Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday August 07, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

For years Rent Board Member Chris Kavanagh has avoided discussion of the injustices of rent control by invoking a simply defense; “the public voted for it.” Kavanagh wanted us to believe he held the democratic process in high esteem. Apparently not.  

Kavanagh has been a particularly self-righteous proponent of rent control, demeaning the concerns of those who have been injured by it. Such ideological “certainty” is self-delusional and facilitates an “end justifies the means” mentality.  

Whether Kavanagh lied to the public because he thought his leadership and insight was invaluable or simply because he could not achieve success without deception and fraud, is immaterial. What matters is his apparent violation of the most fundamental and sacred aspect of democracy, fair and honest elections. He must be held accountable.  

If it is proven that Kavanagh lied about his residency he must relinquish his elected post and reimburse the public for the money and benefits he has stolen. As a rent board member he has received $25,000 to $35,000 in stipends. He has had access to the city’s generous health and dental care plans. He has enjoyed a 75 percent reduction in his YMCA annual membership fees (worth about $4,000).  

One can’t help but wonder if his friends and fellow ideologues on the Rent Board were really unaware of this deception? Is there a “wink and a nod” policy that accepts fraud and perjury in service of what they believe to be “the greater good”? How is it that they spend $3.5 million dollars a year keeping track of who lives where but they can’t figure out where their own members live? 

I am not surprised by Kavanagh’s apparent indifference to basic fairness, such indifference is a prerequisite to blind support of Berkeley rent control. 

John Koenigshofer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

For the past several days, I have had numerous conversations with people from all political persuasions who are appalled by the actions of Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner Chris Kavanagh and the seemingly corrupt behavior of his legal counsel and former Rent Board associate Marc Janowitz. 

The facts are abundantly clear: Mr. Janowitz has had first-hand knowledge that Kavanagh has been living outside of Berkeley during Kavanagh’s tenure as a Berkeley elected official. Janowitz played a role in the election of Kavanagh and his law firm obtained lucrative contracts and benefited tremendously from Kavanagh’s position as an elected official. It will be very interesting to hear Janowitz arguing in court in defense of Kavanaugh, as he recently stated that Kavanagh lives “primarily in Berkeley.” Interesting, indeed, since Janowitz is defending Kavanaugh’s eviction from his Oakland residence. 

As this scandal continues to unfold, its breadth and depth are deeply disturbing and suggest criminal conduct well beyond the scope of a county prosecutor. What we are looking at here is rampant, sophisticated racketeering, and in order for justice to prevail, a federal investigation is warranted. Here’s hoping that our progressive community resolves this issue with the help of federal prosecutors, in much the same manner as the Reddy case several years ago, when a major federal investigation was clearly needed. 

Leon Mayeri 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The opinion pieces by Doug Buckwald and Mary Oram distort what happened at the Transportation Commission workshop on Bus Rapid Transit. In reality, about three people (including Mr. Buckwald but not Ms. Oram) tried to disrupt the meeting and to change its agenda. Chair Sarah Syed did a very good job, in difficult circumstances, of keeping the meeting focused on its agenda, which was to have people state issues to the entire group, and then break up into smaller groups for discussion. 

Mr. Buckwald’s claim that Ms. Syed let BRT supporters speak and stopped BRT opponents is totally untrue and defamatory. She let Steve Finacom go on at great length raising objections to BRT, explaining to one of the disruptors that he was raising issues. But she stopped me from speaking in support of BRT after two or three sentences, explaining that I was arguing rather than raising issues. 

Mr. Buckwald and the other disruptors apparently haven’t heard that we live in a democracy. Majorities of Berkeley voters elect councilmembers. Councilmembers appoint commissioners. Commissioners set the agendas for their meetings. It is the job of the chair to make sure that commission meetings follow their agendas. Noisy minorities do not have the right to disrupt these meetings or to change their agendas. 

The people who are now leading the battle to stop BRT are the same people who work against all environmentally sound planning in Berkeley, and they resort to disrupting meetings because they cannot win elections. They tried to stop the Brower Center, and they could not even get the issue on the ballot. They put Measure P on the ballot to stop smart growth, and it lost by a larger margin than any ballot measure in Berkeley history, with 80 percent voting against. Now, the same narrow-minded NIMBYs are working against BRT, and one of them is even calling it “Bus Rapid Development.” 

I have watched NIMBYs losing elections and disrupting meetings since the 1980s. I am sure I will continue to watch them losing elections, because they do not represent the majority of people in Berkeley. They are a distinct minority, but we hear so much from them because they are empty barrels who make a lot of noise. 

Charles Siegel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you, R. J. Schwendinger, for your continued concern about Berkeley’s ignored traffic congestion in our Elmwood area. I join you in asking for a current environmental report on the area’s traffic-related pollution. Your statistics about several studies of the effects of such pollution are vital, noting frightening increases in such illnesses as childhood asthma, and adult cardiopulmonary disease. 

However, there is another cause of the “crippling poisonous exhausts” in the area, as well as our volume and attraction of new and old commerce. Our ignored “traffic diverters” funnel much of the area’s vehicles onto College Avenue, which daily becomes a polluted parking lot. These diverters were installed in the 1960s, apparently to prevent dangerous through-traffic on residential streets. Instead, we have created a dangerous thoroughfare which is at least 75 percent residential! 

There have been complaints over the years, even petitions from residents, apparently to no avail. I found that a July, 1984 request for “removal or modification of diverters” was turned down by the City Council. This request includes the words, “local prohibitions of entry-to or exit-from streets by means of design features must be consistent with the responsibility of local governments to provide for public health and safety.” The diverters are not only undemocratic and irrational, it is probably unconstitutional to expose certain residents to the dangers of daily toxic pollution while neighbors are protected on closed streets. 

The removal of these barriers can probably result in an almost immediate and fair dispersal of this traffic congestion, as it’s done in other cities! The comparison of traffic on Berkeley’s College Avenue and the same street in Oakland’s busy Rockridge district cannot be ignored. Our traffic-engineers obviously know there are preferable traffic controls. It is baffling that our city has been ignoring this crime, which affects not only Elmwood residents but all of us who treasure and traverse the area. It is also baffling that apparently most affected or damaged College Ave. residents have not insisted on fair solutions.  

Gerta Farber 

P.S.: Cynthia Papermaster has incorrectly quoted me in her letter, (“Fear of Impeachment,” Aug. 3). Perhaps she didn’t realize that leaving out the last half of my sentence would greatly and unfairly change it’s meaning? My July 31 letter stated that Representatives Conyers and Kucinich “fear impeachment proceedings will involve congress far too long”—not that these gentlemen “fear impeachment,” as she wrote! 

Perhaps Papermaster felt my true words would cause people to also reconsider the timing of the action to impeach. Our goals are the same: to immediately end this immoral war. Let’s at least use honesty in our discussions. 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

R.J. Schwedinger paints an accurate picture of traffic and air quality in the Elmwood area. Even decades ago, when I lived on College Avenue, the flow of traffic was endless. Seeing the soot on my windows made me wonder what the soot buildup looked like in my lungs. However, in my opinion, he or she points to the wrong causes. The occasional Cal game days contribute little to the overall problem. In addition, arguing that a long-established commercial district should not adapt in order to continue to thrive seems like a side issue. 

First, Elmwood residents are not just victims. We also contribute to the problem. Who is filling most of those limited on-street parking spaces, anyway? How many Elmwood residents are either without a car or, for that matter, without a second or third car per household? Second, and perhaps most importantly, we have created the traffic mess on College by constructing our beloved traffic barricades. There is nothing wrong with the way Berkeley’s streets were designed. In most places, they form a logical grid that would allow for traffic to percolate throughout the city. We just don’t let that grid do its job. Instead, those who can have diverted traffic off of their own streets and dumped it on other’s. That means that the first thing Elmwood residents do when they leave their homes by car is to drive onto Ashby or College or (for those further south) Claremont. We have created and are contributing to our own traffic problem. And it is the jammed-up nature of traffic in the area that causes the high levels of soot and other air contaminants.  

What we seem to ignore, or forget, is that every street in Berkeley is a residential street. Those of us who are well-organized find ways to fight for our own little traffic turf (Remember the signs on stop sign-choked Piedmont/Gayley telling people to use Telegraph?). Our traffic policies create winners and losers. The problem with deciding that Ashby and College should function like suburban arterials is that the hideous thoroughfares upon which they are modeled are usually four or six lanes across, not the two lanes on the roads through Elmwood.  

So here is my solution: let Wright’s Garage convert to whatever commercial use the owners can sell, and simply barricade the intersection of College and Ashby. I am not sure where all of the traffic will go after that, but at least it will be someone else’s problem.  

Steve Weissman  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Like several recent letter writers I think that getting Bush-Cheney out of office before the 2008 election is of great importance. However, I’d like folks to consider the lack of strong evidence that the reason Pelosi, Reid and others are hedging on impeachment is fear of losing political ground in the 2008 elections. We might ponder the possibility that the Democrats, as a whole—though not stalwarts like Barbara Lee—may be afraid of the expectations they will arouse if they actually use their power to stop the war and to impeach. If they gain the presidency based instead upon elections after terrifying statements like Obama saying that we could invade Pakistan if Musharref doesn’t go after the Talliban, then the public will already be prepared again for the “lesser of two evils” and will know that the Democrats may temper, but will not reverse the war on terrorism, the decimation of Constitutional Rights, the aggressive policy in harmony with Israeli interests in the Middle East, and aggression against Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti. Just looking back at the Clinton presidency provides evidence that—with all that money flowing into their pockets—the Democrats are unable to deliver on health care and other aspects of the social service net unless forced by public unrest to do so—let alone resurrect the Bill of Rights and abandon policies of aggression and economic depredation. Of course Hillary, Obama or Edwards wouldn’t be as criminal, obtuse or self-defeating as Bush. But acting in the public’s clear interest with an impeachment procedure could well unleash a dragon of popular democratic discontent, terrifying to the Democratic leadership for different reasons than people think. All the more reason to push them harder now.  

Marc Sapir  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Is the Daily Planet a medium for responsible journalism, or a “rag,” a place where all manner of opinion can stand as “fact”? Unfortunately, it is increasingly the latter. The form of nearly any article by Richard Brenneman regarding the University of California, Berkeley starts with a paragraph that seems intended to startle the reader. The adjective “massive” invariably shows up in this inaugural paragraph, as in: “The university plans to build a “massive (fill in the blank)” that will likely cause “(fill in the blank) problems.” The next few paragraphs bolster the alarm created in the first, by quoting various neighborhood groups and/or city officials. There may be a paragraph of fact inserted somewhere toward the end of the piece, and the obligatory quote from a university spokesperson—but by that time the rhetorical trick has caste its spell. 

No where is this journalistic irresponsibility more evident than in your coverage of the ongoing controversy over the renovation/retrofit of Memorial Stadium. The first phase of this project is the building of a Student-Athlete High Performance Center adjacent to the western wall of the stadium. This building will allow the 450 or so people who work in the stadium offices each day to move into a safe, state-of-the-art facility. Numerous teams, including Cal’s women’s softball team that currently has no lockers or showers, will now have the basic facilities they deserve. The football team, which currently has the least amount of training and locker room space in the Pac-10, will finally have the facilities they deserve. There will be meeting rooms, locker rooms, medical/training rooms and an imaging center. The building itself is astutely designed, much of it is underground, and it follows the contours of the surrounding landscape seemingly effortlessly. 

The Student-Athlete High Performance Center is not in any meaningful sense a “gym.” If you want to do a responsible piece on this issue, you should show the drawings of the building. You should describe the cramped quarters, or the absence of them, that several Cal teams now have. You should describe why moving the SAHPC elsewhere is not viable without causing huge inconveniences (bus rides, shuttles, etc.) for many of the teams that would use the facility. And you should describe the concerns neighbors have regarding parking, the on-going debate over seismic safety, and the issue of the oak trees. This is if you have any interest in responsible journalism. 

Mitchell Wilson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Just for the heck of it, I rode a 1R “Rapid Bus” all the way from Telegraph and Ashby in Berkeley to the end of the line at Bayfair BART. This was between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Thursday. The trip covers the longest version of the proposed BRT corridor. Rapid Bus is called the “no build” option for BRT. Based on my recent experience, I think this is a bad option. The 1R did have some bursts of speed between some of its widely-separated stops, but it wasn’t very rapid when it had to contend with the heavy car traffic. I saw 1R buses pass each other and get bunched up. I watched delays as people slowly paid their fares, standing in line at the front door. I watched the driver have to get up and operate the mid-bus wheelchair ramp. I think “no build” is a not a useful alternative for BRT. We really need the unique BRT features—all-door boarding with POP, rolling wheelchairs on at the stations and we especially need the dedicated bus lanes. No bus can possibly be rapid unless it gets some advantage over all those cars. A “compromise” giving up any of the BRT features is really a sell-out and a waste of public money. Worse yet, such a deliberate “design for failure” will give political ammunition to those who wish to destroy public transit in general. 

Parking loss can be mitigated by nearby replacement parking. Dedicated bus lanes won’t increase congestion or cause more cut-thru traffic if a substantial number of people remove their cars from the congestion and become BRT riders enjoying the benefits of the bus lanes. Cyndi Johnson asks what, pray tell, would encourage drivers to switch to public transit. If the answer really is “nothing will,” then we may as well forget the whole BRT project, and continue to slog along with local buses. Dropping BRT would be such a terrible missed opportunity, not to mention show hypocrisy about Measure G. If we’re really serious about reducing GHG in the East Bay, we have to reduce our car driving—which means a lot more of us will want to ride public transit. 

If we want to travel quickly on transit, we have to have BRT, not Rapid Bus. We need to make up our minds: do we continue clinging to cars or do we get serious about GHG, pollution, congestion, renewable resources and our quality of life? 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s interesting to see the Berkeley Patients Group, a so-called medical marijuana dispensary, putting disabled people in wheelchairs out front when they run afoul of the law. For years now I have been approached by people with disabilities that have been thrown out of their “club.” Club is the right term because they run these places like velvet rope nightclubs for the pretty set. Ever since they found medical people that would sign off anyone without any regard to medical history, the treatment of those with medical problems has been disgraceful. When I went to talk to whoever it is that is supposed to run the “club” about one incident I was insulted about being in a wheelchair and told that I was lucky to be “in that wheelchair or you’d be getting your ass kicked.” 

The truth is that our own medical advocates have been driven out by a very aggressive group that controls all three of our clubs and others throughout the state. The few true medical patients that still use Berkeley clubs seem to be kept around and “tolerated” for the photo op. 

As someone who worked to get Prop. 215 passed and put together shows with Country Joe for the cause of those that needed legality in their fight for life. I feel duped by these folks. I have never been told by anyone at Longs or Elephant Pharmacy to “Wait until I see you out on the streets.” What kind of thugs have we allowed to take over in Berkeley?  

Dan McMullan 

Disabled People Outside Project 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A couple of years ago, unable, as usual, to find an empty seat among the half dozen chairs at two tiny tables jammed between shelves, computers, and the check-out counter, I asked a staff person why they didn’t open up the meeting room at the back, add some shelves on the walls, and use it as a reading room during library hours. No, I was told, that would mean hiring someone to supervise the back room, financially impossible. 

Now we are hearing various plans for remodeling South Branch, possibly moving it to the future Ed Roberts Campus. We hear figures like $4 million or $6 million, in so-far non-existent funds. It sounds as if relief for cramped South Branch readers could be delayed for another decade. 

Compared to the non-existent millions proposed, using the meeting room as a reading room—just a reading room, no computers, no electronic stuff, just salary for one staff person and maybe a desk—seems a cost-effective way of making some slight improvement in the disgracefully inadequate South Berkeley Library. 

Dorothy Bryant 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kudos to JoAnn Richert Lorber (Aug. 3), who shared many of the benefits of living in Berkeley, many related to the very presence of the university who is currently being sued by the city. Not only will the lawsuit against the university due to the stadium construction delay the much needed safety enhancements to the stadium, it is also costing the city $250,000.  

With this lawsuit, the city seems to disregard the benefit the games bring to the city, in tax revenues and good will. As a West Berkeley resident, I was heartened to read in a restaurant blog that recommendations for pre- and post-game eating venues mentioned restaurants throughout the city, including multiple locations in West Berkeley. The first game this season is already sold out, with many Tennessee fans coming to town specifically for the event. They will be staying in Berkeley hotels, eating in Berkeley restaurants and generating tax revenue for the city!  

As Ms. Lorber suggested, I would encourage all of those who are outraged by this waste of resources by the city to let your council members know. The lawsuit should be dropped. Instead, spend the resources (time and money) on activities that generate more positive benefit, like capitalizing on all the visitors and UC fans who come to Berkeley for the many events at UC.  

Karin Cooke 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Oh, this president and his Republican backers! They spent hundreds of billion (with a “b”) dollars destroying the infrastructure in Iraq, and it’s our bridges falling down because money wasn’t spent to maintain our infrastructure. Now we hear them complain that a few million dollars to provide medical insurance for our poor children is “too expensive.” This Republican administration. Sheesh! 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Calling someone “dishonest” because you disagree with them is an ad hominem attack. I happen to believe that my views on U.S. self-defense are in accord with the facts. Most civilians do not own tasers and you can be in serious trouble if you injure someone with a spray. Suppose they become immobilized on your property? Better to just scare them away with a gun. I do think that people should take lessons in gun safety and be psychologically prepared to use a gun in self-defense. Otherwise, just having a gun locked away is useless.  

Robert Clear is impressed with official stats. Having lived almost half my life in D.C. and the other half here in Oakland I am convinced that there are many unreported crimes. Clear’s statement that people without guns are more able to walk away from bad situations is laughable on its face. A criminal is much more likely to attack someone he believes is disarmed than take a chance with a gun owner. As far as guns not saving lives there are many people who are living proof that they do. Clear doesn’t elaborate on the “social factors” that allegedly cause crime so there was nothing there for me to respond to. I suspect that is just another left liberal excuse to rationalize crime. I never claimed that half the population owns guns.  

I believe it is closer to one third, 100 million people out of 300 million-plus Americans. The main point I was making is that in most cases where guns are used in self-defense are non-lethal. The potential criminal is scared off. And there are no victims, hence no police stats. That is definitely the most desirable outcome. 

Michael P. Hardesty 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Presidential candidate John Edwards is receiving intense interest in Iowa and in the Bay Area. He is racking up donations—large and tiny—often ahead of the pack. His $15 a head appearance in San Francisco Aug. 1 packed the house. His following in the South increased dramatically after his poverty tour. 

You’d never guess this success from the coverage the media are giving him. It’s all Hillary and Obama as though no one else was in the race. MSNBC, CNN, the print press: all display a blanket code of silence. “Meet the Press” on Sunday was a gross example of what is going on. Tim Russert invited two authors who each had written books on the candidates, one on Hillary and one on Obama. The discussion focused on those two and then went on to the Republican candidates. 

Edwards has pledged to challenge the rigged system that has created the two Americas he describes. He promises not to take money from lobbyists, to work for campaign finance reform, increase taxes on the rich to help finance programs for health care and education. All this must not sit well with the owners of the swollen media empires, now clutched in a few powerful hands. The press is not free, so we are not free. 

Nina King Luce 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a long-time media activist and KPFA-watcher, and currently a termed-out community representative on KPFA’s Program Council, I’d like to weigh in on the recent editorials and responses. I support what Becky O’Malley said: I think she’s correct and I would add that the first hour of the Sunday Salon program that featured Mayor Bates also struck me as an unfocused discussion—one that attempted to link a recent study of soaring U.S. obesity rates with the “gourmet foodie” culture of Berkeley, instead of food supply issues that cause obesity rates to skyrocket, most noticeably in lower-income populations. 

That said, I think the lesson to be learned here is that a progressive community radio station benefits from collaborative decision-making on programming and a wide circle of opinions and voices, and suffers when it retreats into hierarchy, secretiveness and buy-in to mainstream media myths about objectivity and professionalism. We can have a mayoral love-fest on KGO any day of the week. 

I understand that running KPFA is a difficult task and the level of criticism can be hard to take, so maybe it’s no surprise that the conversation has been heated. But the issue here is the Sunday morning program needs to forge tighter connections with Bay Area progressives, activists and community organizations so it can provide acute, sharp and uncompromising coverage of local issues—and KPFA internally needs to honor the richness and diversity of its volunteers and surrounding city and region by making sure programming decisions don’t occur in bolted conference rooms but in larger committee structures that include a dozen plus people drawn from different places and experiences. It doesn’t do the station any good to box out its own programming council with volunteer, community and board input. It just makes for less rewarding programming. 

Tracy Rosenberg 

Media Alliance 

Former community representative 

KPFA Program Council