Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday February 25, 2009 - 07:56:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I completely endorse Walter Hood’s Center Street design. I think his closed Center Street plan, with its four “watering holes” as I like to think of them (no offense Dr. Hood—that’s a compliment), allow for ever-changing organic mixes of people to gather at different times, in different places, for different reasons, each and every day. I will not miss a large public space for events, as Jim Novosel says Dr. Hood’s plan lacks, and I think that issue is a red herring and just not true. Those events are infrequent and inherently less democratic and evolving and inclusive than Dr. Hood’s incredibly excellent plan. A space closed to cars is a public space and can be safely adapted to fit large crowds on occasion. It is the day-to-day egalitarian beauty of choice and choice of beauty that Dr. Hood has so brilliantly evoked. 

Of course it is sad that gigantic buildings will create sun-less canyons all around Center Street and only well-to-do-folk who can afford nosebleed condos will be able to appropriate the most sunlight. (By the way, I totally do not buy the density-infill-gets-people-out-of-cars model as appropriate for Berkeley.) 

Nonetheless, the only thing better than Dr. Hood’s plan, and I know it is only a dream, would be to use MORE open space park land to connect Berkeley High, Berkeley City College and UC Berkeley by extending Dr. Hood’s vision and closing all of Center Street, from origin point near Berkeley High and Berkeley City College to the UC campus. This green vision would present an indwelling unified field theory of the audacity of hope—hope that more Berkeley High and Berkeley City College kids are inspired and enabled to wend their way into four-year and graduate degrees from UC Berkeley. Soon the university will become a leader in Van Jones’ vision of green jobs as a way of enfranchising the disadvantaged. Let’s include degrees from our world class public institution of higher learning by way of a green carpet rolled out for all of those who aspire to better themselves. This, I believe we have all agreed, is an essential part of our town-gown vision. 

W. Schlesinger  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I write to comment on the Zoning Adjustments Board proceedings involving the Thai Temple on Russell Street. The result is a disaster for neighborhood rights and speaks to the fact that in Berkeley it is better to ask for forgiveness—“please bless my unpermitted behavior for the past 15 years”—than permission. But what is most puzzling to me is this: the zoning board obviously wants to encourage the applicant and opposing sides to negotiate and come to an agreement on as many disputed points as possible. From what I saw, the staff report was very thorough and tried to document as much of this as possible, including the concessions made by the applicant to get the new permit. 

Yet during deliberations, the ZAB members apparently found it within their purview to start undoing all the hard work done by the parties over several weeks, by selectively removing or altering conditions apparently already agreed to. Each ZAB member apparently had some little pet peeve or whimsical tweak they wanted to add or change, which quickly distorted the “compromise” reached by the opposing factions, and made it even more lopsided in favor of the applicant by tossing out concessions they had already agreed to. 

Where is the sense in this? Why bother telling parties to negotiate a deal on conditions when the ZAB is merely going to impose its own unilateral whimsy at the last minute and add or remove new conditions that were not even requested by the parties? All this does is send the message that the ZAB is not to be trusted, and that there is no point in going through the mediation route. 

The decision itself is another matter. Why is there any reason to believe the Temple will now comply with the new “52-day” lunch figure, any more than they did for the “three-day” figure in the past? Haven’t they already demonstrated by their flagrant violation of the prior terms that they really don’t care, and can get away with pretty much whatever they want because the enforcement branch is completely ineffectual? 

Again, the message is, don’t trust the ZAB, they don’t really care if you comply and you can always go back and be forgiven. This MO is extremely unproductive for a body that wants to be taken seriously. 

J. Nicholas Gross 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have been reading the Planet for a long time. Please, people, don’t let this valuable resource die. The Planet gives real story on local happenings. What else can I say? 

Christopher D. Fuller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reacting to “Berkeley Remembered” in the Feb 19-25 issue of the Planet, I Googled Deborah Loreen Foster’s home town of Phelan, Calif., and it seems to be a real place—an intersection in the desert north of Los Angeles, where Sheep Creek Road crosses Phelan Road. In the general vicinity of Victorville, Apple Valley, El Mirage. Out where the Space Shuttles land.  

Now, after reading that odd rant I can’t help but think that Deborah Loreen has a truly strange outlook on life, along with a really objectionable attitude about Berkeley; nonetheless she does have us dead to rights as far as those abominable fiberglass “sculptures” are concerned. (To be fair, I can’t find any depiction of the dog droppings she’s on about, but maybe she’s going by the color of the whole thing?) But, speaking of dogs, recycled Doggie Diner dachsund heads would be an improvement.  

That was a pretty little bridge, useful and decorative and a nice modest ornament to the city. Was, past tense. The addition of those blow-molded plastic eyesores at each end has uglified it thoroughly. Not to mention subjecting us collectively to the justified jeering of people like Deborah Loreen Foster, who by implication compares us unfavorably with her high-desert crossroads. Enough, I say! Tear ‘em down! Haul ‘em off! Break ‘em up! Send ‘em to Phelan, maybe somebody there can figure out something to do with them—somehow, Phelan seems like it might be more of a fiberglass kind of place.  

Disclaimer (for the benefit of the Art Commission): If anybody comes around offering a deal on old Doggie Diner dachsund heads, don’t go for it—that was a wisecrack, not genuine advice. 

Francis X. “Pancho” McClish 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The classroom is a place for children to dream in. Through books and toys they learn about the real world by using their imaginations. Most of all a classroom should remain interesting for children. Instead of stressing discipline and obedience we should fling open the windows and let the curiosity of the children prevail. Once the love of learning has infected them we can teach the children how to be disciplined so that other children can enjoy learning too. Discipline is important but it comes second. Love of learning comes first. 

Romila Khanna 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you to Zelda Bronstein for pointing out the hyperbole trotted out in support of the city manager’s raise. 

While I have no reason not to believe that Mr. Kamlarz does a fine job (save perhaps the pavement on east-bound University Avenue), in a year when workers in the private sector (myself) will be lucky to get a cost of living increase, an 8 percent raise is simply egregious. The timing may never be right to issue raises, but neither did the higher salary of Vallejo’s city manager produce superlative results. 

I’d be very interested in a follow-up article discussing why Berkeley appears to have the highest number of full-time employees per capita of any of the cities listed. The average is seven employees per 1,000 residents, while Berkeley has 16. Is this so? What is the long-term fiscal implication of such a large number of pensions? What do our 1,660 employees do? 

One quibble for Ms. Bronstein: I realize you were proving a point, but if criticism is levied upon the City Council for comparing our city manager’s salary to San Jose’s, neither should our bond rating be compared to San Jose’s. We will never be AAA, but we aren’t Reykjavik by the Bay either. 

John Vinopal 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Aggregating laws to enforce fines upon homeless people will not aid in removing homeless people from the streets of Berkeley. According to an article from the San Francisco Chronicle by Matier and Ross, Mayor Tom Bates proposed introducing a new law that would fine homeless people for smoking, drinking alcohol, and using other drugs. The goal of this law was to keep homeless people off of the streets of Berkeley. The problem with fining homeless people is that they have no funds to pay for the fines that are administered to them. According to Heidi Sommer‘s article on Homelessness in Urban America from 2001, 40-50 percent of homeless people abuse alcohol and 15-30 percent of homeless people abuse drugs other than alcohol. Granted, homeless people do not improve their livelihood by abusing drugs and alcohol, but nor does administering fines to them. In fact, it prevents them from improving their livelihood because they keep accumulating fines. When any person is addicted to something, you do not punish them. Instead, the aim should be to rehabilitate them. This principle applies to the homeless people that Mayor Bates has created a law against. Homeless people that abuse drugs and alcohol will be able to remove themselves from the streets of Berkeley only if they are rehabilitated in a way that they gradually improve their livelihood, and afterwards become financially independent. In order to make these results occur, Mayor Bates must create a program rather than creating a law that administers fines to them. 

Autif Kamal 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Terry Doran certainly deserves congratulations for writing a letter that so raised the ire of Becky O’Malley, she needed to use three times as many words to rebut his views as he needed to express them. He suggested that the news reported by the Daily Planet is more often than not editorial opinion. She countered that by revealing the hidden biases of the pro-development dupes on Berkeley’s many boards and commissions, the Daily Planet is providing a much needed community service. 

Ms. O’Malley’s response, along with an article about the Planning Commission in the same edition of the Planet, reveals how this unveiling is accomplished. Knowledgeable planners, architects and attorneys are described as being in the pocket of developers because they are beholden to them for their livelihoods—even if the professionals have retired and are no longer associated in any capacity with the building profession. Others are damned because of the professions or views of their spouses. Anyone who is or has been employed by the University of California in any capacity other than as a member of the faculty is doomed for life as a patsy. If all else fails, guilt by association with the “pro-development agenda advanced by Mayor Bates and the Planning Department staff” will do the trick. 

Instead of painting over the views of everyone with whom the editor disagrees with a broad stereotypical brush, the Daily Planet would better serve the community if it actually presented the nuanced positions of the people engaged in the development and implementation of public policy. Unfortunately, an honest assessment of the merits of the positions advanced by these hard-working individuals is apparently beyond the capability of the Planet’s editor and reporters. All of this would be amusing were it not so much like the unfortunate times in so many places in America where some people were condemned to the fringes of society because they belonged to the wrong church, had parents of the wrong heritage or had a skin tone that was a shade too dark. 

The Daily Planet does provide a community service in reporting on the deliberations of Berkeley’s public bodies. But having been a participant in some of the meetings that were covered by the Planet, I know how inaccurate the reporting can be. The community would lose something if the Planet goes out of business. But perhaps the vacuum left behind will draw in something better. 

If the publisher of the Daily Planet truly wants to generate community financial support for his journal, I have a humble suggestion: fire the editor and bring in a professional who will insist on honest, balanced coverage that is free of bias and based on factual accounts. Try this for six months and then ask for community support. You might be pleasantly surprised at the reaction. 

Will Travis 

Former chair, Downtown Area Plan Adivsory Committee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A miniscule segment of the political spectrum held California and its annual budget hostage for 106 days. Year after year, anti-tax Republicans, in their ideological zeal, stymie the budget process. 

Californians can no longer accommodate extremists like the GOP anti-tax activists who game the state’s archaic two-thirds majority requirement needed for the passage of the annual budget. 

This annual sham will continue to happen unless the two-thirds majority requirement is eliminated. 

California is the state of initiatives; let’s get rid of this faulty piece of legislation. 

Ron Lowe 

Nevada City 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If the consequences to our country resulting from mass illegal immigration were not so tragic, an article like Riya Bhattacharjee’s Feb. 21 “City Alarmed by Police Impounding Cars of Undocumented Immigrants” would be hilarious. 

Undocumented—aka “illegal” immigrants—violate our laws when they trespass our border, work without permission and drive without licenses or insurance. If their cars are impounded they complain loudly about their constitutional rights! 

Earth to aliens: You have no right to be here. Please take that mythic energy, that talent yearning to breathe free, your newfound insight into community organizing, and return home to create the Mexican Dream, the Guatemalan Dream, the Philippine Dream, etc. I lift my lamp to thee. 

Wanda Gomez-Berger 

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Well, this is interesting. We tell people they can’t have a driver’s license, yet they need to drive to be able to work and survive. Then we take their cars, and the lot that impounds them gets big fees before they can take the car back, or just gets to keep the cars—and sell them, one presumes. The article was not clear on whether this extra income goes to the city or a private enterprise, but either way it seems cruel. Meanwhile, people are coming here illegally because we are ripping off their resources in their home country and they can’t survive there. Most of them are sending money back to their families who desperately need it. Is this right? The City of Berkeley needs to find a way to stop this. 

Connie Tyler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

With today’s economy in a sharp downward spiral, people are feeling the pinch when it comes to entertainment. Forking over $9 for a movie or $30 for a concert or play blows the budget. But, do not despair, friends. For those of us lucky enough to live in Berkeley, there’s no end to the great array of concerts, movies, dramas, etc., out there—absolutely free! To illustrate my point, I list some of the cultural events that were offered last week. 

On Monday evening, the Aurora Theatre, as part of its Global Age Project, presented a one-man show, “Right,” with Dan Hoyle. This was followed by the usual audience discussion. 

On Tuesday afternoon, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, James Keller, an authority on movies and drama, showed a poignant film, “Casa Di Riposo,” filmed in Milan. Funded by composer Verdi in 1902, the “Casa” was established as a residence for elderly opera singers, musicians and composers. One especially moving scene is that of a 90-year-old opera singer wistfully listening to her recording of an aria from “Tosca” on a scratchy record. 

Wednesday was a “double header” day. The Berkeley Public Library offered its “Play Reading for Adults” from noon to 1 p.m. Seated at a round table, participants were given Xerox copies of “Antigone,” with everyone reading one of the roles. But you were faced with a dilemma today. If you attended the play reading, you’d miss a splendid noon concert at Hertz Hall—a program of piano and flute. 

Ah, decisions, decisions! 

Thursday was another “double header.” The Berkeley Public Library presented a noon concert by the Berkeley Opera Company, performing arias from Jacques Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman.” What better way to spend one’s lunch hour? That evening, the University Book Store on Bancroft Way, sponsored a discussion by Blair Kirkpatrick on her new book, “Accordian Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music.” An added attraction was live music by the Sauce Piquante Duo (the author, on accordian, and her violinist spouse.) As you can imagine, the book store really rocked that evening! 

On Friday afternoon, the UC Department of Music offered a Chamber Music Concert, again at Hertz Hall, featuring gifted young instrumentalists. How blessed we are to enjoy these noon concerts, year after year. 

Given the above roster of free cultural events, I think you’ll agree that Berkeley extends to this community an embarrassment of riches. But, you clearly need the necessary energy and stamina to take in all of these stimulating activities, which, of course, are listed in the Daily Planet’s “Arts Calendar.” 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The truth is emerging concerning the widely reported bombing of a UN school in Gaza, which was the subject of severe condemnation of Israel and violent protests worldwide. 

Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem, said this week that IDF mortar shells fell in the street near the compound, not on the compound itself. 

UNWRA, an agency whose sole purpose is to work with Palestinian refugees, said that the false claims that Israel had targeted the school originated with a separate branch of the United Nations, whose employeess are mostly Arabs. A teacher in the UNWRA compound at the time of the strike was adamant that no people had been killed inside the compound. The teacher had been instructed by UN authorities not to give his account to the media.  

Senior IDF officials had previously expressed skepticism that the school had been struck, saying that the two mortar shells could not kill 43 people and wound dozens more.  

A few people in the street reported that two militants had left the area with rocket launchers immediately after firing into Israel. 

This is yet another example of Hamas deliberately placing its launchers in the midst of a civilian population, inviting tragic and regrettable results to untargeted people.  

Irving Berger 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have recently read two aricles of two different world events. The first one was about Hamas, the militant Islamic organization avowed to the destruction of Jewish Israel—the organization that has, yet again, revealed its true nature by unlawfully and yes, undemocratically, grabbing international food and other aid for the needy, thereby holding their own population hostage. And the other event: Egypt’s role in protecting the most wanted Nazi criminal, Aribert Ferdinand Heim (“Islamified” to be known as Tarek Hussein Tarik) and having provided him with asylum for some 47 years (instead of extraditing him to Israel, as it supposedly signed a so-called “peace accord” in 1979 with Israel). This inevitably brings to memory an inexplicable, deeply rooted hate for the Jews and a commitment to Israel’s destruction, through the well-documented and photographed Nov. 21, 1941 joint Hitler-“Hajj” Muhammad Amin El Husseini (Jerusalem’s “Grand” Mufti) meeting—this one and others, to devise ways to destroy the Jews, way before the “Nakkbah” (or “the catastrophy,” in Arabic.) pretext of “the nascence of the state of Israel.” If the excuse today is Israel—then, what was it then? The writing’s on the wall. Can you see it, or do you still need to learn how to read? 

Avi Klammer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bob Burnett said in a recent column, “There are two schools of thought about what to do about Bush’s misconduct. One, reflected in the writing of former Bush legal adviser Jack Goldsmith, argues that while war-time decisions sometimes are erroneous, there has been a historical pattern of shielding the decision makers—from Abraham Lincoln through Ronald Reagan. Goldsmith contends that whatever abuses Bush committed have largely been corrected. And to enact harsh judgment on decision makers would curtail their future performance, particularly officials gathering intelligence in the CIA and Justice Department.” 

I’m not arguing with Burnett, I’m just pointing some things out. 

I love neocon reasoning. First, lie to get us into a war, and then excuse all crimes committed “during a time of war.” War was never declared, and we were never “at war”—that’s rhetorical. An invasion is not the same thing as a war. 

I think prosecution of these crimes is easy. The war was invalid and unlawful; let’s start there. The first crime is giving us this war. Then producing the “extreme circumstances” used to justify further crimes cannot be a defense—all the crimes you did after the war started are still your crimes. (You cannot manufacture your own excuse.) 

If the nation is still running dog food commercials while we have “hot wars” going on, they must not be very big or bad wars. The Bush administration pretended that the president was forever under the same moment-to-moment threat crisis that is written for the authoritarian fantasy TV series “24.” In fact, there is no such pressure, and “during time of war” is just an authoritarian excuse. 

Eric Dynamic 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The political skulduggery surrounding the radio frequency identification fiasco dumped upon the taxpayers by former Library Director Jackie Griffin working at the behest of the Bush Department of Homeland Security has greatly tarnished our credibility in the progressive world. 

It is extremely important to honor the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act and the Oppressive States Resolution, and consequently oppose the Berkeley Public Library’s waiver of the act. Other requests will follow and soon the entire conceptual framework of the act will be gutted. I wouldn’t want it on my record and neither should you. Stand up for Berkeley. 

The library has other options than to contract with 3M, including replacement of its aging system with a new one that does not require obtaining maintenance from 3M. 

Unemployment in California is now at 10 percent and climbing and the Checkpoint storefront operation down on the peninsula and in Atlanta, Ga., seems to be fooling no one except previous city councils here and in Eugene, Ore. The entire Checkpoint system for the library is nothing but espionage. Stop supporting it. It is an intelligence front. 

Michael Jordan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The new administration in Washington has disappointed a lot of folks. But the true believers are still hanging in there and are counting their blessings. What have the last three weeks been for the change of administration? 

Let’s look at the most important things in the first week: 1) Vice President Joseph Biden announced that the U.S. would send 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan to deal with the insurgency. 2) The new president announced that he will not be bound by the 16-month promise to bring the boys home from Iraq but it may take two or three years longer. 3) The White House announced that it will promote $350 billion in tax cuts, mostly for rich to stimulate the economy. 

Then came the second week and there were a lot of surprises: 1) The Defense Department asked permission from the president to bomb a village in Pakistan and Obama agreed. The result was 20 people killed mostly women and children. 2) The White House announced three Republicans would be named to the new cabinet, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, an architect of the Iraq war. They said this is the largest number of Republicans (corporate CEOs) ever named by a Democratic president in the history of the country. 3) The president told minority senators of the Republican Party that he was willing to add another 70 billion to the stimulus package for tax breaks for the rich. 

Then came the third week and some of the true believers said they had enough and were ready to jump ship for the new group in the White House: 1) Since Jan. 20 the number of prisoners at Guantanamo who are on hunger strike has nearly doubled. And the guards have been beating up and brutalizing these hunger strikers since Jan. 20. 2) President Obama sent Sen. George Mitchell to Israel to deal with the Palestinian Israeli conflict. He refuses to meet with Hamas in the negotiations. He refuses to stop aid to Israel including the most sophisticated DIME bombs that sever people’s legs and arms when dropped on civilian areas in cities. 3) The White House appointed an economic consulting council to meet and discuss the depression gripping the country. It is composed of 14 heads of corporations and two union representatives. Obama said that this is fairly representative of the population. 

Well three weeks in office and it seems like very little has changed and we still have the same old corporate agenda in Washington. The only answer is to get out into the streets and force change. 

John Murko