Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday June 05, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Hi, are there any proposed measures to remove existing traffic diverters near College Avenue or Ashby Avenue (near Claremont)? Because there are no other routes but College, Ashby and Claremont throughout the area, the traffic has become unbearable. It’s virtually gridlock on College most days. In the 1970s this may have worked, but it’s 2007! Let’s remove all barriers and let the city breathe again with normal traffic flows. 

The gridlock and aggravation of being forced to take only certain streets is prompting my family to consider moving from the city we love. I would like to see ALL Berkeley traffic diverters removed immediately. 

Please re-consider these old-fashioned barriers! They are ridiculous. Doesn’t anyone else feel the same way we do? Certainly anyone on College or Ashby would agree. 

Esten Sesto 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am deeply troubled that this AC Transit plan for their buses has not gone away. I am very concerned that the future of my business and my city may be in the hands of righteous people who think that it is appropriate to force others to use bicycles. 

Businesses that rely on barter, an ancient form of commerce, depend on the transportation of goods to be traded. A bicycle is an inefficient means of transporting books, clothes, or music. These are the goods which are traded every day on Telegraph. This is how many wonderful institutions in Berkeley function day in and day out. Moe’s Books is just one of many businesses that will have to close their doors if our customers are not permitted to bring us their objects to trade. Amoeba, Rasputin’s, Mars, Buffalo Exchange, and Shakespeare and Company also rely on barter. These businesses contribute financially to the viability of the City of Berkeley. If these businesses close, who will re-open in an empty neighborhood? Where will the city get its money? 

Please allow us to continue to do the business that we have been doing for years and years. Telegraph is the heart of our city’s history and we need your special care and consideration. This is not about politics, but survival. Please take the time to study real cities and the impact of bus lanes on people’s behavior. 

Project for Public Spaces (the nonprofit that ran the forum on Telegraph for the TBID with AC Transit, City of Berkeley, TAA and UCB) are responsible for turning around the New York Public Library area by redesigning Bryant Park. These experts made clear to me through numerous examples, that people vacate the areas where buses have the right of way. Bus malls kill commercial neighborhoods. 

Please do not strangle us. Our livelihood depends on your careful examination of the impact of your decisions. As the owner of Moe’s Books and a Berkeley resident, I am against designated lanes on Telegraph. Please help Moe’s stay open.  

By the way, I ride my bike almost every day. 

Doris Moskowitz 

Moe’s Books 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Moving from the Elmwood District to Telegraph Avenue as I did a few years ago was a traumatic experience for me. To this day I think wistfully of Elmwood’s genteel charm. Friends charge me with being a snob. “What’s so special about Elmwood? How is it different from Telegraph Avenue?” Dear Lord—how is it different? Let me count the ways. 

For one thing, there was something very stable about Elmwood. Businesses were constant, they didn’t come and go—the wonderful Wells Fargo Bank, Bolfing’s Hardware, a stationer’s, a great Deli, Trips Out Travel, the Elmwood Theatre, jewelry shops, the famous lunch counter where Ozzie used to hold court, and the warm and inviting Claremont Library, etc. 

How to describe Telegraph Avenue? I heard someone remark that it’s quite eclectic. Boy, oh, boy, is it ever eclectic! Just in the few blocks either side of Dwight Way—name it and we’ve got it. When the former Gorman Furniture Company was being remodelled a year ago, I happily fantasized about what business would move in that beautifully restored Victorian type building. Hopefully it might be an upscale women’s apparel shop, a boutique, perhaps an intimate little tea room with lace curtains, something that would add elegance to our neighborhood. So, who moved in? A tattoo parlor and body piercing shop! Oh, well, why not? Right across the street is a store that dispenses marijuana. Two or three pleasant young fellows stand guard at the entrance at all times. I thought marijuana was outlawed, but I guess that’s only the federal government, not the state. Who am I to doubt that the patrons who slip in are not seeking the weed for medical purposes? Another popular shop on that block is The Dark Entry, featuring “Goth” items. I personally am not into black leather and chains so I’m not a patron. The store is very popular with girls with green hair and young men sporting Mohawk cuts. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the Berkeley Hat Shop near the corner of Dwight. You won’t believe the hats they have. If Queen Elizabeth had seen the place on her recent visit she would have bought it out. 

Having mentioned the more bizarre attractions on Telegraph Avenue I should in all fairness add that there are several really excellent ethnic restaurants all along the street. And, to everyone’s delight, a new Peet’s Coffee where you might be lucky enough to get a table. I say “might” because many graduate students who frequent the place are obviously working on their dissertations, glued to laptops.  

Come to think of it, Telegraph Avenue is not such a bad area after all. Who needs Elmwood? 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

David Wilson’s May 25 commentary (“The Housing Scandal: A Perfect Storm”) critical of the City of Berkeley Housing Department contained several errors and/or misrepresentations. 

For example, Mr. Wilson states that under Housing Department director Steve Barton, the city’s Housing Trust Fund (HTF) is “bankrupt.” This is erroneous. 

The city’s HTF is a pool of federal, state and local funds collected together for affordable housing allocations: i.e., new housing construction, existing housing rehabilitation, housing site acquisition, etc. 

The HTF is replenished with new funds every year. In recent years, the HTF allocated its money for the 100-unit, mixed-use Oxford Plaza affordable housing development in downtown Berkeley. With all HTF funding decisions approved by the City Council, this development started construction with a groundbreaking ceremony two weeks ago. 

The HTF is not “bankrupt.” It will receive new funds again—up to a million dollars—and allocate these funds for new affordable housing projects during the next fiscal year. 

At another point in his commentary Mr. Wilson states that the Housing Department “continues to resist any re-evaluation of Berkeley’s rent control program.” In point of fact, the Housing Department has no legal authority or sovereignty over the Rent Stabilization Agency which oversees the city’s rent control program. 

The Rent Stabilization Agency is a separate, autonomous city agency that regulates nearly 19,000 rent-controlled units citywide. The agency’s budget and effectiveness are audited by an outside firm every year. As the former president of the Berkeley (Rental) Property Owners Association, Mr. Wilson’s dislike of the city’s rent control program does not come as a surprise.  

Finally, Mr. Wilson unfairly tars the employees of the reorganized Berkeley Housing Authority with a single, broad brushstroke: commenting on the remarks of several BHA employees who strongly defended their individual job performance before the City Council during public comment, Mr. Wilson declares that “if this is how city workers behave in front of TV cameras, you can only imagine how they act with their clients, the citizens of Berkeley.” 

While the situation at BHA must be rectified and those responsible for documented misdeeds be held accountable, it is important that sweeping generalizations about employees and a “rush to judgment” mentality are avoided during the BHA reorganization process. 

Chris Kavanagh 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor impressively paints a bleak picture of the options for Congress ending the Iraq war, noting that cutting funding could cost seats for Congressional liberals, and a reversal of the authorization for war would just send the issue to the Supreme Court which might enjoy legalizing dictatorship. Allen-Taylor says at the end of his piece that we should keep fighting for peace. But he makes no suggestions on what to do. I have one. 

Let’s secede. Why not? As Allen-Taylor notes, Congress will probably never end the war. And following his reasoning: it will never pass single payer medical care, nor will it vote to end the high dropout rates in high school by abolishing tuition at all public colleges, nor will it act to solve prison crowding by legalizing marijuana; nor will it vote more than “compromise” actions on global warming. Meanwhile, we already have here a minimum wage much higher than the pitifully low one Congress just authorized. Our cities have already voted our own immigration policy of no-raids-in-our-backyard. And we have abortion clinics—which the court in Washington might soon outlaw. 

We who want peace in Iraq and a functioning nation should have our state Legislature vote that all tax money earmarked for Washington be sent instead to Sacramento. Then we butter-up the Austrian, “Hey Arnold. You can’t be president in Washington, but you could be in California.” Granted, he’s no liberal, but forced to relate to California without his current patrons in the national Republican Party he’d probably be manageable.  

Suggestions for the new national anthem are welcomed. 

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Becky O’Malley is well justified to be angered by the firing of Hope Briggs from San Francisco Opera’s production of Don Giovanni. One of the wonderful things about opera is the allegiance of fans to particular singers. To know a professional singer personally allows someone to witness the immense amount of work, sacrifice, persistence, joy, and disappointment that such a career provides. So it easy to understand Ms. O’Malley’s outrage at David Gockley’s decision. However, her accusation of racism is baseless and irresponsible. 

Mr. Gockley is almost single-handedly responsible for proving that Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess belongs among the great 20th century operas and deserves a place in the standard operatic repertory among the works of Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini. In addition, he resurrected Scott Joplin’s lone opera, Treemonisha. He cast an African-American soprano, Nicole Heaston, in the title role of the world premiere of Jackie O. He has commissioned bilingual operas and built outreach programs that have been models for the industry. The Houston audiences, despite your inference, were always open and supportive. 

I worked for Mr. Gockley at HGO for five years. I admire his brilliance but know the other side of that coin. In my time at HGO, a handful of singers were dismissed. I did not always agree with the decision and the process was always painful, but opera, like all of the arts, is subjective and he is allowed his prerogative as general director. You can and should question his decision regarding Ms. Briggs, but not on racial grounds. 

Brad Blunt 

Houston, Texas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

You cite “Gockley’s narrow point of view” yet you never detail or support such an allegation. Could it be that your own world view is so narrow that any time a black artist is released from a role, racial prejudice can be assumed without evidence? Yes, Gockley’s explanation for releasing Hope Briggs was unusually honest, yet not very specific, as he knew that specific criticism of Briggs’ vocalism would be damaging to her career. From other accounts, the company would have gone along with the usual euphemistic route of citing illness, but apparently it was Briggs’ manager who chose the more honest route.  

I happen to appreciate Briggs in suitable roles such as Aida, but I know from having attended the dress rehearsal that going ahead with Donna Anna would have been utterly disastrous not only for Briggs’ career but for the company’s reputation as well, not to mention the fact that the musical enjoyment of thousands of paying opera lovers would have been ruined. Unlike Mr. Gockley, I can be more honest about Briggs’ performance: It was a painful, excruciating experience, completely ruining any chance of musical enjoyment of the opera. In a word, Briggs pitifully lacks the technique and range to sing Donna Anna, one of the most feared soprano roles in the repertory. Not only in the two extremely taxing arias, but in the all-important ensembles as well, she single-handedly ruined the overall musical experience of an otherwise superb performance. I have been attending opera for 45 years and have seen many productions of Don Giovanni, but I must say, it would have been a ghastly mistake to have proceeded with the original casting as well as an unforgivable crime against Mozart. 

Richard Yahiku  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Laura Spurrier feels hostility because she lives in the hills and drives a car to downtown Berkeley. Her complaint is a familiar one to transit advocates like me. Lost in the noise is that we need to reduce car traffic on our streets, not totally ban the use of cars. The Traffic Demand Management study, paid for jointly by the City and UC in 2000, concluded that a “modest mode shift” from driving to transit would eliminate the need for more downtown parking. The basis of this conclusion was the fact that many employers and employees park all day, taking up a downtown space which could be used by short-term shoppers, restaurant patrons and other visitors. Berkeley’s traffic and parking problems would vanish if most of these all-day parkers would just ride the bus to and from work. Employers could offer the EcoPass as a benefit to encourage transit use. There’s also the “guaranteed ride home” insurance offered by some taxi companies. 

Yes, people who live in the hills have poor bus service. That’s because hill residents have chosen not to demand good bus service. AC Transit maintains very good bus service in places where it finds riders, like along College Avenue, Shattuck and University. Hill dwellers could control their downtown car use by driving to a “satellite parking lot,” like the “Park ‘N Ride” lots in Richmond or Vallejo. There must be some unused land on the periphery of downtown, yet near one of the major bus lines, which could be operated like BART parking in the suburbs. During the week, some churches have parking available.  

Even trips with bulky packages could be covered if some enterprising merchants offered delivery service to the satellite parking. Safeway and Albertson’s offer home delivery service now. 

The fact is that we are making too many trips by cars and generating too much congestion and pollution. We need to stop giving our bad example to China and India, and find a better transportation lifestyle. Our hostility should not be toward cars, but toward pollution, congestion and poor land use. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for your front-page coverage regarding the plight of Yassir and his employment with the city. For anyone who has ever encountered Yassir, this is big news and deserves the full attention of the community. Plenty of hyperbole has already been shared, but I have to add my voice, noting three things in particular:  

1) Have you ever known another city employee who knows each of his “clients” by name?  

2) Have you ever known another city employee that lives, breathes, and shares with everyone his absolute joy in being alive 24/7?  

3) Since when has it been “OK” in Berkeley to eliminate the best employee due to some bureaucratic numbers-cruncher who is being penny-wise and pound-foolish? I am another person who will go to lengths to see Yassir reinstated at the city pools! 

Carolyn Sell