Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday April 15, 2008


Editors, Daily Planet: 

At the Jan. 29 Berkeley City Council meeting, Judith Scherr heard me start a sentence with, “As a former GI Rights counselor on the GI Rights hotline,...” Judith then wrote in the Feb. 1 issue of the Daily Planet, “Bob Meola, a veteran who has staffed hotlines for military personnel trying to leave the service, told the council that use of the parking space will help the demonstrators deliver the truth to possible recruits.” The word “veteran” was not spoken by me. 

I am not now and never have been a veteran of any military organization. I am a veteran of the anti-war movement since 1967. I have also been a veterans’ counselor, assisting veterans with obtaining discharge upgrades at discharge upgrade hearings and at a hearing of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Please either publish this letter or make it clear that you mistakenly labeled me as a veteran. 

Bob Meola 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The City of Berkeley is in the process of surveying voters on their attitudes toward increased property taxes. The poll is supposed to give the mayor and City Council an objective view of whether or not their initiatives are likely to succeed in November. 

The problem is that the questions aren’t objective at all. On Monday, I got a call from the professional poll takers. Everything was designed to make me say I would vote for higher taxes. To paraphrase: “Wouldn’t you like to have access for the handicapped to the libraries?” “Wouldn’t it be nice for our kids to have a place to go after school? “You don’t want your fire protection to go away, do you?” “Shouldn’t there be a warm water pool for our disabled children?” And so it went, until at the very end that the real point came out, and I was asked if I would be willing to pay just a few more dollars for these wonderful things. 

At no time did the surveyor ask whether I thought the city was spending its current revenues wisely. Or tell me what my total bill might be if all of these programs were adopted. There were no questions about how I thought the city might economize, or raise revenues in ways that would be more fair to young families who now must pay over $10,000 a year in taxes on small starter bungalows, while 60 percent of the population would be exempt from any property tax increase. 

I’m not saying we should never consider new taxes. All I’m saying is that when the city spends my money on an “impartial survey,” it should not load the results in advance. 

The last time the city cooked the books to justify a tax increase was in 2004. We all know how that turned out. 

Miriam Wilson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am just back from Seattle, a town that overcame the moniker “the least worst place.” It overcame being built on mudflats and sawdust, burning down from a glue factory, being watered down by hydraulic sluicing and erecting walls around hollowed out streets only poets write about. (Be sure to go on the Underground Tour if you go to Seattle.) 

If this town can run buses in bus-only lanes in rush hours, build a purple streetcar line you can walk onto and have proof of payment, a ticket you can show or glide through a slide, and be OK with avoiding congestion that way, what is wrong with a lucky town like Berkeley, built on halcyon oak woodland with a history of the key system streetcar? 

The Seattle Streetcar is a 2.6-mile loop with 11 stops that shares the road with traffic. It was funded by hospitals, banks, construction companies, research centers, hotels, and the UW Med School. If they can do that, why can’t some of the poor-crying wealthy companies around the East Bay care more about global warming than driving an SUV to the grocery store or the symphony. It is embarrassing to go to a place like cold Seattle, and find people more committed to the environment than we are. Are the waves from the melting arctic ice floes going to hit them sooner than they hit us? 

Claire Risley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit is a poorly designed and expensive transit system that would not serve the needs of neighbors, students, or businesses in Berkeley—and studies show that its huge, diesel-powered buses would not help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you are for protecting the environment, you should be against this BRT plan. If you are for protecting the quality of life in Berkeley’s neighborhoods, you should be against this BRT plan. If you are for protecting small and large businesses in Berkeley, you should be against this BRT plan. A large and growing coalition of merchants and residents, called Berkeleyans for Better Transportation Options, recommends that other transportation measures be tried first that are a better fit for our city. 

Here are two things you need to do this week: First, call or e-mail your councilmember and tell him or her that you are in favor of a Rapid Bus Plus system, that would give us almost all of the gains of BRT without the intrusive and costly detriments of traffic lane removal. Second, sign the petition being circulated that calls for a citizen vote before any traffic lanes are given away to a transit company for their exclusive use. We should not give away part of the commons without democratic participation. 

Make your voice heard! The time is now, and I assure you, they are listening. Members of the elite consensus trying to force this system on Berkeley will be persuaded if we make them realize that they will lose their jobs if they fail to heed the community’s wishes. 

Don’t be shy. Speak up! 

Doug Buckwald 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

After spending a few days riding great public transit in Seattle, it was quite a comedown to return to backward Berkeley and read about the opposition to dedicated lanes for the BRT. 

In Seattle, there are several streets which are bus-only during peak hours. Express buses travel in a bus-only tunnel under the city. Many of the buses are electric or hybrid. 

Berkeley once paid extra taxes to build BART underground. Could we dig a tunnel under Telegraph for the BRT—if we really can’t bear to have a dedicated bus lane? Could we have a dedicated lane for the BRT only during certain hours? Or are we going to do nothing effective to control our traffic congestion? Are we going to keep on engineering to maximize the flow of cars, instead of the flow of people? 

In January, service started on the Seattle Streetcar, running from downtown to south Lake Union, using an overhead electric wire. I wish we had a streetcar running from Shattuck and Center up to Telegraph. The Seattle Streetcar doesn’t have a dedicated lane—the tracks are embedded in the street. The stops aren’t stations; they’re similar to bus stops. One of the cars is bright red, like those of the San Diego trolley; the other is purple. There are doors on both sides. The streetcar is a joy to ride. 

What’s really awesome is that the hi-tech businesses around South Lake Union not only lobbied for the streetcar, but provided most of the funding. 

Berkeley, the former streetcar suburb, continues its single-minded dedication to the private car. 

Steve Geller 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I think Alan Tobey is being disingenuous in his April 8 commentary, “It’s Only Halftime for BRT Decision.” I’d bet he is aware that AC Transit is busy lining up the federal money for BRT now. Waiting for the environmental impact report to be completed would mean waiting until it’s too late to stop this ill-conceived scheme. 

The 1R articulated VanHool buses, with the same infrequent stops that BRT would have, are very poorly utilized in Berkeley, while the local buses are still heavily used (they are relatively comfortable and they stop near people’s homes). 

I have just learned that AC Transit’s current plan is to “combine” BRT with the local line 1, in other words, to eliminate the local buses on Telegraph Avenue. 

If true, AC Transit would be shafting its loyal riders for the benefit of imaginary future commuters from San Leandro who happen to prefer a wild ride on a lurching diesel behemoth—rather than a smooth, fast train ride on BART. 

Gale Garcia 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was not surprised to read in the April 8 Daily Planet that Loni Hancock has been charged with a misuse of campaign funds. 

Loni seems to have moved away from the neighborhood-based politics that launched her political career and into the realm of corporate politics. I was surprised to see that she has raised thousands of dollars for her state Senate race against Wilma Chan from big corporations like Bayer, Pfizer, Bristol Myers Squibb, Abbot Laboratories, Chevron, AT&T, Owens Illinois General, PG&E, Pacific Racing, Golden Gate Fields, the Pt. Molate Casino interests, and the Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroads. 

She has also accepted many thousands of dollars from local real estate developers like Wareham Development, EMG Properties, Madison Marquette Property Development, Seagate Properties, Laurie Capitelli, John Gordon, Felicia Woytak and Sohel Mondarressi. Plus large sums from a variety of construction industry unions including the State Building and Construction Trades Council, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association. 

It seems to me that with this list of major contributors, the concerns and interests of Berkeley neighborhoods will not be uppermost in her mind.  

And I can’t think of a single piece of legislation she got passed during her six years in the Assembly that would justify her elevation to the state Senate. 

Art Goldberg 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Although we are Obama supporters, we have not been amused by the recent spate of political cartoons in your newspaper. They are neither clever nor particularly well-drawn and certainly not up to the usual quality of Mr. DeFreitas’ work. These cartoons seem quite misogynistic and when satire sinks to cruelty it is neither funny nor enlightening. 

Charles and Ellen Robinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A week ago, I had surgery to remove a tumor from my brain. From my living room window I can see the top of UC Storage where the proposed antennas are supposed to go. I do not think that the radiation from these towers will be good for my health. I oppose them with all the vigor I can manage. 

Arthur Carson  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Either Obama or Clinton should easily win in a huge landslide over McCain in November. Except that he is a Republican war candidate. GOP war candidates win. Consider General Grant: a drunk and a political incompetent. He won two terms. His Civil War record was only part of his success. His campaigners were the original “red baiters.” At promo stops they would hold up a bloody shirt from the war and say, “See these holes, they were put there by a Democrat.” 

In 1840, before the GOP even existed, their predecessor party, the Whigs, used a military hero to upset the favored Democrats (popular for inaugurating public schools and help for small business). The Whigs propagandized for “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too,” a reference to Indian fighter William Harrison and running mate John Tyler. 

At the turn of the 20th Century the Robber Barons were hated by a wide majority of the American people. But the darling of the plutocrats William McKinley won in 1900 because he was the war president who led the 1898 capture of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. 

In 1948 the GOP expected to win with governor Thomas Dewey, but the electorate rejected him. So, in 1952 the Republicans ran “the general,” Dwight Eisenhower, who had his two terms. 

After Bush stole the 2000 election he became a war president, and although he probably stole 2004, too, he wouldn’t have been close if not for the Iraq war. 

Now we get McCain: He has one war in process, and before November, Bush will probably add for him a hot new war, ensuring that the public will vote for the GOP, even if all the airlines are out of business, hospitals and schools are closing in droves, bridges are falling down, milk and gas are selling for $10 a gallon and millions are living on the street. Then again, if the price of Viagra goes to $100 a pill the war candidate just might lose enough of his base for a Democrat to squeak through. 

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If there’s a single event in Berkeley reflecting the exuberant, joie de vivre spirit of its citizens, that event has to be the annual Cal Day celebration, which was held on the UC campus this past weekend. Thousands of people throughout the Bay Area descended on Telegraph Avenue to soak in the glorious sunshine and to enjoy the mind-boggling number of free musical performances, research discoveries, dramatic presentations, African Drumming, and, of course, the adrenaline charged Cal Band, to name only a few of the widely varying activities. 

Before entering Sather Gate for the official program, people were entertained by a familiar group, the 1929 Depression Band, playing their toe-tapping Dixieland favorites in front of the Student Union. I could have happily spent the whole afternoon there, but, no—there was too much to see and do after entering Sather Gate. 

So, the big question: just where to begin? Picking up a thick Cal Day program, I immediately suffered an anxiety attack trying to decide which event to take in first. Joining the huge crowd of spectators, babies in strollers, and skate boarders, I head for Dwinelle Hall for a lecture on “Film Making in Berkeley.” After that came a performance by the University Symphony in Hertz Hall. Next, rushing over to the Art Museum, I had a guided tour of their current exhibit: “Enrique Chgoya: Borderlandia,” a show not to be missed. 

Aware that I was attending purely arts and entertainment exhibits, nothing cerebral, I decided I would take in shows that would exercise my mind even though some were clearly above my limited intellectual level. Since Science and Natural History have never been high on my list of interests, I popped over to the Valley Life Science Building for a staggering array of exhibits—one, an awesome display of Fossils, clearly a favorite of small children. Next I ventured into a seminar on Vertebrate Zoology, followed by a demonstration of Molecular & Cell Biology (all in the Life Sciences Building). 

I’m afraid my eyes glazed over at some of the above activities, so I then settled on a discussion of the 2008 presidential election offered by the Political Science Department in Stanley Hall. 

My energy having dropped to a low level by this time, I concluded my Cal Day adventure by sitting on a bench outside Sproul Hall, sipping a cool drink and watching the unending procession of people headed for Sather Gate. I was heartened by the great number of parents bringing their children to this challenging program of educational exhibits, hands-on work shops and nature shows. What better way, I thought, to celebrate all that this world premier university gives to our community. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I suggest that the United States boycott the Summer 2008 Olympics to let the whole world know that it is occupying Iraq for five years and also supporting Israel that has been occupying Palestine for 60 years. Only then the world would know how evil occupation is.  

Mina Davenport 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Anne White writes that Gaza is under siege by Israel, but does not want to admit that the Israeli cities, Sderot and Ashkelon, and all Israeli villages within their range are under siege by Gaza’s duly elected government, Hamas. In fact, it is only because of the Gazan siege of Israel, that Israel has felt the need to take counter measures. White feels that Israel is “collectively punishing” Gazans when it does not deliver food or health services to them. Israel actually delivers both in abundance, though Lord knows why. Israel is under no more obligation to trade with a neighboring country, Gaza, with which it is at war, than the United States had responsibility for the humanitarian needs of the Germans during World War II. The moral is, as it should be, that if you willfully wage war on your neighbor, you shall suffer the inevitable consequences. If Gazans want to trade with Israel, and receive the benefits of Israeli fuel, medicine, food, and water, it might behoove them to stop “collectively punishing” Israelis with incessant rocket and terror attacks. Most recently, Gazans killed the drivers of two Israeli fuel trucks that were merely trying to deliver fuel to them. What were they thinking? Only the rabid bite the hand that feeds them. Gaza has two borders, one with Israel and the other with Egypt. However, White neglects to mention the Egyptian “collective punishment” of Gaza. That border, though recently breached for a few days, is now once again hermetically sealed, with no fuel, food, or medicine going through it. Apparently, Egyptians feel no need to offer Gazans much of anything, and White feels no need to protest. No propaganda points there for White. The commodities that flow freely through the Egypt-Gaza border are arms and explosives, which traverse beneath that border in Hamas’ extensive system of smuggling tunnels. White no doubt rejoices at that free trade. 

John Gertz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The recent rant of Mr. Smith from Jersey is a good illustration of the statist mind (?) at work. Eighteen-year-olds can go to war and can vote but they shouldn’t be allowed to drink or purchase firearms ? By what crazy paternalistic nonlogic? I’ve researched the laws in the major urban areas where most of the crime occurs and of course it is not as easy to acquire a gun as the Smith ilk would have us believe. Furthermore guns are most often used to prevent crime which includes killing. John R. Lott’s book More Guns, Less Crime documents this in copious detail. 

As for hunting, the alternative is large scale animal starvation and animal predation against each other. That is usually a far more horrible, drawn out death than that which occurs by hunters. This is a hard fact for the animal “rights” crowd to swallow but it’s true. Raw nature is not a wonderful place. 

Speaking of less than wonderful places, Mr. Smith’s New Jersey is so hated by its own residents that 49 percent would like to move out according to a recent Harper’s Index. Another statist high-tax hellhole. 

Michael P. Hardesty 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to a recent Undercurrents column by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor: 

Firstly, the concept that the laws of a city should be ignored simply because these laws either do not exist or were not enforced in the country from which one comes, is absurd! Whether this is given the okay by the current mayor or chief of police is immaterial. If those in this “culture” wish the laws changed, then go through the proper procedures to get the laws altered for everyone in the city, not just those in some special culture. 

One of the byproducts of the hip-hop culture is the contagious concept that no one should “snitch” to the police. Do you support that concept as well? 

The laws of the City of Oakland should be applied equally to all. You are apparently implying that each cultural area within the city should have its own independent set of laws. I consider this inherently ridiculous! 

Oakland police officers have long been trained in the various cultures (which I support). However, requesting that any officers working in one specific cultural area must speak another language not realistic. This would result in a separate little police department and definitely would not contribute to the assimilation of this culture into the overall American culture. English is the spoken language in the United States, like it or not. 

Lastly, regardless of the language, shaking a knife of any kind in the face of any police officer in any country will no doubt bring negative results to the knife bearer. 

Dave Hunter 

Sergeant of Police (retired)  






Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your columnist J. Douglas Allen-Taylor justifies thug disrespect by trying to frame it as a “culture war.” Since he caricatured my campaign for City Council, let me correct his misrepresentations when he writes: 

“In a recent League of Women Voters forum with candidates for Oakland City Council’s at-large seat, for example, candidate Charles Pine—who is campaigning on a law-and-order platform—talked of how crime and violence are ruining Oakland, mentioning the problems of ‘sideshow culture’ and ‘boom boxes’ in the same breath. Boom boxes?” (April 11) 

First of all, I am not a law-and-order ideologue. I do call for increasing Oakland’s police force, currently half the size of most major cities, to a modest 1,100. This is not a program of “law and order” at all times and in all places. Would Mr. Allen-Taylor tell Atlanta, Boston, St. Louis and all those other cities to cut their police forces in half? Then their residents could live and die as we do in Oakland. All we want in Oakland is the relative peace of an average American city. 

Second, I referred not to boom boxes but to boom cars, vehicles equipped with speakers that blast hundreds of watts of pounding bass. “Boom car” is a street term; perhaps Mr. Allen-Taylor would like to get out of his office more often. 

Like thousands of Oakland residents, I need relief. One supporter of my candidacy, Louis Hagler, M.D., has published in medical journals on the health problems that noise pollution exacerbates, from stress to heart attacks. (See for his reports.) For my part, I want to sit in my living room without boom car after boom car causing stomach pain and making it impossible to enjoy an hour of peace. These vehicles, besides violating California law, are an instrument of the culture of disrespect, which is very different from a “culture war.” 

Basically, Mr. Allen-Taylor fails to realize that no cultural tradition makes it OK to punch other people, whether with fist or sonic sledgehammer. 

Charles Pine 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is no fan of the latest anti-gay initiative; the real fans and promoters of this measure are Republicans and social conservatives ("Governor to oppose amendment to ban same-sex marriage,” April 12). 

The Republican National Committee is pumping money into California, backing a voter initiative confronting same-sex marriage, figuring this hot-button issue will stoke the fires of unrest in the GOP base and entice moderates and independents to go to the polls, and while they’re at it they’ll vote for John McCain. 

The ballot measure is another wedge issue being used by the election savvy GOP to short-change and confuse Californians and promote their presidential candidate. 

Ron Lowe 

Grass Valley 



The Berkeley Daily Planet accepts letters to the editor and commentary page submissions at and at 3023A Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705. Letters should be no more than 400 words in length; commentaries should be no more than 1,000 words in length. Deadline for Tuesday edition is 5 p.m. Sunday; deadline for Friday edition is 5 p.m. Wednesday. Please include name, address and phone number for contact purposes. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.