Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday May 18, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read with some concern your article on the Critical Mass confrontation. Normally as a long-time bike and motorcycle rider I would assume that, of course, the mini-van driver and their kind would be at fault. But after having had a very similar confrontation with a Critical Mass Berkeley ride I can sympathize with the confusion and mistakes that can be made while trying to negotiate the road with a CM group. 

My confrontation was a similar situation. I was driving and found myself surrounded by the group. I am generally patient and I like the thought, that on some occasions, bikes should get to rule the road. I went along at pace with the group as they went slower and slower and completely surrounded me, obviously on purpose, so as to make stopping or changing lanes or anything else impossible without causing harm to someone. I asked a participant if I could change lanes to get out of their way and was treated by one participant with respect and by others with derision and contempt. I was finally allowed to change lanes to get to my destination but not without hearing an earful from some of the cyclists. I was very aware that there was a power play going on here.  

After my experience I can see how a melee could break out. If these groups mess with the wrong people, they could get very hurt by their arrogance. An older person unaware and confused may be driving a vehicle that they could not control at the very low speeds that Critical Mass uses to punish cars the cars on “their” road. The confusion could lead to accidents with much worse consequences than a few wrecked bikes.  

Don’t get me wrong. I think Critical Mass should have the right to take over the streets, but maybe they should do it with the attitude that everyone gets treated with respect and compassion if they happen upon a ride. Maybe they should offer an alternative to the errant car who is more interested in getting out of their way than playing chicken.  

I once thought that any political action is better than none. Now I’m not so sure.  

Connie Lane 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is with great enthusiasm that I am pleased to announce to all Berkeley voters and politically active community members that a new political organization—or “political club”—has recently been established in the city: the Berkeley Greens organization (or, more formally, the Green Party of Alameda County Berkeley Local).  

Like Berkeley’s other established political clubs—the Berkeley Democratic Club, Berkeley Citizens Action, Berkeley Progressive Alliance—the Berkeley Greens represent thousands of registered Green Party members across the city. Green Party members are the second largest block of registered party voters in Berkeley.  

The Berkeley Greens look forward to the local 2008 election cycle when the organization will evaluate in detail—and formally endorse or oppose—local/municipal-level candidates and ballot issues.  

The founding of the Berkeley Greens affiliate comes in the aftermath of the Green Party of California’s important 2006 electoral breakthrough: the election of Gayle McGlaughin as Richmond mayor. 

Richmond becomes the largest California city to ever elect a Green Party mayor. To win, Mayor McGlaughlin unseated a sitting, incumbent Democratic Party mayor—a nearly unprecedented electoral achievement. 

During 2006 election cycle, the Green Party of California elected 61 candidates across the state at the local, municipal and county levels, including a Green Party majority to Sebastopol’s City Council in Sonoma County. 

The Berkeley Greens are honored to acknowledge the current Green Party elected officials serving the City of Berkeley: Councilmember Dona Spring—the longest serving elected Green Party city councilmember in the nation—School Board Director and former Board president John Selawsky, and Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner and former Rent Board president Howard Chong. 

Three more Green Party members also serve as elected officials in Berkeley, and another several dozen Green Party members serve on city commissions and boards. 

The Berkeley Greens welcome new members and encourage politically active citizens to participate. The Berkeley Greens usually meet once a month in the Berkeley Main Library. 

For information, meetings and updates contact the Berkeley Greens at:  

Chris Kavanagh  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Many homeowners will have to work into their 70s to set aside enough money to pay property taxes for the rest of their lives. Where is this money going? It turns out that 80 percent of the city’s budget goes right into the pockets of city staff, including guaranteed pensions for life for all city employees, who retire at or after age 55. (“Two-Year Berkeley City Budget Unveiled,” by Judith Scherr, May 11.) 

While I don’t begrudge the pensions for police officers and firefighters after age 50, it’s preposterous for ordinary city employees to become eligible for lifelong pensions at age 55, while the rest of us work have to keep working to support them.  

I don’t pretend to know which officials made this promise on behalf of Berkeley homeowners, present and future, but we should be looking for solutions fast, instead of raising taxes and fees again. Let non-emergency workers wait until age 65 to retire, like the rest of us. And let’s start cutting non-emergency staff positions at the highest levels today. These are some of our most expensive employees, and yet they preside over a system that often treats residents with contempt. Most notable are the Planning Department employees, who in case after case, ignore the concerns of neighborhoods in favor of developers. Many of them could be fired for cause, given how they circumvent the laws designed to protect neighborhoods. We should also terminate the city attorney and deputy city attorney who help them implement these decisions and the city manager who allows all of this to happen on his watch. 

I’m sure that many Planet readers have constructive ideas to balance our budget without taxing residents more. Let’s hear what you have to say about how your money is spent. 

Gus Lee  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

When Commissioner Wornick states that his Peace and Justice Commission “spends so much time vilifying the Bush administration,” that commissioners are “blinding people to the real threat of radical Islam in the real world,” he expressed himself in the clearest way possible—his own words—his irrelevance to any debate and discussion on the Peace and Justice Commission, leaving aside for now the appalling tone and content of his video. 

In case Commissioner Wornick hasn’t noticed, the vilification of the Bush administration that he refers to is a view held by almost the entire world community (see any international poll conducted in the last two or three years), the majority of the American people, their Congress (see polls and remember the election of 2006) as well as more and more members of his own party.  

Furthermore, this public view is also widely held by experts and scholars of international affairs and relations, especially those with expertise in the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy in this critical and dangerous part of the world. Countless studies, surveys, , National Intelligence Estimates, Pentagon reports, etc.,, have well documented the fact that the Bush foreign policy, so forcefully planned, advocated and defended by such groups as the neo-cons, American Likkudists, AIPAC, and Christian fundamentalists (one such group, the very powerful and influential Christians United for Israel, formed by the Evangelical pastor, John Hagee, opposes any territorial concessions to Palestinians on Biblical grounds) are in fact creating more terrorists, acting as a recruiting agent for al Qaeda—in fact building popular support throughout the Islamic world for “radical Islam” that commissioner says he wants to warn us about. 

Contrary to the comment of the city councilmember who appointed Mr. Wornick to the PJC, he does not bring diversity or a different viewpoint to the commission. Rather, he just sits there and votes “no” on almost every resolution. (No on a peace concert sponsored by St. Joseph the Worker?—Really!) If Mr. Wornick was really serious about confronting and challenging “radical Islam,” he could begin by putting his energy and time into ending the 40-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (a good place to start would be to support the Saudi peace initiative 2002/2007)—an occupation that is the most radicalizing issue for Muslims worldwide. 

It’s not out of ignorance that Mr. Wornick expresses the views and takes the positions that he does. It’s his way of attempting to obscure the truth behind the worst foreign policy disasters in the history of the United States and Israel, who is to blame for the very scary situation the world finds itself in today, and why.  

Michael Sherman  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

After reading the Matier & Ross column in the May 16 San Francisco Chronicle about addressing homelessness on Berkeley’s streets by citing homeless smokers (and I assume non-homeless smokers) and funding this effort by increasing parking meter revenue...gee, I just don’t get the equation. 

Yes, smoking is bad for people, and even though I used to smoke it makes me queasy to smell the fumes in public, regardless of whether the smoker looks homeless or not. So, if I am following correctly, we may be enforcing the smoking ban with extra policing, and paying for this with...increased parking fees? 

Is this another way to gouge people who drive cars, as if gas prices were not bad enough? Let’s face it: People with money can afford to pay for gas and can afford to pay $5, $10 or more dollars to park in a lot while going to a movie or running an errand. As for the rest of us, we endure the pain in the neck it is to find parking downtown at a meter to save money. I drive to downtown Berkeley to go to movies, the drugstore, Ross, the post office, and more. I like to patronize local businesses. I take my car because I can’t/don’t want to devote up to an hour and a half to riding the bus round trip. Am I going to continue buying groceries at the Bowl and then schlep them home on the bus because there is even less parking? Downtown Berkeley already has scant to offer a mature adult like me who does not go to the clubs or to the university, and if you make it harder to park people will take their business out of town. Then who will be left on Shattuck? The homeless? 

Put the focus on social policies and practices that actually address the causes of homelessness: untreated mental illness, addiction, disintegrated families, the lack of place in our society for the poor. 

Lisa Mikulchik 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read in yesterday’s Matier & Ross’s column in the Chronicle that Mayor Bates is proposing to install parking meters around the Berkeley Bowl. 

I am a senior resident of Harriet Tubman Terrace, a residence for seniors and disabled people between Oregon and Russell streets, directly across from the Bowl.  

I own a small car, which I drive only rarely, for instance when I visit my granddaughter and/or help care for her new baby in Vallejo in an area not served by public transit; go to church in Kensington where the bus runs once an hour on Sundays; transport my paintings to galleries; church; or visit doctors that are an hour away by two buses but 15 minutes by car. 

There are no available spaces in the building’s parking lot (there is a 1.5-year waiting list), and the only unrestricted parking in this neighborhood are the six spaces immediately in front of our building, most of which are usually taken up by Bowl shoppers between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. I was denied a resident sticker to park across the street on Milvia, Russell, or Oregon. I was told at the Traffic Department that this was a trade-off for not having alternate-side-of-the-street cleaning hours on Adeline Street in front of our building. 

If there are meters near the Bowl, this would only encourage even more shoppers to try to find free parking in front of or around our building, making a difficult situation even more difficult for us, the residents of Harriet Tubman Terrace.  

Marin Fischer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am wondering how health-conscious people can raise awareness that smoking in public places is like littering in public places. Smoke is invisible. It vanishes into the air. But the air it vanishes into now includes pollutants which harm the lungs of children and mothers and older people. Who would want to harm the health of the good people passing by? What can we do to help smokers make that connection? Many of them might stop smoking near BART stations and bus stops if they knew they were causing harm to others. 

Romila Khanna 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

The historic power-sharing agreement between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party that took place earlier this month in Northern Ireland has engendered hope for a lasting peace in that blood-soaked country. Such hopes have been dashed in the past. But this time, with long-time enemies Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness finally sitting down together, a time of peace may truly have arrived. 

Sectarian differences won’t suddenly disappear because of the agreement, so it’s worth noting another event that took place a few months ago in the Republic of Ireland. The occasion was the Six Nations Rugby competition held in Dublin. The match on February 24th was between England and Ireland. Sporting events often become an excuse for head bashing, and extra police were patrolling the streets. Adding to the tension was the fact that the match was being played in Croke Park, where in November 1920, British ‘Black and Tans’ had fired into a crowd attending a Gaelic football match. Fourteen civilians were killed, including a Tipperary footballer, Michael Hogan, for whom the park’s Hogan Stand is named. 

Memories of that November day were revived by protesters who campaigned against the English Rugby team being allowed into Croke Park. But when the players stood at attention to “God Save The Queen,” the stadium crowd was quiet. Nor was there any trouble after the match, in which Ireland trounced England, 43-13. The Independent newspaper quoted one fan as saying, “It is the day when Ireland says goodbye to its past and shakes hands with the future.” 

What can we learn from this? That political leaders sign agreements calling for peace, but peaceful actions come from the people who actually live, work, and play together. February’s events in Croke Park are a reason to be hopeful. 

Karen L. Branson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

You don’t have to go to the Haight in San Francisco to find solutions for Telegraph Avenue. We have them right here in Berkeley, but we seem to have forgotten history. And if you forget history, you have to repeat it, as the saying goes. 

About 30 years ago while I was still a merchant on Telegraph Avenue we merchants petitioned the city to put a foot patrol officer on Telegraph. He got to know the characters on Telegraph and was able to deal with them. Then the footpatrol officer was eliminated and the Avenue deteriorated. In the early 1990 the city hired the RESPECT Team, a group of 24 civilians. We patrolled the Avenue on weekend nights and the ratpack problem disappeared. Then Sgt. Boga from the BPD was put in charge of cleaning up the Avenue. He and some officers under his command from BPD and UC PD got to know the Avenue inside out—some people were arrested, and more were referred to Social Services. Again, peace returned to the Avenue. 

Because the RESPECT Team had been successful on Telegraph Avenue, the city hired the Berkeley Boosters to organize the Berkeley Guides, a group of civilians. Four uniformed Berkeley Guides patrolled Shattuck Avenue five days each week. They were equipped with police radios and trained in non-violent conflict resolution methods. 

The city provided the following scope of service: “Increase the feeling of safety and friendliness on the street and retail shops and to facilitate the delivery of, and access to, social and police services.” 

During 11 years the Berkeley Guides provided an excellent service to the city, but because of budget problems the service was eliminated. The Berkeley Guides would have been equally successful on Telegraph Avenue as they were on Shattuck. Now that Telegraph Avenue has deteriorated, it will cost much more to get it back into shape. Ongoing maintenance would have been cheaper. 

But the city never learns. 

Ove Wittstock 

Former owner, Laytons Shoes (Telegraph and Durant) 

Dénia, Spain 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing in response to the opinion piece by David Howard in the May 11 edition of the planet. This latest piece by Howard continues a practice of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. The facts that Howard employs to make a convoluted argument that mixed-density housing hurts low-income families aren’t worth debating, as they are absurd.  

As a board member of HOMES, I can categorically tell you that his assertions are false. HOMES is in favor of improving Measure A by allowing for a diverse mix of housing. This will allow families, couples and individuals at all economic levels and all stations of life to be able to become home owning community members in Alameda. Under Measure A, this is not possible. As passed, the law limits housing to single family homes on large lots, which in this day and age are running in the sub-million to million-dollar level. Because the measure was determined to be discriminatory, limited exemptions were made for some low-income and senior housing, Measure A proponents tout those developments as the success of the law, but they are the exceptions.  

The biggest legacy of Measure A is probably the Harbor Bay and Bayport developments—large, expensive single family housing that forces residents to rely on automobiles to get around. As a result of Measure A, traffic congestion has clearly risen more than it would have if transit oriented housing was allowed. While Measure A supporters have been busy plastering the town with signs saying higher density = higher traffic, it is in fact Measure A that is promoting traffic congestion.  

Howard sums up his screed by asking why HOMES is waging warfare on the lowest income families. Last year Howard launched a letter writing campaign attempting to defund a supportive housing program for the homeless in Alameda. In his campaign Howard manipulated crime data so egregiously that the police felt compelled to state that his analysis was “completely erroneous.” Howard went on from that episode to support a city council candidate who labeled the homeless the “dregs of society” and talked of the need to arm herself and put up barbed wire to protect herself from the homeless. If anyone is waging war on the poor in Alameda, it is David Howard. 

Doug Biggs 

Community Resources Director 

Alameda Point Collaborative 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Farmers Branch, Texas, is the first community in the nation to pass a measure that prohibits landlords from renting to illegal immigrants. Legal, illegal, seems like a semantics game being played, used by the forces of bigotry and prejudice, to further their anti -immigration vendetta. “English speaking only” didn’t work so now it’s on to the next excuse. 

What about all the Mexican and Latino immigrants who clean the homes, take care of the children, clean the pools, do the yard work for the residents of Farmers Branch and then get discriminated against by the same folks when it comes to housing. Blatant hypocrisy, maybe even rampant racism, is still the driving force in the immigrant debate. 

Ron Lowe  

Grass Valley