Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday July 24, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Imagine having a grocery store with good food, low prices and smiling clerks. Imagine having a grocery store with good food, low prices and smiling clerks in every neighborhood in Berkeley and Oakland. Imagine Trader Joe’s. Imagine not having to drive or bicycle or bus or walk miles to get to some over-priced corporate food chain with high prices, poor quality and apathetic help. 

It would seem that a well-run Trader Joe’s grocery store is a real threat to some of the old-time hard-core Marxist-Leninist Trotskyite East Bay lefties. The very idea that our capitalist society can occasionally produce well-run socially-conscious companies, the very idea… 

I am very happy that we Rockridgers of Oakland are getting our very own neighborhood Trader Joe’s grocery store in a few months. It will replace the awful, poorly-run, over-priced Albertson’s (which swallowed up the good low-priced Lucky’s in their corporate quest for greed). “Good widdance to bad wubbish,” as the great Elmer Fudd would say. 

Living right next to a grocery store of any stripe might be a bit of a sticky wicket, as the English might say. As a starting kindergartner 60 years ago, I was not thrilled to live right across the street from the local elementary school. Too close for comfort. I cried at the door on the first day of school after being walked to the kindergarten class. Who are all those kids and what are those giant blocks? But most of us adjust (finally) to our new situations. These anti-Trader Joe’s folks may well end up being some of the store’s most devoted customers. 

James K. Sayre 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you, Charles Siegel, for again reminding me of your very humorous letter in 2003. In that letter you erroneously asserted that I had been mistaken when I stated that the Urban Land Institute, a “smart growth” organization, recommended very moderate building heights for walkable neighborhoods. At that time, Martha Nicoloff quickly wrote to support my original ULI source with another ULI source of her own. I will quote from Ms. Nicoloff’s letter here, because although your errors of fact—such as mistaking 35 stories for 35 feet—are somewhat funny, what is not funny at all is the perversion of “smart growth” being foisted off on the existing neighborhoods and future residents of Berkeley. 

Ms. Nicoloff wrote: “In a handbook for planners and developers published in June, 2003 by the San Francisco District Council of the Urban Land Institute, you will find the following quote: ‘Building Heights Intent: Buildings in walkable neighborhoods need not exceed three stories to accommodate compact development....Primary buildings in walkable neighborhoods shall not exceed 35 feet; accessory buildings (garages and second units) shall not exceed 25 feet. Chimneys, vents, cupolas, ornamental parapets, and other minor projections may exceed these height limits by up to five feet.’ (Reference: Smart Growth in the San Francisco Bay Area: Effective Local Approaches.)” The ULI also has other humane recommendations, such as at least 50 square feet of private open space and access to another 100 square feet of private or semi-private open space.  

However, this in no way contradicts the ULI’s right to give awards to 35-story buildings in the right context, as you mention. They ULI gave a 2006 award to a bizarre, bullet-shaped 35-story building in Barcelona. This building is next to a “double-decker roundabout at the intersection of three of Barcelona’s major boulevards” and the area is designated for future skyscrapers; it does not appear to be a residential neighborhood. 

The ULI also gave 2006 awards to the San Francisco Presidio (low-density historic preservation), and to a Singapore conservation program that has designated over 6500 buildings for historic preservation, which ULI calls “a model conservation program to preserve its rich heritage of vernacular buildings and colorful neighborhoods.” Hmmm...I think Berkeley has some of those, too, doesn’t it?  

Sharon Hudson 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is gratifying to learn that Councilmember Max Anderson fully supported the ZAB recommendation to shut down the Dollar Store at 2973 Sacramento St. (Daily Planet, July 20). Perhaps, however, Mr. Anderson can tell us how he reconciles his position with his publicly stated opposition to the 2006 court decision in which a property owner at 1610 Oregon St. (which is situated practically around the corner from 2973 Sacramento) was ordered to pay her neighbors $70,000 for maintaining a public nuisance. As with this case, that one involved knowingly permitting drug dealers and other assorted criminal types to use her property as a safe harbor for illegal business dealings. As with this case, the evidence in that one was “overwhelming, clear, and well-documented over a long duration.” 

I am not a resident of Mr. Anderson’s district, but if I were I would want to know the exquisitely calibrated thought process by which he reaches different results in two such strikingly similar cases. 

Evelyn Giardina 

Walnut Creek 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s July 20 article “Contrast Between State Takeovers of Oakland and Vallejo Schools” documents that the progress in return of local control in Vallejo was greater than in Oakland. Mr. Allen-Taylor interviewed David Kakishiba, Oakland School Board President, who thinks the greater success of Vallejo in regaining local control is due to the Solano county superintendent, and the state administrator of Vallejo school district, providing a more rigorous administrative focus on the Vallejo recovery plan than Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan, and Oakland State Administrator, Kimberly Statham provided for their recovery plan. 

The lack of administrative vigor mentioned above might be one of many factors explaining the differences between Vallejo and Oakland in making progress toward return of local control. Another factor might be the smaller size of both Vallejo and Solano County making their responsibilities easier to administer. Another factor may be that the Oakland state administrator placed a priority in implementing the Broad Foundation managerial reforms. This reform commitment may have distracted that administration from its mission of implementing the recovery plan endorsed by the quasi-State agency Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT).  

Yet, there might be a simpler explanation for Oakland lagging behind Vallejo in returning of local control. It might be that Dr. Kimberly Statham, the Oakland state administrator, is neither highly qualified, nor even legally qualified. There is nothing in her record that would have qualified her as an “expert in finance.” In fact, Javetta Robinson, her chief financial officer, and a person that qualifies as an “expert in finance,” was recently apparently fired with little thought of a replacement. I interpret this action as demonstrating, not only a lacking in financial expertise, but managerial expertise too.  

California Education Code 41326(b)(2) defines the qualification for a state administrator as “The administrator shall have recognized expertise in management and finance.” And Ed Code 41326 also makes State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan responsible for seeing that this law is carried out. Kimberly Statham was a feel good, popular alternative to Oakland’s previous abrasive state administrator, Randolph Ward; but, being popular did not mean she was qualified. But even if finances were State Administrator Statham’s priority, she would still, by California law, remain legally unqualified for the position of state administrator.  

Jim Mordecai 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Another very good editorial! (“Time to Savor the Small Stuff,” July 20.) It lifted my spirits that tiny little bit that helps to make it through another day in a town with a ruling class that currently tries to forget that low-income and blue collar working class families exist, and when they do notice, tries to eliminate them from surviving here—by government action, or inaction. I love my Berkeley neighbors, most are unique and wonderful, but I am personally frequently disappointed by the results of decisions of the BUSD, the rent board, and many of those on the City Council. Maybe the next generation will be able to do a better job, and repair some of the damage now being done. What happened to our hopes and dreams of truly open, competent, and caring government, and the need for truth and justice, that we had way back in the 1960s and 1970s here in Berkeley? Unprofitable? Forgotten? Even though the government of Berkeley is frustrating, it is wonderful to look around and at least see the large numbers of individual Berkeley people who are doing things to make life for others better in at least “small ways.”  

Patty Pink  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The exit of controversial Planning Manager Mark Rhoades is a much welcome move. After all, while at the planning office, he was very divisive and made lives miserable for a lot of Berkeleyans, including us tenants at 2507 McGee St. Mr. Rhoades as well as the city attorney’s office have made us very anxious and fearful of our future housing as they plan to put the property in receivership. The irony of it all, they have selected Mr. Ali Kashani, a developer for profit as the receiver. The Daily Planet story mentioned that Mr. Rhoades is “likely to be working” with Mr. Kashani. This raises serious question on the propriety of his action and the potential “conflict of interest.” 

The property in question is in a much better shape compared to what it was in 1991 when Dr. Rash B. Ghosh purchased the property. From documents I have seen, the property was in really bad shape and in need of much needed repairs and improvements. In good faith, Dr. Ghosh proceeded in fixing the property with the permits issued by the City. Alas, 18 months after the work has been completed, the city changed its mind and decided that “they should have not issued those permits” and demand changes to the property. To further add insult to injury, Mr. Rhodes took the matter to the Municipal Court and the City Council. The Municipal court dismissed the case but Rhoades convinced the council to declare the property “a public nuisance” after conducting hearings in the absence of Dr. Ghosh who is out of the country at that time. Now that Dr. Ghosh could not afford to implement the expensive changes the city requires, and even after he has obtained condo conversion approval, Rhoades and the city attorney’s office still wants the changes be implemented, otherwise, the property goes into receivership to Ali Kashani. What a blatant display of injustice! 

The 2507 McGee St. is not only our home but it is also a place where like-minded individuals converge to work for the International Institute of Bengal Basin (IIBB), a non-profit organization dedicated to improve water quality and environment and reduce the toxic impacts both at home and abroad. It is also home to a non-denominational temple where we use for meditation. 

We believe that the problem of 2507 McGee St. can easily be resolved if only the city, particularly the planning and city attorney’s office, are not too stubborn to consider other options that are beneficial and cost effective to parties concerned. If the city remains glued to its decision, we stand to lose what we have worked so hard to be better citizen of this city, the country and the world at large. 

Rosalie Y. Say 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If Mayor Bates, by his own admission is too old to conduct city business, perhaps he should resign. Frankly, the City of Berkeley might be better off with an altogether younger City Council with a more visionary outlook. When I was young the slogan was not to trust anyone over 30. Then we all reached 30 and the slogan was deemed to be out of fashion. Maybe there was something to it after all. 

Mayor Bates is too old (and cranky) to stay up past 11 p.m. and Dona Spring is not the only one to be the brunt of his rudeness. He is not fit to be mayor of a city that used to be in the vanguard of municipal governance. His attitude on KPFA on Sunday morning did nothing to change my opinion. He is rude and condescending when speaking to his constituents. 

Constance Wiggins 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While it is absolutely necessary to consider building on transit lines, it’s also absolutely necessary to consider the noise. Traffic noise is crazy-making. Sound walls, as we’ve found, redirect the noise. In particular, building on BART lines is insanity until the train passage can be virtually silenced. Making crazy people—people who are enveloped by that noise, who keep their windows and doors closed in order to lessen that noise, ...these make people who are not healthy members of society. I’m sure you’ll be in contact with people concerned with this problem—and with proposals for ways to deal with it. The Paris subway, I’m told, runs on rubber wheels. BART wheels are out of round, and the tracks are worn. Consider the comfort as well as the necessity of living very close to good transportation. The major problems with transportation start with its inadequacy and cost to riders. There need to be 100 times as many buses going all over the place all the time—jump on one, get off, transfer to another to get where you’re going. This needs many more workers. The major problem in the United States is the lack of sufficient workers to do what we need done—like let us have enough good transportation. 

For disabled people there need to be on-call and by-appointment carriers for their particular needs and destinations. I don’t mean that every walking person who is limited in movement needs a vehicle different from a common public transportation vehicle. Many people whose physical ability is limited seem to require handicapped’s transportation because the public transportation is so far from them and/or too infrequent for ease of use. 

An objective for a meaningful society is being able to do what we do near enough to home that extensive distance travel is not necessary. But the idea of work, play, the stuff we do being available near home is so distant at this time I’m only appending it almost as an afterthought. The huge profit by dint of our labor, the extensive enslavement of the working class are barely noticed in this, capitalist society. Comfort of all of us and gentle care of Earth are so distant from people’s thinking .... how sad. 

Norma J. F. Harrison