Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday September 21, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Along with Diamond Dave Whittaker, I am again putting together the Gandhi statue birthday poetry reading at the Gandhi statue behind the San Francisco Ferry Building, from 1-6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30. And while Arnie (five-minute sign-ups at has known it for a few months, it was not until recently that he fully realized in the fourth dimension that the United Nations has declared Oct. 2, Gandhi’s birthday, “International Day of Nov-Violence.” Let us all that day, spread, spam, blog, gather, smoke signals, hand puppets—do all we can to communicate and resonate around the world that there is now a sanctioned day of non-violence!  

Arnie Passman  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

It astounds me the way you complain about local businesses not advertising in your paper! Advertising should be a free choice of the people buying the ads. If the local merchants felt that your paper was a good source I’m sure they’d use you more.  

Rich Crowl 




Dear “George” [the anonymous author of the Sept. 18 First Person story, “A Joyous Act of Civil Disobedience”: 

Please make a note to, next time, have some local “makers” fashion cushy devices that can be plopped on top of the fences so that nobody punctures their hands while scrambling back or forth. 

Oh, and thanks for the “vibe check.” 

Thomas Lord 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

What a spicy editorial you had today. I didn’t know people wrote to you declaring, “How dare you not publish my piece!” What planet are they on? Papers are jigsaw puzzles of hastily assembled material, from what I learned when I was a journalism major. You deserve congratulations for finding the precious space in a twice-a-week paper for as many contributions as you do print. 

Imagine the complaints to you if a revolution broke out? Your e-mail would overload with anger at unreported rallies, boycotts and riots, not to mention unprinted commentaries declaring a call to arms. 

Keep up the good work. 

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley School Board has the critically important responsibility of choosing the next school superintendent to replace Michele Lawrence who will retire on Feb. 1, 2008. To help facilitate the recruiting process, we have engaged the consulting firm of Leadership Associates to coordinate a national search and recruitment process. To help us in this process and allow us to give clear direction to our consultants, we are asking our parents, community, high school students and employees to identify the characteristics, talents and experience they believe our next superintendent should possess. 

The consultants have established a series of meetings in which they will hear from almost 50 groups, representing various constituents in the district and throughout the community. Groups and organizations have been contacted, but we want to ensure that there are also opportunities for individuals in the community to give input to the consultants. You are welcome to attend any of three general meetings scheduled on: Monday, Sept. 24, 7:15 p.m. at BTech Academy (2701 Martin Luther King Way); or Tuesday, Sept. 25, 6:30 p.m. at BTech Academy; or Tuesday, Sept. 25, 12:45 p.m. at the School District Office (2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, second floor, Superintendent’s Conference Room). 

If you are unable to attend, you can send your suggestions to or 23052-H Alicia Parkway, Mission Viejo, Calif. 92692 We sincerely hope you will take this opportunity to be involved in the recruitment process. It is important for us to hear the views from all the voices in our community. 

Joaquin Rivera 

President, BUSD Board of Education 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

So why not let us decide about BRT by public vote? The proposal to convert two lanes of Telegraph Avenue to bus-only traffic (known as BRT) should be placed on the next ballot to guage whether the public actually wants this project (which also eliminates hundreds of public parking spaces). Proponents and opponents of BRT do not seem to be able to agree on much when debating this project. It has been a very contentious argument which will only get worse. There may be agreement on only one thing: If created, BRT will have a tremendous impact on Berkeley—on quality of life, on business and future development projects. Whether that impact is good or bad is a matter of opinion. And there are always unintended consequences, both good and bad. But this issue is far too important to be decided by faceless city staff planners, rubber-stamp planning commissions and a City Council which seems to have already made up its mind. Let BRT be decided by the people of Berkeley at the voting booth.  

Frank Greenspan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wish to make a correction to the date of Pete Voulkos’ Solano, cited in Peter Selz’ Sept. 18 article, “Oakland Museum Receives Major Gift.” Voulkos made this piece in 1959 not 1958. Because the label posted at the museum accompanying the sculpture incorrectly cites it as 1958, the error is understandable. 

The Oakland Museum also owns Voulkos’ 1959 sculpture, Little Big Horn, which was included in the exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art that Selz refers to in his article, and which was organized by Mr. Selz. 

Sam Jornlin 

Voulkos & Co. Catalogue Project 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just about went into a decline when I moved here from New York City 40 years ago and there was no Hellman’s on store shelves! Anywhere! (Barbarian heathens. I knew I should have stayed in New York.) I got clued in to Best Foods, and all was well. I know I’m not alone; many ex-New Yorkers have reported the same experience. 

Living without Hellman’s mayo, or Best Foods as they call it out here, was unthinkable until today, when I found out from a site called that it contains GMO soy oil. I am now willing to use other mayos until Hellman’s sees the light and switches. I believe they used to use olive oil and should go back to that. 

Just to make sure, I spoke to a Hellman’s customer rep who said that Hellman’s did contain GMO oil, and I could rest assured that it was totally fine and pure and just like non-GMO oil. I reminded her that for decades big corporations have been assuring us that this that or the other thing was totally safe, only to be proved wrong by determined activists. The number to call is: 1-800-418-3275. 

The site contains a very comprehensive list of foods that contain GMO ingredients, as well as the non-GMO alternatives. 

Alice Molloy 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Tuesday afternoon, I attended an event at the Memorial Stadium oak grove. The purpose of the event, as well as the purpose of the grove itself, is to honor and memorialize the fallen veterans of World War I. 

Longtime resident and vet-advocate Country Joe McDonald sang and strummed a touching piece. Former Mayor Shirley Dean gave a wonderful speech as other Berkeley luminaries looked on. Someone named Helen sang a splendid rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and an inspiring eulogy was delivered by the priest (whose name I did not catch). 

The eulogy spoke of the sacrifice of World War l veterans, and how their courage and determination were born of the simple ideals of peace, freedom and democracy. They put their bodies on the line to fight against imperial aggression and tyranny. They truly believed that it would be the war to end all wars. Memorial Stadium and the oak grove were named in honor of those who died, and that is why we were there. It took three hours to read each name of the 1,800 Californians who perished in that war. 

During the ceremony, a large late model pickup drove by our gathering on Gayley Avenue. One of the young males inside shouted out “I hate trees! I love football! F— you.” No one paid any attention, but I could not help but be struck by the symbolic poignancy of the incident. Those of us in the gathering symbolized the soldiers we were honoring, as well as the majority of Berkeley citizens. The young men driving by (we’ll call them “football truck guys”), symbolized the university. 

The vast majority of Berkeley citizens, for good reason, oppose the university’s plan to destroy the oak grove. “Football truck guys” and U.C. hope to destroy the grove to carry out their self-centered, anti-democratic expansionism. 

Those who live here care deeply about sustaining our quality of life. “Football truck guys” will be leaving Berkeley once they finish school. The university, a self-contained entity, arrogantly does as it pleases with no concern for our city and it’s citizens. 

Those of us at the ceremony were there in reverence for the fallen soldiers, and for the oak grove named in their honor. “Football truck guys” shouted out obscenities at our solemn little gathering. The university, if they are allowed to carry out their scheme, will dishonor those soldiers and what they stood for. As the university continues to disregard and disrespect the wishes of most Berkeley residents, it has now aggressively constructed a grotesque fence to make sure freedom and democracy are shut out. 

The people of Berkeley could take inspiration from the courage the oak grove memorializes. The people of Berkeley need to stand up and tear that fence down. 

Kevin Moore 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Our mayor and City Council fall over themselves praising Steve Barton. They call him “a stalwart, creative leader” and “an extremely valuable resource.” Some also take potshots at the city attorney, who is blamed for Barton’s ouster as housing director. Barton demands an investigation of the whole matter. 

Lest we forget....  

• The city manager, not the city attorney, fired Steve Barton. All three serve at the pleasure of the mayor and council, which is where the buck must stop. It is hypocritical and cowardly for the council to decide in a back room to fire Barton and then publicly to proclaim him as an affordable housing messiah. 

• Barton was not fired for dishonesty, but for gross incompetence. Beginning in 2002, he was repeatedly told by federal investigators that the Section 8 program was “troubled,” and that there were numerous instances of wrongdoing among employees and applicants. Barton had five years to solve the problem, but didn’t.  

• Those who call Barton a champion of affordable housing do not see what a sham that program has been. There are only 1,800 Section 8 vouchers. What Berkeley has done is shift a lot of these vouchers away from existing buildings, often owned by local, small landlords, to big high-rises owned by out-of-towners. There is no net gain in covered units. What Berkeley has also done is exhaust its affordable housing trust fund in order to subsidize developments that will most likely not survive economically without even more taxpayer help. 

• Two years ago, Barton sold the council on a condo conversion program that was to have replenished the trust fund with four million dollars a year in fees. So far, nothing has been collected. 

That said, Mr. Barton is right: Berkeley’s housing programs should be investigated, bottoms up, by impartial persons who are not puppets to the council, and who are not tied to old, failed policies. 

There are lots of dark corners to look in. Why, for example, was the city forced to scrap its list of some 5,000 Section 8 applicants? Did people who managed to jump the line corrupt the list? If so, what about the unfairness to honest, qualified folks who have been waiting for years, but who must now start over again? 

In this regard the investigators might start with the case of Eleanor Walden, a member of the Rent Stabilization Board. For 10 years she has simultaneously held down a Section 8 unit in Redwood Gardens, and a super low-rent controlled unit on Milvia Street. A few months ago, Ms. Walden tried to evict a subtenant at Milvia, and told the Rent Board (in writing) that the place had been her home for 2 years. At the same time she told the Section 8 people that Redwood Gardens was her home. Then, just two weeks ago, she changed her story to the Rent Board, stating that she had moved from Milvia to Redwood Gardens “in a gradual process” between 1997 and 2004.” 

This is all in the public record, but so far no one seems to take an interest in these specific examples of gross manipulation by people in power.  

It’s for tolerating this kind of behavior that Steve Barton was fired. Yes, we should all welcome an investigation, the quicker the better. 

David Wilson  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It has been brought to my attention that the treatment of Tennessee fans at the Cal game a few weeks ago was reported by your publication as negative. I am writing to inform you that your reporting couldn’t be further from the truth. I am a UT grad currently living in San Diego. I flew up to the Bay Area and attended the game with another alum who resides in Sacramento. We were both clad in orange and received nothing but politeness. 

When walking through the campus before the game, we were greeted several times by complete strangers welcoming us to California due to our orange Tennessee clothing (which we found ironic, seeing as we live here). I can assure you, I have seen ugliness at college football games (try going to a Tennessee-Alabama game in Knoxville wearing Alabama gear) and the treatment of Cal fans to UT fans was excellent. It truly made the day enjoyable even though our team got crushed. 

The only problem I had with the game was that the stadium was ill-equipped at the exits/entrances. I later found out that this was due to the people in the trees. After a little research, I learned of why these people are up in the trees. I find it hard to believe that an entire city has to halt a multi-million-dollar construction job because four or five people are offended (maybe it’s nine or 10, or maybe it’s 500, whatever). It seems like Cal has a great university and a great following for its football program, but the city and its constituents want to disappoint and upset thousands of people to appease a few. This seems like a trend in your area of the country, and it is unfortunate. The overriding sentiment around the nation after that game was that you people are ridiculous. It is not 1969, and people living in trees do as much damage to them as do bull-dozers. Point not taken. 

To summarize, Cal football fans were civil and polite, and your publication should do its journalistic due diligence and report the facts. The hippies in trees are idiots, making those in power siding with them bigger idiots. 

Patrick Berry 

San Diego 

University of Tennessee,  

Class of 1999 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was born in Berkeley and have lived her all my adult life and obviously, yes, I could move elsewhere if I chose to, but I’ve just got to admit that after 52 years this whole Berserkeley thing feels a little tired. This morning I walked past a young woman, probably a new student; she was talking to her mom on the phone she held in her hand. “And Mom,” she was saying as she passed me, “they have people living in trees here,” and when she said the word “trees” her voice rose up to a little squeak and then she started giggling (and maybe her mom started giggling too). 

Now I’m the kind of person who can sort of see both sides to any given situation, but to me it’s like when you’re a kid and your mom says “Eat all the Brussels sprouts on your plate. There are people starving in Africa.” There really are people dying in Africa...and a whole lot of other terrible things going on all over the world. This whole tree/stadium thing...well, as I said, I can see both sides but I also see an enormous amount of time, energy and money being spent by both a mule-headed university and an ornery city and I guess maybe we should all ask ourselves, given an overview of the world and its myriad problems (go ahead, take your pick), if we really want to be honest, is this the very best use of our time, energy and money? 

Susan Leonard 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Caltrans ought to build bus stops at each interchange in the East Bay, as exist in Marin. The only one here is at Orinda. 

More use of buses on freeways will reduce congestion. 

Before BART was built, AC Transit was carrying 58 percent of the people using the Bay Bridge during the peak hours. 

Charles Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Aug. 31 commentary, “Berkeley’s Misplaced Planning Priorities,” Paul Glusman states that “there never has been any direct public transit between Berkeley or Oakland and Marin County.” 

After the Loma Prieta earthquake there was ferry service from Berkeley to Tiburon. 

Mr. Glusman also overlooks the very good bus service Golden Gate Transit provides from the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station to San Rafael seven days a week—thus making it possible to bypass San Francisco. 

Paul Slater 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The fine old building at 1050 Parker St. has been degraded to an eyesore, which is the Berkeley way to prepare it for demolition. Many years ago, when the building housed the famous publishing house Howell-North, I tried to buy it. I wasn’t so interested in the building itself, but it was full of ancient letterpress and linotype equipment and thousands of drawers of type for handsetting books. Flora North was losing her eyesight and needed to retire and unload her grand publishing business. Howell-North did the very finest railroad books, all beautifully designed and handset and printed in the same building. This was one of the oldest and best West Coast publishing houses and its famous authors even included a favorite of mine, Lucius Beebe. Flora has just sold the building for $35,000. It was the late ’60s, early ’70s, and Berkeley was in revolt and property was for sale cheap. For me the wonderful old equipment had to stay in the building, as it was terribly expensive to move. I guess it all got junked and the books were sold off. Many are still in print.  

I don’t think the building should be saved but I’d like to know more about it as it could easily be from the last century. It was a heartbreaker to lose this particular publishing house and I note that the original editions now sell used for large sums as rare books. 

Phil Wood 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Lately, whenever I see a reference to Hamas, it is followed with the phrase “which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.” To be fair, I suggest that whenever the media refers to Israel, it should be followed with the phrase “which does not recognize the right of Palestine to exist.”  

Jan Snipper 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

A conservative law firm known as the Pacific Legal Foundation wants to turn back the clock toward the 1950s when segregation was legal. They are anti-Indian, anti-environment, and anti-civil rights. For example, they defended private property owners, oil and gas companies over the sovereignty of American Indians when it comes to both land and water rights.  

On civil rights, they want to roll back racial integration in the schools. For example, they are attacking the Berkeley Unified School District because Berkeley wants to do things what would preserve racial diversity in the schools. The Pacific Legal Foundation cheers the Supreme Court decision which struck down diversity in the schools. That decision is a setback for equality. 

The Pacific Legal Foundation, just like others in the conservative movement, was and still is against the civil rights movement and would love nothing better than to see the day when segregation returns in public life. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In Conn Hallinan’s Sept. 7 column, “Israeli Settlements and a Scramble for the Arctic,” Mr. Hallinan asserted that General Vang Pao made millions in the drug trade [in Laos]. He referenced Mr. Alfred McCoy’s book The Politics of Heroin as a sources for this claim. In the article, Mr. Hallinan asks the audience to take the time to sit down with McCoy and to watch Leslie Cockburn’s “Drugs, Guns and the CIA,” a Frontline special based on McCoy’s assertions.  

So let us analyze what McCoy truly knew about Vang Pao and the alleged drug cartel he has accused Vang Pao of orchestrating. Based on the time-line that he gave, Mr. McCoy visited Laos in July of 1971 as a graduate student. He spent one month in Laos and visited one Hmong village, the village of Long Pot, were he spent five days interviewing the villagers through a Lao interpreter. By his own admission these villagers had fallen from Vang Pao. During this time, Mr. McCoy did not meet Vang Pao nor did he visit Long Cheng the site he alleged was the center of a heroin factory. Mr. McCoy referenced two shady Lao generals as his main sources for these allegations. He interviewed General Ouane Rattikone and General Thao Ma each once in September of 1971. General Rattikone admitted to McCoy that he bought and sold opium. General Thao Ma was forced to flee to Thailand after his failed coup against the Royal Laos Government.  

Prior to writing this so call “classic” McCoy admitted that he has never written anything longer than a term paper. In the revised 2003 edition of The Politics of Heroin, Mr. McCoy acknowledges that the Church Committee of the United States Senate concluded that there was “no substance” to “allegations that the Agency’s proprietaries were involved in drug trafficking.” Furthermore, McCoy spent one week in a Hmong village, this does not make him an expert on the Hmong, this irregardless on how many PhD’s are attached to his name. 

In conclusion, before Mr. Hallinan publishes anymore cut and paste articles, he should double check his sources as these allegations he made against the Hmong and General Vang Pao can carry serious consequences. Unless Mr. Hallinan can prove that Vang Pao was a drug lord he must retract his statements. He is welcome to contact me for any further clarifications.  

Chong Jones  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mr. Conly’s assertion that the near-simultaneous arrival of big, articulated buses on Telegraph Avenue (i.e.: “bunching”) will be alleviated by shutting down two lanes of traffic on that main artery is suspicious. So-called bunching on Telegraph began with the substantial increase of buses on the 1R line. I rode the bus to the halfway point several times just prior to the escalation of service; buses ran regularly and it was not difficult to get to Oakland at any hour. It may surprise Mr. Conly and other Friends of BRT that some folks who oppose this scheme have since noted lots of nearly empty buses all along the No. 1 route in both directions. In 2003 AC Transit paid a consultant a lot of money to stop this kind of waste. How odd that it should adopt this practice on the Telegraph Avenue line today.  

I had supposed primary responsibility for what may be shaping up as a legendary boondoggle might belong to top execs at AC Transit. But evidently not. Mr. Conly’s carefully composed counter claim that we aren’t really seeing what we are seeing and that closing lanes to cars won’t do what experience in similar conditions tells us it will do—in concert with further revelations in the Berkeley Daily Planet (City of Berkeley plans to spend $396,000.00 on PR for the BRT scheme) indicates that the Berkeley city government is equally responsible for this public policy misfire. So far both organizations are holding their ears tightly shut to the public outcry against closing two lanes of Telegraph Avenue to cars.  

AC Transit has gone conveniently deaf before. It ignored complaints about VanHool buses from drivers and riders and signed a big contract for lots more. I have been on them quite a few times. They are not as good to ride—for reasons of convenience, safety, and esthetics—as the buses that ran before. They are expensive to buy and operate. Parts must come from Europe. Someone must have a mighty compelling reason to override all the good reasons not to buy them. The same or others must have a similarly compelling reason to disregard tens of thousands of people who want to leave Telegraph the way it is. 

The Daily Planet’s report that 300 or 400 millions of dollars are tied to this hare-brained transit scheme is the most telling piece of information to date. “Public servants” that get a whiff of that kind of money bend all efforts to concoct reasons why it should be delivered into their hands. This process wastes little thought on the wishes of affected members of the public. Nor is it expedient on the way to the bank to consider salient points of criticism: 

1. Buses are a relatively inefficient means of transportation. 

2. Big buses that are run empty waste fuel. 

3. Large numbers of big, heavy buses ruin our streets. 

4. Our streets are already breaking down. 

5. There are lots of buses and BART trains to Oakland already (before the recent escalation of service). 

6. Restricting auto traffic to one lane on Telegraph would waste time/fuel/money and inconvenience thousands each day. 

It has not been difficult to get to Oakland or Berkeley from Telegraph. Rush hour is slower whether you are in a car or a bus. Emphasizing more speed is misdirection. BRT is not necessary in real terms nor is it desired by large numbers of the affected public. My guess is lane closure is a requirement for big-bucks funding. The sudden plethora of buses on Telegraph looks as much like an attempt to secure a fait accompli (“getting people used to it”) as enlightened public policy. 

Glen Kohler 



HR 1940 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Dan Lungren is pushing his bill, HR1940, to end birthright citizenship. It plays to the lowest common denominator of the Republican Party and the anti-immigration activists. Lungren’s HR1940 is a racially charged attempt to overturn the Anglo-American common law principle, dating back to 1608, which allows citizenship to all people born here. Isn’t withholding health insurance from children and taking citizenship away from children rather un-American? 

Ron Lowe  

Grass Valley