Public Comment

Criticism of LaForce is Unfair

by David Tam
Saturday November 01, 2008 - 11:19:00 AM

Editor -- 

I am saddened that you chose to publish Marilyn Saarni's “East Bay Regional Parks District [EBRPD] Board Race Reader Commentary.” I believe the Planet, which has covered some EBRPD-related issues, should explain why it featured so prominently a lively but baseless vilification of Norman La Force, the choice of most Berkeley-Albany-El Cerrito-Richmond area environmentalists, public employees, and other progressives for the Ward 1 seat on the 7-person EBRPD Board of Directors. 

La Force, who I predict will receive over 70% of the votes on Tuesday, has been a tireless, relentless, and usually successful environmental lawyer-activist. For 25 years he has been one of the most effective organizers and pro bono lawyers for Citizens for the Eastshore State Park, which La Force has served as a co-leader with the late Dwight Steele and former Albany Mayor Robert Cheasty, which the suburbanite and pro-recreationist majority of the EBRPD and management have half-heartedly supported. 

Saarni discredits her own cause, off-leash dogs in the parks, by spreading vicious untruths about La Force on the balloon-bread of superficial understanding of a broad range of EBRPD conflicts. 

As an “unscientific” environmental advocate for over 30 years, focused on recycling and anti-landfill struggles but also on parks and transit, I share with La Force a keen awareness of EBRPD shortcomings, as well as an appreciation of its virtues. I am supporting La Force: he has been there for environmental causes for the long haul, not for Saarni’s interests.  

Environmental organizers know that brilliant journalistic coverage like that of the Planet’s Richard Brenneman or the late Fred "Skip" Garretson, a great environmental reporter for the post-Knowland Oakland Tribune, isn't enough to persuade elected and appointed officials to change bad policies. Electoral organizing to build coalitions with public employee unions and environmentalist-financed lawsuits against unwise public-agency policies better serve governmental and social reform than does special-interest character assassination. Daily Planet, please note. 

It is obvious that La Force has incurred dislike for opposing some of Saarni’s pet cause. I testified on his behalf when he was passed over for appointment to the vacancy created by the death of a “spunky” former Director (who didn't like La Force). “Spunk” and not having crossed the special interests were the apparent deciding qualifications for public office that day. Only one director (Doug Siden, who does not always agree with environmentalists) had the decency to vote for La Force, the best-qualified and most-accomplished candidate.  

Finally, Saarni states she was President of the Regional Parks Foundation in 1988. She misstates its principal role (to raise corporate and philanthropic donations for EBRPD, some of which are used to campaign for open space bonds) by characterizing it as a “watchdog group,” when it is in fact staffed by the Assistant General Manager for Public Affairs and is certainly uncritical.