Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday December 21, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for covering the loss of a significant historic structure in Berkeley “Effort to Save Historic Japanese Florist Can’t Prevent Demolition.” Japanese American history is hidden in most places because of the radical disruption caused by World war II incarceration. Few were able to reclaim their businesses or homes, so our public memory of this piece of history has been erased. 

The research that uncovered the social history of San Pablo Florist and Nursery was not undertaken by me as an individual, but as part of the Preserving California’s Japantowns project. This statewide effort was initiated by the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, with generous support from the California Civil Liberties Public Education program. Their leadership has allowed us to document hundreds of historic sites that can reclaim an important chapter in our state’s history. 

The San Pablo Nursery’s unfortunate demolition has alerted city staff to the importance of consulting the Preserving California’s Japantowns research before issuing future demolition permits. We look forward to working with the city and local advocates to ensure that this rich part of Berkeley’s heritage is not lost. 

Donna Graves 

Director, Preserving California’s  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Despite my familiarity with the Planet’s radical preservationist bent, I was still floored by the cloying inanity of the Dec. 14 article on the site of the long-gone Japanese florist. People, please: Just because a building has history does not make it a historic landmark. Until someone started digging through records, no one knew about or was terribly interested in the past uses of this building. With the exception of a few hysterical historians and the Planet’s most reliably rabid readers, the few who find out about this aren’t likely to be terribly interested either. Why? Because it’s dizzyingly insignificant. Can you imagine if we preserved every squat, little building where some person of some particular community lived or had a business? Instead of my apartment, or your house, or your darling child’s elementary school playground, we’d have decrepit plots of land bearing plaques reading things like: 

“This half-charred, stuccoed-over Victorian, once occupied by a Western European family, is now a beautifully remodeled storage space.” 

“This historic pile of cow manure is exquisitely preserved in situ, conjuring rapturous memories of Berkeley’s agrarian past.” 

When it comes to historic preservation, you have to draw the line somewhere. It is an extreme disservice to Berkeley and its citizens that the Landmarks Preservation Commission and its adoring fans have helped set that bar so low. You can barely scrape yesterday’s gum off the sidewalk before someone tries to landmark it. Yes, I exaggerate, but there is a crying-wolf quality to the preservationist paroxysms of the Daily Planet, BAHA, and the like. Every time someone tries to preserve some utterly unremarkable building, the meanings of historic and landmark get further corrupted. If landmarks are used as a weapon to block housing, people will forget that a landmark is meant to be widely valued and cherished, rather than resented. Some day, a building of true beauty and importance may actually be threatened. Let’s hope Berkeley’s remaining good-will towards landmarks has not by then been completely squandered. 

Eric Panzer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Today the Daily Planet reports that the owner of the newly demolished Japanese florist shop on San Pablo had illegally installed auto lifts and other equipment, and is now “expecting” a $300,000-plus deferment on fees so he can start building condos before his permit expires on Friday.  

Seems I remember $300,000 was the amount the UC Theater needed for seismic upgrades that would have kept them open. The UC Theater was an entertainment hub that we would often walk to from our neighborhood near Ashby BART, outflowing to cafes and restaurants in the area before and after shows. I remember many nights when the vast and comfy UC would be full, or nearly so for rare movies, talks, and political events . . . too bad.  

There used to be a theater called the Fine Arts, struggled over for months, now replaced by the “Fine Arts” building that, oops, doesn’t have a theater in it. Gaia Books was going to move into the Gaia building, hence the name. Oh, they went out of business and no longer exist. I fondly recall a grilled-cheese sandwich emporium called Edy’s, that, I think, turned into Eddie’s, that is now, well, moved on.  

Somebody got a variance and promised to support these keystone local businesses.  

I also recall a parking lot, and another parking lot, dug under and developed into huge buildings. I remember a couple of extra parking spaces at Shattuck Square that have been bumped out and replaced by dismal concrete tree planters.  

Developers develop, politicians trip over each other to grab the shiny keys dangled before them. Citizens of Berkeley check the local freebox for a good book, and just stay home.  

Laurie Miller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In Glen Kohler’s Dec. 18 opinion piece, “Don’t Blame Economic Woes on Street Dwellers,” he claims that “in 1999 people went out every night to restaurants and theaters in Berkeley and Oakland. By 2001 the streets were empty after six and the tide has ebbed even lower since.” It’s true that the dot-com boom, which peaked around 1999, meant a windfall for the restaurant business, but after the circa-2001 crash business simply returned to normal levels. I regularly go to the Shattuck Cinemas on Monday and Tuesday evenings, the slowest nights of the week for movie theaters, and often see good crowds—for example, last week, for the reissue of Diva. The Berkeley Rep regularly sells out. Good, moderately-priced restaurants such as Angeline’s and Cha-Ya commonly have waits of half an hour or more. Even after 9 p.m., when most restaurants have closed, it can be hard to find a free table at Jupiter, Beckett’s, or Triple Rock. If Kohler thinks the streets are empty after 6, he’s just not looking on the right streets. 

Kohler also repeats the common but dubious presumption that the “Public Commons For Everyone Initiative” is aimed primarily at the homeless population. Neils Tangherlini, a paramedic captain for the San Francisco Fire Department and creator of that city’s Homeless Outreach and Medical Emergency Team, has spent the past ten years on that city’s streets trying to help those he calls “chronic inebriants.” He told the Chronicle last week that many of them have a full-time place to live, and that “on some level we aren’t talking about a homeless problem, it is a loitering problem.” 

Robert Lauriston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In addition to your “Annual Holiday Reader Contribution Issue,” I think you should consider an annual awards edition. 

How about a “Black Helicopter” prize for the best conspiracy theory? You could have an amateur division, and of course, a professional division for the Daily Planet editorial staff and columnists (hard to top Richard Brenneman’s 2007 article suggesting a CIA link to the tragic family murder-suicide in Tilden Park). 

How about a “Five Ws (and one H) Rule of Journalism” prize for the news story most deficient in reporting: Who? What? Where? When? Why? And how? How about an award for the most silly, inconsistent or illogical performance by an elected city official? Obviously need multiple subcategories for this one. 

And several categories for 2007 letters to the editor: 1) most letters published, 2) highest total word count, 3) most rambling and incoherent, 4) most repetitive, 5) most ill-informed, and 6) most mean-spirited personal attack on another reader. 

Richard Lyon 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Apparently, Berkeley is well-known to developers for its generous giveaways and subsidies that help guarantee their profits/lifestyles while simultaneously eroding the Berkeley budget and the income/lifestyle of the honest taxpayers who pay for this nonessential nonsense. Patrick Kennedy made millions on the Gaia Building because of free zoning bonuses, the downtown hotel developer is now crying poor and seeking a $15-30 million tax subsidy to guarantee his returns, and, on a smaller scale the wealthy developer of 1800 San Pablo Ave., Said Adeli, on Dec. 18, was granted a deferral (and maybe eventually forgiveness?) of $315,000 immediately owed to the City for permits, sewer fees, etc. I’m sure that Mr. Adeli is quite grateful to Councilmembers Maio and Capitelli for initiating, and to all City Council members (yes, the vote was unanimous) for accommodating his desperate need. 

I have nothing against Mr. Adeli nor, for that matter, decent small-scale condominium projects that pay their own way. Who can blame Adeli for simply asking for what is so readily available in our town? I am however, opposed to subsidies and favors that distort the market, guarantee profits, and confuse honest cost accounting. For this I hold our mayor and City Council responsible. Yes, Mr. Adeli may have conferred with neighbors and produced a relatively acceptable project, but why should this necessary approach entitle him to special dispensations? To me, it is a lot like the enormous farm subsidies paid to ultra wealthy farmers, for no sane reason other than that they have influence and can garner money to help elect people. 

Personally, I would like to defer all my property taxes, sales taxes, utility user taxes, refuse charges, and sewer fees until I die and have them paid by my estate. I would also like my children to have a guaranteed inheritance, so, consequently, some or all of such debts to the city may have to be forgiven. Can someone on our City Council please arrange this for me? 

Barbara Gilbert 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The strife for a “new educational model” based on the numbers cited in “A 2020 Vision for Berkeley Education” (Commentary, Dec. 11) can only result in a model that strives to do better on tests, rather than to provide better education.  

Our school system may need an overhaul, but let’s decide what we need to happen in our classrooms by watching what goes on inside classrooms rather than watching where some numbers go.  

Brian Lipson  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Does anybody else think it’s just a little strange for Berkeley Economic Director Michael Caplan to say the loss of Ross Department store is “an opportunity to upgrade the tenant mix downtown”? Has Mr. Caplan been to downtown Berkeley lately and seen all the empty storefronts? If any of his “dream tenants” wanted to locate in downtown Berkeley they already have lots of choices before Ross departs! 

While I am not necessarily opposed to the future plans in the works for Shattuck Avenue why completely kill it in the interim? The idealistic future he and others envision for downtown may or may not ever happen. Even if things do fall into place exactly as planned it will take a very long time. In the mean time let’s not let Shattuck Avenue become even more of a ghost town and support the businesses brave enough to stay there. 

Richard Crowl 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am generally skeptical about political promises, and I am particularly skeptical about Doug Buckwald’s latest letter, where he promises that, in a debate about Bus Rapid Transit, he would not indulge in his usual habits of reading “poetry” and calling for shows of hands from the audience, and that instead he would stick to the facts. 

His letter itself gives me reason to be skeptical. In an earlier letter, he wrote that AC Transit is not planning to replace parking lost to BRT. I responded that AC is planning to more than replace any parking lost to BRT; I added that, since Buckwald as always calling for a debate based on the facts, he should contact AC Transit and learn the facts about replacement parking. Yet Buckwald’s latest letter just repeats his histrionic call for a debate once again, and it completely ignores this factual question about parking. 

So, this latest letter gives me one more reason to believe that Buckwald is not capable of having a debate based on the facts. 

Charles Siegel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If you were to find out that you were a victim of identity theft and the person withdrew all of your savings, you would most certainly express outrage over it. Or, if your iPhone with pictures of your girlfriend were stolen, you would be devastated. Why is it that we care for these losses, but not shed a tear for the 500,000 or so innocent lives of women, children, and men lost in Darfur? 

Some or most people do not know where Darfur is located on a map. Some have never heard of Omar al-Bashir. Why is that? Why is it that so much coverage time is devoted to Britney Spears getting pregnant or Lindsay Lohan getting drunk again? The only serious coverage of the world comes when the topic is on the Iraq war or the Iranian “threat” from its nuclear program. 

A couple of thousands miles away, there is a government in place that is not taking care of their fellow citizens. Instead, they are getting raped, tortured, robbed, murdered, or being chased off to refugee camps. More than two million people have been driven from their homes. 

After the Holocaust and World War II in 1945, nations promised “never again.” That phrase should take off the word “never” because it has happened and is happening again and again just like how it happened to Cambodia and Rwanda. The century has barely started and we already have our first genocide which is in Darfur. 

In this era of rapid globalization and inter-connection between nations and states, we cannot sit back idly and watch these atrocities happen. We cannot forget the suffering of the innocent people in Darfur or around the world for that matter. 

Letters should be written to our local representatives and senators. We need to address the important issues around the world instead of focusing on some celebrity. It is never to late to act but failure to act now will cost lives. 

Reza Rezvani 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

We’ve got a sudden crisis down at the Sawtooth/Kawneer building at Eighth and Dwight, the largest arts and crafts building in the city, housing over 50 studios, including performance spaces and a disabled center. We are a cultural resource to the entire city of Berkeley, serving thousands of people. We’ve suddenly been notified that we’re losing the city parking lot across the street on Dec. 28. 

This will be a disaster for the building and for the entire surrounding neighborhood. The parking lot, with 27 spaces, is a community resource for adjoining blocks as well. This will literally shut down many of the studios in our building, and destroy our vibrant creative community.  

The lot is owned by Bayer, but was leased to the city for many years as part of the long-term agreement. The lease has run out and Bayer has suddenly put up a sign that they are taking it back and cars will be towed. Less than two weeks notice. At the holidays. 

Five years ago the city negotiated a five-year extension on the lot. At that time the owner of the Sawtooth/Kawneer building offered to buy the lot and retain it as community parking. A group of other local businesses also offered to buy the lot for parking. But Bayer refused to sell, and said at that time that they would be taking it back. The city told us that they recognized the importance of the lot for the neighborhood, and they would try to renegotiate it with Bayer before the end of the lease. Back then it was too early to put it on our calendars. It was of course on Bayer’s calendar. 

The city manager needs to intervene. The importance of this lot for the neighborhood cannot be over estimated. It’s cutting off our water, destroying a vital piece of our habitat. 

Please help us bring this to the public’s attention. We are asking everyone to phone and e-mail the mayor, the city manager, District 2 Councilmember Moore, and the entire City Council. Notify your friends. A list of contact numbers is below. 

Mayor Bates, in his campaign brochure for the last election promised to “Expand the arts, crafts, and environmental business in West Berkeley by supporting new efforts to provide permanent arts space and create a hub for innovative and environmental businesses.” Tom, this is where the rubber meets the road. 

Sawtooth Building Emergency Parking Committee 

Clover Catskill (Wildcat Dance Studio) 

John Curl (Heartwood Cooperative Woodshop) 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Steve Martinot’s “Militarism and Global Warming” analysis in the last issue brings a welcome clarity to the often-obscured dilemma of the USA’s deindustrialization except for military-related industries. In particular, he points to the brutal irony of the U.S. Armed Forces being the world’s greatest consumer of oil-based fuels in order to control the global sources of petroleum for both itself and its industrial/informational sponsors. This relationship seems mimicked by smaller, fuel-poor but mineral-rich states –such as Chile and South Africa– complete with F-16 purchases and growing disparities of wealth. 

Steve calls for the environmental movement to focus on the destructive cycle of a voracious and unethical corporate hegemony using “our” massive military machine to capture and police “their food supply—the planet.” To this I would add the phenomenon of the Pentagon’s massive “professionalization” (in lieu of conscription) and the extraordinary political impact of hundreds of thousands being reliant on military careers. 

After a brief surge in employing non-citizens as front-line troops, the DoD chose the path of using Reservists and National Guards to supplement its policing ranks. This policy has effectively made the military a major employer in the country’s small towns, especially given its urban recruiting difficulties (witness our town’s very own Marines office). 

When we address this military-industrial complex, of which generals such as Smedley Butler and Dwight Eisenhower warned us long ago, we must also find the ethics (which we agree are missing in the multinationals’ “personhoods”) to think about what will happen with the millions of white-, blue-, pink-, and khaki-collared people who are dependent on our “Oil Tac Squad” for their identities, ideologies, lifestyles, and lives. 

Jeff Jordan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Based on the contract extension to Securitas Security Services placed on the Dec. 11 City Council consent calendar (Item 21), the City of Berkeley feels that private security guards can be used effectively in conjunction with Berkeley Police officers to combat crime in our community. 

City staff’s analysis seems to be that paying for 4.5 full-time (FTE) security guards to protect the Marina, the Corporation Yard and the Solid Waste Center is a better choice than paying for 1.5 additional BPD officers at the same total price. 

This is not something new. The basic contract with Securitas has been in place for some time and policing the Marina was added to the contract July 18, 2006 when it became clear that BPD needed the officer assigned to Marina patrol for other crime fighting duties in the city. Securitas was hired to provide 56 hours a week of coverage replacing the 40 hours a week BPD had been providing at an annual savings of over $63,000. After a year and a half of operation, staff seems to say the change to private security guards is working satisfactorily. 

Here’s what the July 2006 adopted resolution had to say about what the security guards would be doing and how the interaction with BPD would take place: 

“Replacing the officer with a private security guard will provide the necessary security to prevent, deter and detect vandalism, theft and safety-related incidents that occur in the Marina. The Berkeley Police Department will support security guard staff as needed, and respond to reports of criminal activity.” 

When looking at an hour for hour comparison, Securitas costs the city $31.60/hour while a BPD officer costs $96.15/hour based on the $200,000 per year figure that is currently being put forth as the cost of additional police officers. It would be possible to hire three security guards for the same cost as hiring one additional BPD officer. 

Here’s a question that should be addressed when the city considers how best to fight crime in the neighborhoods. Assuming that additional city funding for crime prevention will be forthcoming, would people be safer if we had 120 hours per week of coverage by a security guard team backed up by existing BPD officers or by 40 hours per week of one additional BPD officer? The cost would be virtually the same for either choice. Would the outcome be different depending on the choice? 

Vincent Casalaina 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

She is without question one of Berkeley’s great treasures. I might go so far as to say its shining star. For her involvement in numerous community music activities she’s been proclaimed by the City of Berkeley a “local legacy” and “cultural icon.” I’m referring to Arlene Sagan, director of the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra, a position she’s held since l988. 

Last Sunday afternoon, on a gray, dismal day, the beautiful St. Joseph the Worker church was transformed into a Viennese-type Concert Hall, thanks to the magnificent program presented by this tiny dynamo. The church was packed, as always, with people lined up along the wall and sitting on the floor, evidence of the popularity of these glorious concerts. 

After a few announcements (sad news of the death of two musicians) Arlene stepped up to the podium, lifted her baton and opened the program with Verdi’s thrilling “Va Pensiero” from “Nabucco.” Next came a Vivaldi Concerto for Bassoon, performed by soloist, Cynthia Hanson. This brought thunderous applause from an audience perhaps not too familiar with the bassoon. Frank Chang, guest conductor, then led the orchestra in Rossini’s Overture to “L’Italiana in Algeri", another rousing number. The major work of the evening was Giacomo Puccini’s seldom heard “Messa di Gloria", beautifully sung by the huge chorus and featuring soloists Kevin Courtemanche (tenor) and Todd Donovan (baritone). The program concluded with chorus members coming down from the altar to the aisles to join the audience in singing once again Verdi’s “Va, Pensiero.” Inspired by that powerful, intense piece of music, all of us were suddenly Metropolitan opera singers! 

Leaving the church, my friends and I agreed that Berkeley is indeed fortunate to be uplifted and entertained with these superb programs. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Arlene and Toby Steward, chorus manager. I urge all those people who have attended BCCO concerts over the years to lend their support by sending donations to this splendid organization. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” would revive a shameful period in America’s past, the McCarthy Era, during which anyone critical of the administration then in power was in danger of being arrested as a communist. How much more of our democracy will we let Bush destroy before he leaves office? 

Allen Kanner