Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday October 05, 2007



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was misquoted in the recent Daily Planet article, “Community Says Yes to Public Bathrooms for Everyone,” as saying “Walking down Telegraph, I still feel uncomfortable [when panhandled].” I never mentioned panhandling. What I said is “I am a 6-foot-5 male and sometimes feel uncomfortable walking down Telegraph Avenue. And when my teenage nieces visit they definitely feel uncomfortable.” I was then correctly quoted as saying that Telegraph needs special relief from both sitting and lying on the sidewalk. It is my opinion that lying and sitting on the sidewalk are a major problem on Telegraph Avenue, not panhandling. I think it is largely because of folks lying and sitting on the sidewalk that neighbors such as myself infrequently visit and shop on Telegraph Avenue.  

John Caner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Helicopter pollution over South Campus seems to be at a nearly four-decade high. Is there someone that really believes that this regular militarized leaf-blowing helps to construct a more peaceful community? 

Jeff Jordan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When I grow up and get old and bitter I’ll move to Grass Valley where I’ll write letters accusing everyone who disagrees with me of racism and then I’ll send the letters to Berkeley where they will print them because they like that sort of thing there. 

In one recent diatribe, Ron Lowe warned that legislation to end automatic citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants “is a racially charged attempt to overturn the Anglo-American common law principal, dating back to 1608, which allows citizenship to all people born here.” 

Curiously, this ancient principle is not the law in England, or Scotland, or Ireland... or in those mean and nasty countries such as Sweden, France, or Norway. In fact, no country in Europe gives citizenship to the children of illegal aliens.  

It’s time for the United States to join the modern community of nations where citizenship means something more than just an accident of geography. 

Mark Johnson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like to respond to Ms. Cloudwalker and her recent shopping experience in Berkeley in reference to the letter to the editor about the young black kids who were hassled by the Berkeley police officers. She stated that she observed three young black men standing around one of which had his hand on his crotch inside his pants for two hours. My question to her is, what was she doing watching a young man with his hand on is crotch—for two hours? I would like to suggest that perhaps Ms. Cloudwalker may have serious subconscious voyeurism issues that needs the attention of perhaps a mental health specialist. 

Robert White 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his letter “Taking Issue With Conn,” Chong Jones claims that my sources for charging that former Laotian CIA asset, General Vang Pao are “cut and paste” and unless I “can prove that Vang Pao was a drug lord” I must retract them. He then debunks Alfred McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin in South East Asia. He mentions my other source, Frontline’s “Drugs, Guns and the CIA,” but never addresses it.  

Smart move.  

First, his review of McCoy’s book is not one I think most readers would agree, and as for McCoy’s statement that the Church Committee found no evidence that the CIA was involved in aiding the drug trade, so what? The committee was wrong.  

Now let’s look at what Frontline found. 

Ron Rickenbach, who headed up the air arm of the U.S. Aid and International Development program told Frontline that he personally witnessed the off loading of raw opium from small U.S. Air America aircraft, which was then put on larger craft for transshipment to southern Laos and Thailand. Air America was on contract with the CIA. Rickenbach said the CIA knew the opium trade was going on, but that the Agency felt it was a necessary evil in the fight against communism. 

The traffic in opium eventually got so big, according to Richenbach, that the United States decided to create Sing Quan, Vang Pao’s personal airline. The CIA took an Air America C-47, painted it, and gave it Vang Pao. From that point on, the large shipments of opium flew on Sing Quan, which quickly became known by the nickname, “Opium Air.”  

Frontline interviewed pilots Fred Platt and Neil Hansen, both whom flew the opium on Air America planes, and journalist John Everingham, who reported on the control Vang Pao’s military had over the trade. 

Lastly, Leslie Cockburn interviewed Tony Poe, the CIA agent who worked with Vang Pao. Poe, an OSS and World War II veteran, and the Agency’s key man in Laos until he was forced out because he refused to tolerate Vang Pao’s corruption, explicitly implicates Vang Pao in drug running.  

Why should this surprise us? Vang Pao was a lieutenant in the French colonial army, fighting to keep Laos part of France’s colonial empire in Southeast Asia. Actually, compared to that kind of betrayal, maybe running opium is not such a big deal. 

Conn Hallinan 

P.S.: The transcript of “Guns, Drugs, and the CIA” can be read on the PBS website. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Chris Kavanagh’s plight once again highlights the supposed housing shortage that many say is the mandate for the various rent control programs in the Bay Area. Yet in North Oakland I can point out seven vacant houses in a two block radius of my home. The particular ones that I can think of have been vacant for more than five years each. The number of vacant properties in West Berkeley and North Oakland is astounding. The positive impact of the various inclusionary zoning schemes currently being proposed would be dwarfed by the benefit of the additional housing stock ‘created’ by limiting the amount of time a house could sit as a vacant blight. This would simply be the fastest and most cost effective way of increasing the supply of housing that I can think of. 

Tom Nemeth 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Vincent Casalaina complains in his recent letter that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will “disrupt our lives.” This city has heard this complaint many times from affluent homeowners who live near the proposed BRT line, but it has not heard the stories of the bus riders whose lives will be improved by BRT, because most of them are so busy with their work and families that they cannot afford the luxury of being politically active. 

Here is the story of a potential BRT rider who a member of Friends of BRT talked to on the 1-R bus. This story is completely true, though the names have been changed. I hope that when the city make decisions about BRT, it will consider its effect on people like this commuter, even though they are not as affluent and vocal as members of local neighborhood associations.  

Maria and her husband Gerardo are parents of a 6-year-old son named Rodrigo. Maria works as a cook at a restaurant on Telegraph Avenue near the UC campus. She would like to live closer to where she works, but because she can’t afford the rents in Berkeley on her current pay, she takes the 1R to get to work from her home in East Oakland. She plans an hour each way for her commute. 

Maria says she would like to be able to use BART, but the station is too far from where she lives and works. To get to a BART station, Maria would first have to pay for a bus ride, and then a BART ticket on top of that. “It’s cheaper for me to take AC Transit and get all the way to Telegraph Avenue,” she says. “BRT would be so nice. I would be able to get to work even faster than if I were to take BART, saving the time it would take to walk from BART or to transfer on to a bus.” 

Occasionally, if she’s late and her husband doesn’t need the car, Maria drives to work. However, she says driving can be harder than taking the bus, because she often has to park far from where she works to find a space where she can leave her car all day. 

When asked what she would do if BRT were here and she could save 20 minutes extra each day, she responded “I’d spend more time with my family, of course!” 

Charles Siegel 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Lauren Lempert, the mayor’s point person for the “Public Commons for Everyone Initiative,” made a great show at the Peace and Justice Commission meeting that the Daily Planet’s $50,000 estimate of her salary was wrong. 

I noticed she was sitting beside Assistant City Manager Jim Hynes, so I turned around and said, “Well, then, how much?” Hynes admitted to the whole curious room that she was being paid $6,800 a month for a nine-month contract. 

Your paper was wrong only in that its estimate was a little too conservative. Lauren Lempert owes the paper, your reporter, and the attendees at the Peace and Justice Commission an apology. It should also be noted that Lempert and Hynes missed the public comment period entirely, showing up late with a very fine speech about craving public input. The Peace and Justice Commission, with two abstentions, firmly turned down the opportunity to target the poor for Christmas. 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Apropos of Yolanda Huang’s Sept. 14 letter to the editor, in the late 1970s when EBMUD began to flouridate its drinking water, East Bay Committee Against Flouridation (later Safewater) worked to prevent this practice I believe that the group eventually disbanded due, in part, to attrition and the ease (despite the expense) of purchasing spring water at local stores or home-delivery. The website ( and its links, which Ms. Huang provided, focus on current safety concerns, including tooth mottling from excess flouride consumption, particularly in infants and children and increased cancer incidents. These issues and others are among the same safety issues Safewater raised 30 years ago. These concerns have not been resolved; rather they are being re-visited by the National Research Council and various physician groups. 

Recently some popular restaurants announced their new practice of serving water from the public water supply, in lieu of bottled water to reduce transportation-related energy use and resulting greenhouse gas effects. It is likely that the current generation of restaurant owners, many of whom may not have been here at the time, are unaware of the flouridation issue and that flouride is added to tap water that they serve. In the 1970s it was not possible to remove flouride from drinking water as it has been possible to remove other contaminants, such as chlorine. Perhaps since then a technique has been devised to do so. While many people understand environmental costs of transporting drinking water by air, sea, and land, not so many are aware of potential adverse effects of flouridated water. 

It is not a complicated issue. The basic questions are these: Should drinking water be medicated in any case? And, particularly when there is any question of its safety? 

Barbara Witte 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I propose that all homeless shelters in Berkeley be required remain to be open for their guests 24/7. I understand that the BOSS shelter kicks everyone out every morning to roam Berkeley all day until they reopen at night. 

It is irresponsible to draw large numbers of shelter clients to a shelter and then kick them out every day. If the shelters want those people at night, they should provide a place and for them to be during the day. 

If the shelters don’t want to see their clients during the day, they shouldn’t draw them to Berkeley to spend the night. 

Hotels manage to clean hotel rooms even when guests have not checked out. Shelters can too. 

David Lerman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Rich Crowl’s recent letter seems to chide you for your editorial about Berkeley Repertory Theater not advertising in the Daily Planet. Just tell him that you once said, I think, that there’s something like a brick wall between your advertising and editorial departments.  

Bob Marsh 

Bob Marsh  



Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a life-long activist and low-income tenant in the North Berkeley neighborhood, I want to convey my strong opposition to the “Public Commons for Everyone” initiative on two counts: 1) Its hypocritical, false promise to be a commons for “everyone”—except the poorest and neediest among us. 2) The efforts by real estate developers (mostly non-Berkeley corporations) to further gentrify North Berkeley for private profit. 

I have watched North Shattuck become so upscale over 27 years that I hardly recognize it anymore and cannot afford to shop, eat, or hang out in my own neighborhood. This proposed blank check by some city officials to the developers would surely turn the area into another Fourth Street (but without adequate parking) and will result in urban flight and hardship for many residents—and not only for our homeless and street people, but for many of us who can barely afford to live here now. 

I urge Dona Spring, my Councilmember, Mayor Bates, and every city official who cares about ALL the people of Berkeley to act with the compassion and respect for ordinary citizens that Berkeley is known for, and to treat those less privileged in our midst in the same way that we speak out for peace, justice, and human rights around the world. 

Please vote against special interests and for the lives of Berkeley residents. 

Marianne Robinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mayor Bates’ Public Comment proposal for the Oct. 9 City Council meeting has some very promising qualities. However, certain aspects seem unworkable. We refer to his proposal that the audience of willing speakers be polled on each and every Consent Item to determine the numbers pro or con. In view of the fact that there are often dozens of Consent Items this process would seem to be unduly time-consuming. It appears this would not be conducive to efficient Public Comment Procedure, clearly, one of the mayor’s priority goals. 

SuperBOLD suggests adopting the following alternatives as amendments:  

1. If there are a large number of persons desiring to speak, the presiding officer may suggest that persons in favor of Consent Items which remain on the calendar, forfeit their right to speak so as not to prolong the meeting. 

2. At the presiding official’s discretion, the official may grant up to 10 minutes to a speaker who desires to speak on multiple agenda items, so that the speaker shall address all items at one time before the body’s consideration of those items. Such comments shall be made under the Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items. (From the City of Benicia.) 

We also urge that Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items be held after Public Comment on Consent Items rather than pushed to the end of the meeting. Unless meetings are extended by the vote of the council, we fear that some councilmembers may leave before Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items which the mayor may have scheduled to occur after the official close of the meeting. This has happened in the recent past and drastically reduced the value of such Public Comment. 

Public Comment rules should apply, not only to the City Council, but to the Board of Library Trustees, all commissions, committees and other legislative and advisory bodies of the City of Berkeley. This creates a uniform standard which these bodies can follow and the public can readily understand. 

Ceasing experimentation with procedures for Public Comment and adopting procedures which allow all willing speakers to address each legislative body and advisory body, will protect the City of Berkeley from the lawsuit threatened by the First Amendment Project in the Spring of 2006. 

Jim Fisher, Gene Bernardi, Jane Welford 

SuperBOLD Steering Committee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley currently volunteering for the United Nations Association-UNICEF Center in Berkeley. I have been a volunteer for several weeks, and have been very impressed with the broad selection of UNICEF cards and gifts the center now offers to the community. It truly has been a rewarding experience to see customers excited about being able to purchase UNICEF cards and similar products again, and know that their purchase is supporting the United Nations Children’s Fund. 

Towards the end of last year, an article was published in the Daily Planet explaining how the UNICEF center was closing because we were no longer selling UNICEF cards. Although this was the case for a while, we are definitely back in business and are eager to relay the news to the East Bay community. 

We are a small center and value all of our customers, many of whom might think our center is closed. We would like to let everyone know we are here and are selling great UNICEF cards and products. Our center is run entirely by volunteers of all ages and nationalities within the community, spanning from high school to senior citizens. We are open Tuesday through Saturday, 12-5. 

Colleen McElroy 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

One night last week, beginning around midnight, I heard a helicopter circling my South Berkeley neighborhood. It shone a spotlight down, sweeping the streets and backyards throughout. This happens frequently enough that I didn’t feel too apprehensive until it continued on for a full half-hour. I called the BPD non-emergency number, and was told that they were looking for robbery suspects. That may or may not be the truth; I have strong suspicions that the suspects sought may be connected with some or all of the recent homicides, Oakland/Berkeley/Richmond. It was creepy, regardless. I slept poorly all night, waking at every small noise outside. 

By the by, I was alarmed and disgusted that the cover page of Berkeley High School’s newspaper, the Jacket, carried a “hit piece” about the death of Gary King Jr. in their Sept. 28 edition. The first paragraph of the article describes King’s death as “murder,” and it goes downhill from there. The tenor of the full article blames Sergeant Pat Gonzales for the shooting death of this ex-Berkeley High alum, exclusively. King is cast as this blameless victim of police brutality. 

I realize that the Berkeley High Jacket is a student paper, and students are given more latitude in expression than the standards applied to adult reporters. Still, it is intolerable that any student would be allowed to publish such scandalously libelous claims. It does a disservice to the students reading the article, it posts illegal (tortuous) claims against Sgt. Gonzales, and it tortures the truth. The incidental connection with Berkeley High makes it seem like Mr. Ward’s status as a graduate of Berkeley High should exempt him from criminal prosecution, or even suspicion. The fact that he pulled a gun on this officer is glossed over as unimportant. Are there any adults supervising this paper? It seems to me they ought to be held accountable for permitting the promulgation of such treacherous filth.  

And yes, I mean it.  

Sam Herbert  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have followed the many letters to the editor and other public discussions regarding the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative dating back to this past spring. However, not one of these very spirited and mostly thoughtful analyses has addressed how this initiative could significantly improve the quality of life for the “out and about” active elderly members of our community, which number over 10,000 in Berkeley. 

I have a photograph of my parents, Adolph and Marion Roe, taken in the late 1970s of them sitting on the benches adjacent to the corner of Shattuck and Center streets, just one of their resting places on their daily walks around downtown Berkeley. They lived at Francisco and Shattuck and ranged from Rose and Shattuck all the way south to Dwight Way and Shattuck. They went on foot to Safeway, Bill’s Drugs (now Longs), The Coop (now Andronico’s), Virginia Bakery, the hearing aid store, Bentley’s (no longer in business), Edy’s (also defunct) and Herrick Hospital. All along the way they could stop and rest on any bench on Shattuck Avenue and perhaps meet up with a friend or just enjoy the weather. 

Their favorite place to meet, sit and chat was at the benches provided by the Bank of America at Shattuck between Vine and Cedar streets near the French Hotel. These benches were ideally located for elderly people or young families to stop and take a rest while running errands in that stretch of Shattuck. But street people soon appropriated those benches for their exclusive use. First to sit and smoke, and then to harass passersby with aggressive language, drunken behavior, spitting, parking shopping carts, and occasionally using them as a toilet. My parents who were in their late ’70s were effectively chased away, along with their friends and other frail, elderly citizens. This little park-like setting became trashed and eventually Bank of America removed the benches to stop the antisocial behavior of the street people. 

Throughout the debate on the Public Commons Initiative, I’ve often thought that all of Berkeley’s residents are entitled to use the streets in comfort and safety. I am struck at how the street people who have made our public spaces into dysfunctional personal spaces have such vocal and committed representation in Berkeley’s public and political life. There are so many of us who aren’t being heard—elderly, frail, healthy others, workers, young parents, little children—who need access to safe, pleasant and orderly places to sit and rest during our day. I myself am approaching the age where I need to have a safe and pleasant place to sit and regroup for ten or more minutes without being harassed or displaced by antisocial behavior from other people. 

This is a critical issue considering Berkeley’s desire to “green” the city. As it is now, sitting on a bench or waiting for a bus along Shattuck Avenue, especially south of University Avenue, is usually a very unpleasant experience My seven months pregnant daughter and her 3-year-old recently took the bus from Shattuck and Vine southwards at 10 a.m. on a weekday and a street person at that corner yelled obscenities at her and her child the entire time they waited. 

We, the community as a whole, need an improvement in and a share of the benefits of Berkeley’s public spaces, which really have not been available to us for many years. I urge the mayor, the City Council and the city manager to move this initiative forward and include in their design and implementation the needs of all Berkeley’s residents, not just those who shout the loudest or longest. It is a much-needed improvement which will significantly improve the quality of life in our city for all. 

Evey Baughn 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

What I want in a new school superintendent: 

1) Someone who really believes that education should be child centered—from this I mean, decisions should be from the point of view, “Does it help the child learn, grow, develop and become a whole person,” not whether actions or policies make it easier for administrators to do their job.  

2) Someone who is a good judge of character, meaning they value people who are really competent, experienced, and have the necessary knowledge to do a really good job. Competence and capability to do a good job should be more important than loyalty, obedience, and the ability to spin the talk. It shouldn’t take three years to get rid of incompetent staff. 

3) True commitment to diversity. I value folks of all colors because hopefully, a rainbow of people bring in the full color spectrum of experience, ideas, perspectives and cultures. However, if the commitment to diversity is skin deep but adverse to diversity of opinions, ideas, perspectives, then that’s not true diversity.  

4) Someone who is friendly. 

5) Someone who is excited by the learning process, because at the bottom, Berkeley public education is about learning. If the person we hire as superintendent left the classroom after the minimum two years, that says something about this person’s interest in teaching, and in helping students to learn. We have a very high achievement gap, a high drop out rate in the high school, and middle class families of color are either moving out of Berkeley or putting their kids into private schools, especially at the high school level. Someone who is committed to the learning process as the primary function of a school district, of course would be committed to running an effective and efficient administrator because the more efficient and effective and smaller the administration portion of our school district, the larger the share for our classrooms. 

I suggest that others in Berkeley also write the Planet, and tell the school board, what we want in a new superintendent. 

Yolanda Huang  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wonder when our top officials will understand the value of human life. Last year I wrote a letter to the editor regarding the ready availability of guns to the general public. I am wonderstruck that guns continue to be sold to any and everybody who can afford to buy them and who can provide some information about themselves, true or false. Most pawnshops carry guns; I am told their sale is brisk. 

When guns are used for murder, friends or family of the murderers try to protect them, saying, they were on drugs; they didn’t know what they were doing.? No one speaks about the loss an innocent person’s life or of the loss to the family of the victim. 

If some people enjoy killing just for the sake of killing, we must design a way of stopping such people. We, who are law-abiding citizens want to feel safe while we follow the laws of the land. 

Romila Khanna