Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday July 06, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is ironic to find such a strong subtext for health concerns in rejection of the cell phone tower for UC Storage (“Zoning Board Rejects South Berkeley Cell Phone Antennas,” July 3). The electromagnetic waves from a radio transmitter diminish with the square of the distance. This makes the UC Storage building one of the best places in central Berkeley to place an antenna, from a health point of view. The building is high, so the main lobes of the radio footprint will be far overhead. Most importantly the top floors of this building are unoccupied, so nobody will work immediately below the antenna on a regular basis. And the more cell phone antennas there are in a city, the lower the power needs are for each one (both for the central antenna and the for the handsets right next to people’s heads). Considering the benefit to the city as a whole, it makes sense to ensure that all cellular carriers, not just Verizon and Nextel, have access to the best tower sites (potentially including this one). If the UC Storage site is ultimately blocked, chances are higher power and more intrusive antennas will eventually be sited in other buildings in other neighborhoods. And never mind that the prime proven association between cell phones and health has nothing to do with the radio, but rather with the increased risk of car collisions when people take calls while driving. 

Bryce Nesbitt 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for the story about toxic pollution in the East Bay (“UC Illegally Buried ‘Thousands Of Truckloads’ of Toxic Soil In Richmond, State Says,” July 3). Unfortunately, the plot line of insufficient state oversight, followed by extensive industrial pollution and disproportionately low-income/people of color communities left to fend for themselves in the resulting toxic morass, is all too common. Take the acrid odor and toxics in Albany, Berkeley and beyond due to air pollution from West Berkeley’s own Pacific Steel Casting Company (PSC) over the past several decades. PSC reports releasing well over 150,000 pounds of pollution in 2004. Although the US EPA considers PSC the 12th worst stationary source risk out of 2,171 industries in six Bay Area counties, Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and City of Berkeley officials have offered little more than rhetoric and the occasional Band-Aid “solution.” 

The popular industry-sponsored Band-Aid solution is risk assessment. The legally mandated Health Risk Assessment (HRA) is paid for by industry itself, and BAAQMD indicates that industrial air HRAs in the Bay Area have not found industry exceeding allowable thresholds. The HRA technique is, as Phyllis Fox, the City of Berkeley’s former-industry-scientist-turned-green-pro-bono-consultant said, “a sham.” Typical industry practice is to “pre-test” and tweak equipment until it’s performing abnormally cleanly, at which point BAAQMD is called in to oversee formal testing. 

When emissions numbers are thus low-balled, PSC will undoubtedly come out (for the only time in its history) smelling like a rose. The flawed HRA is scheduled to be released on the 20th. Yet asthma hospitalization rates are high in West Berkeley, in part due to industrial operations, according to the Oakland-Berkeley Asthma Coalition. Neighbors still experience Pacific Steel’s odorous emissions (BAAQMD just settled another violation with PSC the other month), which can be accompanied by headaches, nausea and difficulty breathing, among other symptoms. BAAQMD and the City of Berkeley have done nothing substantial and the HRA is a sham; to achieve a truly green, sustainable Berkeley, these regulators must do an effective job. 

Regulators must pressure industry to include the whole community and the entire industrial process in comprehensive Toxic Use Reduction. Based on how it works throughout Massachusetts, Toxic Use Reduction can resolve the pollution problem, securing transparency, accountability, clean air and safe jobs for West Berkeley and beyond. 

David Schroeder 

West Berkeley Alliance for  

Clean Air and Safe Jobs 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was misquoted in Riya Bhattacharjee’s July 3 article “Landmarks Commission Considers Demolishing Squires Block Building.” I never said that that “portions of the building could be historic and, if so, should be preserved.” What I said was that although a building had existed at 1505 Shattuck Ave. since at least 1911 and was still there in 1950 as shown in the Sanborn fire insurance maps, it’s entirely possible that the building had been demolished in the 1950s and replaced by the existing building, which the owner’s representative says is constructed of concrete blocks. I also said that I had never inspected the building’s construction, had no reason to doubt the owner’s claim, but that it would be a good idea to inspect the building prior to approving a demolition permit. 

It is sad to see the Planet devote front-page attention to this minor issue when it practically ignored a far more significant one less than a month ago, namely, the LPC’s failure on June 7 to designate the Joe Donham Willy’s automobile showroom at 2747 San Pablo Ave. That building, which is by far the best example of mid-century modern roadside architecture in Berkeley, will be demolished and replaced by a five-story condo development. 

The developer did not make any attempt to find a new site for the existing building. He claims to have paid tribute to it in replicating the rounded façade in his condo frontage. That claim is simply untrue. The condo plans and elevations, which can be seen on the city’s website, speak for themselves. 

The plans for 2747 San Pablo Ave. are available on the city’s website, The LPC misread and/or overlooked a significant amount of evidence presented to it showing why the Donham showroom deserves protection. The commission did not serve Berkeley well, and neither did the Planet. 

Daniella Thompson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I want to thank everyone who has supported the plans to restore Berkeley Iceland, our recently closed, historic ice palace. After almost a year delay, which was requested by the current owners, the Berkeley Landmark Preservation Commission designated the building and all its features as a landmark worthy of preservation at its April meeting. This decision was arrived at after three public hearings, hours of testimony and review of supporting documentation. As one of the applicants for landmark status, I have no doubts that Berkeley Iceland is an historic landmark. 

The current owners of Berkeley Iceland, believing that landmark status has a significant impact on the value of the site to developers, have chosen to appeal the designation which they call an “egregious” result. Their appeal calls into question the motives and veracity of the commissioners, the process under which it was arrived at, and the very facts to which some of their supporters testified. In the end, their stated goal is to completely remove the landmark designation and donate some pictures to the Berkeley Public Library to keep alive the memory of this historic community asset. 

A public hearing on the appeal is scheduled at the Berkeley City Council for 7 p.m. on 10 July at the Berkeley City Council Chamber (2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, Berkeley). Save Berkeley Iceland will be there in support of the landmark designation. We encourage others to let the council know that Berkeley would be better served by a fully protected, upgraded, and vibrant facility at 2727 Milvia rather than a set of donated pictures. Check the Save Berkeley Iceland website for more information on what’s happening and who to contact. 

Again, thanks to everyone who has supported SBI and our goals. 

Tom Killilea 

Executive Director 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

AC Transit’s misnamed Bus “Rapid” Transit (BRT) proposal has clearly lost any serious rationale when its boosters are reduced to defending it as a way to bridge the mile between adjacent Berkeley or Oakland BART stations. 

BRT isn’t all that rapid: On a long trip from Berkeley to San Leandro, AC Transit estimates that it would cut as little as six minutes off current bus schedules. Even by the shortest estimate, BRT would still take twice as long as BART, which will always be much faster. 

So, Robert Piper’s July 3 letter suggests a new rationale for BRT: as a BART connector. But if BRT saves such little time over a long haul, what would it save over the half-mile from the midpoint between two BART stations? Maybe a few seconds. 

AC Transit’s new 1R express “Rapid Bus” has already, since June 24, offered significant time savings along the BART corridor. If that wasn’t enough to switch hard-core drivers to transit, saving another few seconds won’t convert them either. And it certainly isn’t worth losing two lanes of Telegraph Ave. 

What might win new transit riders? Free transfers between BART and AC Transit. And monthly passes valid on both systems. New York City’s transit ridership, widely seen as saturated, spiked when New York finally introduced those amenities a few years ago. 

UC Berkeley and city government have been trying for years to negotiate a cross-agency pass. This shouldn’t be rocket science: Ten bus lines now participate in a “BART Plus Pass.” Actually, so did AC Transit—until it dropped out in 2003. So much for that agency’s good citizenship. 

Robert Piper and fellow BRT fan Roy Nakadegawa (letter, June 26) are both solid environmentalists and mainstays of the Sierra Club’s local chapter. But they’re also retired transit engineers, whose sympathies seem to lie with transit agencies. 

Lay transit riders, and our elected representatives, don’t have that problem. So we have the right to demand that transit agencies serve the public—not vice versa. AC Transit should abandon its Telegraph Ave. BRT boondoggle, and spend the same $400 million where it would do more good. 

Michael Katz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Many thanks for printing the text of the Declaration of Independence in your July 4 issue. Our block always has a neighborhood potluck cookout on the fourth. This year, in addition to the games and food and talking, we did a reading of the Declaration. We passed it around and each person, adult or child, read a paragraph. The kids took it very seriously, and we all, whether hearing it for the first time or not, were reminded of what we are supposed to be about and why. That is a kind of patriotism I can relate to. 

Bill Mayer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing this letter in response to Charles Siegel’s response to a commentary I wrote about Bus Rapid Transit last week. One of my concerns with BRT is that it is going to slow emergency vehicles. Mr. Siegel disagrees, since emergency vehicles will ride in the express lanes down the center of Telegraph Avenue. But what will happen when they come up behind a BRT bus? The express lanes will be separated from the regular traffic lanes by a curb. Unless they jump the curb, there will be no way to get around the BRT bus when it stops to pick up or discharge passengers.  

Building curbs to separate the lanes on Telegraph reduces the flexibility in how emergency vehicles can get around. With a flat, continuous road surface, fire trucks, police cars and ambulances can change lanes to pass traffic, even crossing over the center line into ongoing traffic when necessary. If all four lanes are separated with curbs this flexibility will vanish and each lane will run at the speed of the slowest vehicle in the lane. 

There are many holes in the BRT draft environmental impact report. This appears to me to be one of the largest. 

BRT supporters have made many claims such as how it will increase pedestrian safety, will reduce auto trips, and will be beneficial to business. I do not see any of these benefits flowing from the implementation of BRT. Pedestrians will have to cross wide streets with two high-speed lanes in the middle. Some sidewalks will need to be narrowed along to route to accommodate the large buses. The only way auto trips will be reduced is if the BRT is going where the people who now drive need to go. If not, traffic won’t be reduced. Businesses will benefit only if people who ride BRT want to come to the business. With stops so far apart, BRT is not very shopper-friendly. And at the same time, BRT will remove a substantial number of parking places that businesses rely on for their customers. Wishing it so does not make it so.  

The Rapid Bus started running on Telegraph Ave. just last week. I think that everyone should let it run for long enough for AC Transit and riders to make adjustments to see how well this change is working before committing to spend millions of dollars that at the very least will wreck Telegraph Avenue for everyone other than the BRT. 

Mary Oram 

Willard Neighborhood Resident 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

There is a going supposition afloat suggesting that good ol’ fashioned bigotry is the major factor behind the Barry Bonds bandwagon of vitriol and hatred, everywhere he plays. Except for the intentional blind spots of the crowd in San Francisco, Bonds is almost universally despised by the fans. But racism is not at the root of this justifiable contempt. 

Hank Aaron withstood an onslaught of life-threatening letters, hoots and howls. But for the most part he was respected (if not revered) in and around the ballparks of this country. Moreover, this respect was in the midst of his breaking an all time home run record set by a white man. But any fool can deduce that Barry Bonds’ ascension to history is concomitant with an inordinate increase in offensive output at an age when exactly the opposite happens to virtually all major league hitters. His astounding statistics in the last seven years also intersect with baseball’s steroid scandal, and his centrality to that investigation. Bonds is hated primarily because he has been so powerful, in every sense of the term...not because he is black!  

Baseball is a highly competitive experience, one that thrives not only on winning, but on statistics, as well. Barry, along with the usual suspects, have proven to be a royal pain the neck in both regards, making championships (like the 1989 Mcguire-Canseco A’s) and statistics in general, a ruse of arestikal proportions. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has gone along with the charade, without the slightest hint of a moral compass, now banning banners in stadiums that are laced with nothing more than understandable scorn and disrespect for this freak of nature. While they baby Bonds toward his spurious record, a player like Jason Giambi, who tries to set the record straight and apologizes for the steroidal circus, now has to answer to commissioner Selig, and steroid investigator George Mitchell. How’s that for throwing baseball’s devotees a curve and a cutter? 

Barry Bonds is not the only piece of moral refuse in professional sports these days, but he certainly is becoming the biggest. 

Marc Winokur 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This administration knows no limit when it comes to abuse of power. The Libby affair is just another example of the arrogance and disregard of our legal system that this administration flaunts regularly. 

What makes it all the worse is that there seems to be no dedicated effort, no willingness from the Congress to check this contemptible and corrupt administration. It has been allowed to operate for 7 1/2 years now, plundering and pillaging the whole while. 

I plead to the Congress of this great nation to stop your cowering and do your duty. Put an end to these thugs that are corrupting our system for private and personal gain. Impeachment now. 

Mark Lowe 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reaction to a damaging act often causes more damage than the act itself. As everyone now knows, the Bush administration’s response to the mass murder of 9/11 has created monumental destruction and carnage in Afghanistan and Iraq. But similar instances in which the reaction is more damaging than the cause, occur often, in smaller dimensions.  

Such is the case with the aborted attempt to set off car bombs in London and the amateurish crash of a fiery car into the Air Terminal in Glasgow, Scotland. The response has far exceeded the actual damage or even the intended damage.  

For three days print and broadcast news featured intricate details of what might have happened, could have and may yet happen. As a result airline schedules were disrupted, passengers discombobulated and frisked, luggage searched and the ripple effects quickly spread across the Atlantic to our shores. 

There is great sadness in the presumably independent press uniformly elevating a bunch of incompetent, bold and resolute jerks to the level of terrorists, in the al Qaeda mold. There is even greater sadness in the ease with which a relatively small event caused such huge repercussions.  

Are we obsessed with the possibility of terrorism? Have we become terrorism hypochondriacs?  

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Department of Justice’s own guidelines specify that to apply for a commutation a convict must first have started to serve their sentence and have abandoned all appeals. Scooter Libby has done neither. Instead, Bush has again abused his office to shield Cheney and himself from further exposure of their own impeachable offenses, as would happen were Libby finally compelled to testify truthfully, as was Judith Miller by her own incarceration. 

This is nothing but a weasel pardon, a premeditated obstruction of justice. Indeed, there is nothing to prevent Bush from further granting Libby a full pardon in January of 2009, as he no doubt plans on doing, unless both he and Cheney are impeached first. More than sufficient evidence of their constitutional crimes is already a matter of public record. There is no oversight they have not unilaterally defied. And now this. What more do we need to hear? 

Claire Eustace 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The current leaders of our country do not require actual facts or truth to make decisions. The United States invaded a sovereign nation based on the “fact” that that country had weapons of mass destruction and could be linked to terrorists attacks on our soil. Since those “facts” were proven erroneous the war has been continued in order to avoid having the enemy bring the fight to our country. Never mind that there is no evidence that they would. 

This predilection for making up convenient truths has infected our citizenry. 

When I assert that the notion of millions of crimes being prevented a year by guns is surely fallacious, a Mr. Doug Hawkins snows readers with the number of various crimes committed annually but no examples of any (let alone two million or more a year) being prevented by good Americans with guns. Michael Hardesty, who made the initial claim about millions a year, responds that there are “concrete examples of such deterrence” from one source and “a great many documented cases of self defense over the years” from another. 

This hardly justifies a claim of millions a year. Lastly Mr. Hardesty utilizes the conservative practice of sophomoric name calling by labeling me “a brainless lib.” 

Unsubstantiated claims and insults are the hallmark of a failed administration and the sooner it exits our political discourse the better. 

Richard Hourula 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thanks for publishing my letter. I meant to refer to the Second Amendment Foundation but inadvertently left out the word “foundation.” My fault, not yours. Just in case anyone is wondering.  

Michael Hardesty 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Those of us who approve of Sen. Clinton and her progressive values seem to face a tough problem when evaluating her chances as a Presidential candidate for 2008. 

Her personal qualities and positions on the issues make us support her and that may give her the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 2008. Then of course she will face the opposing party’s negative campaign machine. 

Among the things that can be used by the other party is a recent article in the liberal New Yorker magazine, which details some difficult charges while reviewing a new book by Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, titled A Woman in Charge. 

One of the worst charges seems to be the view that then-First Lady Clinton’s Health Care Reform attempt in 1993, was a “debacle” in which a bloated and incomprehensible proposal was delivered to Congress months late. 

According to Bernstein, when some in Congress wanted changes, the First Lady made the blunder of threatening to “demonize” them. This offended those whose support she most needed and led a leading Democratic Senator at the time to characterize her response as showing arrogance, disdain, and hypocrisy. When the First Lady’s plan did not get sufficient backing, bipartisan efforts to propose simpler alternatives were refused support by her. Ultimately no plan was passed. 

The possibility remains that had her support been given, an alternative bill could have been passed and millions of Americans now without health insurance could have received coverage 14 years ago. 

One of the task force’s deputies said at the time, “I find her to be among the most self-righteous people I’ve ever known in my life... and it’s her great flaw, it’s what killed health care.” 

The Republicans will likely make use of this information from Senator Clinton’s record in the 2008 campaign, as they have the right to do. 

Those of us who support and value Senator Clinton may wish to develop answers to the health care issue and to develop a strong list of the Senator’s notable accomplishments as First Lady and as Senator, so that she can have a good chance in the Presidential campaign, should she be our nominee. There seems to be some time left to do this. 

Brad Belden 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I went to my veterinarian’s office to buy cat food the other day. A doctor told me that she had had to kill 24 kittens the day before because the shelter was unable to adopt them out. Too many unwanted kittens. There is something we can do. A wonderful organization started by a friend of mine, Linda McCormick, called Fix Our Ferals is about to spay and neuter their 10,000th feral cat. Fix Our Ferals monitors, traps, and “fixes” the strays who live and breed outside, alone and mostly uncared for. Lots of volunteers help out at the clinics held every two months at the Oakland SPCA on Hegenberger Road. The veterinarians and vet students come from UC Davis to do the surgeries as volunteers. There is a clinic coming up Sunday, July 15. If you know of any ferals living around you, call their hot line at 433-9446. Also visit their very nice website 

Barbara Henninger 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This has been a summer when most of my friends are planning, or are now enjoying, fabulous vacations in faraway, romantic spots. One friend is presently in London, following a glorious week in Bruges. Another is leaving for Croatia this Friday. Still another lucky friend will be taking a river cruise: “Old World Prague and The Blue Danube.” All of this makes me rather reluctant to share my own plans. When I announced that I’d be spending five days in Burlingame, jaws dropped. “Burlingame? You’re going to Burlingame?” Well, I’m the first one to admit that this particular city hasn’t ranked high on my list of places not to be missed. 

But let me explain how it all came about. Several weeks ago I received a flyer from Elderhostel announcing a five day Comedy Theme Program. Now if you haven’t heard of Elderhostel, you’re clearly from another planet. Anyway, the flyer provided alluring details of a comedy workshop to be held at the Embassy Suites in Burlingame. This program has evidently become one of the most popular programs in all Elderhostel and it’s easy to see why. The comedy theme week included live performances by some of the top Bay Area comics—stand-up comedians, clowns, an entertainment writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, etc., etc. But what got me was the promise, “You’ll laugh until it hurts!” Brother, was I in need of a laugh! Admit it, this has been one lousy year: the bloody mess in Iraq (and that nerd in the White House just itching to do battle with Iran); the mass shootings in Virginia, melting ice glaciers, and, worse of all, the heart-wrenching ordeal of Paris Hilton). Yep, if ever I needed a laugh, it was now. 

All in all, it was a fantastic week. The Embassy Suites, a gorgeous hotel, looks out at the Bay and across to the S.F. Airport. The 52 participants were a lively bunch—Hal Roach’s daughter was one and she regaled us with stories of the distant pass when she starred in “The Little Rascals.” With morning and afternoon lectures by veteran comedians and ancient movies (Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Danny Kaye film clips) we did indeed laugh until it hurt! 

But the very best part of al—there were no airport hassles, no canceled flights—just an easy 35-minute drive from the Bay Area. I had such a fabulous time I may sign up again for another program featuring great Jewish comedians and Borscht Belt comedy. 

Dorothy Snodgrass