Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday November 02, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Believing that credit should be given where credit is due, in all fairness I have to credit President Bush for visiting the Southern California wildfire area last week. With all that’s on his mind these days, like World War III—(oh, yes, he and Vice President Cheney dropped that little bombshell last week!)—it was very generous of him to take time out from his busy schedule to offer comfort to the people left homeless. Now you’ve got to admit that George W. is a master at comforting—be it parents of a 19-year-old killed in Iraq, visiting double amputees at veteran’s hospitals, and, in this case thousands of people whose homes burned to the ground. Yes, the man fairly oozes compassion! “We want the people to know there’s a better day ahead...tomorrow life’s going to be better. And to the extent that the federal government can help you, we want to do so.” 

OK, Mr. President, here’s your chance. Having sent Congress a $45.9 billion emergency funding request last week, on top of the $147.5 billion sought earlier this year, could you not siphon off one or two billion dollars for the rebuilding of that devastated area? I’m speaking as a taxpayer who’s frankly fed up seeing my dollars spent on destruction. I want that money to build and restore and give hope to people left with nothing! Would you do that, Mr. President? I know it will hurt, but please, please consider granting that $2 billion for citizens desperately in need of your compassion. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I didn’t mean to over-simplify the illegal immigration issue with my one-paragraph letter to the editor. Considering how the United States was founded from the beginning—taking the land from the Native American Indians—a strong moral argument could be made questioning who’s land this really is in the first place. And considering the names of some of our American cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, etc.), well, its obvious someone else was also here from the beginning. (Perhaps the “English only” crowd could start a drive to rename Los Angeles “The Angels, and San Francisco “Saint Frank.”) All I’m saying is: If we’re going to continue to allow endless millions of mostly poverty-level immigrants to flood into California’s already swamped low-income housing market every year, then we need to take a very close look at all the ramifications of that. 

Ace Backwords 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I found Bob Piper’s Oct. 26 letter on Bus Rapid Transit nothing short of amazing. 

Nothing could more clearly show how our so-called transit “experts” are completely clueless, and one of the major reasons the transit systems in the Bay Area are not as good as they could be. 

His statement about traffic spillover should BRT be installed on Telegraph: “The allegation that such spillover with BRT would be worse than without it lacks analytical or logical support” is at such variance with reality I had to read it twice to make sure I read it correctly! 

Let look at this logically: You take a heavily traveled street such as Telegraph Avenue and take out two of the four lanes for BRT. You have halved the capacity of that street, so logically the traffic load will double on the remaining lanes. Let’s be extremely generous and say that 25 percent of the drivers originally on Telegraph decide to take the BRT (I don’t think any sane person thinks that ALL the displaced drivers will take the BRT). Therefore you have increased by 75 percent the traffic load on an already heavily traveled street! The gridlock this will create will be stunning, and remember that local bus service will be stuck in that gridlock as well. Drivers will look for alternate routes and this will obviously be though neighborhoods. This is not rocket science! 

As an AC Transit Bus operator I love the idea of BRT, I would enjoy working such a route. But by taking lanes away from thousand of cars (and local bus service) you would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. It will destroy reliable local bus service, and, most importantly, anger thousands of taxpayers who will be asked to pay for further transit projects. 

Dean Lekas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Today two men in a white utility truck marked as belonging to the university stopped on Dwight Way to take a bicycle and attached trailer parked on the sidewalk and filled with someone’s personal possessions and put them in the truck. They were moving very fast, as if they did not want to be observed. This is one of the most ignoble and mean-spirited attacks on a homeless person I have seen.  

Glen Kohler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a parent of a son who has attended two high schools with block scheduling and having discussed this issue with friends who have kids enrolled at BHS, I thought I would add my views to the debate. Neither school—one in Canada and the other El Cerrito High School—had advisories. On the other hand, teachers were able to get to know students and their parents better because they were teaching 90 students instead of 180. At both schools we had a “progress report” night in addition to the usual back-to-school night. Here, you could sit down with each teacher and spend about five minutes reviewing your child’s first month of course work and initial grade. This initial meeting helps parents connect with the teacher and feel more comfortable contacting them later if there are problems. I think this would be more useful than an advisory because it encourages the parents to get involved in their child’s education. 

The big downside of block scheduling is for kids who take AP classes—and for the teachers of those classes. At ECHS, our wonderfully dedicated staff spend after school and evenings between February and early May reviewing all of the material they covered in fall semester classes so kids are ready for the AP tests. Similarly, teachers for spring AP classes have to hold special sessions to cover all of the material of a course about six weeks before the end of the semester. Both kids and teachers are stressed out and I think it places an unrealistic (and uncompensated) burden on the teachers. Finally, switching the schedule from day to day is very confusing to kids, especially to those who may not have a first block class. They forget when they are supposed to come to school and often show up late. 

I urge the BHS school board and school community to talk to people at other high school with block scheduling and perhaps hold forums for students and teachers from these schools to share their views before committing to major changes. 

Gail Bateson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Just a thought regarding Bob Burnett’s Oct. 20 Public Eye column, “Depressed America”: Intentionally or not, acceding to the use of (prescribed) antidepressants, coupled with the constant media campaign about the “huge numbers of persons with undiagnosed and/or untreated mental illness” is better for the economy (e.g., PhRMA, campaign coffers) than a population or press that looks behind the headlines and questions the research. 

Kathie Zatkin 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding Mr. Sukoff’s letters of Oct. 5 and Oct. 26: The Rent Stabilization Board was created by a vote of the Berkeley electorate in 1980. The vote was overwhelming, and support for rent control and habitability procedures has received ongoing and consistent support from the residents and voters of Berkeley since that time. Nothing has changed, indeed, the stakes are even higher today. Tenants face eviction and displacement from such legal tactics as tenants in common, from sale of a property, and from redesignations to condominiums. The long-term, family-unit rental base in Berkeley has declined as new developments have catered to either students or to high-end, market-rate condominiums. This trend is squeezing long-time residents, the elderly, the disabled, and the middle class out of Berkeley. These are some of the market forces and some of the dynamics that the Rent Stabilization Board deals with every day, and I am glad they are here to oversee such important work. 

John Selawsky 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Here comes that time of year again, corporate America along with the upper class and even some local church organizations just giving and giving and giving, so that we all feel so much better about truly helping those in need.  

The real truth and therefore the trouble is that this over-abundance of “giving” can often turn into extreme enabling, thus merely keeping the very people we’re trying so hard to help, down! Absolutely, the gift of giving brings so many smiles to young and disadvantaged faces for a brief time, but what is this actually doing to empower and enhance the lives of those we give to? Do we expect them to turn around and give back in return from the “other side of the line” the following year, thus eventually helping the less fortunate for the next time around? It sounds nice, however, what are we really creating here? 

The hard truth is that studies will show that most of these “just down on their luck” or folks experiencing “hard times” are becoming more enabled by these so-called “do good” corporate charity giveaways and end up being more dependent on the system, eventually doing less and less for themselves, while continually in search of more free handouts.  

Personally, I’ve known people “working both sides of the line” and it’s becoming a much bigger business on both sides with each passing year. Please choose your charities carefully and wisely so as to help those actually in need to benefit from and even be encouraged by the many good things which do happen during this upcoming time of year.  

M.J. Parker 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m delighted to learn that former ABAG Executive Director Revan Tranter loves what makes Berkeley unique (“Berkeley’s Population,” Oct. 30). Nonetheless, capital funding contributions from ABAG have had a devastating impact on the character of the town. 

ABAG loaned $72 million to Patrick Kennedy to build seven apartment boxes, all big and mostly ugly (and all sporting “Now Leasing” or “Now Renting” signs). By far the ugliest is the Touriel Building at 2004 University Ave. (it looks like it has a case of mange). It replaced a part of Berkeley’s former charm—the Doyle House, a historic structure made of clear-heart redwood that Kennedy destroyed long before construction began, even though a nearby landowner expressed interest in moving the house to his property. 

Kennedy has now sold the seven buildings for approximately $150 million to Chicago-based Equity Residential, the largest owner of apartment buildings in the United States. This sale was a logical outcome of the funding—Kennedy wasn’t building for love of Berkeley (I think it was about the money, after all).  

National corporations add nothing to the character of a town—they only subtract. Is there any possible benefit in having a major portion of Berkeley owned by a huge mega-corporation? Time will tell. 

Gale Garcia 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

On behalf of the McGee-Spaulding-Hardy Historic Interest Group, we could like to express our long-standing and deep concern about the future of Old City Hall.  

This gem of Beaux Arts architecture is not only a much-loved city landmark but is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is presently used as the administrative building for the Berkeley Unified School District whose lease will expire soon. We understand that because the City of Berkeley has declared the building unsafe, it will need to be retrofitted to meet earthquake safety standards. Because the obvious time to retrofit would be as soon as BUSD moves, we’d like to know what plans the city has to determine the level of earthquake safety needed.  

We believe that ideas for the future use of Old City Hall should be explored now in public proceedings. We understand that a committee has been appointed to discuss future plans for Old City Hall. Who are its members? We have never seen an announcement of its meeting place or schedule. We believe that the use should be a civic one, such as City Council offices; various cultural and educational uses have also been suggested. Since the City Hall is located in the historic McGee-Spaulding District, we would expect to be notified of any committee meetings and to be able to participate in them.  

We are also concerned about the maintenance of Old City Hall. For instance, last winter we noticed that a downspout on the building’s north side broke off its mooring near the roof. It was eventually removed, but never replaced. This winter the rainwater from the roof will drain down the exterior wall. The damage caused by this kind of neglect is far more costly than the maintenance that would have prevented it. 

Old City Hall will be 100 years old next year. We would like to see a real celebration of this fact. What better occasion could there be to ensure that it stands for another 100? 

Carrie Sprague 

Lynne Davis 

J. Michael Edwards 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It has belatedly come to my attention that the city is selling an air rights interest in the Center Street garage. I believe that the City Council is making a terrible mistake by selling this valuable publicly-owned asset to a private party. I hope the City Council will consider the information contained in this letter before adopting the second reading of the ordinance. 

1. Did the city err in approving the project and should the city approve this easement to correct some mistake? 

No. The plans approved by the Zoning Adjustments Board do not indicate operable windows along the western property line. SNK is a sophisticated real estate developer that should have known that the project, as originally designed, would require the construction of fire-rated windows along the project’s interior property lines. Even if SNK claims not to know about building code issues, it is the city’s long-standing policy that mistakes made by a developer and/or developer’s architect are not the responsibility of the city (this can be confirmed with Jan MacQuarrie). 

2. Is this city receiving a fair price? 

No. First, while the easement describes the actual area being “sold” as 1,780 square feet, it is actually 2,180 square feet because the 20-foot long area immediately south of the fire separation will become unusable. The city’s appraisal indicates a value in excess of $800,000. SNK appears to have paid more than $6 million for its property (a $3 million-plus profit to the original developer, Seagate Properties), implying a value of $556,000 for the city’s property ($255 per square foot). Why is the city accepting $200,000? 

3. Should the city sell its air rights? 

No. The Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee has identified the city’s garage as a potential location for a point tower. A point tower could be 180 feet tall. By selling its air rights, the city is foregoing the potential value and re-use of this publicly owned property forever. No private sector land owner would make this deal. 

4. Does SNK need a 20-foot easement? 

No. The Arpeggio building could be constructed with fire-rated windows located three feet from the property line pursuant to the California building code. If the city decides to proceed with the sale, it should sell SNK no more than a three-foot wide easement. 

5. Has the city been compensated for its costs of negotiating this deal?  

The City Council should demand that SNK’s purchase price also include the significant staff costs associated with the negotiations of this bad deal. 

It seems to me to be poor practice for the city to sell easements to publicly owned property because of a mistake made by developers. No private sector property owner would ever agree to such a significant encumbrance for such a small payment. Once the City Council adopts this ordinance, it cannot be undone. The city will have permanently relinquished its rights to its own property. 

Charles Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When I first moved here in 1968, at the age of 26, the cars on the streets were compact models, at that time foreign-made. Previously, I was back in Michigan after a spell in London, where the cars were small. Look at us today: one SUV after another. What are we thinking? 

H. Grayer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Recent correspondence in these pages about stop signs and cyclists calls to mind some road advisories that don’t convey an accurate message. 

“Falling Rocks,” states one. The last time I stopped at such a sign I waited for more than an hour, and not one single rock fell. 

“Blind Persons Crossing,” warns another. Nonsense! Observation over an extended period revealed that not one person, blind or sighted, used the crossing. 

Truth or consequences: Misleading statements like these have the consequence of inciting general skepticism of road advisories. 

Ross Morton 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a resident taxpayer of the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District, and a regular rider of its buses, I would like to see the Alameda County Grand Jury investigate AC Transit’s purchase of Van Hool buses. 

The grand jury should look into the possibility of a conflict of interest, should anyone in AC Transit’s top management be related by blood or marriage to any representative of Van Hool 

There’s something rotten in Belgium—and in Oakland. 

Paul Slater