Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 22, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Using Kitchen Democracy to see which way the wind blows (on the street behavior proposal or any other issue ) is not an accurate or wise way for the mayor to gauge public opinion. 

A lot of people don’t have computers. And of those who do have computers, not everybody sits around the house all day sending e-mails. They have to go to work, cook dinner and put the kids to bed. 

I’m sure the people who “vote” using Kitchen Democracy are in no way a cross section of the Berkeley populace. And there is no way to know if the participant is a Berkeley voter or even lives within 50 miles. You are asked, but you can lie and there is no verification. 

Yet, I’m sure I will hear reference to the Kitchen Democracy “vote” as support for the mayor’s proposal, as it was used for the Wright’s garage issue. 

I suspect the people who started Kitchen dDemocracy would agree they are not a polling organization and city policy should not be based on “votes” from their web site. 

If the mayor wants to know what the people of Berkeley think, hit the pavement; talk to people.  

F. Greenspan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am against this neo-lib proposal. I myself have never had a bad experience with the homeless. Some have put money in meters for me. Yes, they’re out on the streets, asking for money. So? You do the same at your fundraisers. They’re urinating, defecating, and sleeping on the streets. So? What are they supposed to do, kill themselves because they’re poor and alone?  

Solution: Put up public toilets, create some humane shelters and day centers.  

The worst street behavior I’ve encountered was done by Tom Bates when he stole newspapers and thereby revealed what his core values are all about. He embarrassed Berkeley far more than the homeless do. Yet, here he sits, head of our once great city none the worse for wear. 

Besides being intolerably cruel, the Public Commons for Everyone proposal reveals a terrible lack of imagination as to how to turn Berkeley back into the hot place it used to be. Clue: It’s through the arts. Oakland today is far more exciting than Berkeley. For example, learn about their monthly Art Murmur if you don’t know about it.  

But encouraging something like Art Murmur would bring the wrong kind of crowd to Berkeley, that is the diverse 20-35-year-olds that Bates and cronies are deathly afraid of. 

Bates’ vision seems to be nothing more than people happily consuming on neatly managed green space, never creating street music without a permit, never creating street theater without a permit, just constantly stuffing their mouths, and going to discreet, safe jazz clubs. And never, ever encountering a homeless person to interrupt the fantasy of living “the good life.” 

If you truly want to do something about the homeless, Mayor Bates, why not organize the mayors of this country and do some direct action in D.C. for money to build really low cost housing. You know, the money for subsidized housing Reagan starting whittling at and Clinton finished erasing. 

If you want to see what a vital city looks like, go to Mazatlan where everything is out in public. Unlike here, people there seem to be happy. 

Maris Arnold 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If city staff can retire at 55 with benefits and lifetime pensions, then city residents should also be allowed to retire, in a manner of speaking. After 55, we shouldn’t have to pay so much in property taxes. When a person has paid taxes for 10, 15, or 20 years, that’s a substantial part of retirement savings that’s been lost forever. Instead, we have to keep working after age 55. We have to support city staff in the style to which they’ve become accustomed. They’ve become accustomed to taking advantage of us. 

Carla Katz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the May 15 Daily Planet James K. Sayre writes on Public Commons, and offers opinions that are frustratingly very right and very wrong. This results from his confusion of a general premise with a particular problem. He is absolutely right in decrying the state of health care in the United States. It is intolerable that this, the wealthiest nation in the world, does not provide universal health care. The care of citizens of every economic class, which includes not just medical attention but minimal subsistence, demands a comprehensive national policy. 

But he then castigates the City of Berkeley for failing to undertake, single-handedly, the solution to this problem. He suggests that the mayor and the City Council were intent on making life miserable “for the down-and-out that have the misfortune of currently living in Berkeley.” Can he possibly be unaware that they are “currently living in Berkeley” because this city has a 40-year reputation as a tolerant haven for drifters, runaways, and other vagrants? Think the homeless problem is bad now? Provide shelters and amenities for them, and Berkeley will become even more their perpetual campground. Mr. Sayre praises the accommodations provided for travelers and the poor in France and New Zealand—but those are countries! Yes, it would be great if those accommodations were provided by the United States, or even by the state of California, but until they are, Berkeley, for once, should attempt a realistic solution. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

James K. Sayre seems to be so angry at Critical Mass that he condemns bicycling and bicyclists in general. He should remember that Critical Massers are a tiny minority of bicyclists. You should not blame all bicyclists for their behavior, any more than you would blame all motor vehicle users for the behavior of the Hell’s Angels. 

Though it has nothing to do with Critical Mass, Mr. Sayer insists at great length that bicycles are not non-polluting vehicles, detailing the materials that have to be produced and transported to manufacture bicycles. But a bicycle uses 20 or 30 pounds of materials, while a car uses thousands of pounds of similar materials. If you divide the weight of a bicycle by its useful life, you find that owning a bicycle consumes only one or two 2 pounds of materials in a year. 

Cars generate the great bulk of their pollution when they are being driven, not when they are being manufactured. Motor vehicles account for 40 percent of the CO2 emissions in California—and that only counts their emissions when they are being driven. Of course, bicycles emit no pollution when they are being ridden, so they meet the standard definition of a non-polluting (or “zero-emission”) vehicle. 

Now that we are beginning to realize how great a threat global warming is, we should make a personal effort to reduce the amount we drive, in order to reduce the number-one source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. Mr. Sayre writes: “Not all of us are young, healthy, courageous and single enough to be able to depend on bicycles for local transportation and shopping expeditions.” Yes, but many of us could easily shift some of our local trips to bicycles, if we remembered that driving the average car one mile emits about one pound of CO2. 

I myself am not young, not single, and not very courageous, but because I have bicycled all my adult life, I am healthy. 

Charles Siegel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his May 18 letter to the editor titled “War on the Poor,” written in response to my commentary, Alameda Point Collaborative Director Doug Biggs ignores facts and re-writes history to his convenience: 

First of all, I did collect Alameda PD crime states for Alameda Point, where his Collaborative is located, and I did perform an analysis of that data. I did this in response to a publication in the local newspaper claiming that Mr. Bigg’s Alameda Point Collaborative was a “crime and drug infested ghetto.” 

Second, I offered my data set for Mr. Biggs or anyone else to analyze by their own methodology to see if they came to a different conclusion regarding the number of crimes and type normalized to population. This offer stands. To date, neither Mr. Biggs nor anyone else accepted this offer. However, Mr. Biggs and his friends keep falsely accusing me of “egregiously” manipulating data. 

Third, I was privately contacted by a Bay area resident with relatives living at Alameda Point Collaborative who expressed similar concerns to me about drugs and crime at Alameda Point Collaborative and about the response to her concerns from Mr. Biggs himself. 

Fourth, I did share my analysis with various groups with an interest in the Collaborative and Alameda Point—to get them to investigate the anecdotal reports of crime and my statistical conclusions. 

Finally, Mr. Biggs pays no mind to the suggestion that car ownership for low income families improves outcomes for those families. And he ignores that fact that “Measure A” which he is trying to change, supports housing density up to 21.78 dwelling units per acre, (du/ac) and that the City of Alameda’s own hired experts indicated that density of 12 to 15 du/ac is the minimum at which public transit is workable. He also ignores the fact that public transit usage is well under 30 percent in Alameda. There is no reason that workable transit oriented community can’t be built at Alameda Point within the constraints of Measure A while also providing support for low-income families to improve their lot in life with the benefits of a (low-emission) hybrid automobile. Of course, Mr. Biggs’ job depends on a steady supply of low-income people to his Collaborative. 

David Howard 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I write to thank the Daily Planet for Judith Scherr’s article exposing the use of city funds to disseminate racist propaganda, and to add a few points. The first regards Commissioner Wornick’s absurd claim that e-mailing a hate filled tirade was “…an honest attempt to bring dialogue.” It seems dubious to believe that a hateful diatribe labeling Muslim women “mentally ill,” and calling Mohammed a “desert nomad with a psychological disorder” would provoke meaningful discussion, but assuming for a moment that this were true, it would mean that Councilmember Wozniak’s commissioner admits he intended to unlawfully violate the Brown Act, which requires discussion to be publicly noticed and held in open meetings, not by the secrecy of e-mail. 

Councilmember Wozniak’s appointee therefore either intentionally violated the law, or intentionally used City personnel and resources to transmit racist propaganda. Neither is acceptable. 

More disturbing is the attempt to excuse this vile racist attack by labeling it “diversity.” I wonder if the councilmember would have offered the same defense if the victims had been black or Jewish? Equally troubling is Councilmember Wozniak’s comparison of his commissioner’s action with an incident involving ill-tempered insults made during heated debate, with the thoughtful and deliberate actions of Councilmember Wozniak’s appointee, which required: 

1. Watching the video clip. 

2. Creating an e-mail containing a link. 

3. Addressing and e-mailing the link of a racist video clip to a city employee, knowing the employee is required, in his capacity as secretary, to use city resources to disseminate it. 

Since arguments of diversity have been raised to excuse this, we should not be surprised if some defend it as “free speech.” In anticipation of this I want to make clear I respect the First Amendment right of any citizen to say or write what they please. Speech is clearly protected, but when a person acts in his or her capacity as a city commissioner, as Councilmember Wozniak’s appointee did here, they are not acting as a private citizen, but as a government official, and as such they are accountable for their statements and actions. 

Ironically, Councilmember Wozniak has devoted substantial energy to removing some commissioners, claiming service on multiple city commissions was somehow inappropriate. Inappropriate? How about this letter that Wornick sent to Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley: 

“Sometimes I go to bed pleased that your crappy insignificant paper is read by so few people. And those who do read it, (there are of course a couple hundred graying leftists) many are like myself, who check it out online only to see what outrageous and entertaining bullshit you (or the couple dozens regular letter writers) will say about an evil real estate developer, or Republicans or Christians or Zionists. You’re delusional, really angry and alone and I’m sorry to say, very fat. You should know that people like that die early and sad.” 

When it comes to “inappropriate” Councilmember Wozniak’s appointee wins hands down. He actually sent the above quoted e-mail to the editor. Whatever one may think of this paper I implore you to consider if this is the manner in which a city commissioner should address a member of our community. 

More shocking than the above e-mail, or the use of city resources to spread racist propaganda, is the sad fact that to this day Councilmember Wozniak continues to sanction such conduct by allowing the individual who conceives and spreads such hatred to remain his appointee. 

I hope you will join me in respectfully asking the councilmember to find an appointee who better reflects the City Council endorsed policy that Berkeley be a Hate-Free Zone. 

Elliot Cohen 

Peace and Justice Commissioner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Holding fast to my resolution to lay off President George Bush—at least for the time being—I will instead “sweat the small stuff.” Having a deep-seated need to always gripe about something, I shall now take on television, listing a few of my pet peeves. 

1. The whale story. If I hear one more word about the whales sailing up the Sacramento Delta, I shall hurl a heavy paperweight at my TV. Sorry, animal rights activists! 

2. “Breaking News.” There was a time that whenever those words were spoken, the blood would turn cold in my veins, assuming a 9/11 type disaster had occurred. I know now that the “breaking news” most likely will be about the misfortunes of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears, or if it’s really breaking news, Angelina Jolie adopting a new baby. 

3. Use of expression “You Guys.” I literally cringe when supposedly polished, articulate TV anchor men (i.e., Charlie Gibson) uses the term “you guys” when speaking to senators, Supreme Court judges, priests, etc. I recall that in a recent discussion about an important Supreme Court decision, Charlie asked one of the judges, “What do you guys think about .......? You guys? I could go on at great length but I’ve let out enough steam for the moment. (This isn’t as satisfying as blasting Bush.) 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m writing in opposition to Berkeley’s recent decision to force a quick eviction of the artist’s space in Berkeley known as the Shipyard.  

New culture as a rule does not usually emerge from mainstream cultural establishments; it emerges from the fringes. The same could be said about truly innovative technologies. 

The decision to evict the Shipyard is the 21st century equivalent of Kitty Hawk banning kite flying or Paris disallowing the Salon des Refusés. 

The Shipyard has been a place where artists have been allowed to make important and ambitious work over the last six years. Artists and engineers have created hundreds (thousands?) of innovative pieces and performances there, including elegant, substantial new work: giant steam powered Victorian vehicles, working wooden clock towers, and a carbon-neutral pickup truck that runs on refuse. The current gasification project has the potential of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. This is important work by any cultural or technological standard. The physical plant is itself an important experiment in alternative energy use.  

We understand that there were code violations, but we also understand that the Shipyard has been working with the City, in good faith, to mediate those violations. Is it really so difficult to accommodate artists and inventors? As a city employee myself (Palo Alto Art Center) I understand liability and safety issues, but there needs to be a balance, and there must be a place for our innovators to work. Otherwise, we are doomed as a culture of any lasting importance.  

The timing of Berkeley’s action is particularly reprehensible. Three days notice to remove over a million pounds of artist’s material and structures is ridiculous and arbitrary. A team of artists was just gearing up to build a breathtakingly ambitious work, “Mechabolic,” that would be enjoyed by thousands of people and likely be a subject for future art historians, as well as advancing our understanding of gasification as an alternative energy source. The project was recently mentioned favorably in the New York Times.  

Berkeley has an international reputation for progressive “out of the box” thinking. With this action, Berkeley is saying to the world that this reputation is no longer deserved. You are opting for a safer, less vibrant culture. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” 

Larnie Fox 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Bush administration, after a month long search, has finally found one an active duty general willing to serve as the nation’s first “War Tsar.” Lt. General Douglas E. Lute, if approved as a special assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor, will bear responsibility for coordinating operations and for infusing “a more proactive role” among the commanders and ambassadors in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Some senators will no doubt welcome this creative approach to harmonizing discordant activities in the messy situation over there; a Tsar, after all, is an autocrat, a figure possessing absolute authority over everyone. Philip Zelikow, former State Department official, predicts that General Lute will be a “force multiplier” which I take to be military jargon for an individual who keeps everyone bent to the objectives of the surge with multiplied force.  

On the other hand—the hand holding facts not the one holding wishes—there’s sure to be criticism. General Lute must coordinate individuals who out rank him. So, say critics, how can a subordinate coordinate?  

Save a place for General Lute on the shelf now occupied by other dis-appointees, failed advisors like George Tenent, Jay Garner, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.  

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is increasingly obvious that the line between UC Berkeley and private sector Corporate America, has become so blurred (i.e., audit of UC offices, etc., San Francisco Chronicle, May 17) that it’s high time and appropriate for UC to go private, a la Stanford and U.S.C. Then, at least, California taxpayers wouldn’t be burdened by having to support an institution which has all the symptoms of a Corporation. Perhaps, then, UC could go “public,” and we could all invest in the University of California Inc. and make big bucks. 

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

You have no idea what great responses I have had to the editorial you generously posted regarding Tom Roberts, the Puppet Man. Here is a short version of everything to date that I have received. 

Tom Roberts was born Morris Diamond and came to California following his failed acting career New York. He had a son (still alive, and an author) named Jed Diamond. Mr. Roberts suffered from manic depression. This would make success of any kind difficult. But he managed to win over the Berkeley college kids with his great puppet performances held outdoors. Roberts wrote bold, honest poetry and presented his books to students. Imogen Cunningham, a great photographer, took his portrait and mentioned the book he gave to her. He died in 1996 at the age of 89. He was a witty, engaging, warm-hearted man. His son is very much alive and thrives as an author and professional counselor. 

For those who want a larger document, including Robert’s obituary, e-mail here: 

Nathaniel S. Rounds 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The weapons industry: With the world already overstocked with misery, why keep manufacturing more? 

With all the millions and millions of people in this world who are hurting and dying, why does the one of world’s largest industries keep manufacturing a product whose only goal is to make sure that even more people are hurting and dying? What’s the point?  

It seems to me that deliberately manufacturing even more ways to create misery in this world is a bad business practice. Get a clue! The misery market has already been overstocked and swamped. What about the law of supply and demand? Doesn’t anyone read Adam freaking Smith any more? There is more than enough misery in this world to go around already as it is. Why deliberately go out and manufacture cluster bombs, depleted uranium ammunition, nuclear weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, suicide belts and improvised explosive devices? Why bother? It just doesn’t make sense—when we already have our warehouses and stockyards and supply depots bulging to the seams with all kinds of high-quality misery-producers like starvation, drought, famine, global warming and AIDS. 

The misery market is already glutted! Get a clue! 

Just look at Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan and Palestine. You can find misery on every corner—and it’s for sale at bargain prices that you wouldn’t believe. Guys! Enough already. It’s time to diversify. 

My suggestion? There’s still an wide-open market in other areas. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor. There’s still a tremendous shortage of healthcare, education, food, medicine, housing, etc.—and a very high demand. Let’s move our production capabilities over to this almost untouched consumer market—one that hasn’t already been saturated.  

And here’s another suggestion. Let’s recommend to the weapons industry that they have just one more big sale—a going-out-of-business sale. I know a guy here in Berkeley who will buy off your weapons, melt them down and cast their metal into sculptures. It’s time to recycle our arms—while we still have any arms—and legs, fingers and toes—left to recycle. 

And here’s a word to the women: “Ladies, do your sons, husbands, fathers and/or significant others lack enough business acumen and self-control to stop manufacturing a product that no one needs any more? Then perhaps it is time for you to take away their credit cards—and even lay them off—until they stop their obsession with manufacturing misery, come to their senses and go into a more productive line of work.” 

Jane Stillwater 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Senator Ted Kennedy’s immigration reform package has eerie similarities to that of the famous 16th Century Spanish reformer Bartolome de las Casas. Kennedy is known for sympathy for immigrants. Las Casas was known as the friend of the indigenous in Spain’s colonies. 

Kennedy responds to a labor crisis in which the right-wing inspired roundups of “illegal” workers break up families and leave businesses without labor. Las Casas responded to a crisis in the colonies in which death from overwork of enslaved indigenous and Africans, combined with rebellion and flight, was leaving plantation owners without labor. Kennedy co-sponsors a “compromise” intended to help both employers and immigrants. The latter will be granted a torturous path to citizenship that begins with the Z card. It allows the immigrant to work in the U.S., but is invalidated if he or she stops working. The Z card holder is denied welfare, food stamps, SSI, non-serious Medicaid, “or other programs and privileges enjoyed by U.S. citizens”—states a White House blurb of support for the Kennedy plan. As presently written, the “reform” will help some immigrants while placing others more on a path to slavery than to citizenship. 

Father Las Casas argued before the Royal Council of the King of Spain that the solution to the labor shortage in the colonies was the abolition of the murderous institution of slavery. On a preliminary council vote slavery was abolished. But plantation owners declared free people would not labor hard enough. The liberal minded Las Casas then proposed that, in exchange for abolition of slavery for the Indigenous, there would be African slavery on a large scale. This labor “compromise” of 1542 is considered the beginning of the intense Africa to America slave trade.  

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Even though Jerry Falwell had a lighter side one tends to remember the other side, the public persona of the preacher we came to know so well.  

Falwell spotlighted everything that is wrong with Christian conservatives and the fundamentalist right. The preacher spent years fanning the flames of hate. Falwell led the charge of those trying to tear down the wall between church and state. 

Falwell was a major player in the frontline of the anti-abortion crazies and had a serious case of homophobia. If the right reverend had had his way we would have prayer in school. Let’s not mince words and try to glorify Jerry Falwell. 

Ron Lowe  

Grass Valley 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have never participated in any Critical Mass ride, but James K. Sayre’s commentary about “Critical Mob” is so based on insupportable guilt by (imaginary) association that even I, a lapsed cyclist, feel compelled to respond.  

Equating the “mind-set” of the Bush “crime family” (as if they were cartoonish Mafiosi instead of the figureheads of something much more nefarious) with that of activists agitating for increased bicycle visibility would be hilarious if Sayre weren’t so self-contentedly serious. The Bush administration isn’t just some inbred motley crew of arrogant extortionist bullies who like to push people around whenever they feel like it; they are the latest in a series of plutocratic American gangsters bent on expanding the Atlanticist Empire with all the economic and military muscle available to them. Critical Mass participants, by way of extreme contrast, are an ad hoc group of individuals with varying degrees of commitment to bicycle activism, who use the power—and safety—of numbers to get their message across to a mostly apathetic automobile-addicted public; the point of Critical Mass is to make bicycles visible as vehicles using and sharing public roadways. Any cyclist who has been doored, or forced into a parked car (or other stationary or moving object), or hit by a car, bus, truck, or SUV will have some sympathy for the way Critical Mass participants make their point: effectively taking over some streets and causing traffic to travel at their speed.  

This may seem like bullying to non-bicyclists, who are in the habit of getting their own way all the time when they’re on the road. It is certainly inconvenient; but a regular traffic jam due to too many motor vehicles using a limited amount of roadway is, at the very least, equally inconvenient. Critical Mass happens once a month; normal (that is, non-bicycle-related) traffic problems occur multiple times each day. Confrontations tend to spring up where inconvenience occurs. However, road rage was not invented or pioneered by bicyclists; that innovation belongs to automobile drivers who feel that their privileges (having the law cater to your whims or actually being above the law) have been impinged upon by others.  

The issue of what resources and industries are required for the manufacture and maintenance of bicycles is a red herring. I don’t know of any bicyclist (activist or not) who isn’t already aware that they rely on the same industries as automobiles—Sayre forgot to mention all the cement that’s required for roads to be maintained. The patronizingly smug tone of those middle paragraphs is as palpable as it is obnoxious. The point of Critical Mass and other low-tech partisans is that the current exclusive reliance of the US economy in general, and motor vehicles in particular, on fossil fuels is what is highly polluting and ultimately unsustainable. 

It would be much easier to take seriously the criticisms of the anti-Critical Mass crowd if motor vehicle drivers themselves would follow the rules of the road and pay attention to motorcycles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, not to mention other motor vehicles! Participants in Critical Mass have no access to economic sanctions, blockades, international pressure, or military action. Sayre is being deliberately dishonest, trying to whip up the emotions of his readers by appealing to their assumed hatred of Bush and Company. In this technique, he is much more like Bush than he would like to admit. 

C. Boles