Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday September 18, 2008 - 09:33:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Why is Tia Ingram of the Berkeley Housing Authority flouting the sunshine or transparency laws by refusing to post exactly how the BHA figures the often inflated rents for Section 8 tenants? And why does City Attorney Zach Cowan, the Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission and the Section 8 committee of the Rent Stabilization Board put up with it? This flouting of the law is what caused the probationary status of the BHA in the first place; the threatened lawsuit, the special HUD investigation, the forced resignation of top BHA staff, and the shake-up of Berkeley commissions which helped force out of office the previous city attorney.  

John L. Butler 

Berkeley Citizens for Fair Housing  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is never glorious, never a victory, when great trees fall. But although the tree-sitters failed to preserve the grove, all of us—and I include those offering “free firewood” to passers-by—owe something big to them. They accomplished what a decade of Freedom of Information Act requests could not have done. They have brought before the eyes of a star-struck public a key part of the nature of the Yoo-niversity in the hills. Now we know it better for what it is: how close to the surface, and how near to hand, are the interrogation lights, the helicopters, the paranoia- and fear-tactics, the food-deprivation, the spying, the surveillance, the double-crossing, the press-office psy-ops. 

All necessary knowledge for those of us who care about the Bay Area, because working for its good in the future will often enough mean going up against the big Yoo. 

Even if you didn't like the tree-sitters’ looks or personal deportment, think of them as a P.I.A.—“People’s Intelligence Agency.” 

Juan F. García 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I want to thank the brave tree-sitters from the bottom of my heart for risking their lives so that the oak grove might live. Let us hope that the animals who lost their habitat in the grove somehow manage to find new homes.  

Harriet Jones  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Congratulations to Berkeley’s public works efforts to give the city new sewer pipes. Not exactly a glitzy project, but basic and necessary to keep the fluids moving underground. The team of workers on our block were efficient, professional, friendly, and diligent. It was a pleasure to watch them do the job. And they did their job extremely well—the temporarily torn up sidewalk blocks and the openings in the street were all smoothed over and neat when the work was over. Good job done by all. 

Joan Levinson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Years ago I took a law course for non-lawyers at Berkeley. About all I remember from it was the claim that if something was legal, it was prima facie ethical. Recently, the university required all its employees to take an on-line ethics training course. The course covered the responsibilities and the rights of employees. An employee cannot charge non project-related work to a project account. An employee has the right to be recompensed for any job-related work that they perform. My supervisors saw no contradiction in stating that I should bill the time required to complete the ethics course to whatever project account I currently had access to.  

Free speech, or perhaps just tenure, trumps outrage. John Yoo appears to be in no danger of losing his job. Memorial Stadium was built in honor of the veterans of World War I. Many people have expressed anguish at the removal of the oak grove by the stadium, but the university claims it has the legal right to do so. Compassion, and respect for others, are not a legal, and by implication, ethical requirement. 

Presumably no one will be surprised that the university is urging its alumni to sign up for updates on university issues so that they can lobby their legislators. Ethics is money.  

Robert Clear 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Given the university’s recent chopper campaign against oaks on a fault, the fantasy SWAT segue for returned soldiers, and the chanting ROTC drills outside of classrooms—it looks like we’re living the latest version of federal policy blowback. If we divert much of our national education budget to training our small town kids to police our foreign lands and prisons, our investment is also bound to create a need for more militarized urban securitization here in our home lands. We need to change more than our figureheads. 

Jeff Jordan 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In your letters to the editor for Sept. 8, you have one entitled “Sarah Palin and Censorship” by Ralph Stone, who rambles on about the alleged demands by Sarah Palin that the library remove certain books, and then asks the question why this isn’t being brought up in the media. The simple answer to that question is because it never happened! 

A quick search for Palin and library on produces the following results: 

It is also important to realize that the list being circulated include numerous books that had not even been published at the time this alleged attempt at book banning took place. 

Please, when evaluating letters to publish, be sure to check what is being presented as being factually correct rather than more nuttiness for Berkeley’s moonbats. 

Todd C. Hansen 

Northfield, Minnesota 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Why are Oakland teachers voting no on Measure N when it could provide for a pay raise? 

a. Measure N includes charter school tax of 1.8 million for next 10 years. 

b. Elected Oakland School Board voted 6 to 1 to reject flawed Measure N. 

c. State Superintendent O’Connell used his state take-over power to force Measure N on the ballot. 

d. Jack O’Connell was awarded “charter schools supporter of the year” for 2008. 

e. Homeowners in today’s economy can ill afford $120 addition parcel tax for 10 years. 

f. All of the above. 

Answer: f 

Jim Mordecai 

Oakland teacher 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Comments contained in the last paragraph of my recent letter to the Daily Planet were less than objective, indefensible, purely reactionary, simply irrational, inappropriate, a grievous error in judgment...and just a wee bit satirical, though I wouldn’t claim to match the New Yorker’s skill at rendering satire after their July 21 cover depicting the Obamas in the Oval Office. 

In choosing to publish my letter, Mrs. O’Malley aptly demonstrates her open-mindedness and underscores the need for the Berkeley Daily Planet to remain as a beacon of truth regardless of the outcome of this election. 

Becky, what makes you think America won’t need you more than ever after Sarah Palin becomes your next VP? Stay here venerable editor, stand and fight for your American ideals, there’s nothing to do in Canada, and Venezuela is already a lost cause. 

Brian Gabel 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

What’s going on with Berkeley Unified School District? Why are they not able to keep their science teachers? Four of our elementary schools in Berkeley are without science teachers for their fourth and fifth graders. The four schools; Le Conte, Emerson, Berkeley Arts Magnet, and Washington are doing a disservice to their fourth and fifth graders, which will manifest in lower test scores on the science portion of their STAR tests this coming spring. 

We live in one of the most science rich communities in the nation, and Berkeley Unified is obligated to provide our students with teachers (not subs) in schools who are qualified and experienced in teaching this subject. Because science (and math) are the most difficult positions to be filled, the district has an additional responsibility to retain these specialized teachers and to value them as they do classroom teachers. 

Why is Berkeley Unified not working harder to keep science teachers? Is the superintendent even aware of the situation? Does he just hand it off to Human Resources? Who is in charge of making the district a desirable employer to work for? 

Science is a comprehensive and specific curriculum that is just as important as math and English. If our district, which can so proudly laud it’s ability to offer our schools curriculum in non-academics such as cooking, gardening, music and dance (as well as organic food) then why oh why can’t they figure out how to keep their science teachers? I notice that there are no district vacancies for cooking and gardening instructors, but three for science. 

Are parents of fourth and fifth graders at Le Conte, Washington, Berkeley Arts Magnet, and Emerson upset about this situation? Do they find this acceptable? Let’s let the superintendent and the school board know of our displeasure about this and receive some answers. The district serves the public as well as our children. I’m sending this letter to the school board as well. Students at four schools have already missed two weeks of science. Would we remain complacent if it were two weeks of math or English? 

Joseph Davis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Charles Siegel’s Sept. 11 commentary “False Claims in Anti-Transit Initiative Ballot Argument” is extremely misleading. He claims that Bus Rapid Transit will achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gases, presumably by saving the 690 gallons of gasoline per day hoped for by AC Transit. How can 690 gallons per day, for a $400 million cost, possibly be considered significant? The same $400 million could be used as $4,000 rebates to encourage 100,000 motorists to turn in their gas-guzzlers and buy a fuel-efficient car. That could save upwards of 100,000 gallons of gasoline every day, 150 times as much as BRT. I challenge Mr. Siegel to explain how BRT’s greenhouse gas reductions can be significant, when they are less than 1 percent of the savings that might be achieved by using the same $400 million for fuel efficiency rebates. And maybe he can explain the statement by AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson that even the 690 gallon estimate may be completely unrealistic: “If we put this dedicated lane in and people continue to drive, then the opponents are probably right. It will lead to more pollution.” 

Mr. Siegel also claims that the average bus trip will be 15 to 30 percent faster with BRT. But AC Transit’s heavily used 51 bus, which runs on College Avenue, will be stuck in the same BRT-induced gridlock as the cars and trucks on College. Anyone who rides the 51 will see the service get a lot worse. And if the 51 takes twice as long to crawl through traffic after BRT is constructed, each 51 bus will only be able to make half the number of trips as they do now. So people will have to wait twice as long for a 51 bus to even show up. During that longer wait, twice as many riders will have accumulated and there won’t be space on the 51 to hold everyone. Maybe Mr. Siegel can explain to the riders of the 51 why their service will be sacrificed as part of BRT. 

Finally, counter to Mr. Siegel’s claims, I do understand that Measure KK would apply to “every street in Berkeley.” I think that is wonderful. If Measure KK passes, no one who lives in Berkeley will ever have to waste their time defending their neighborhood against a carpetbagger like AC Transit again. The people of Berkeley will be empowered to select the kind of real improvements in public transit that we need, instead of being forced to accept AC Transit’s useless and dangerous pet project. Vote yes on Measure KK in November! 

Russ Tilleman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her Sept. 11 editorial, Becky O’Malley wrote, “Non-liberal-arts majors took offense at my previous use of a German word, liebensraum, to describe the university’s rapacious desire for territorial expansion, just because Hitler had previously used it.” 

Had Hitler been motivated by a desire for Liebensraum, there would have been no World War II and no Holocaust. Had the University of California practiced the policy of Liebensraum, the Memorial Stadium oak grove would still be standing. 

Unlike Lebensraum (living space), Liebensraum means “loving space.” (And unlike English nouns, German nouns still take initial capitals.) 

Daniella Thompson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a liberal arts major myself, I nonetheless take strong exception to Professor O’Malley’s injudicious attempt to equate the university’s land grab of the oak grove with Hitlerian expansionism by evoking the term, “liebensraum” [sic]. If there were such a word in German (which there isn’t), it might mean something like “room to love” or maybe “love room.” That sounds more like a Summer of Love term than something we might associate with Nazi Germany. Unless you take seriously Norman Mailer’s deeply demented last novel, The Castle in the Forest, it seems doubtful that a kinky concept like “liebensraum” has much to do with Hitler or his supposedly incestuous origins. I suppose the German word, Liebe, or “love” could be compounded into a more sinister form. For example, fans of Stanley Kubrick’s classic Dr. Strangelove may recall a whispered scene in which we learn that the “Kraut,” Dr. Strangelove, formerly worked for the Nazis as a weapon’s expert under his original name, “Dr. Merkwürdigliebe.” 

Perhaps the German word-phrase, Professor O’Malley was looking for here was “Lebensraum”? I guess her “excellent education at what we used to call Cal” did not sufficiently distinguish between “liebensraum” and “Lebensraum” or that fact that in German, all nouns, “proper” or otherwise, are customarily capitalized (at least in German orthography). 

But this apparent confusion of Professor O’Malley while trying to appear worldly and learned (unlike that rube Palin?), points to a larger credibility gap in the Planet’s so-called news coverage. For example, the front page of the Sept. 11 issue includes a breathless profile and interview with one of the oak grove heroes, “Dumpster Muffin,” who is described as a “21-year-old activist from Iowa,” but only a few paragraphs below she is quoted as saying, “I’m from Ohio...” So which is it? Iowa or Ohio? Or did we somehow get our geography confused like some parochial small town rube from Alaska might? Based on a careful reading of the Planet for several years, it would seem that all too often the reports are filled with misstatements, inaccuracies and confusion (not to mention typos) and the attributed quotes filled with outright lies which no one bothers to fact check or verify. So, in a nutshell, you have the Planet: A series of inaccurate or false statements immediately contradicted by a (lying?) quotation all within the same paragraph or two! In truth, Berkeley fully deserves the newspaper it now has which accurately reflects both its hubris and dementia. 

Edna Spector 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

People who read Matt Cantor’s article on toilets might be interested to know that if they replace an older (3.5 gallons per flush) toilet with a qualifying “High-Efficiency Toilet” (1.28 gallons per flush) they can get a $150 rebate from EBMUD. 

Michael Babcock 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her Sept. 11 article “District, State Show Growth in API Scores,” Riya Bhattacharjee neglected to mention another Berkeley elementary school that saw dramatic growth in 2008: LeConte. LeConte’s API improved 55 points from 2007 to 2008. Among the district’s eleven elementary schools, only Washington made more growth—68 points.  

LeConte made some big changes last year, restructuring our fourth and fifth grade program to build a more collaborative professional learning community and, like the rest of the district, focusing heavily on our writing instruction. We are proud of the results we are seeing, and we are disappointed to be overlooked by the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

Jen Corn 

Fourth grade teacher and literacy coach 

LeConte Elementary 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Tuesday, Jan. 22, my son and I requested (here) a “baby changing table” at the Totland playground. I would like to thank whoever organized its facilitation—it sure makes life easier. 

Phil and Fionn Rowntree 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The solution to the Bus Rapid Transit controversy is not just to forget about BRT, but to forget about “fixed-route” mass transit completely. 

Read the information at and be enlightened. Simply put, it looks like this to the consumer: you call and give your destination to the central computer. 

Within three minutes, a 12-passenger minibus, such as a Dodge Sprinter high van, will pick you up, and take you to your destination, picking up and dropping off passengers efficiently as it goes, the driver instructed by a little Garmin-style computer which turns to take, and the system run from a central computer. Drivers would drive smaller vehicles, and buses wouldn’t roar through your neighborhood with one passenger. 

That’s it. In order to work efficiently, it needs 10 taxibuses per square mile. It would remove half the vehicle traffic in a dense city such as San Francisco or Oakland, even Berkeley, speeding up its own travel to where it would be faster, if finding parking were included, than driving your own personal car. Weather would not matter, video surveillance and recorded routes and passenger ID would provide security, pollution from vehicles decreased. 

Break out of the argument about which fixed route behemoth Van Hools should take. They shouldn’t even exist. What you want to do is go from one place to another on demand. Taxibuses are a far better solution to that problem. 

Ormond Otvos 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am writing to encourage your readers to vote no on Proposition 8. The freedom to marry is a fundamental individual right and should be guaranteed in our society. I want to secure the right to marry not only because I am a gay man in a committed relationship but—more fundamentally—because I am a citizen committed to human rights for all. We will never truly be a great nation until we recognize the basic right for each person to be treated fairly and to have the opportunity to live the fullest life possible. Discrimination against same-sex couples is discrimination—bias any way it is cut. We must protect the right to marry for every citizen and know that in doing so we help this nation reach its greatest potential. 

John Frazier