Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday January 15, 2009 - 06:28:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I can’t help but write this because of the blatantly acerbic, shortsighted tone of Russ Mitchell’s hit piece against the artists of northwest Berkeley. 

It may come as a surprise that some of the artists who have studios here are nationally known, and the artist community contributes quite a lot of sales tax revenue to the city. Enough for the city to have declared the area from University Avenue to Sixth Street, Gilman and Frontage Road an arts district, designated by signs specifying ceramics.  

In addition to the larger buildings housing ceramic studios, such as the Berkeley Potters Guild and The Potters Studio, there is the Trax gallery. There are also famous artists in private studios. Why does Mr. Mitchell feel that artists must be removed in order for this area to thrive? 

A culture that doesn’t care about art is a poor one indeed. Berkeley is too good to ruin. 

Rikki Gill 

Berkeley Potters Guild 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding Russ Mitchell's opinion piece, “Berkeley Is About to Blow it Again,” alternative-energy research and development are already allowed in the portions of West Berkeley zoned as “Mixed-Use Light Industrial” and “Mixed Manufacturing,” which include most of the non-residential blocks west of San Pablo. They are prohibited only in the “Manufacturing” district, which is north of Virginia and mostly west of Third. 

Robert Lauriston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am an advocate for no change to West Berkeley zoning. Who wants an Emeryville here where anything goes? I love the sight of blighted buildings and empty lots are great place to have a rave. It gives graffiti artists a great medium to show off their art. The transients need some place to live too. There is always plenty of parking in the hood. My fat four-wheel tires like to off road down Fourth Street past the Gilman Grill. I love the stinky air smell from Pacific Steel—it reminds me of my youth working in a steel shop in West Oakland. It keeps the tax burden on you home-owning folks in the hills. I am an artist and I need cheap housing! 

Patrick Traynor 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bonnie Hughes is right to be annoyed with the affectation of British spelling instead of American spelling for many words. But I would cite at least one exception. 

As one of the founders (with Barbara Oliver, Ken Grantham, Richard Rossi and Marge Glicksman) of Aurora Theatre Company, I remember the 1991 meeting when we chose the name, Aurora Theatre: “Aurora,” because the given name of George Sand, subject of our first production, was Aurore; “Theatre” instead of “Theater” because (as I remember Barbara pointing out) that spelling denoted stage, while theater often meant movie house. 

So I would say that, in this case, the Brit spelling was co-opted and made use of in a very practical, American way. 

Dorothy Bryant 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I must take issue with Dorothy Snodgrass’s Jan. 7 letter where she equates Dellums’ twisted verbiage with Cheney’s. As an avid apologist for Mr. Dellums, I think Ms. Snodgrass would have been far more accurate and less offensive comparing Dellums with Clinton and his “depends what is is.” Dellums couldn’t channel Cheney if he tried—and he wouldn’t. 

Madeline Smith Moore 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I, and many others, were delighted with the recent installation of several benches on the sidewalks of Telegraph Avenue, near the intersection of Haste Street. 

Oddly, despite their success and popularity and use by so many people, the other day city workers began to remove some, responding to inquiries about the reason with only a vague mention of the benches being relocated—supposedly to some unknown location. 

Why are these being taken away so soon? And to where? I can only wonder if the cost of three people and a truck to remove and transport each of these in this way might not begin to approach the cost of simply providing another bench for each of the (eventual?) relocation sites. 

Christopher Kohler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have read the proposal to reduce BART service on weekends and nights with concern. I have occasion to use the trans-bay service to downtown San Francisco and to the airport, often at late hours. I have rarely traveled at night in a train which was not at least half full for my entire journey and for part of that route (especially downtown San Francisco to MacArthur) with standing room only. Often those late night trains are reduced in length, aggravating the problem even more. To reduce service frequency would certainly require longer trains, but it would greatly inconvenience the public to have to wait additional time—often on a cold and windy platform. 

I urge BART’s board of directors not to resolve the system’s budget problems with service cuts. Over the years and especially in the past few years, BART has become a vital link in the Bay Area’s transportation system and needs to remain fast, frequent and affordable. Nevertheless, I suggest that any budget gap be closed by instituting a reasonable fare increase instead of a service reduction. But I also wish to caution you to be cautious in any upcoming labor negotiations. The possibility of fare increases should not be a signal to unions to make unreasonable wage and benefit demands, since the costs could simply be met be a fare increase. 

Peter Klatt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mr. Allen-Taylor’s Jan. 7 article on AC Transit in 2008 exhibited both poor reporting and his continued anti-BRT bias. 

Certainly, AC Transit was concerned about how the planned lane reduction over the quarter-mile-long outlet of Lake Merritt would have slowed the proposed BRT service at that point. But the delay was never comparable to the time savings BRT provides from the rest of the San Leandro to downtown Berkeley line. Perhaps Mr. Allen-Taylor was relying on some overstatement meant to gain Oakland’s attention to the matter rather than a studied projection. Mr. Allen-Taylor also seems to have missed the fact that Oakland then made changes to the plan that give buses a “que jump” on the rest of the traffic, substantially restoring the time savings a full length dedicated lane would have provided at that point. 

Finally, Mr. Allen-Taylor then showed that, despite the overwhelming defeat of Berkeley’s Measure KK, he is still there to promote the myth of substantial public opposition to BRT; for although he determined that Berkeley’s Measure KK “would have effectively hamstrung the development of BRT along Telegraph Avenue,” he still cannot figure out what KK’s rejection by 80 percent of the voters, in the face of a significant campaign waged by its sponsors and backed by his paper, really implied. 

Greg Harper 

Director of AC Transit for Ward 2 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The economic stimulus package being proposed is good, but I’m concerned about tax cuts for large businesses and upper-income citizens. The “trickle down” approach has failed miserably over the past eight years. I’m also concerned about lack of information about funding for education and the arts. The Bay Area has more artist residents than most other urban centers, and our public schools are struggling, if not bankrupt. 

I strongly support getting out of our various wars and transferring some of the military funds to domestic needs and to international humanitarian efforts. 

Susannah Tavernier 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have lived on and off in Berkeley for all of my 49 years. I come to town frequently to enjoy the best culinary offering in the country: a Top Dog. The loss of LaVal’s Pizza was a criminal occurrence. Blakes is still there at least. Whole Foods is a much-loved store with a commitment to quality and specialty foods. 

Now comes the disappointments; A lot of the city’s history is derived from the 1960s and should be preserved. A lot of the “history” is nothing but an eyesore. Peoples’ Park is my current “bug.” It used to be nice little spot to listen to some local bands play, party a little. It has become a spot for drug dealing (not the innocent little joint here and there). Additionally it has become a public restroom, without the room. Either clean it up or put it good use. 

C.D. Fuller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I usually enjoy reading Bob Burnett’s columns but the “progressive” economics in his last one are ridiculous. He proposes Recovery Bonds, a patriotic-sounding scam worse than lottery tickets where well-meaning citizens loan their hard-earned dollars to the feds in return for good feelings and a meager income stream. Nevermind that your tax dollars pay for the bond income and with their low yields the tax-advantaged status of federal bonds only help those in the top marginal brackets, because who can put a price on good feelings? 

If you really want some good feelings, loan California your money. We’ve a lot of bonds to sell and a downgraded rating that makes interest more expensive. 

Despite all the nattering about how schools need more funding in the face of dire budget cuts, the voters approved more bonds in November. Propostion 1A for $10 billion, Proposition 3 and Proposition 12 for a billion each. All passed with 60 percent approval in Alameda County. 

Are California’s voters are engaged in magical thinking, where you can spend tomorrow’s school money today and somehow tomorrow will come up rainbows and puppies? Or are they just worried that we might run out of bonds for them to buy? 

So put your money where your vote is and buy some California bonds. We’ve got over $60 billion to sell, and the interest is tax-free which will be a help if California’s 9.3 percent tax rate (the highest in the nation) goes up some more. See and bid low for maximum good feelings. 

Or how about the progressive policy of living within your means? 

John Vinopal 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Jan. 8 commentary, “Only One Path to Peace in the Middle East,” Rabbi Lerner proposes that the Israeli settlements be dismantled, or else the settlers would be citizens of Palestine. Many settlers would refuse to leave and would defend their homes from being dismantled. They would also refuse to acknowledge being citizens of Palestine. So this proposal would surely lead to violence and death. 

The better alternative is to let the settlers stay in the West Bank and remain citizens of Israel, but the land would be part of a Palestinian state. The settlers would pay rent to the Palestinians for the use of that land; that would acknowledge that it is Palestinian territory. The rent would compensate Palestinians for not using that land, and would provided much needed revenue to Palestine, while creating a significant cost to the settlers for remaining in the West Bank. 

Fred Foldvary 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I periodically read letters to the editor by those expressing horror at the disproportionate violence rained down upon Gaza imploring readers to write to their representatives. In two words: don’t bother.  

I know of no other nation whose chief lobbying group can turn out the vast majority of the U.S. Congress for a photo-op demonstrating unconditional financial and military support for that country or before whom U.S. presidential candidates must ritually demonstrate unconditional fealty. Despite international protests as well as letters and calls from her own constituents, Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Jan. 9 introduced House Resolution 34 reaffirming the strong support of the U.S. for Israel as it continued to flout international law and to tighten its decades-long noose upon the Palestinians in order to make them leave their occupied lands. The vote was 390 to 5. Not one of those five representatives was from the Bay Area.  

In particular, I have found that writing to Sen. Dianne Feinstein is as futile as demonstrating at the foot of the downtown high rise in which she maintains her San Francisco offices. I’ve repeatedly asked her aides to tell me why there are any Jewish-only colonies and roads on illegally occupied Palestinian land and why I—a 3/4 non-Jewish and 100 percent non-fundamentalist Christian—must pay to maintain and expand these facilities with $3 billion in U.S. aid each year. I get back only boiler plate responses assuring me of the Senator’s desire for restraint on both sides and for a diplomatic solution.  

In July, 2006, Feinstein appeared at a San Francisco rally for Israel as it was again devastating Lebanon to lend her full-throated support. I have never known her to demonstrate anything but unconditional aid for one side of an endless conflict that gravely endangers the national security of the United States and that of the world itself. Israel has become a terrible liability that, as Chalmers Johnson has noted, invites catastrophic blowback to the United States.  

Gray Brechin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Israel is the world’s largest recipient of U.S. military aid, and the Arms Export Control Act stipulates that U.S. military aid cannot be used in attacks against civilians. 

The United States has provided over $24 billion of military aid to Israel over the last 10 years, and has pledged to increase this by 25 percent over the next decade. 

On Jan. 6 Israel dropped bombs just outside a UN school that sheltered 1678 civilians, killing 43 people and injuring 100 more. The UN denies that any militants were sheltering in, or operating from, the school. The Israeli military has identified only two Hamas operatives amongst the dead. 

There should be an independent investigation of this and other attacks on civilians in Gaza. Future U.S. military aid to Israel should be strictly conditional on its adherence to the Geneva Conventions. 

Lorien Vecellio 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The story “AC Transit in 2008” by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor began “In 2008, the East Bay’s only public bus system—AC Transit...” Actually, the East Bay has several public bus systems in addition to AC Transit: WestCAT, Tri-Delta Transit, and County Connection in Contra Costa County, and Union City Transit and Wheels in Alameda County. In addition, UC Berkeley’s Bear Transit is open to the public. A brief visit to the Bay Area’s regional transit information website,, will provide information on all these systems. 

Aaron Priven 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

It surprised me to read that the University of California was planning to leave the logs from the acacia trees that they cut in People’s Park last Tues. I immediately went to the park to ascertain the truth, as it has been a long-standing request from the volunteer activist community that logs from trees that need to be cut or that fall over of their own accord be left in the park for the benefit of biomass retention. This request had never been fulfilled. 

It did not surprise me when the logs were nowhere to be found, as the university’s relationship with user-development has always been antagonistic. In light of the university’s history with the park, who’s to blame them for using it as a shallow public relations scam? The university sees the park as a blight, not a blessing. They view poverty as the illness, not the cure. 

If there is something that I have learned from my years of People’s Park activism, it is that living efficiently with the earth, living simply with what is at hand, is more important to the future of our species than all of the most fabulous technologies we may devise. Only when the university stops lying to this community can any sort of productive dialogue begin. 

People’s Park will continue to bear the brunt of this economic downturn. Who’s to say how bad things might really get? 

In this time leading up to the park’s 40th anniversary, the volunteer activists who keep People’s Park going need this community’s support. We claimed the park for times like these, and she’s fit for the test only if we are all in accord. 

Arthur Fonseca 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

If there is one big building in Berkeley where cell phone towers should not be placed, it is AHA’s 1725 University Ave. They have a raised “podium” open courtyard there with a climbing structure for the children, and the front doors open all the way around it. 

Some 100 residents with special needs live there; seniors, disabled, troubled, etc., and the antennas would be within 50 feet of their open space. 

Mayor Bates voted (Jan. 13) to place eight T-Mobile telecommunication antennas on top. He tossed those concerned a small bone, saying that he too lives right near the antennas at the Beacon Storage. He did not say that he lives one and a half long blocks away!  

Mayor Bates should certainly visit the apartment and rethink his vote. This site might be a good one for his solar program, and that would reduce energy bills for the low-income tenants, and the management, which could then be called green instead of names unmentionable. 

Our mayor would have been the needed fifth vote to set a public hearing on this antenna project. Councilmembers Anderson, Moore, Wengraf, and Worthington had already voted yes for the neighbors, while three councilmembers were absent. But Bates flipped his vote to favor the cell towers. 

Before the November election, Mayor Bates had suggested the City Council postpone this issue until our Antenna Ordinance is reconciled with the new (people-friendly) Circuit Court decision. However Councilmember Linda Maio, said no to that, I presume because she has a longtime relationship with the apartment’s developer, Ali Kashani. 

Meanwhile, the FCC recommends antennas be sited away from homes. Many cities recommend at least 1,000-1,500 feet of distance from antennas to the nearest vulnerable area. 

Also, City Council items on antenna installations say “Financial Implications: None.” But antennas are part of perhaps the most lucrative business ever, and generate business license fees, ever-expanding sales tax, as well as millions in utility user fees for Berkeley. 

Mayor Bates should visit this University Avenue apartment house and decide if the tenants are more important than antennas, if people count more than financial deals for developers. 

Merrilie Mitchell 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

We of the Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panthers strongly object to granting the two waivers requested by the library to the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act and the Oppressive States Compliance Resolutions. The Nuclear Free Berkeley Act was passed by more than two thirds of the voters of Berkeley and the Peace and Justice Commission was specifically established to enforce this act. The will of the Berkeley voters should be respected. 

The 3M Company has refused to sign a statement that they would not do business with oppressive states and that alone should be a sufficient reason to deny the waiver. 

We are very concerned about the dangers of nuclear war and radioactivity for our children, grandchildren and all of the other residents of this city. 

We also believe that the barcode self-checkout system would be much less expensive and much more durable than the RFID system in place now and therefore would represent a large savings to many of our members who are senior homeowners and tax payers. 

Please do not grant these waivers. 

Leona G. Wilson 

Board Member, Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panthers  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Johannes Mehserle faces murder charges in the death of Oscar Grant. That doesn’t change the fact Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff stated in the past he believes that the cop was probably “reacting to some type of situation” and had “legal justification.” Even though footage clearly shows there was no “situation” for the cop to respond to. It doesn’t change the fact the police and the DA handled the murder with obscene laxness.  

A week ago, Oakland police arrested 120 people who responded to the lack of justice. The DA began placing charges against arrestees under 48 hours. Minor property damage is apparently a high priority, and a cop killing a civilian was apparently back-burner material. 

Who watches the watchmen? Who polices the police? Due process only happened after protesters forced Orloff into a corner. A trio of politicians (Yee, Ammiano, and Campos) are demanding that BART be held accountable by an independent watch group. The idea is far too overdue; it should have been conceptualized before Mehserle killed Mr. Grant, not after. And the concept of an independent watch group needs to extend to all police forces that don’t have proper internal affairs structures. 

After filing a complaint regarding a BART officer, BART Chief of Police Gary Gee may or may not look at it. Gee may or may not talk to the officer, and there may or may not be an investigation—usually not. If you want to file a complaint regarding UC Berkeley Police, you send your complaint to Chief Vicky Harrison, and the complaint disappears into a wormhole. DA Tom Orloff uses assistant DAs like Robert Graff, who are Cal Berkeley grads and active alumni association members, to handle criminal cases in which UC Berkeley police abuses are a factor. 

Grass-roots organizations like CopWatch, or other individuals who put themselves at risk to film illegal police activities, are important to the community. If BART riders hadn’t taken out their cellphone cameras and filmed the shooting, the public would be less informed than it already is, and the BART cops and the DA could have gotten away with murder. But citizen copwatching shouldn’t be the public’s primary protection against police abuses; it should be supplementing government accountability—including police forces and a DA’s office that respect and ethically serve the people, rather than themselves and the State’s business interests. 

Nathan Pitts 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We who want real change in our government need to be urging our senators and congresspersons in Washington to give another thought to the appointment of Admiral Blair to the cabinet office of head of National Intelligence. The old ideas that link “intelligence” with “militarism” must be stopped! Consider the past: McCarthy destroyed lives and put fear into millions of people’s hearts in the 1950s. We have the responsibility, it seems to me, to teach what happened then and make sure it cannot be repeated now. 

Please write, e-mail or phone your representatives to voice your disapproval of Adm. Blair. 

Lorie Brillinger 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Have you ever been so irritated by someone you lived with—a friend, a lover, a spouse, one of your children—that you felt like slapping them in the face, or something worse? Of course, unless you have mental problems, you didn’t hurt them; eventually you recognized that your rage was out of proportion, more about your reactivity than about the other. The social conditioning of that rage to make it acceptable and seem rational and proportional when it is not, is how we arrive at events like Gaza and Falujah and Sabra and Shatilla—how we look past their visciousness and inhumanity. The Nazis were effective in conditioning an entire generation to respond in this way toward the Jews. And the Zionists with U.S. media collaboration have been effective in a similar conditioning toward the Palestinians. Endless massacres of women and children, saturation bombings, starvation, white phosphorous burns, decapitated and dismembered civilians of all ages. Well don’t they fire missiles at Israeli civilians? Haven’t past suicide bombers killed innocent Israelis? Aside from whether Palestinians under military occupation are trapped and without rights, the disproportionality in violence that most Zionists (including liberals) are able to tolerate is a formal of social psychopathology. That thinking and behavior causes the total brutalization of the powerless victim. The ignorers—like perpetrators—lose their own sanity in the process. In the real world, Israel must be stopped, yet our government stands behind—pays for—their visciousness 100 percent. We watch, as Zionist collaborators, and some ask “why do ‘they’ hate us?”  

Marc Sapir 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Peter Weschler’s Jan. 8 letter regarding Kohl’s Richmond project correctly points out the difference between a mitigated negative declaration and an environmental impact report. Rosemary Loubal should have said “environmental impact document” rather than “report.” But “technical correctness” should not override what must be the main issue: 

With global warming, and once again rising fuel prices, we must plan to, say, quadruple the bay shore’s recreational usage. Point Isabel must do its bit, without endangering the wildlife habitat.  

We’ll need trail connections across Central Avenue and along it, to cross San Pablo Avenue and meet up with Ohlone Greenway at El Cerrito Plaza. Voters, via Measure J, have already funded the proposed traffic mitigations without waiting for Kohl’s. But even the current situation already needs much more. Measure WW is another available funding source. With the prospect of ever warmer weather, and hopefully ever cleaner Bay, the area calls for a real beach. For people, not just dogs. In fact several beaches, to encourage water sports, swimming, kayaking, without having to drive to Tomales Bay.  

Richmond’s Planning Commission should have known an inadequate CEQA disclosure will lead to a legal challenge. It was irresponsible to leave half-baked mitigations and outright lies to be dealt with by the City Council. Commissioners have every right to favor economic health over environment. We cannot expect them to vote the way “we want.” But they must let valid arguments and counter-arguments “rub against each other” in real debate. Learn from our new president, make sure decisions follow a full discussion. To limit impact considerations just to the already built-up site was insulting to folks who recently spent many a weekend rescuing water fowl from oil spills.  

Kohl’s doesn’t fit this Point Isabel equation. But, some redevelopment-subsidized senior housing may. Such a “Point Isabel Riviera,” for people, birds, dogs, based on a proper EIR, could include quality, un-cramped and unsubsidized housing. Let’s hear from the Park District and the Sierra Club! 

Oliver Construction should be able to profit from its holdings without phony mitigations and subterfuge. And, in line with the $4 million “El Cerrito-Richmond San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan” beautifications, a new Kohl’s close to BART could provide the beach wear, sports gear, etc. If Del Norte is too downscale for them, let them take some of the soon to be vacant El Cerrito Plaza stores. 

To echo Peter Weschler—inexcusable! Shame on Richmond’s Planning Commission, a threat to not just our habitat, but also to the whole concept of participatory planning. The City of Richmond, and others, did so well on the four miles of trail to the North, it’s hard to believe they would mess up so royally at Point Isabel itself. 

Peter Loubal 

El Cerrito 

P.S.: After two cancellations, the Point Isabel Appeal hearing is now scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17 at the Richmond City Hall, 1401 Marina Way South.