Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday October 19, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

This Nov. 1, a group of activists who, desperate about the continuing war in Iraq, and who have been committing civil disobedience on the first Thursday of every month since November a year ago, will be observing the first year anniversary of the Die In for Peace with a continuing Die In. 

Over the past 11 first Thursdays a total of 130 people have laid down in front of the doors of 450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco. Each one of the protesters has been cited with a charge of “failure to comply with lawful order of a federal police officer” and to leave the doorways. Resisters face misdemeanor charges which carry a usual fine of $125. Some of the protesters have paid the fine, but the majority are asking for a hearing and would substitute community service or jail time for the monetary fine. 

There is a significant number of Berkeley residents among the 130: Ruth Maguire, Sally Hindman, Stephanie Miyashiro, Grace Morizawa, Ying Lee, Laura Magnani, Carolyn Scarr, Grace Shimizu (El Cerrito) and others.  

While the civil disobedience participants are blocking the doors, momentarily halting those entering the building but not blocking those exiting, another group reads the names of U.S. military as well as Iraqis who have died in this war. 

As the war continues into its fifth year many taxpayers are desperately dealing with their conscience over this war. Although the civil disobedience appears to be symbolic, it is the form that some citizens are taking to register their resistance to what they consider to be killing, executions, in their name.  

Ying Lee 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

One paragraph from Zelda Bronstein’s recent column on land use planning for the downtown bears repeating: “DAPAC should take its bearings from the first major goal of Berkeley’s 2002 General Plan: ‘Preserve Berkeley’s unique character and quality of life.’ Granted, downtown Berkeley needs more than preservation; it requires substantial improvement. But any change should honor—indeed, enhance—those aspects of its character that are worth preserving. Chief among such valuable attributes is the area’s moderate scale.” 

The high-rise downtown envisioned in the staff’s land use alternative would radically change the character of Berkeley’s downtown, making it much less human-scale. Furthermore, it would mean that much of downtown could be a construction zone for many years to come. 

I believe that a majority of Berkeley citizens favor a modest increase in allowable building heights in the downtown, as well as incentives for developers to incorporate environmental and other features that we hold important. That’s the land use vision that DAPAC should endorse. 

Steve Meyers 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ms. Zelda Bronstein wrote a Public Eye column about “Planners From Another Planet” the Oct. 12 issue of the Daily Planet. In the seventh paragraph of that article she says, “At the Oct. 3 meeting the staff proposal was supported by only three DAPACers. One was Jenny Wenk, who works at the downtown YMCA.” 

For most of us the phrase “works at” usually means a person who collects a salary from an employer. 

I am not now, nor have I ever been, an employee of either the Downtown Berkeley YMCA, or the Berkeley-Albany YMCA Association. I do volunteer at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA, and have done so for many years in a variety of roles. Presently I am in the final months of my term as the chair of our branch’s Board of Managers. In this role I do my best to listen to and represent as best I can the more than 12,000 members of our Y. 

Since our members come from every part of our community they do not always agree on every issue. Our board works hard to make sure that the people in our community with the greatest needs and the fewest resources are served with the same effort and devotion as our members who have great resources and fewer needs. The programs, such as Y Scholars, that serve people with low incomes and great dreams are why I volunteer at the Y. For me the Y is a “labor of love.” It’s not work. 

Jenny Wenk 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was amused by Mitchell Gass’ letter (“Memo to Zelda”) about “Green Manhattan” and the young couple who lived for seven years without a dishwasher, a lawn or a car. Most young couples have limited means, but how many of them continue an austere lifestyle after their incomes rise?  

There is no evidence that cramming buildings into Berkeley will lead to “vitality of commerce, artistic life, and opportunity.” In recent years, shops and restaurants have been closing, and the population of Berkeley has actually declined, despite the downtown construction feast delivered by ABAG and the Bates regime. 

It isn’t just Berkeley—the population has declined from 2000 to 2006 in Oakland, Alameda, El Cerrito, Albany, San Leandro and Piedmont, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. I’d wager that most of those municipalities (excepting Piedmont, where Patrick Kennedy and Dan Marks reside) have also been experiencing a building boom. 

How is Oakland’s boom doing these days? An Oct. 5 article in the San Francisco Business Times, entitled “Olson halts big Oakland condo project; Builders face glut of units,” reports that construction of the 252-unit “City Walk” project has been stalled since July. The two lawsuits and 23 mechanics liens filed against the property may keep it stalled for a while. Although the half-completed shell is a vision to behold, vitality might not be exactly what it adds to Oakland.  

I wonder if Mr. Gass lives within the urban density he finds so thrilling. Perhaps he would like to inform us which part of Berkeley’s urban core he inhabits. 

Gale Garcia 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ellen Mates, in her Oct. 12 commentary, states: “I would have thought that in a supposedly enlightened city like Berkeley themes such as justice and advocacy for victims would be held in high regard.” 

Welcome to the long parade of ignored victims of robberies and violent crime in Berkeley that comprise the real “How Berkeley Can You Be” Parade. 

From hosts on KPFA radio, I have heard repeatedly that phrases like “anti-crime” and “advocacy for victims” are “code phrases for racism.” 

In a city where such commentary is accepted as sane, and officials and citizens dread being accused of “racism,” crime will not be a focus of serious attention. Your article will not even generate sustained discussion of the kind that appears in this paper on issues much less fundamental than the safety of our persons and property. 

I sincerely wish you success in your quest for justice (have you read Kafka’s The Castle?) in Berkeley. 

Al Durrette 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you so much for publishing my letter of concern over the handling of the $1,500 grand theft of my daughter’s belongings at Berkeley High. If not anything else it was cathartic for us to write about it. I have gotten only phone calls and verbal statements of support although many have pointed out it is not politically correct to criticize our local institutions. I should state that my daughter and I love the teachers at Berkeley High who are dedicated and work many long hours. In contrast, having also been a formal student at Berkeley High myself, and having two other children pass through those halls, I have noticed a large sector, sometimes including administration (including the principal who never returned my e-mail a month after the theft) and security, seem to be amazingly non-accountable and consequently not behaving professionally. I received a call today from her fairly new vice principal apologizing for not returning my call—and even her I do not blame. She was unaware of the event last year. The principal should have been aware and accountable for this event. My friend got a personal call from the previous principal five years ago over a similar event. So, thanks again for empowering us or at least allowing us to feel that we are not alone or unjustified in our feelings of powerlessness.  

Ellen Mates 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wish that your reporter Riya Bhattacharjee would do more than be a parrot for school board quotes. It would be most helpful if there was some independent information and research. John Selawsky’s comments that all Berkeley schools’ test scores are higher now than in 1999 is so patently inadequate. Easy checking on the California Department of Education website shows that the high school in 1999 tested at 729. Today, eight years later, with a doubling of local taxes, and over 10 percent increase in state funding, the high school has “improved” to 747. This is after the San Francisco Chronicle article stating how California’s standards were lowered to show “improvement.” Furthermore, Berkeley High School’s standing, in comparison to similar high schools has dropped 30 percent. In 1999, BHS was ranked in the top 10, now it’s down to the 70th percentile. These are very disappointing results for all this additional funding. I agree with the recent writer who suggested that the new superintendent should be someone with demonstrated experience and success in improving student learning. I wonder why we don’t hear this from school board members. Instead, they are proud that our high school has dropped 30 percent in comparison to other similar high schools. Berkeley has no excuse for not having one of the best high schools in the Bay Area. I would like to hear school board members tell us what they are doing to improve learning in Berkeley. 

Jenn Haven 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read Donald Forman’s commentary on Reading Recovery and wondered just how many times a program has to be discredited before it is accepted as being discredited. 

Reading Recovery works no better in Australia than it does in Berkeley. In fact the one thing it does succeed in doing is making real and lasting remediation more difficult for both student and tutor. It teaches bad habits like “guessing” and consolidates the bad habit. For goodness sake, good readers don’t “guess,” they read. How has “guessing” ever become accepted as a so-called strategy? I never cease to be astounded by this state of affairs. 

This repeatedly discredited program is essentially more of the same classroom tactics that failed the student in the first place. How can it be helpful to set the student up for further failure down the track—and charge for the disservice? 

A simple traditional phonic approach, that achieves a great deal in a short space of time, for a fraction of the cost, is unfortunately unacceptable to the current educrat’s rhetoric on how (supposedly) children learn to read. They have much to learn. 

It is interesting to note that Reading Recovery is supported by the International Reading Association and all it’s subsidiary organizations around the globe. It promises to be an overwhelmingly difficult task that lies ahead simply to be permitted to teach that which works best. 

Jean Clyde 

Specialist teacher 

Tasmania, Australia 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Oct. 9 letter Ernest Grouns decries my diatribe of a week earlier (“Cheers to Edna”) as “human racism.” I think he misuses the word, as I denounced our entire species, in all its hues and creeds. He challenges me to stand, or die, by my convictions. I intend to. In my younger years my then wife and I produced two offspring, now productive college grads, and I am well beyond my breeding time. So long as my good health persists and I am able to walk North Berkeley pathways and make modest donations to the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council, I will plod on; but when age or calamity threaten to make me a burden to my family or the health care system, I certainly plan to slip out the back door of this existence. 

He calls our minds “a miracle of evolution” and extols our “amazing advances in medicine, science, agriculture, technology, spirituality...” But I see a catastrophe of evolution in which millennia of simple toolmaking have suddenly mutated into the rampant and obsessive abuse of science and technology to exploit, pillage, and manipulate everything in or on the world’s crust, making us truly a cancer on the earth. As to spirituality, a grotesque flaw in our cultural evolution persuades ninety percent of us that we, unlike all other living things, are somehow immune from death. The deep congenital flaw in the human psyche is the pathological refusal to accept the great centering, liberating and obvious truth of our existence: we live a while in the sun, then we die. After that —nothing! No angels with harps, no virgins with sexual favors, no loved ones with welcoming arms—mere oblivion. 

Edna Spector slyly hinted at our future when she suggested a “No Child policy.” Population control will someday take the form of universal genomic testing, the issuing of parenting permits to those found to be good breeding stock, and the forced sterilization of those who don’t make the cut. Add this wonderful world of eugenics to those other “amazing advances.” 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Just when I thought I had read the worst of the articles regarding Amir’s death, I stumble upon the Daily Planet’s Oct. 16 front-page article. I cannot stress how disappointed I am in the journalistic integrity of the gentleman who wrote this article. Quoting a neighbor of Misti, almost explicitly putting blame on Misti’s “boyfriend” for the death of Amir. I understand that journalists are frustrated that the family will not provide statements, but this is disgusting. Printing comments from people who have no close connection to Amir or Misti is completely irresponsible. The speculation of a neighbor doesn’t even come close to a reliable witness. And considering the situation I can’t believe for a second that Richard Brenneman couldn’t see the potential harm that his article could cause to the friends and family involved. Use your brain and your heart. Well, I guess it was worth it. Brennemen had a new twist to contribute. How hard is it to realize how stupid it is to publish a statement in your paper that places the death of a 9 year old boy on the mother’s “ex-boyfriend.” You should be ashamed and embarrassed.  

Benjamin Cukierman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have lived in West Berkeley for over 27 years. My husband, Michael Goldin and I are raising our children here. I am a painter and Michael is a designer and architect. 

We are determined to make our neighborhood safer and cleaner. Last Tuesday night at the West Berkeley Town Hall meeting, I heard people say that West Berkeley is a little “funky” but just fine the way it is. 

I’m sorry, but where I live, fire and drugs and gangs and guns don’t make it funky. Cleaning up abandoned lots, the railroad tracks, preventing flooding and removing graffiti, don’t make it “gentrification,” they make it safer and cleaner. 

Like many other artists and designers in West Berkeley, Michael and I have a passion for preserving West Berkeley’s unique identity which still includes artist studios, warehouses and industrial spaces. We want to see the community improve so that West Berkeley can retain these businesses and not lose them as we lost Cliff Bar and Cody’s. 

Michael and I have put a lot of energy into solving problems in our neighborhood. One of my biggest concerns is fire. Illegal dumpsites and vacant buildings catch fire all too often down here. Three buildings burned down to the ground across the street from our house. 

When an illegal, unsafe nightclub starting throwing rave parties, which brought guns and alcohol to our block, we called the police and got it shut down. When heavy rains caused floods, we worked with the City to get the storm drains replaced at Fourth and Channing. We’ve planted over thirty trees in our area. And after years of neglect, we worked with Union Pacific railroad to clean the tracks and remove 50 tons of garbage. 

As concerned citizens, this is what you have to do to help your neighborhood. But at some point, you also need to work and take care of your family. That’s why the idea of the property-based improvement district (PBID) is so attractive to us. It’s a proven way to raise funds to address these issues in a long term and sustainable way. 

I believe that a PBID in West Berkeley could benefit us all. We would finally have the organization with the resources to partner with the city and deal with some serious issues. If we had a PBID in place we would have a powerful tool working on our behalf. 

Last night, a woman complained that she had to call the city 14 times to get a light bulb changed. Maybe the next time someone asks, “How many West Berkeley residents does it take to change a light bulb?”, we will answer “one” because we united and formed the improvement district. 

Deborah Oropallo 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A few questions I thought of too late to ask at the Oct. 16 meeting concerning the proposed West Berkeley Community Benefits District (WBCBD): 

If this district manages to be created (despite strong opposition), will that mean there will be someone I can call to dispose of the used condoms and condom wrappers I regularly find littering the sidewalk near my house? Or, if we become a WBCBD, does that mean we’ll have a security force patrolling our streets all night long in an effort to discourage the illegal dumping/graffiti-writing/car-sex, etc. that occurs then? 

Finally, if the City of Berkeley wasn’t spending thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dollars on those completely unnecessary “calming circles” that have sprouted up all over town, instead putting the money toward crime prevention services in West Berkeley, would we even be having meetings about WBCBDs? 

A. Kassof 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

A recent opinion piece in the Daily Planet dismissed a proposal from the West Berkeley business community to “handle a bunch of mom-and-apple-pie areas like neighborhood cleanliness and security.” 

I have worked in West Berkeley for over 18 years, and cleanliness and security are serious issues down here that can’t be dismissed. It’s hard for me to fathom how anyone could criticize the intentions of property-owners voluntarily planning to tax themselves nearly $600,000 a year to help make our neighborhood safer and cleaner.  

At a time when the city is strapped for cash, businesses and commercial property-owners in our neighborhood say they are willing to reach into their own wallets to improve public safety, clean up and remove graffiti, help the homeless, and fund a shuttle so area workers could ride public transit instead of driving. 

As I understand it, the proposed property-based improvement district, also called a PBID, does not intend to assess homeowners. The PBID would only assess commercial property owners and use the funds for direct services, and no PBID money would be spent to lobby for zoning changes. 

At the town hall meeting last night, I heard a lot of information from the city staff and the PBID consultant that made the benefits of establishing the PBID very clear to me and completely justified. 

The Berkeley Police Department only has one beat officer on patrol in most of West Berkeley at night. The PBID would fund an unarmed security team that would notify the police if they see anything suspicious during the night. 

The Public Works Department chief said they can’t keep up with the illegal dumping and graffiti. The PBID would hire a team of workers to pick up trash and paint out graffiti on the weekends. 

We’ve all seen the many homeless people camping in cars or on vacant lots. The PBID would match the city to fund a pilot program would direct services to people who are homeless. 

And workers in the area would be able to catch a free shuttle from BART to their workplace. Seems like no one should complain about people riding the shuttle instead of parking in front of your home or business all day, right? 

What are folks complaining about when the say we shouldn’t form this district? Do they have some better way of raising the kind of money we are talking about to take care of these serious endemic problems? And, as pointed out by the consultant on forming PBID’s, the district would be totally open to the oversight of the city council. There’s no “secret agenda” here folks. It’s about dealing with issues not complaining and offering nothing in return. 

Berkeley already has five successful improvement districts operating. I think we could use another $600,000 a year to make West Berkeley a safer, cleaner place to live and work.  

Steven Donaldson 

BGDi Strategic Brand Solutions 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The showdown on Wednesday at the Marine recruiting center at Shattuck Square was a glorious development in our Iraq war narrative. As I arrived there and saw the street fiercely divided between Code Pinkers and other anti-war groups and the flag waving patriots on the other side, I immediately thought of what my mother had told me about what happened during the Vietnam War. 

She told me that everyone was talking about the war and taking sides. Wives and husbands split up, children and parents wouldn’t talk, friendships dissolved. Everyone, at least in NYC where my parents lived, had to explain where they were on the war. Were they for it or against it? 

Today’s passion and divided Shattuck pushed the ante up. It brought out people from their slumber. No one on either side wants anyone to die. In this, we are united. But the patriots don’t have much say beyond their rhetoric, indignation, and insults. 

Code Pink is doing Berkeley a great honor by focusing our energies on the recruiting center and creating greater passion and urgency around something that is a life and death issue; for the Iraqis, for the servicewomen and men, and for you and me. 

I ask everyone to choose between continuing violence in our names or a commitment to peace and the rebuilding of Iraq. Every life is precious. Show your support to bring the troops home on Oct. 27 in San Francisco. The Iraqis want us out, let’s not second guess them but get out. 

Ilona Sturm 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have just come back to the sanctuary of my home after being exposed to the thuggery and fascistic behavior of U.S. citizens in front of the Marine Recruitment Center in downtown Berkeley. 

I went with peace in my heart and was pushed hard by a large, white male screamer and when I went over to the Berkeley Police Department representatives standing on the other side of Shattuck, I was told by two of them that these people had their right to free speech and when I tried to show them how I was pushed , I was asked if I wanted to be arrested. So much for police protection for an elder of 73, who was worried about her safety and the safety of others. 

Why I am surprised by all of this, I really don’t know. After reading a recent history of immigration struggles in this state (No One Is Illegal, by Chacon and Davis) I should know better about white thuggery and police protection given them as they bowed to corporate rulers. What was frightening was to experience it personally. As a Jewish American, I am well aware of how fascism began in Nazi Germany and now my fellow Berkeleyans and I have seen them with our very own eyes. Will you still not believe that we are in deep trouble in this nation? And ask yourself what you are willing to do to stop it before it engulfs us all. 

Sheila Goldmacher 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

At first glance it would seem straight forward to be on the tap water side of the current “tap vs. bottled water” debate, if only to diminish the increased energy use and pollution created by fabricating, shipping, and discarding the bottles that hold the 7 billion gallons that are consumed in the United States alone per year. Also avoiding the chemicals that leak into the water from the plastic bottles is an advantage. But drinking tap water forces me to swallow chloramines and fluoride. Neither of which can be filtered out, except with reverse osmosis, which produces a lot of waste water in the process. 

The fluoride issue is a big one for me. As stated by Dr. Peter Mansfield, a physician from the UK and advisory board member of the recent government review of fluoridation (McDonagh et al 2000): No physician in his right senses would prescribe for a person he has never met, whose medical history he does not know, a substance which is intended to create bodily change, with the advice: “Take as much as you like, but you will take it for the rest of your life because some children suffer from tooth decay. It is a preposterous notion.” The article by Paul Connet, “The Absurdities of Water Fluoridation,” has given me food for thought and concern as well. 

Now that cities are starting to think about having their employees drink “healthful water,” I wonder if they really think there is a healthful choice? Unless the practice of adding questionable substances to our drinking water is stopped, an informed choice seems to be one between a rock and a hard place.  

Helga Holtmann 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Washington Post (“Al Qaeda In Iraq Reported Crippled,” Oct. 15) and ABC7/KGO-TV (“Can The U.S. Declare A Victory Over Al Qaeda In Iraq?,” Oct. 15) reported that many top U.S. generals believe that al Qaeda in Iraq has been devastated by the U.S. troop surge to the point that some want to declare victory. These reports remind me of the late Senator George Aiken’s advice to President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Richard M. Nixon to declare victory in Vietnam and get out. He gave this advice when things in Vietnam were going from bad to worse. Of course, both Johnson and Nixon ignored this advice and we know the result. 

Following Sen. Aiken’s advice, I suggest that President Bush put on his commander-in-chief uniform, declare victory, and announce the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq. What are the chances? 

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bush and Republicans are caught again in a web of lies and deception—this time about the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The president and GOP leaders claim SCHIP is a massive expansion of government-run health care. The $7 billion a year expansion of the program is minuscule compared to what the Bush administration is spending ($8 billion a month) on its war in Iraq.  

Bush and Republicans claim the new SCHIP proposal would cover higher-income children. Only so in one state, New York, where the cost of living is so much higher than the rest of the country. The GOP keeps digging itself a deeper grave with bogus and misleading rhetoric. 

Ron Lowe  

Grass Valley