Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday June 08, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

In reply to Richard Yahiku’s letter in Tuesday’s Planet: 

Were we at the same rehearsal? Your comments on Hope Briggs’ performance during that rehearsal are so inaccurate, and expressed in such vitriolic terms, as to suggest some hidden agenda that has nothing to do with artistic values per se. Indeed, as this whole matter has unfolded, it has attained a definite sub-plot aura all around it. In any case, your claim that Hope Briggs “singlehandedly otherwise superb performance,” and that it would have been a disaster both for her and the company to allow her to go ahead and perform the role, is totally outlandish. It is true that she was not singing full out a lot of the time (She was not alone in that; it is to be expected in Final Dress, even without the announcement at the beginning), and even seemed uncharacteristically subdued acting-wise at times, which made me wonder a bit about the direction she might have been given. But “painful (and) excruciating”? Please.  

I have a long-time familiarity with Hope Briggs’ vocal and dramatic abilities; I have even accompanied her several times, in informal situations. I think I have a pretty good idea of what she would have come up to in performance. But she was cruelly and unfairly denied that final step. Come to that, it wasn’t even fair to Ms. Van den Heever to have gotten her “big break” in this fashion.  

As to Becky O’Malley’s bringing up the issue of race in her article, I think she was just casting about for some reason that would at least have some real logic behind it—however ugly the ramifications—to explain David Gockley’s actions. Certainly the reasons that he gave for his decision, and subsequent explanations as to why he waited so long to take action, are flimsy at best. 

Hope Briggs will survive this undeserved blow, by continuing to be the wonderful artist and person she is. The worst damage to her career would only occur if she began to listen to people like you. 

Cara Bradbury 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a person of color, I was hit over the head by a 2x4 when I read your story about Hope Briggs. Particularly the paragraph saying, “[A]s a cynical old-school veteran of the civil rights movement, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a (perhaps subconscious) subtext here. This production is going on TV: it will be simulcast to a number of venues. Hope is a big, handsome dark skinned woman, with strong African features—quite beautiful, but not exactly like most faces you see in romantic roles on TV these days.” After reading that—and personally facing discrimination myself due to my dark skin—my blood began to boil. No, I’m not a fan of opera, but I’m sure it’s dominated by whites. Then I find the New York Times story where Briggs herself is quoted as saying race was “not an issue as far as I was concerned.” So now I’m wondering which paper to believe—the Planet with all of its typos and factual errors or the New York Times, winner of 95 Pulitzers. Gee, which one is right? Gosh, I don’t know. 

Bob Gamboa 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Susan Muscarella has done a fine job of developing the Jazzschool and the Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival (DBJF). Susan has made major contributions to the creation of the Downtown Berkeley Arts District. Susan has made three decades of contributions to keeping jazz alive in America. Susan has made sincere good-faith efforts to be racially and culturally inclusive in the school and DBJF. 

Anyone who feels that Susan needs to improve some aspect of the DBJF or the Jazzschool needs to go directly to Susan and in a civil manner discuss the desired improvement. 

Anyone who goes to the press before going to Susan ends up hurting every member of the jazz community, and thus should not pursue that option. We look forward to a great festival in August. 

Mark McCleod 

President, Dowtown Berkeley Association 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In light of the current controversy about the absence of African-American performers on Yoshi’s 10-year anniversary CD and the small number booked for the Berkeley Downtown Jazz Festival, I would like point out that I recently attended a wonderful jazz festival that was very inclusive of all ethnic groups. It was the First Annual Bay Area JazzPoetry Festival, held at Berkeley’s Hillside Club on April 27. The organizers, Raymond Nat Turner and Zigi Lowenberg, of the group Upsurge, pulled together a remarkable program of jazz performers and poets. Many African-Americans performed, and many of the performing groups encompassed a range of ethnicities. The way this event brought together diverse groups warmed my heart. The program featured groups of musicians and poets performing together, speaking poetry simultaneously with the music. The audience included many African-Americans, whites, and others. The poetry was by turns moving, funny and thought provoking and the music complemented it beautifully. I was impressed by the energy, creativity, polish, and professionalism of this event. I’d like to point out that jazz music can be very inclusive, and that Upsurge is a group worth listening to and following. 

Lea Delson 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Once again the city has made a mess of things. After many months of labor and tens of thousands of dollars, the new skateboard park at the west end of Civic Center Park is remarkably disappointing. There are no ramps, no smoothly curving turns. Nothing one expects of a world-class skate-park. About the best that could be said is that the timing of its openings coincided with the installation of park-wide lighting, allowing skaters to enjoy themselves after dark. But how can it be expected to draw world-class skaters from around the world? 

Eh? What? What’s that you say? Not intended to be a skate park? Not built with the intention of providing skateboarders a place to hone their craft? Not build with features preventing the cracking of concrete walls, staircases, and seating, or enabling the removal of graffiti? Not designed to minimize the risk of bodily injury? Not, you say, funded or build with the intention of being a skateboard park? 

Then what the hell were the powers-that-be thinking, not putting down those little metal bump-strips that impede skateboarding?! What the hell are they thinking now, since the construction has so obviously converted to a skate park?! Its not like the city is unaware of development, or lacks the manpower to send someone over with a box of those little metal anti-staking deterrents! Even the Democratic People’s Republic of Berkeley has no significant pro-skate-board-caused-destruction coalition, right? Surely few voters will be offended if there is a belated attempt to salvage a project so recently been completed! 

With all that said, I do, however, commend these skaters for claiming this turf and keeping the homeless from creating an encampment in the area. 


Come see the newly completed construction at the west end of Civic Center Park. See the damage that can so quickly be done. Picture the damage after just one year. Ask yourself if there has been a failure to protect the public-works paid for by your tax-dollars. 

People also concerned that one of these helmetless kids is gonna crack their head open and stain the new concrete, or even those concerned about the health risk to kids of cracking their heads open, are likewise invited. (Hey, relax, just a little levity! I know it’s not that hard to get blood off concrete!) 

Michael Cohn 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If you’re a regular visitor to downtown Berkeley, you’ve undoubtedly spotted this woman. She’s a familiar sight on Shattuck Avenue, standing on a street corner—most often in front of Ross. She’s not actively panhandling, doesn’t hold a tin cup, but rather just stands, hour upon hour, leaning against the building. 

It’s difficult to determine this woman’s age, but I would judge she’s in her 70s. Mother Nature has not treated her kindly. One side of her face is twisted, possibly the effect of a stroke. Her eyes are bleary; I suspect she is, or has been, an alcoholic, and a cigarette dangles from her lips. She’s quite restless, constantly moving. Also, she avoids eye contact, even when I try speaking to her. And I have tried engaging her in conversation, but to no avail. She accepts the money I give her occasionally, but with no thanks, of course. 

Heaven knows, we’re used to homeless people in Berkeley. But this pathetic creature arouses not only my pity, but my curiosity. Who is she—where does she live—does she have enough to eat? Intent on learning more about her and getting help for her, “Miss Goody Two Shoes” called Berkeley’s Mental Health Department to make a report. I was politely informed that the woman is well known to this department, that she routinely spurns their offers of assistance, but that they keep tabs on her. 

So, I guess there’s nothing I can do for “Miss X” other than greet her and hope that the dollar bill I hand her from time to time doesn’t go for cigarettes or beer! 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I compiled a list of problems that confront the nation and that I believe will be there when the next president takes office. The list contains old, urgent and simmering foreign problems, such as arresting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, quelling violence between Israelis and Palestinians and genocide in Darfur, restoring respect and assuaging hatred and bringing the mess in Iraq to a close. On the domestic front the list contains immigration reform, illegal eaves-dropping, education, medical care, abortion, religion in government, immorality in high places, sky-rocketing cost of political campaigns, and more. 

Now, the last time I looked there were eighteen people in the race to be our 44th president—15 white men, one white woman, one American-African man and one Latino. (Fred Thompson may run but he’s being coy about it.) 

So, my idea is this (Comic strip light bulb!): let’s have 18 (or 19) co-presidents.  

We’d not only spare ourselves the anguish that beset us in each of the last two presidential elections (and the cost) but we’d match the talent to the job. Guliani could handle abortion issues, Clinton push universal medical care, Obama could bring ethics to governance, Richardson reform immigration, Kucinich take on peace policy and foreign policy parceled out to Dodd, Biden, McCain and whomever. 

Some people will dismiss the idea out of hand as being wacky. To them I would simply ask: Is my bright idea any wackier than what’s in store for us during the next year and a half?  

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Yassir Chadly personifies the essence of goodness and sincerity. The City of Berkeley has shut him out of his desire for the 30-hour position with benefits that he has sought for himself and his family. This is hard to fathom after all he’s done to promote good will as well as good health in our community.  

Yassir has served for 17 years and continues to serve Berkeley and the East Bay Community in a selfless and spiritual way. Where is the justice for goodness and good will? Yassir is a gift to hundreds, and we are denying him something that is so important to him, and me. I ask where is the justice and good decision-making of our Berkeley leadership? Please don’t let this issue pass without deep consideration on the ramifications to many, many people. 

Joan Trenholm Herbertson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

A very popular water aerobics instructor is demoted because “the recreation department decided to restructure the department to save money. Meanwhile three 75 percent supervisor positions are being created by the department.” When the rationale for a bureaucratic decision doesn’t make any sense, you can’t help speculating what the real reason may be. Bureaucracies always tend to become more top-heavy and disfunctional by downgrading or eliminating positions of people who do the actual work, while creating more positions for managers with less and less to manage. But why demote one of the most outstanding employees in the department? Did his performance and popularity make employees with less energy, dedication and charisma uneasy or insecure? Or could his religion have something to do with the decision? 

Steve Donelan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

To those of us who swim daily in Berkeley, the extraordinary outpouring of support for Yassir Chadly comes as no surprise. A city bureaucracy by definition works mostly behind their desks and often in ignorance of how their decisions directly touch the community. In an epoch of savage public cuts and grotesque priorities, the dispiriting decision to dismiss our genius aquarianw may yet have a happy outcome, since Berkeley’s public servants now have a tangible measure for judging some of their current priorities. I’m prepared to bet that letters of support for Yassir’s reinstatement outnumber, by several hundred to zero, expressions of enthusiasm for the new, costly, and redundant roundabouts (installed in addition to stop signs!) encountered on our way to swim under his gracious tutelage.  

Yassir has roots in a culture that honors water more seriously, but he shows no resentment of our cinderblock apologies for the glory of the hammams of North Africa or old Roman baths. Indeed, this gentle Master of the Berkeley Pools conjures some of their magic and beauty for us every day. 

Iain Boal 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Planet’s June 1-4 headline proclaims that there is, “No Fault Under New Gym Location.” However, buried toward the end of the article is the statement, “There is no question that the stadium itself sits directly over the Hayward Fault, which federal seismologists say is the most likely site of the Bay Area’s next major disaster, and Alquist-Priolo rules will apply to the university’s plans for a major stadium overhaul and expansion.” The stadium could not be built today because it is bisected by the fault. Many people would be killed if the elevated concrete structure of the west side of the stadium collapsed, not to speak of the panic if the stadium was full. Because of major failures in recent earthquakes the engineering of concrete structures has changed dramatically since the early twenties when the stadium was built. Forty seven people died when the Cypress Freeway collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Many more freeways collapsed in the 1971 San Fernando and the 1994 Northridge earthquakes. The Berkeley school district relatively recently built a concrete frame classroom building at the Cragmont site, only to tear it down about 15 years later because it was judged unsafe. 

It does not seem responsible or logical for the University to build the Student Athlete High Performance Center first, then retrofit the stadium for seismic safety, hoping the Alquist-Priolo rules can be bent. While it is obviously easier to raise money for a new high tech gymnasium than to worry about the safety of the stadium, the priorities seem reversed. Besides, where would the money come from? 

Henrik Bull 

FAIA Architect 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bicycle lanes on Berkeley streets are inadequate. I commute by bicycle daily to the UC campus and to shop for groceries, etc., and I’m therefore aware of problems. From my home, near Ashby and College, the designated bicycle route on Hillegass to Bowditch ends on Bancroft Way. Bancroft does not have a bicycle lane, although one is very much needed. Several AC transit bus lines, campus buses and many delivery vehicles in addition to the heavy automobile traffic on Bancroft make cycling perilous. Although I bicycle within three feet of parked cars, vehicles have come within inches of side swiping me. Another example: the bicycle lane on Milvia ends at University Avenue. Every major arterial should have bicycle lanes where possible. This would encourage more people to use a bicycle instead of an automobile. Bicycling with minimum hazards needs to be encouraged if we are to take conservation and minimization of greenhouse gas production seriously. Adding more bicycle lanes would be a relatively inexpensive measure. 

Malcolm D. Zaretsky 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was deeply saddened to read about the death of Betty Kietzman of Fresno Avenue. A retired Berkeley police officer was driving, perhaps legally drunk, and struck and killed her. I believe in severe punishment for people who are found DUI or DWI which might look more like the European systems—jail time, revoking license for six months, heftier fines, etc. Let’s get creative about these problems which seem to continue injuring and killing my neighbors. Back in the early 1980s there was a terrible crash involving three cars where our wonderful Albany Fire Department rescued one person using the jaws-of-life to cut the car’s steel frame to get one person out; luckily no one was seriously injured, it took a few hours for the police to close off the intersection and take measurements to determine who was at fault. However my neighbors at the time were shocked that cars were racing up Washinton Street, often at speeds exceeding 40 mph, way too fast for that intersection. “Isn’t it terrible,” said neighbors. I went in and typed up a petition to our City Council. Not long thereafter we got on the Albany City Council Agenda and suggested first a traffic signal which was denied due the cost. We were very willing to settle for a temporary (90-day) stop sign, which upon review became permanent. That sign has slowed down traffic and adversely affected traffic coming from busy Santa Fe and Solano. Now folks stop at that corner, Washington Street and Santa Fe Avenue. 

Not only are there many elderly and/or disabled citizens of Berkeley-Albany in and around Solano Avenue, but also parents with kids on foot or in strollers, albeit everyone needs to be safe while crossing any street, especially Solano Avenue. Visitors from many cities who come here for our wonderful boutique-type shops, fantastic restaurants, outdoor seating at many cafes, flower shops, the Albany Y, post office, two movie theaters—yes they’re often jam-packed, and they deserve safety while going about their errands. 

I often find most other drivers are very courteous in my neighborhood motioning me forward when we come to stop signs at approximately the same time. The last time I got a moving violation was more than 10 years ago and find I’m much happier and take more time to get places. Let’s remember to breathe, be courteous to the other person whether they be on bicycles, foot, trucks, motorcycles, skateboards, busses or cars. Please remember to be aware, mindful, please not on your cell phone, share the road and be kinder to each other.  

Sylvia P. Scherzer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Congratulations to Malcolm X school gardener Rivka Mason for receiving the National Service Award.  

Gardens on Wheels Association, dedicated to preventing and reversing childhood obesity by delivering martial arts classes, etiquette, grooming and self-discipline to the school and parks’ gardens, gave her its first annual “School and Park Gardeners Recognition Award” in 2002. 

She has a genius for seizing the teachable moment—when a child first has an “ah hah!” epiphany in the garden about the taste, purpose, or classification of a fresh fruit or vegetable. Her ability to teach kids about the joy of eating healthier matches perfectly, like a carefully chosen wine for a particular dinner, with providing martial arts to jump-start weight-loss and building self-esteem to resist peer pressure and ubiquitous junk food advertising, so that kids can avoid or withdraw from the obesity epidemic. 

Rivka also goes the distance to complete the circle of educating kids so the message is implemented: She works with the parents as well, often to reinvoke long lost nostalgic memories of grandparents’ vegetable gardens. Repositioning convenience fast food from the notion it is a reward to the reality that it can shorten kids’ lives by contributing to early-onset preventable chronic disease is an essential part of educating our children in the edible gardens. 

Gardens on Wheels Association hopes to revisit Rivka soon and roll out a Berkeley and Albany-wide martial arts in the gardens program, with Northern California’s oldest and largest martial arts school on University Avenue in Berkeley, West-Wind Schools. 

Wendy Schlesinger  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Having documented and been the brunt of fundamentalist right and anti-abortion attacks and activities for 15 years, this statement makes a whole lot of sense: “The preservation of life seems to be rather a slogan than a genuine goal of anti-abortion forces; what they want is control. Control over behavior: power over women. Women in the anti-choice movement want a share in male power over women, and do so by denying their own womanhood, their own rights and responsibilities.”—Ursula K. LeGuin 

Ron Lowe 

Grass Valley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

At least two of us really miss reading Susan Parker’s column. She is certainly good for a laugh. I know that she is working full time now. But I know at least one former teacher who would love to keep hearing of her adventures. 

Ardys DeLu 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gilman Fields, a five-field, $18 million dollar athletic complex, broke ground this week. The project, located west of the 80/Gilman interchange, consists of two lighted artificial soccer/rugby/lacrosse fields, a full-size baseball field and two Little League/softball fields. The artificial fields are due to be ready for the 2007 winter season, starting in December while the grass baseball and softball fields should be ready by next spring. The fields will be used for all adult and youth sports from adult Ultimate Frisbee to youth lacrosse. “It’s been six years of hard work to get this complex off the ground but it’s going to transform Eastshore State Park from a little used strip of bay shore land into a real urban park,” according to Doug Fielding, chairperson of the Association of Sports Field Users, the nonprofit that will be operating the park. “One of our goals is to have the revenues from the use of the fields, pay for all the operational and capital costs for the complex. We have quite a bit of experience with that on other complexes we are running.” 

“We have already sold out almost our entire inventory of practice and game space for the winter season and based on this and past experience the athletic fields will serve between 225,000 and 275,000 people per year. Imagine what that means to have that many people coming down to the park not only for athletic use but walking Fido while Jimmy does his practice, or taking Mary’s little sister down to the San Francisco Bay while Mary’s learning rugby, or just going for a walk or run through the North Basin Strip or Berkeley Meadow. It’s a lot of people.” Most of the money for the park came from the East Bay Regional Parks District, the Coastal Conservancy and California State Parks. 

Doug Fielding 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

After reading about Bates’ public common proposal, and now Sharon Hudson’s column on malefactors, I cannot help but feel that we are in a race to the bottom. People who are homeless are totally dependent on the commons for life, and not just aesthetic pleasure or amenities. For over 30 years the federal government and the state have slowly shed responsibility for the poor and disadvantaged. The responsibility has been passed to the counties and cities which have become overloaded. The Street Spirit and other homeless newspapers track the cities that have passed draconian public behavior laws ostensibly to control behavior, but in practice to simply move the homeless and the disadvantaged out of town. The remaining places become havens, and their resources become more stressed, until they too start to look for a way out. Berkeley politicians at least have the grace to talk about public restrooms and the like, but if it is just talk and no funding we will join the race to the bottom. 

Of course the real scary thing about the race to the bottom is that, in a sense, it works. People act out, out of frustration and anger, and get thrown in jail, and hence off the streets, and become someone else’s problem. Or even more permanently, they die. The numbers I have seen is that the average lifespan for the homeless is 20 years less than for everyone else. We don’t actively kill them, they die instead of neglect, exposure, lack of social support and care, substance abuse and mental illness, and inadequate medical care. Out of sight, and out of mind; our society is failing in its responsibility to the poor and disadvantaged. 

We cannot be the state’s sole haven for the disadvantaged, but if we view the disadvantaged as a behavior problem then we join the race to shunt them somewhere else. The disadvantaged need advocates. If we can’t get the legislature to be responsible, then the city should take to the courts to get the state to provide the money needed to handle the public health problems of our homeless. We should keep track of other city’s policies towards the homeless, as their policies impact us. We should perhaps even consider intervening in challenges to other city’s laws, if we feel they are simply trying to move their “problems” elsewhere. A radical idea? Yes, trying to save people’s lives is a radical idea. 

Robert Clear 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you, thank you Marvin Charchere for your commentary on nuclear weapons (June 5-7). It is so essential that this specter be raised and kept in front of the public as a terrible and possibly imminent reality. 

Naturally, most humans don’t want to think about mass annihilation any more than we want to contemplate our own demise. But the fact is this is a more real possibility than ever since the 1945 Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing. And given the fact that the world is in a downward—and rapid—slide toward an atavistic barbarism on all sides, it is more than ever important to keep the possibility in the foreground of our thinking. 

Not that we can necessarily prevent it. The juggernaut of species self-destruction seems, at this point, all but unstoppable with so many world players recklessly threatening each other with dire retaliation for infringement on their territory, sovereignty, religion or governing structure. And the number of wise heads at the helm—people who can clearly contemplate the consequences of such hot headedness—is not impressive. 

Perhaps we are living through a moment when the opposite forces within homo sapiens sapiens are being highlighted: humans are both extremely clever—capable of toolmaking development and extraordinary physical feats. Consider the two most prestigious accomplishments every country covets: the Olympic games to showcase the very best in human physical prowess, and possession of a nuclear bomb. 

But any kind of wisdom that includes considering our species (and all other living forms) is pretty rare. With all the talk of globalism there is no widespread thinking about how everything and everyone is affected by what happens elsewhere on the planet. We have been supremely lucky that no nuclear bombs have been dropped on cities in 62 years. But with six countries in possession of this lethality—and four more on the way—we are all at risk of this luck running out. 

Joan Levinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Quoting Richard Rogers, the world-famous architect and recent winner of the Pritzker award which is the most important architecture prize in the world: “The success of a city is whether people want to live there or not.”  

“Zoning creates walled cities, urban structures and their inhabitants literally need room to breath.”  

West Berkeley has literally been choked by its zoning restrictions and from Pacific Steel. I am a third generation native to West Berkeley. I enjoy living in West Berkeley except the bad air quality created by Pacific Steel and the lack of nearby services such as a grocery store, a bank, and shopping which is taboo in our zoning area.  

From Pacific Steel on Frontage to Cal Ink on Fourth and Fifth Street, the old AMC Concrete plant on Sixth, to the old Urban Ore lot on Seventh and Gilman, the Gilman corridor needs a new plan which also reinforces Mayor Tom Bates’ Green vision for our city.  

If you really want to green our city, mayor, start with the air. Start with Pacific Steel and Casting. Redevelopment can lead to a better quality of life, not the pessimistic view Zelda Bronstein’s claims “gentrification.”  

This can only happen with a change and a new visionary outlook to the current zoning uses for West Berkeley. Imagine a multi-use space with parks, recreation, shopping, and people living in “green live work spaces.” Next time you eat at Picantes imagine strolling across the street and watching your kids run around the new Urban Ore Park. 

What does the city have planned for that space? A school bus parking lot. 

Patrick Traynor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

How can we get healthy food to poor people and to the elderly? I watched some old people near where I live buying over-ripe fruit from the grocery store. It pained me to think that we have not found ways to provide a basic supply of fruit and vegetables to the people who need it most. 

Are there ways? 

Romila Khanna 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am perplexed by the latest developments in the Berkeley Housing Authority story. This week City Manager Phil Kamlarz fired Housing Director Steve Barton, apparently without any notice or opportunity to rebut charges of incompetence. No charges have been released yet; the responsibility for explaining what went wrong has fallen for inexplicable reasons to City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, who herself has been deeply involved with the management of BHA and is the only current city employee who has exercised continuous oversight since the problems began, decades before Barton became involved. 

The whole thing smells like scapegoat and coverup. How can the city manager expect us to believe a list of charges released after the punishment is carried out? How can he possibly explain, after the city’s lengthy and open (and laughable) history of coddling misperforming management, why he’s assessing blame without conducting a thorough and independent investigation? How big is this mess? 

Dave Blake