Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Monday August 11, 2008 - 12:22:00 PM





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Every election year, Berkeley's city government asks its taxpayers to vote for additional taxes. But if Berkeley stopped diverting its income from existing tax revenues to pay for exorbitant employee/staff salaries (many of which exceed $100,000 per year), yearly increases, very generous health benefits, and excessive retirement packages, including pensions of at least 90 percent of salaries (what other employers are so extravagant?), to reasonable levels, what actual new taxes would really be needed? 

Although taxes may be necessary, they should not be assessed to make up for mismanagement of assets. Thus, until Berkeley's city government proves they have dramatically reduced, not increased, employee/staff salaries, benefits, and retirement packages (except for those lowest paid employees) to reasonable levels, Berkeley taxpayers should vote no across the board to all new taxes. 

Steve Mackouse 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The governor's proposal for increasing sales tax should be redirected to increasing taxes on gasoline and other fuels as we have just gone through the dollar-plus per gallon rise in gas prices without being really distressed. So a 10-cent per gallon increase in taxes on fuels would not be felt very much and would be designated to cover all programs associated with roads and public transportation. That would free up for other programs money that is now taken from the general tax revenues to underwrite much of the public transportation costs. The increased fuel tax funds could also be used to speed up road improvements, especially bridge replacements to avoid the Minnesota collapse scenario, which would create jobs for construction workers laid off by the housing downturn. Those workers would no longer be drawing unemployment and would be making money and paying taxes while being involved in work benefiting the state. One cent of the increase might be designated to rehabilitating public housing projects to again generate jobs for construction workers and get some decent housing for low-income families.  

James Singmaster 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Aren't the similarities ironic? Fortunately there are important differences. 

Back in the last century, the wealthy group of white male UC Regents decided to cut down a grove of old oaks next to a waterfall, dig a large hole, and culvert the stream in order to build a huge stadium. There was much opposition from both the UC community and the Berkeley community. The university paid no attention to complaints, calling them “selfish,” planned the stadium in Strawberry Canyon, and then declared in the 1923 Blue and Gold (Volume 49, page 42): “Surrounded by the natural beauties of Strawberry Canyon, the stadium will be a monument which every Californian will be proud to have a part in the building.” (See Susan Cerny’s two-part Daily Planet article, beginning Sept. 2, 2003.)  

UC had already worked on plans for a stadium at a different site. The stadium was planned for a two-block area located east of Oxford Street between Allston and Bancroft just south of Strawberry Creek, where today the sports facility complex now stands. But the site at the mouth of Strawberry Canyon was chosen. Berkeley architect Robert Ratcliff told me back in the late 1980s that his father, architect Walter Ratcliff, told him that one of the UC Regents had idle mining equipment and that the Strawberry Canyon site would put that equipment to work. Walter Ratcliff had reason to know because he had worked on the plans for the stadium at the site not on top of the Hayward Fault. 

Now, in the 21st century, the UC Regents have decided to cut down a grove of old oaks to dig a large hole in order to build an underground bunker for athletes. I doubt that any of the current UC Regents has idle mining equipment that will be put to work, but it is obvious that profits from televised football games, donations from Bear Backers, and higher priced tickets make money again the motivation. UC does not care if views are ruined. They do not care if the congestion and noise is untolerable to the many who live in the area. They do not care if safety is seriously compromised. After all, they are the largest corporation in the state of California, with their own section of the California Constitution. They have license to do almost anything they want, the public be damned. 

The differences are: the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Alquist-Priolo Act and a community that has continually funded two lawsuits.  

Ann Reid Slaby 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ms. O'Malley's Aug. 8 editorial on the apparent inverse relationship between local food and local development projects (one desirable, the other always evil) really reaches an odd conclusion: that continuing to allow future commercial real estate projects in Berkeley is somehow a threat to our food supply. Apparently all our backyards and lawns—undoubtedly the ultimate potential locavore food resource—are going to be made unusable for planting organic veggies because of commercial developments elsewhere in town. 

However, she seems to have forgotten that we have a General Plan and a zoning ordinance—designed to segregate different uses in different parts of Berkeley. Those of us living in residential zones on lots with small plantable spaces are enabled for those uses by residential zoning, while commercial zones have permitted uses that generally don't include urban agriculture. 

That's all to the good. While parts of People's Park sometimes go in locavore directions, it's unlikely that the nearby long-vacant lot at Haste and Telegraph will ever be designated an official "Farms? In Berkeley?" zone. Its favored use is for mixed-use development, providing retail and some housing for residents who may not need cars to be good consuming locavores. And while we might ape San Francisco and plant a few token veggies on median strips like University or Telegraph, doing so would have only educational value for our local diets. We should indeed be growing more of our own—but the enemy is usually our own inertia rather than somebody who wants to build a four-plex in a zone where it's allowed. 

Yes, there will always be some local issues between neighbors, where one resident's desired sunlight (or view) is compromised by another's building or future plans. (The fact that the zoning-district boundaries on some major streets are only half a block deep guarantees more future conflicts than we would have had with more visionary planning decades ago.) But that's one good reason why we have a Zoning Adjustments Board—so that particular adverse consequences can be identified, and hopefully mitigated, well in advance of building. Even Ms, O'Malley's poster-boy example of evil encroachment on solar access, the Trader Joe's building, was modified in the permitting process to lessen its impact (e.g., shadows to the north will not reach across Berkeley Way). 

So never fear, R-1 gardeners selling your super-local produce to Chez Panisse a bag at a time. Your solar access—and pride of locavore production—are both safe from other citizens who merely wish to build commercial buildings where the zoning ordinance allows it. 

Alan Tobey 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

One aspect of Berkeley’s beloved late Green councilmember Dona Spring’s work which so many of us appreciated was her devotion to clean and fair government. Dona also felt that the city was deficient in providing resources for aquatic activities options: swimming pools and the like. I propose to the City of Berkeley that it redouble its up to now fruitless efforts to find the $25 million recently defrauded by Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) employees (a heist seemingly all but forgotten by city "leaders") and make good use of some of these funds by creating a lasting tribute to Dona that will benefit the people of Berkeley on the many hot days to come as global warming trends take hold. Former City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque referred to the aforementioned BHA fraud as the worst in any city department in 20 years. It would be more than appropriate to utilize recovered BHA embezzlement in the service of financing a Dona Spring Memorial Aquatic Project perhaps? 

Diane Villanueva 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Downtown Berkeley sidewalks are filthy! The black spots look like obscenities spit out by the Free Speech Movement class of '65! Business owners! Clean up your *$*%* front yards!  

JC Pence 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

OK, so President Clinton will get to play a role at the convention. But what about the other president, the one who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize? What role has been scripted for President Jimmy Carter? If no role, why not? 

Irving Gershenberg 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Readers should know that those claiming judicial "authority" in the UC Memorial Stadium oak grove dispute have been exposed as poseurs; thus, de facto. California's Constitution does not allow an attorney (member of the State Bar), to retain his or her membership "while holding office as a judge of a court of record." (Article VI., Section 9.) 

Repeating this prohibition, the state's Business and Professions Code also does not allow members of the State Bar to retain their memberships when holding office as "justices and judges of courts of record during their continuance in office." (Section 6002.) 

Nevertheless, so-called "Judge" Barbara Jane Miller is clearly listed as a "member" on the website of her labor union (the California State Bar), as "Number 83819". (!) The website states rather blatantly that: "This person is currently serving as a judge of a court of record and is not considered a member of the State Bar while in office. (See Constitution of California. Article VI, Section 9.)" 

But, dear Reader: Article VI, Section 9's prohibition is stated above. Do such "judges" now demand that citizens of California adhere to every jot and tittle of the law, yet "not consider" that the law applies equally to them? (The words "arrogant" and "imperious" come to mind.) 

The law IS clear. Both so-called "Judge" Richard Overton Keller (Bar "Number 40890", who issued the "injunction" against the tree sitters and those "aiding and abetting them"), and "Judge" Barbara J. Miller (who issued the recent "judgment" in favor of the people's (?) university in opposition to the laws and preferences of the people of Berkeley), are—in defiance of California law—currently "holding office as a judge of a court of record." 

The attorneys ostensibly working toward the preservation of the oak grove should have demanded that the purported "judges" recuse themselves. Their "injunction" and "judgment" are VOID, ab initio (from the beginning); the plaintiffs were Coram non Judice (in presence of a person not a judge). This is obvious, from the lawful reasons cited above. 

Conclusion: The university has no lawful authority to proceed with the stadium project. 

Arthur Stopes, III 

Director, Center for Unalienable Rights Education 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The California State Fair begins Aug. 15 and runs through Sept. 1. Some animal welfare issues remain unresolved at CALEXPO. 

At the 2004 State Fair, a rodeo bull suffered a broken back when struck by a mechanical contraption called the "Cowboy Teeter-totter." Euthanized? No, the animal was simply trucked off to the Flying U Rodeo's Marysville ranch, where he was shot to death the next day. Not acceptable! Ever since, animal protectionists have been pressuring CALEXPO to adopt an immediate, on-site euthanasia policy for fatally injured rodeo animals, as so determined by the attending veterinarian. Seems little to ask. Reportedly, county and city animal control officers will monitor this year's rodeo, and they have the authority to confiscate injured animals. 

At the 2007 State Fair, two Mexican fighting bulls escaped their pen, knocked a heroic security guard into a coma, broke her ribs, trampled a horse, and nearly trampled a bunch of kids. These animals were to be used in yet another nonsensical event called "Bull Poker," in which four or five cowboys sit around a card table, and bear the brunt of the charging bull. Last man sitting wins the jackpot. A man was killed in this event at a Kentucky rodeo recently, and his widow and three orphans are suing the fairgrounds for millions. Both of these events should be banned outright, of course, for the protection of animals and cowboys alike. Neither is sanctioned by the PRCA. 

On Aug. 16 and 17, the fair features two nights of "Bull Fest" (6:45-7:45 p.m.), with six bull rides, plus the inane and dangerous "Cowboy Poker" event. Please contact CALEXPO to express your concerns: Norbert Bartosik, CEO (; Board of Directors, Marko Mlikotin, Chair (,(916) 263-3000. 

Eric Mills 

Action for Animals 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have some questions about the group Berkeleyans for Cal. Their official name seems to be Berkeleyans for Cal Athletics—that’s what it says on their website, anyway. But at the last City Council meeting, the representatives of this group used the shorter name. Did they take the word “athletics” off to hide the fact that their organization’s sole purpose is to support building training facilities and rebuilding Memorial Stadium on top of an earthquake fault? That is clear from their website, too. 

Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, rather than truncating the group’s name, they should have lengthened it—to “Berkeleyans for Cal Athletics on Top of Earthquake Faults.” That says it all, don’t you think? 

Doug Buckwald 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am still haunted by the image of a little girl, not over age 6, undoubtedly on her first two-wheeler, peddling frantically and unsteadily in the middle of Colby Street in Oakland, trying to keep up with her family. It was a spring-like Sunday, and luckily no moving cars were in sight, unlike that usually busy street. Her brother, perhaps 8 years old, was on his small bike, a few feet ahead. Mother and father were on their respective bikes ahead of both. I watched in shock as the parents never turned to check on the safety of these two children, even when the adults turned right at the far end of this block!  

I have long been incredulous that children, too young for a driver’s license, are allowed to ride a bike in our streets, competing with automobiles! The lawmakers seem to feel that pedestrians are in more danger from sidewalk bicyclers, than these children are in the streets. 

I am aware that unthinking bike-riders can be a danger on the sidewalks, when they do not alert walkers of their presence, or move too fast. I have been told that warning devices on bikes are not required because it is assumed that the riders will use their voices to warn others! I have come close to such collisions several times, when the bicyclists behind me assumed I would not vary my steps, and gave me no warning. 

In a perfect world, we would have bike lanes everywhere. Until then, we need to change our laws in a few inexpensive ways. Because we apparently can't trust parents to know when street-riding will endanger the lives of their children, streets must be limited to drivers or bicyclists of legal driving age! Bicycles must have warning devices, preferably a standard sound, identifiable to bikes only. Sidewalk-riders need to be educated and responsible about warning pedestrians and about safe riding limits. 

But I am certain that medical and funeral costs of auto-bike collisions far outweigh that of bike-people accidents! 

Gerta Farber 




Editors, Daily Planet: 


The sky’s brilliant glowing at sunset’s end and later 

Seemed to linger beyond reasonable possibility, 

Mirroring Dona’s life 

Celebrated today in the afternoon by friends, lovers, cohorts, and citizens. 


We gathered to acknowledge her accomplishments, achievement and wisdom 

Continuing with more words 

In the attempt to ease our mutual pain from her passing; 

Altogether, unfortunately another equally unlikely occurrence 

Considering the amount of grief we share for the spectacular person she was. 


And so, left now under the fall of night... 

The big dipper in the northwest, rising stars and other constellations, 

Mindful and soulful we remain, awaiting a new day’s arrival, 

Yet further, unending appreciation for a life so precious and full 

With consciousness, activity, kindness and humor. 


Charles A. Pappas 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If all countries in this world were to come together and negotiate peace amongst each other instead of spending billions of dollars on nuclear weaponry and warfare, there would be enough money to feed all human beings on this planet and clean up the ghettos. 

Jonathan Orbiculus 

(Inspired by Food Not Bombs)