Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday December 10, 2008 - 06:29:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your Dec. 4 editorial inaccurately states that I inadvertently disclosed a “secret” agreement pertaining to a telecommunication facility application. When a member of the Planning Commission asked for information about litigation against the city (GTE Mobilenet of California Limited Partnership, d/b/a Verizon Wireless v. City of Berkeley) on Oct. 15, I stated that I was not familiar with the settlement agreement and didn’t know whether it was a public document. It is public and I attached it to the Nov. 5 commission staff report. Your editorial implies that the city was trying to hide something, which is not correct. The City Council reviews the details of proposed settlement of litigation prior to approval, and when such an agreement is finalized it is a public document. City Council approval was on May 12. 

Wendy Cosin 

Deputy Planning Director 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Now maybe the City Council and the Zoning Adjustments Board will start listening to the disgruntled “citizen vigilantes” when they object to these monster buildings. The real estate bust may save Berkeley in the nick of time from becoming the high rise atrocity that some of our elected officials envision. Neighbors do not want huge buildings next to the neighborhoods and those living on the so-called corridors don’t want them either. There are better ways to provide affordable housing. Berkeley used to be such a lovely town but currently the downtown is a dirty dead zone and the neighborhoods are being over shadowed by sky scrapers. Listen to the people! 

Constance Wiggins 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s no great surprise that the condos at 2700 San Pablo Ave. are being auctioned off. Who wants to live on a busy street when many similar units have been built on more quiet, and perceptually safer, streets in nearby Emeryville? 

What if the City of Berkeley bought the building and sold the units, at attractive rates, to members of the Berkeley police force, to live in? 

Right now, the racial mix of police in South Berkeley seems to lean towards Caucasian and Asian—not very sensible in a predominately African-American neighborhood. But even if the mix was different, most police don’t live in the city anyway, and certainly not on the Southside. They are essentially hired mercenaries, and too often act like it. Small wonder the police are greatly distrusted in this neighborhood. If they lived here they would have a stake in the place and get to know the residents much better, building trust and cooperation on both sides. 

There are plenty of young cops in Berkeley. A nice starter condo and a beat on the Southside would be a great way to break into “serving and protecting” the public—and an excellent investment for the city on many levels.  

Chuck Heinrichs 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the Dec. 4 Daily Planet, Riya Bhattacharjee reports the nomination of the Olsen house at 771 San Diego Road to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I continue to wonder at the efforts of landmarkers to cite any structure of passing interest that may be 50 years old. While it may be a useful exercise for architecture students to identify interesting homes, the nomination seems misplaced.  

The house “epitomizes the international style made popular by architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier...” But of course it was not designed by one of those men but by the owner, Donald Olsen, a local architect of considerable merit. It is a rectangular block, cantilevered on steel pipes, perhaps pleasing in its simplicity, but no more engaging visually than the adjacent homes at 767 or 775 San Diego. It is across the street from John Hinkle Park, the birthplace of a 1970s theater project, once called the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, which then grew into the California Shakespeare Festival in Orinda. In walking past the Olsen house and through the park, I noticed that the park is defaced with patches of orange plastic webbing where the wooden handrails have broken. A really useful preservation project might be the rebuilding of those railings. 

Jerry Landis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Dec. 3 San Francisco Chronicle reports the opening of the Joint BioEnergy Inst. for useless research to just recycle carbon dioxide with not one molecule of that gas on balance being removed from the 35 percent and growing overload of that gas in the atmosphere. Behind all the gobbledygook of cellulose breakdown and fermentation values there is only a recycling of carbon dioxide with no effect on reducing GHG levels in the atmosphere. Since several papers in Science indicate that crops grown and harvested on less than yearly cycles may result in soil-trapped plant residuals getting sped up in their biodegradation to emit that gas, biofuels may overall actually be adding more of that gas to the atmosphere instead of removing some. No one at the institute dares to discuss that biofuels will only at best not make global warming get worse and will not admit that we have to find a way to actually remove some of the overload of that gas from the atmosphere to actually slow melting of ice packs, perhaps even reverse it. 

I have had several letters published here and elsewhere pointing to the massive messes of organic wastes and sewage on the globe that under present handling are allowed to biodegrade to needlessly be reemitting GHGs as some methane and nitrogen oxides go off with much carbon dioxide. A pyrolysis process applied to those messes would convert perhaps 50 percent of the carbon to inert charcoal and destroy all germs, drugs and most toxics in the messes to greatly reduce costs for maintaining dumps and chances for those hazards getting into water systems. Such pollution into water systems is already a problem as EPA is holding this month a conference on risks of drugs in drinking water, so the public better wake up to these messes before they get out of hand. I wonder if people in Berkeley or anywhere like the idea of those hazards showing up in drinking water, especially when a way to destroy them is available and could be developed as a huge green job program.  

James Singmaster 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Legislative Counsel of California collects important data about bills introduced in California and how our legislators vote, but the public is not allowed access to this data in a database format, which would facilitate searching, analysis, and more transparency. 

This makes no sense since the public paid to assemble this information, and has the right to discover the relationship between donations and voting records. and the California First Amendment Rights Coalition are suing the Legislative Counsel to give the public access to this data in electronic database format. The state needs to wake up to its public responsibility for public access. 

Tom Miller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last evening KQED aired one of its most popular programs, “Black and White Night,” featuring Roy Orbison and friends. Produced at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles by the singer himself in l987 (a year before his untimely death), this marvelous program is shown once or twice a year, and I watch it every single time. 

Orbison, who by all reports was a warm, greatly admired performer, in addition to being a fine singer, surrounded himself with talented musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jackson Brown and singers Bonnie Raitt and K.D. Lang. I can honestly state I don’t know of any show boasting so much energy, enthusiasm and sheer joy. Indeed, the exuberance emanating from this 90-minute program is so infectious it reaches out to its audience, filling them with the same rapture (admittedly a somewhat exaggerated term). 

While watching last evening’s program, I reflected on Barack Obama’s new carefully and wisely appointed cabinet. (I see eyebrows go up at this rather unlikely analogy). But I’d point out that we have every reason to believe that these new appointees will assume their tasks with the same energy and enthusiasm as the above-mentioned musicians and in doing so will bring harmony and optimism to Washington, something sadly lacking after eight dismal years! 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Last Saturday night, Dec. 6, at about 9:30 p.m., a man in a wheelchair was crossing Shattuck west on Prince Street and was struck by a speeding car and thrown 20 feet. The reason: because the recently paved street did not have an obvious crossing lane striped on the new asphalt. There was a paltry attempt to indicate a pedestrian crossing lane by using a spray can, it would seem. This was dangerously inadequate and probably led to the accident. This is a popular intersection which serves the Starry Plough and La Peña. It would seem appropriate, considering the danger, that action be taken to properly stripe the intersection immediately and that road-bed flashers be installed. 

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

During the recent campaign Nancy Skinner sent out a flyer proposing changes in California’s tax rates. She promised to fight for an oil severance tax, a commercial property tax, restoration of higher rates for incomes over $400,000, and a 1 percent increase in corporate taxes in order to end our budget deficits and to prevent unnecessary suffering in our state. (Wisely, she did not call for ending tax limits on residential property—Prop. 13—or restoring the vehicle tax. These are suicidal measures for tax reformers: the voters have rejected them decisively.)  

I agree with her proposals. But there is no chance they will be enacted as long as the law requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget and right-wing Republicans control enough votes to thwart the majority. 

The Democratic Party needs to dedicate itself to two projects: repealing the constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds majority to pass the budget and reducing the number of Republicans in the legislature. 

Repeal of the two-thirds majority should be on the ballot in every election until the public really understands it and connects it with potholes, crowded classrooms, and closed emergency rooms. 

The most toxic Republican legislators should be deliberately targeted in every election, just as Richard Pombo was three years ago. Their records should be an issue every time they run. Democrats should act as partisans and destroy them, just as the Republicans did Gray Davis. It is long past time to stop playing bean bag. 

Nancy, you pledged “to fight to prevent the budget from being balanced on the backs of our children and those who can least afford it.” Will you step up and begin the real fight? 

Phil McArdle 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Under the mid-year spending plan devised by the mayor’s office, San Francisco will see the elimination of some nursing positions in jails, the day care center for the elderly at Laguna Honda Hospital, a program that teams social workers with homeless people and other frequent users of San Francisco General Hospital, and $5.3 million in mental health services. 

The cuts to mentally ill and homeless programs and other public health programs will save $33 million in this mid-year spending plan. Yet the cost to human beings who utilize mental health services, those homeless men, women and families will be devastating. 

When will our local government begin to treat the lives of the most vulnerable of our constituency as sacrosanct? Please send and e-mail to the mayor of San Francisco ( and express your disappointment in the heinous budget act. 

Believe me, going to the opera will take on a whole new meaning in San Francisco. 

James Shaye Keys  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

My recent commentary, “Taps for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade,” must have nicked a primary artery in Lawrence Jarach’s cerebral cortex to have unleashed such a fury of historical revisionism. Saddening, though, to realize that American McCarthyites will follow the Lincolns into their very graves, spewing their Rush Limbaugh-driven bile on the sod over their corpses. 

Jarach—aside from his distortions—descends into a lot of just plain sillyisms: insinuating that I was asking for special care for Ted Veltfort at Kaiser Hospital when I was merely talking to a doctor about her remarkable patient; contorting himself over whether the Lincolns were a “battalion” or a “brigade” and how many heads need to be counted to make up each appellation; insisting that the Lincolns weren’t really “volunteers” since they could not “leave the fronts” when they wanted; dismissing Franco’s critical military support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as something that “was not guaranteed”; mislabeling Milt Wolff, the last commanding officer of the Lincolns in Spain, as a “commissar.” Is this is the stuff of critical historical analysis? 

Another McCarthyite chestnut Jarach pulled from the ashes is the outright lie regarding the death of Oliver Law, the first black commander of the Lincolns. There is abundant first person evidence that Law died in combat. The racist canard that he “was shot by his own men” was based on a novel written about that period and has long been discredited by responsible historians. 

Were there communists in the Lincoln Battalion? Certainly! In the 1930s many Americans were not satisfied with the two-party system’s tepid response to the excesses of capitalism that created the Great Depression. Communist and Socialist candidates were on the ballot in local, state and federal elections throughout the country. It was not illegal to vote for a Communist at that time. Further, after waxing long about the “Communist domination” of the Lincolns, Jarach then contradicts himself by admitting that the Lincolns “were considered too politically unreliable” to participate in the Communist-led government’s suppression of other revolutionary groups in Spain. So they were not Stalinist dupes after all?  

The purpose of my article was not to explore the multiple political complexities of the Spanish Civil War, nor to ignore the heroic revolutionary achievements of the Anarchist collectives. That is another story. My article is merely a homage to the idealistic young American men and women who risked their lives in an uphill battle for freedom and justice in another land. 

Don Santina 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Conn Hallinan made some good observations, but also made a few comments that may have preached to the anti-war choir in Berkeley, like saying the recent U.S. philosophy has led to several “ruinous wars.” But I suggest this is hyperbole and stupid hyperbole at that. Any war could be called ruinous. Even dinky wars like Grenada much less the Revolutionary War or the Six Day War could be called ruinous. And this nonsense about the U.S. not having the right to act unilaterally or preemptively is nonsense too. Wasn’t the Revolutionary War preemptive? And I suggest it was the American people’s prerogative to do so and that it was a just war, in at least my opinion. And it is obvious you do not think much of Elliott Abrams, which is OK, but you might consider that Rahm Emanuel was President-elect Obama’s first hire and that was no accidental message to Israel what his intentions are and I assure you that Rahm Emmanuel will be much less diplomatic when it comes to Israel than Elliot Abrams is. 

Steve Pardee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

John Gertz responds to my letter with disbelief that anyone would dare to call him a racist, yet he shows a complete lack of awareness as to the nature of his prejudices. Allow me to give him a bit of education.  

Gertz said about a photograph of a group of people at “a demonstration” (not a meeting of the members of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network) that they “do not look classically Jewish.” This obviously means that the people he saw in the photo, if they identify as Jewish, weren’t Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi supremacism outside of the State of Israel might be excused as generally unconscious. Within the State of Israel, however, there is at least some official awareness of the non-Ashkenazi near-majority.  

Allow me to quote three examples of the racist attitudes of Zionists in the 1940s, the 1960s, and the 1990s (all quoted in We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden History of Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands, by Rachel Shabi). A Zionist reporting from Baghdad states: “This material [potential immigrants] is not the material of Europe… They can be made into ‘human beings’…” Former Prime Minister Ben Gurion states that migrants from Arab lands are “without a trace of Jewish or human education,” and that “We are duty bound to fight against the spirit of the Levant [at that point the majority of Israelis were from the Levant]…and preserve the authentic Jewish values as they crystallized in the [European] Diaspora.” And a children’s book for third-graders produced by the Israeli Ministry for Education and Culture relates, in the voice of a girl from Hungary: “One day a little boy appeared in our alley. This boy was darker and thinner than any of the children I had known until then… He would go from house to house shouting…in a strange accent, a bit Arabic, a bit Hebrew, something unclear. All the neighbors closed their doors to him… All the people spoke against him. They said he was an Arab, that he was in disguise… Mum double-locked the door at night.”  

These are not examples of what Gertz calls the “culture shock” of the European founders of the State of Israel, an unexpected exposure to a different culture; they are deep-seated prejudices that have been a part of the Zionist project from its inception, and that continue to permeate the relations between Jews in the State of Israel. The hatred and bigotry expressed toward Israel’s Arab citizens and those under its occupation are of course exponentially worse.  

Saying that “Arab Jews are fully integrated into Israel now” is both ridiculous and patently false. That’s like saying that racism in the United States has ended now that Obama has been elected president; wishful thinking at best, demonstrably false optimism at worst.  

Dunash Labrat 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

So John Gertz is upset that someone has called him a racist. The poor fellow. John Gertz, who plays whack-a-mole with the Mideast, slapping down with charges of anti-Semitism anyone who stands up to disagree with him on Israel. John Gertz, who believes views that disagree with his own should not be published. John Gertz, who accuses the Daily Planet of bias against Israel though they publish every mean-spirited tirade he can muster against those who disagree with him. John Gertz, who casts all Palestinians into the same mold, as bomb-throwing, Israel-hating terrorists. Cry me a river, John Gertz. 

Steve Reichner