neighborhoods, humane living conditions with amenities and necessities should be the goals for the future. The pressure from developers is great. Check out the thousands of dollars they have contributed to defeat land use measures placed on ballots by citizens in the last three elections. 

Let’s learn from other cities such as Vancouver and Chicago and be forewarned of the probable consequences of their actions.  

Martha Nicoloff 

Co-author, Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I, too, feel sad to see the neighborhood bookstores go. Please understand that many people, myself included, cannot go into a bookstore and buy a new book for $25 or more. It is a luxury that I cannot afford more than once or twice a year. When I want something special, I can go online and find a book sometimes for as little as $1 or less. You have to pay for postage, and they’re not new books, but it is a way for everyone who loves books to get them. I am sorry for the stores, but it is bound to happen. 

Barbara Henninger  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mega-projects cause mega-traffic headaches, a fact that Alameda’s city officials don’t recognize or won’t admit. City officials insist on hamstringing our island with a potpourri of large, inappropriate projects that our island’s transportation infrastructure won’t support. If serious action isn’t taken—soon—Alameda residents will find themselves stuck in hour-long traffic jams when leaving the island.  

A regional mall at South Shore, Alameda Point, and Northern Waterfront are just a few of the City’s mega-projects.  

Alameda’s estuary crossings are at capacity. Traffic queues at the tubes are already significant. At the head of the queue, Catellus will get priority, and the new traffic signal installed at Tinker and Webster Street will delay everyone else on Alameda Island. Council has told residents along Otis Drive they must sacrifice their curb space for a bus route to service Alameda Point, yet those living in the new subdivisions won’t have to contend with buses on their own neighborhood streets. Once again, established Alameda residents get the short end of the stick. 

We could learn a lot from other cities, like Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, where careful traffic planning maintains peaceful neighborhood streets, and Target stores are located far away, near freeway off-ramps.  

Alameda Island will have its moment of truth—a day when there won’t be enough money to mitigate all the traffic congestion spawned by out-of-control growth. When that day comes, there will be no turning back. Our fragile quality of life will be gone forever. 

Plain talk is where truth resides. Yet, city officials overwhelm taxpayers with reams of complex documents on projects like Target that stymie even me, a professional traffic engineer. Those at the helm of Alameda city government seem bent on keeping the citizens confused. Why make it so difficult for residents to judge whether a regional mall is a good idea? Could it be that they don’t want you to know the true effects of these projects?  

Eugenie P. Thomson  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks to Zelda Bronstein and the Planet for a great article about the new and wonderful tapestry in the Children’s Story Room at the Central Library. It really is a beautiful representation of all that’s great about our city and we encourage the community to come down to the Central Library and enjoy it themselves. 

Linda Schacht Gage 

President, Berkeley Public Library Foundation 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing regarding the Friday, March 23 column by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor (“Barack Obama and the Long, Winding Road of Race”). I found his piece thought-provoking, fascinating, horrifying, and, yes, heartbreaking. I’m glad that he wrote it and equally glad that I read it. I’m also glad that he writes for the Daily Planet. I hope he will continue to work for the Planet, both as a journalist and as a columnist, for a long time to come.  

Cheers to Mr. Allen-Taylor and the Planet. 

David Mitchell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This is in response to two of the letters in the March 23 Daily Planet regarding the homeless. (One of these letters is headed “Public Parasitism” and the other is titled “God Bless” and applauds Mayor Bates for “finally eliminating the vermin that pollute downtown Berkeley.”)  

It is really quite amazing that even in Berkeley one can find such ignorance about the current condition which has caused homelessness. Many of the people who are on the street are either mentally or physically ill and are obviously unable to work. Many of those who have mental problems would have been in psychiatric hospitals, if President Reagan had not closed them. Others are unable to find work, because of our economy going downhill and businesses closing. President Clinton “modified” Public Assistance, so that those who need it are unable to receive any funds after they have been on assistance an aggregate of five years, total! When we still had public assistance, those in need used to be able to get a room and food stamps. 

Many years ago before all of the above happened, we hardly ever saw any homeless on the streets, not because the homeless have changed basically, but because laws of the land have become more brutal since those days! There will always be those who are more disadvantaged for one reason or another and it is up to us citizens to see to it that our laws will once again become more humane and that our more disadvantaged citizens are cared for. I do hope that the “good citizens” who wrote these letters will never find themselves in the position in which the homeless are. It can’t be much fun! 

Ilse Hadda 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Interesting pair of letters about the homeless in the last issue. Two letters so similar in tone and yet so different in intent. Which of the two, (a) expressed the writer’s true feelings, (b) was a well-crafted piece of satire? Was Andrew Ritchie, annoyed that the police couldn’t “get rid of the guy,” expressing his true feelings (maybe there is a homeless landfill somewhere), or was it Evan Magers, thanking the Mayor for finally “eliminating the human vermin that pollute downtown Berkeley”? Please reread both letters and give your answer. I’ve already made my choice and all I have to say is that Andrew Ritchie had better be a master satirist, because otherwise he ought to be ashamed of himself. On the other hand Evan Magers gets my vote for the Jonathan Swift Award if there is such a thing in the Bush era. 

One other important matter: I want to offer high praise for the work of J. Douglas Allen-Taylor and Conn Hallinan. Undercurrents and Dispatches From The Edge contain some of the finest writing on the most interesting subject matter to be seen anywhere. Thank you Daily Planet for supporting their work. 

Peter Josheff 

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley is a nice place not to have a home—assuming that you have to be homeless. That was the opinion of a homeless former employee of mine. He is single, 31 years old, articulate, HIV-positive, periodically drug-addicted, occasionally arrested, and for three years chronically homeless. Indeed, the attraction of Berkeley to persons with this demographic profile was confirmed in the 2004 Alameda County-wide Shelter and Services Survey, which found that 41 percent of the entire chronically homeless population of Alameda County received services in Berkeley. Berkeley Homeless Policy Coordinator Jane Micallef reportedly explained this excessively large percentage as a result of (1) availability of services, (2) the community’s relative tolerance of homeless people, and (3) the safety that homeless people feel in Berkeley. My former employee, Jason (not his real name), added a fourth reason: “It’s fun.” He approvingly referred to Telegraph Avenue as “the zoo.” 

Getting Jason off drugs and the street has been a struggle. He refused to move to a socially dull area such as western Washington state where housing was offered to him. In the past four years, I have given him between $4,000 and $5,000 cash in small amounts to provide temporary housing, drug treatment, and encourage productive activities because this young man has so much potential. The outcome of my efforts, and that of numerous public and private agencies, is uncertain. 

Being homeless is far from pleasant. But my experience suggests that a lax attitude toward loitering and inappropriate street behavior increases the probability that more people like Jason will find Berkeley a relatively fun place to be. The present situation that makes walking on Telegraph Avenue or downtown Berkeley unpleasant or unsafe is not a sacrifice that citizens should make in order to help the homeless. I support Mayor Bates’ proposal for a “Public Commons for Everyone.” 

Robert Gable 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks to Becky O’Malley for her wonderful March 20 editorial. I have gone to numerous peace marches myself—with or without my family. They are useful but only have a limited effect in changing the course of the war and there is less attendance from those of us who passionately believe we have to take some action to end this senseless slaughter. I am also grateful to Becky for her previous endorsement of Jerry McNerney. I am convinced that the best way to make changes in this administration is to support and elect candidates in future elections such as Jerry McNerney who are totally dedicated in representing us in the House and Senate. I am adding the McNerney’s envelope to my bills to pay. We will get a lot in return. 

Andree Leenaers Smith 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’d just like to relate a little scene I witnessed today, so contrary to the recent letter you printed lauding the restrained behavior of the Berkeley Police Department. 

So I’m riding my bike down Sacramento when a kid runs in front of me across the street. It then becomes apparent that he’s being chased by two Berkeley cops, a woman followed a few steps behind by a beefy guy. The woman is running pretty much full speed, while the man is chuckling as he hustles after her, apparently in response to some comic aspect of the chase. 

I ride on, chalking it up to just another day in the ‘hood. But wait; there’s more. 

As I continue on down Sacramento, not 30 seconds later the first of four—count ‘em—four cop cars comes screaming towards me on the opposite side, lights flashing. Four cars to chase one teenage kid. (From what I saw, my guess would be that he was probably not armed, just a frightened kid vainly trying to outrun the law.) Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on criminology or the details of police work, but it does strike me as a tad bit overkill to have a small armada of police cars zooming to stop what? a poor hapless kid, running from the cops? By the time I left the scene, the kid had run into someone’s back yard. The chances that he was going to get away were pretty small. My point: Is it really necessary for the police to respond with such overwhelming force to the slightest provocation? I remember seeing much the same scene several years ago when I went to gas up my car and found the gas station crawling with police: six or seven Oakland cop cars. When I asked someone there what was going on, I was told that it was “a fight.” While I do appreciate having the police show up in a timely manner should I need them, with enough force to handle the situation, I question the need to ratchet up the level of response to what seem like petty infractions that could easily be handled with far less deadly force. The same goes for police chases, especially high-speed chases, such as the one I witnessed not long ago in West Berkeley; I intend to write on this subject separately soon. 

And I don’t mean by this to impugn any individual officers: that laughing cop seemed to have a pretty good grasp on the dimensions of the situation. As the other letter writer stated, I’m sure there are decent men and women on the force. I would suspect that the problem is really systemic, coming from the top command levels. And it’s certainly not confined to Berkeley, but seems to be standard police practice in the United States. What’s needed is a demilitarization of our civilian law enforcement agencies, and a serious reevaluation of their response to various recurring situations like the one I witnessed. 

David Nebenzahl 

North Oakland 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am preoccupied with the question of how we can make elementary school classrooms places of self-discovery for our children. Two things are lacking: a supply of teachers who love to teach, and training in restoring the self-confidence of children who come from stressful family situations. How shall we encourage the idealism of teachers? How shall we recognize the imperfect character of the home environment for many children? We want all our children to become self-learners. More is needed to achieve such goal than the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Romila Khanna 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I attended the well-attended Barbara Lee’s Townhall meeting featuring a live speech by special guest of the congresswoman, Sean Penn on Saturday, March 24 at the Grand Lake theatre in Oakland. The next two days saw coverage of this event and/or Mr. Penn’s speech all over the Planet, so to speak. The one voice I did not hear was that of KPFA, our radical radio station in the KPFA. 

(As an aside, KPFA is in the midst of a debate whether programmers are even allowed to advocate for political candidates, rallies or protests during their particular program or even if ads can advocate political issues or candidates. This debate, mind you, is taking place right this week in Berkeley, the heart of advocacy in the state of Caifornia and possibly, the whole country.) 

Meanwhile, the Lee rally-like event that took place in Oakland, which is next door to Berkeley, had scores of television and radio people set up before the beginning of the program. Because I had been the time-keeper for several of the speakers, I had been at the program an hour before watching these media people get ready for the event. Where was KPFA? At the end of the program when Ms. Lee was being escorted out she was stopped by several media people, and one of them was a reporter from KPFA. This is all that KPFA is going to report on? Several remarks from Ms. Lee? Why wasn’t KPFA there to tape the entire program for its audience? Why are we forced to go elsewhere for important political and social information given out at events such as this one held by Ms. Lee? This is an annual event since the war on Iraq began and Ms. Lee has consistently been the leader in this country in voting against this horrible war and national outlets give her more coverage than our local radical radio station. Why is this? We as listeners have to demand more accountability from KPFA. The world is going absolutely nuts and one just wants to turn on the local alternative, radical news station to find out what is going on and what we get most of the time is world music.  

KPFA, you look so provincial. When C-SPAN is more informative about local situations than you are, then we have to reconsider the trust we have in you to keep us informed! 

Nancy Keiler 

San Francisco  



While we were still stunned and unguarded, 

Our troops were deployed, then departed. 

Will the crooks in denial 

Be forced to face trial, 

Admitting our leader’s retarded? 


—O.V. Michaelsen