Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday October 30, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the Oct. 23 article, “Alko Ready to Take On Staples, Owner Says”: 

While it is correct that the University of California, as part of efforts to reduce expenses (every purchasing dollar saved makes additional dollars available for teaching, research, and public service), has negotiated special purchasing contracts with vendors such as OfficeMax, it is also correct that UC Berkeley continues to support Berkeley businesses, including Alko Office Supply. 

A recently released study of the economic impact and social benefits of the UC Berkeley campus ( reports that in 2005-2006, UC Berkeley purchased more than $31 million in goods and services from Berkeley vendors, and UC Berkeley students, staff, and visitors spent more than $300 million in the city annually. 

Glenda Rubin 

Manager, Community Relations 

Office of the Chancellor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Will Travis’s Oct. 19 memo to DAPAC members: Smart growth might gain more acceptance if it were more of a rational theory and less of a textbook-based ideology. But then if its proponents addressed the real issues head on, they might have to acknowledge that smart growth is not an infallible solution. For example:  

Smart growth is generally associated with urban growth limits which restrict sprawl; in Portland these limits are state-mandated (in both Oregon and Washington). How likely is it that infill development will prevent suburban sprawl in the absence of any growth limits?  

Affordability varies tremendously across real estate markets (along with other factors such as demographics, climate, topography). In a market where close-in detached homes are virtually unaffordable to first time buyers, how likely is it that demand for suburban/exurban detached homes will lessen? And given the demographics of first time buyers, how likely is it that expensive condos will lessen the demand for detached homes?  

(And as for condo prices: The Chronicle’s Oct. 14 real estate section reports that the largest units in Oakland’s new “Broadway Grand” complex are priced at $901,900 for 2,108 square feet. That’s comparable to the median price per square foot in San Rafael.)  

Furthermore, many cities have unique circumstances that cannot be accounted for in a study, no matter how comprehensive. Berkeley is home to a major university, which generates tremendous traffic and ever-increasing demands on the city’s infrastructure. UC’s expansion plans, current and future, are unpredictable and largely beyond the city’s control. The city of Alameda has a different problem: it’s on an island with very limited access via aging bridges and tunnels—and the construction of a new bridge or “tube” is not at all likely. How much more density can either city accommodate?  

Why are smart growth proponents so consistently unwilling to acknowledge these circumstances and to work within their limitations?  

This discussion goes on and on and yet somehow never arrives at reality.  

Darcy Morrison  






Editors, Daily Planet: 

A couple months ago in the Planet there was a brief story regarding picketers at Metro Lighting on San Pablo. Apparently they were striking because they wanted to unionize and join the Industrial Workers of the World, an organization dedicated to ending “wage slavery.” My immediate thought was, “This must be a joke,” but then I remembered this was Berkeley, where there are people who actually take this sort of thing seriously. But really, the Wobblies?  

Further inquiry revealed it was not a joke to the owners of Metro Lighting, who are now being forced to spend a great deal of money on lawyers. Here is a locally owned business that makes quality products, pays its employees higher wages than most small businesses ($15-$19 an hour), as well as fully paid health insurance and two week vacations, which few small businesses can offer. If that’s wage slavery, sign me up!  

Apparently this is the new unionizing tactic: harass small businesses that don’t have the money to fight back, and ignore large businesses that are far more guilty of wage slavery and bad treatment of employees. It’s the same tactic being used here in Oakland by the UFCW against Farmer Joe’s. Why are unions picking on small businesses and ignoring non-union companies like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s? If the striking Metro Lighting employees and their supporters at the IWW are so worried about wage slavery, perhaps they should be picketing the local fast food restaurants or national retail chains. Oh, except those companies might be in a position to fight back. 

Owning a small business is rarely a path to riches—it’s mostly a path to stress, and the ability to, as the joke goes, choose WHICH 80 hours a week you work. If these idiots and their ideologue friends at the IWW succeed in driving Metro out of business, then who will gain? The owners will be out of a livelihood, and all the employees, including the strikers, will be out of a job. According to the IWW, working people should be entitled to the fruits of everything they produce. Fine. If the strikers would like to have all the money from everything they produce, let them give up working for others and go into business for themselves. Then they too will know the joys of wondering where the rent is coming from, being turned down for health insurance, having customers who don’t pay their bills on time, products that don’t sell, and all the other joys of self-employment. 

For those of us who are not anarchist ideologues, perhaps now would be an ideal time to show our support for a small local business that is being harassed by purchasing a nice light fixture.  

Jane Powell 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last week’s school board meeting was telling. Berkeley High principal Jim Slemp presented an advisory proposal that lacked a curriculum, a budget, any research supporting the proposal, and any mention of the one and a half hours of weekly academic instructional time that would be lost. And when asked about what he would do to find an extra 45 classrooms for advisory, Mr. Slemp could only hem and haw. (That makes me wonder about our recent $100 million school bond measure that was supposed to replace the 26 classrooms lost in the BHS Building B fire—that building was never rebuilt and a lawn has replaced it.) One school board member referred to the experience of a similar high school in Cambridge, MA that nearly lost its accreditation after implementing advisory. Another school board member asked why advisory teachers would only check student grades once a semester, if advisory was supposed to help them do better in school. Other school board members asked equally important questions for which there were no answers. Thank you for doing your job, Berkeley School Board. 

Peter Kuhn 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

War and Republicans go together. The “war president,” Bush, in his rush to drag the United States into another war before his term ends, brings on the specter of World War III in a fit of insanity.  

Death and destruction seem to mean nothing to the president as he plays with unsubstantiated facts and figures. Every time W. tosses out more uncorroborated information about Iran, U.S. intelligence agencies are quick to step in and contradict it. 

Bush’s phony facts about Iran’s weapons of mass destruction are as non-existent as they were about Iraq’s WMD’s. 

Will Americans be duped again by Bush and his cabal and its propaganda? 

Ron Lowe  

Grass Valley 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I appreciate Robert Lauriston’s and Gale Garcia’s Oct. 26 replies to the Oct. 23 letter in which I challenged the claim that Berkeley’s population is declining. But their viewpoint still presents problems. Mr. Lauriston says Berkeley was larger 37 years ago, and that’s true. It’s also true, however, that (as in the rest of the country) average household sizes have declined considerably, so that any given population would need more housing units compared to four decades ago. I acknowledge Ms. Garcia’s correction about the availability of annual U.S. Census Bureau estimates, but would like to make three points:  

First, I don’t think the care and effort that goes into them across the country compares with that of the State Department of Finance, whose varied tools, from driving license information onwards, it would take too long to list. Second, we all know of the U.S. Census’s historic undercounts (especially of central city populations). The Bush administration is of course content with that, and has quashed attempts to give the Bureau the tools to reduce the problem.  

Second, these undercounts may well apply to estimates as well. We’ll have to wait till the 2010 census to find out, but it’s noteworthy that the Census Bureau’s 2006 estimates are lower than the state’s in Oakland by 14,300, San Francisco by 56,100, San Jose by 28,000, and Los Angeles by 131,000. Is it surprising that the U.S. estimate for Berkeley would be less than California’s? 

Third, the Census Bureau, just to confuse matters, also publishes (although not for everywhere every year) a sort of snapshot of changes, called the American Community Survey. It gives Berkeley’s 2006 population as 106,230—which does indicate growth since 2000! 

Finally, there is the curious and gratuitous matter that Gale Garcia raised—the fact that for many years (though not since 1995, when I retired) I was executive director of ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments. Apparently in some Karl Rovian kind of linkage, this is supposed to link me with rapacious developers: “ABAG’s power is about capital funding—largely for construction.” Anyone who thinks a program that reduces the public costs of worthy projects (UC’s headquarters, the BART extension to SFO, schools and health facilities throughout the state, non-profit housing efforts, and so on) makes ABAG into some kind of handmaiden of the construction industry is either disingenuous or naive. This is a program I’m extremely proud of, because, besides saving (like the insurance and risk management plan I also introduced), not only has it saved hundreds of millions of dollars, but it saved from extinction an all-too-modest regional planning program when Proposition 13 and huge federal cutbacks both landed on us at the same time. 

One last point. Ms. Garcia objects to the term NIMBY and says she’s “tired of the name-calling directed at those who try to preserve what is left of Berkeley’s charm, its revenue generating small businesses, and its wholly unique small-town—yet cosmopolitan—flavor.” I’ve lived in Berkeley for nearly 35 years, and it is preposterous to imply that those of us who think population growth in today’s metropolitan areas should, as much as reasonably possible, take place near major transportation facilities, have any less respect and love for what makes Berkeley unique than those who differ with us.  

Revan Tranter 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

To all those citizens who fear socialism, a reminder—our federal disaster responses, which may be saving some of your homes as we speak, are socialistic. 

Gerta Farber