Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Friday January 25, 2008


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank goodness, things seem to have evolved a little from the days when Reagan gassed, beat, and arrested protesters who objected to UC Berkeley’s policies. Nowadays, tree-sitters haven’t been beaten or gassed; although I understand that a few of them have been cited for misdemeanors. The lawyers who represent Cal are contending that, among other things, the tree sitters are sullying the reputation of the university by making Cal the laughing stock of the country. I see it as wonderful theater, and am puzzled that the officialdom of our finest university don’t see the humor and wit in the whole enterprise. After all, as someone wiser than I once said: “Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think.” And, thinking is the point of going to college, right?  

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Kudos to the City Council for backing away from the alcohol inspection fee. 

Berkeley doesn’t need additional employees to recruit hirsute teens in an attempt to entrap local businesses. And what are the chances that a quarterly inspection would turn up some loitering late-morning drinkers? 

Rather, why not have concerned citizens call the city to report sidewalk drinking or perceived sales to minors? I’m not clear why graffiti near grocery stores is more pernicious than it is anywhere else, but heck I’ll call about that too if you like. 

If “we” are desperate to pass a measure, how about a sign at the business entrance to provide a phone number and ask citizens to report untoward conduct? Not only will that be inexpensive, but it will focus attention on those businesses that require attention. 

John Vinopal 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just read in the Chronicle today that an all-time record three million new immigrants applied for U.S. citizenship last year. Hey, I thought we, the American people, had established a level of immigration at about one million per year. What’s to be done about the two million extra people per year who are now in our country? Are we now required to let anyone who wants U.S. citizenship, to have it? Who decides U.S. policy? We the American people? Or millions of foreigners? This is completely insane!  

Think this through carefully, Daily Planet readers, because there will be no turning back. The world population is now exploding out of control. Are we now responsible for the endless millions, if not billions, of immigrants who are fleeing countries that they’ve already over-populated off the face of the earth, and let them flood into our country and do the exact same thing here?  

Peter Labriola 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Add my voice to Suzy Parker’s plea to protect the community in our North Oakland neighborhood, and I echo letter-writer Rhoda Slanger’s reminder that if Measure A passes, public institutions like Highland stand to lose. 

I want to see North Oakland free of the specter of a 12-story tower sprouting up amidst small single family homes, and free of the noise and pollution of construction, helicopter landings and increased traffic. Most of all, I want to protect my community from the actions of an institution which is not being truthful or cooperative with the public. 

Children’s Hospital has saved the lives of children I know and love, but that does not excuse its dismissive treatment of its neighboring community. We have tried to hold productive discussions with hospital higher-ups, only to find that our needs as a thriving community are not heard and our suggestions for constructive compromise are ignored. There are so many ways Children’s could work with the community in which it resides to create a workable solution for all. 

I urge your NO vote on Measures A and B. There are other funding options available for Children’s, a private hospital, that would not take scarce monies away from public institutions. 

Beth Baugh 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

While I was glad to read in “Berkeley High Teachers Press District for More Space” that the critical shortage of classrooms at BHS is finally getting some attention, the article left me confused. Why is there a continuing classroom shortage at Berkeley High, when Berkeley citizens approved a bond measure ($116.5 million Measure AA of 2000) to replace the 26 classrooms lost after Building B was burned down eight years ago? 

Other school districts send frequent updates to taxpayers on how bond funds are being spent and provide progress reports on construction projects. Where has the classroom construction bond money for BHS gone? Why don’t we get updates like other taxpayers around the state do? Please, someone, find out where the funds from the bond measure to build new classrooms at Berkeley High have gone. We have fewer classrooms now than we did before the bond measure passed, while the number of students remains about the same. Is any of that money left, or is it all gone? Berkeley taxpayers and the BHS community deserve answers to these questions. It would be a relief to learn that all that money isn’t gone with the wind. 

Maureen Burke 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It must be hard sometimes for the folks who run our city to get a clear picture of what’s working. Finding out what’s not working is easy—Berkeley sometimes seems to be a city inhabited solely by squeaky wheels. We squeak at council meetings and public hearings, on the phone, in countless e-mails, and in the letters column of the newspaper. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but there’s not nearly enough of the flip side—praise for what works. 

For the past 15 years in South Berkeley, Officer Jim Marangoni has been what’s works about the Berkeley Police Department. I’m writing now because he’s stepping down as lead beat officer of Beat 12, and we can’t let the moment past without recognizing what an enormous positive effect he’s had on our neighborhood. 

Jim is the definition of community policing. For starters, he knows everyone—law abiders, law breakers, and the big sliding scale in between. He has been a constant fixture of neighborhood meetings, always willing to explain whatever situation we faced at the time in a patient, clear, never condescending way. Even when he was filling us in on the drug dealing and assaults that are still-too-common features of life in this corner of the city, hearing his straight, unvarnished talk about it was always comforting. When you’re facing a scary situation, it’s incomparably scarier if you don’t have accurate information you can trust, and we knew Jim would always give us that. 

Having that information—and, more importantly, feeling that we had a solid link to the police department and the city—made it possible for us to do our part in addressing the crime scene: Suing the drug dealers, working with the DA’s office, intelligently lobbying our elected officials. I don’t know how we could have done it without Jim. 

It’s sad to think that this isn’t the norm in our city. Some parts of the Berkeley Police Department, I’m told, are suspicious about interacting too much with the community, fearing that it can only get you in trouble. Here’s my take-home lesson: Community policing requires commitment at the top to back up the officers who back up the folks on their beat. While he hasn’t always had that backing, Jim has shown it’s worth the effort. Engaging with the scattered citizens in our neighborhoods makes us into a community. It makes our gritty blocks safer for our kids. And it makes Berkeley a better city. So here’s my plea to you civic leaders: Join me in praising cops like Jim Marangoni, and give us more like him. Thank you for your attention. 

Paul Rauber 

For the ROC Neighborhood Association and the South Berkeley  

Crime Prevention Council 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

“The risk of a fatal car crash with a driver who’s 85 or older is more than three times higher than it is with a driver between 16 and 20. The very old are the highest-risk drivers on the road.” (“The way we age now,” The New Yorker, April 30, 2007.) 

At my last two license renewals I didn’t miss one question. After cataract surgery I now have better than 20/20 vision. I’m 83 and don’t want to give up driving. But I could have a seizure or a momentary disconnect and turn into a killer. 

A few years ago in Santa Monica an 86-year-old driver confused the accelerator with the brake pedal killing 10 people and injuring 60. The driver was convicted of manslaughter. Eventually (if not now!) there will have to be an age limit for driving. 

In the meantime steer clear of anyone leaving the Andronico’s parking lot in an Olds 98.  

Sam Craig 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Never in my 40 years in Berkeley have I seen so many “For Rent” signs gracing so many buildings. Now that the bottom has fallen out of the housing market you would think that people would be clamoring for an apartment in this town but no, they seem to be empty, at least partially. If you wonder why take a tour of the mayor’s crown jewel at the corner of University and Sacramento, the one he is proudest of. It is 82 units of long, meandering halls. The apartments are small, cheaply built and should you move into one, would immediately feel like a cell with nothing to do except sit or sleep. In addition there are 17 parking places for 82 units, so chances are you have no car, and if they think, as they advertise, that you are close to amenities, that too is only partially true; if you consider BART and AC transit amenities, you can use them to go other places. The close restaurants are nice, but for special occasions, and the grocery store is close but also not cheap. Of course there is the 7-11, which the building has wrapped itself around so snugly. 

But my point is not that these developer’s buildings are unpleasant to look at and to live in, but why, if there are so many empty apartments in the city, do we have people sleeping on the sidewalks and in the parks? Shelter is shelter. These buildings are here to stay now, so we have to accept that, but why do we have to continually accept that people have to suffer in the cold on the street? 

I know that money is the issue—it always is—but it would seem that the city could work out some accommodation. It has been very cold even inside an apartment; I can only imagine what it is like to sleep outside. 

Constance Wiggins 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am responding to Cynthia Papermaster’s Jan. 11 letter to the editor regarding the meeting between CodePINK and Mayor Bates. Ms. Papermaster stated that Mayor Bates committed to taking three actions as a result of that meeting. It is my opinion that CodePINK is getting special treatment because of their cause. The first action the mayor apparently agreed to take was to assist the group in drafting a resolution for consideration by City Council. I ask, has the group bothered to attend any Peace and Justice (P&J) Commission meetings? The city’s website shows that there was a P&J meeting on Jan. 7, which included a status report on the Marine Recruitment Office (Section D, Item 8a.). In addition, aren’t there already resolutions regarding Iraq on the table? According to the letter, Mayor Bates also agreed to meet with the officer-in-charge of the Marine’s Officer Selection Office. To what end? What purpose does this serve? Thirdly, the mayor was asked to keep the police from doing their job, which is to keep the peace and cite individuals that are in violation of city ordinances. Having a large, loud group taking up a sidewalk is loitering, and blocking pedestrians from passing is a disturbance. Having a bus doubled parked, blocking car traffic, and parked at meters over the allotted time is an infraction—period.  

Lastly, the mayor was asked to consider giving the group their own dedicated parking space in front of the recruitment office. Given the limited parking in Downtown Berkeley, I believe the spaces should be kept for people who have business to conduct in the area. Downtown businesses are struggling as is, and eliminating parking will have the adverse effect of keeping people away who would patronize downtown restaurants and businesses. Furthermore, if the mayor gives CodePINK its own parking space, it would set a precedent for other groups to receive a space in front of City Hall, the Police Department, or any business place of their choosing. Get a grip people! Just because you want to protest an organization located in Berkeley, doesn’t mean your cause is more deserving than any other. It doesn’t allow you to disturb the lives of Berkeley business patrons or residents. You have the right to be heard within the limits of the law. Your message is getting out! You don’t need local government to bend over backwards for you. 

María Ryan 




Editors, Daily Planet 

Several letters have been published in the Planet recently about pedestrian safety. I have always followed a simple rule when interacting with cars as a pedestrian: Always assume automobiles have the right of way. Indeed, this is the law in a number of other countries, and it seems to work reasonably well to protect walkers from harm without unduly inconveniencing them. I recognize that it may not be politically correct to recommend this approach in Berkeley, but it does have its tangible benefits. I walk frequently, and I have certainly avoided serious injury or death on a number of occasions by adopting this attitude. The drivers who missed stop signs or went through red lights just weren’t paying careful attention—a common occurrence in a crowded urban area such as this. 

Driving instructors teach their students to “Drive Defensively.” The main idea behind this slogan is that you should expect other drivers to make mistakes—and while another driver may be in the wrong, it is not worth risking your life to try to assert your right of way. I think it is even more important to “Walk Defensively.” You just can’t win when the equation is 3,000 pounds of hurtling metal against 150 pounds of soft flesh and bone. 

Walk defensively, and keep on walking. 

Doug Buckwald 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When people are unhappy with Washington, politicians market themselves as agents of change. In 2000, Bush and Gore both marketed themselves as anti-Clintons, happily married and faithful to their wives. Reagan was the anti-Carter in ’80, Carter was the anti-Nixon in ’76, and Nixon himself was the “New Nixon” in ’68. Despite the marketing, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush are remembered as mediocrities or worse. How do we know the newest agent of change, Barack Obama, won’t also be a mediocrity or worse? We don’t. It’s a crap shoot. And history shows change usually isn’t an improvement. 

By contrast, Bill Clinton was an extremely competent, unusually bright, successful president. He was energetic and hard-working. As a result, he was very popular. America had eight years of peace and prosperity under Clinton. And in 2008, the safest bet to get America back on track is a vote for Hillary Clinton. 

Nathaniel Hardin 

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This country has rarely had such an accomplished team of policy wonks running for president as Bill and Hillary Clinton. They understand policy and how power works our government, but, the Clintons are also lightening rods for enmity. We need a president who can inspire a vision of our country working together—Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and non-believers—to solve the enormous problems Bush and Cheney have left us with. Barack Obama reminds us of the best that America can be. With the Clintons working in his administration as policy advisors, activating the levers of power they are so experienced with, we really could turn our country toward the good society we want and that the world needs. 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Jan. 22 San Francisco Chronicle’s front page positioning of the Field (popularity) Poll on the Democratic presidential candidates was unfortunate. Camillo’s group reached only 377 “likely” Democratic Primary voters and 20 percent of these had not yet decided, leaving only 300 respondents. It is known widely that for every person who willingly gives a poll response, two, three or four others decline to participate, and these decliners may have either similar or different views from those who do participate. In general, that unknown lessens the value of poll results and makes “margin of error” statistics unrealistic.  

In the presidential race, results showing candidates far ahead or behind can cause changes in voting patterns irrespective of voters’ views and beliefs. Pollsters don’t discuss this problem of the “self-fulfilling” prophecy. When there is a publicized wide discrepancy between poll results and the outcome (as in New Hampshire), the pollsters fall over each other looking for the best explanation. What they need to discuss is how much their popularity polls create momentum for and against candidates, thus undermining the democratic process. In the case of New Hampshire the polls may well have contributed to the voters’ in that maverick state shifting away from the media-anointed leader. In the case of California it might have the same or a different affect. Overall, popularity polls are an unwarranted interference in the democratic process, and resemble the circus appeal of voyeuristic reality TV programs. We’re drawn to them, though we know they are foolish. Daily popularity polls are one reason we can’t have useful elections in the current environment. They cause people to discuss the polls, rather than the issues.  

Marc Sapir 

Former director of Retro Poll  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In an idealistic Jan. 22 commentary, Nazreen Kadir calls for a peaceable world, citing our nearly identical DNA heritage. Ah, but the variable one percent or so of that DNA conceals a wide range of inherited personality traits necessary to the past survival of our species. While most of us, perhaps, are disposed to peaceful coexistence, essential for social stability, some of us carry an inclination to anger, defiance and violence, which were equally necessary social attributes called on to rally a warlike response to any attack on the tribe. Unless some future world government undertakes, through eugenics, to eliminate those traces from our DNA, a peaceful planet is a pleasant fantasy. 

As to the question of human spirituality, and whether its source is “some higher power, some super-natural energy, some extra-terrestrial, some celestial being,” I suggest it is none of these. We may reasonably expect that there is a power quite beyond our comprehension that formed the universe, but to suppose it somehow governs our worldly affairs is only superstition—a cry of the human ego that stubbornly persists in seeing itself as central to that universe, as if the unseeing power that allows the collision of galaxies and the random extinction of earthly species were somehow concerned with our mutant, wayward and destructive offshoot. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has a plan to aerial spray the Berkeley and San Francisco areas to “eradicate the little brown apple moth.” The new projected start date for the Bay Area has now been moved to August 2008. They have already begun aerial spraying in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties (Fall 2007) where many people became immediately ill. We understand the CDFA plans to continue spraying indefinitely until the moth is eradicated. This aerial spraying is of a synthetic moth hormone in a carrier base of toxic chemicals encapsulated in plastic. The LBAM (little brown apple moth) is not a human vector, nor has it been claimed that it even carries one. 

We want to know: 

What is the public health rational for spending our precious tax dollars on this moth? 

What are the full public health ramifications of the spraying? We are already seeing the immediate dangerous effects. 

What are the full environmental ramifications of the spraying? On wildlife, on birds, on bees, on dogs and cats and on the ecosystem as a whole? 

Why have our elected officials been so silent on this matter? 

Is there an actual problem with this moth, or are these preventative measures? If preventative, what is the theoretical problem? 

As we understand, there is no clear and present danger to people from this moth.  

We do know that the aerial spraying is dangerous to anyone and anything that breathes, or touches anything with these chemicals on the surface, such as cars, plants, etc. 

We are also aware that there are non-toxic alternatives to address any problem with this moth that the CDFA deems necessary to address. Aerial spraying is outdated, unsustainable and expensive. 

As tax payers and parents, we expect our elected and other state officials to do what is in the best interest of everyone. 

State officials will make their presentation about the aerial spraying to the Berkeley City Council Tuesday, Feb. 26,  

Sign the petition to stop the spraying and get updates at 

No aerial spraying; safe alternatives must be chosen! 

Alisa Rose Seidlitz 

Regina Beatus 

Co-chairs, Parents United for Health 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

When one writes what is supposed to be a play on words, the writer should understand that which he purports to parody otherwise his ignorance might shine through. Indian tribes are not given “sovereign immunity.” It is an inherent attribute of sovereign status. Mr. Kachinga Gangale should read and analyze before spouting gibberish. See 55 I.D. 34 (1934). Does he perchance know that Indians, with the exception of the handful of highly successful gaming tribes (about 15-20), are classified as the “sickest of the sick and the poorest of the poor”? Does Gangale know that in Indian Country, health and mortality rates are above only Haiti in the western hemisphere? Does he appreciate that health-wise due to serial, improvident federal policies that Indian health is on a par with sub-Saharan Africa’s population? To the tribes he targets, say only good luck and God bless. If he wants to find out what the life of California Mission Indians has really been like, I refer him to Helen Hunt’s Century of Dishonor, specifically the appendices. Maybe facts and knowledge will temper his hubris.  

S. Willett 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I do not think today’s budget crisis should be solved by reducing funding for education. Even more than a balanced budget we need to build communities where justice prevails and young people are eager to do their part to maintain society. What I know from my experience as a classroom educator in my native country of India is that knowledge is power. It is through education that we can most deeply empower our children. 

Teaching is rewarding in itself but even teachers have to feed their families. Perhaps the highest paid public employees could donate one month of their salaries to prevent cuts in funding for schools and colleges. 

Let us not axe the root of community in our culture. 

Romila Khanna 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Oh, please, please, won’t someone, anyone, put a muzzle on George W. Bush? With several months of his presidency remaining, this man, with his sabre-rattling and incessant ranting about Iran, is only adding to the tensions and unrest around the world. Granted that Iran does pose a danger, is this not all the more reason why we should exercise caution and diplomacy in dealing with this country? Our president, on the other hand, persists in describing Iran as “the world’s top sponsor of terrorism.” 

While I’m certainly no admirer of Malmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, I have to agree with his charge that Bush’s message “reflects his own conceptions and is a message of rift, a message of sowing the seeds of division.” When hearing Bush repeat over and over his warnings about Iran, I can’t help comparing this reckless goading with that of the two brothers who allegedly teased and taunted the tiger in last week’s fatal attack in the tragic San Francisco Zoo incident. Granted that this comparison may be a stretch of the imagination, I nonetheless feel very strongly that our great leader is fueling much of the ominous talk and dire warnings of a possible nuclear attack. Will no one speak up and demand an end to such dangerous rhetoric? 

Dorothy Snodgrass 


P.S.: Responding to a reader’s complaint that the Planet featured Ron Lowe’s letters “not once but twice in recent issues,” let me say that I, and I’m sure many other readers, look forward to Mr. Lowe’s letters. His always thoughtful and insightful assessment of this country’s problems and injustices reflect my own feelings. 

And I don’t mind one bit that he lives in Grass Valley!