Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday March 04, 2009 - 06:56:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The killing of kindergartner Zachary Cruz in a crosswalk during the middle of the day is troubling because accidents like this seem more likely in Berkeley than in other cities that I have lived in. I was reminded of a near miss that I witnessed near Berkeley Montessori School where a woman in a Subaru Outback was unwilling to stop for a group of children escorted by their teacher in the crosswalk. The teacher was left visibly trembling, and after the driver appeared indignant and I threatened to call police, she said, “Go ahead, waste my day,” and sped off. Similarly, I witnessed a driver honking his horn at a group of schoolchildren who were crossing Sacramento, but it was taking “too long.”  

This deliberate disregard for children in crosswalks is something I’ve witnessed only in Berkeley. I think one possible factor is Berkeley’s lack of traffic stops by police. Other cities across the country seem somewhat extreme in their traffic enforcement, to the point where every citizen is treated like a criminal given the large number of traffic stops. Berkeley is at the other end of the scale with a Wild West environment. It’s the only city where I’ve seen cars roll straight through red lights if the intersection appears clear, as if drivers have no expectation that Berkeley police will enforce traffic laws. This was exactly the attitude of the woman driving the Subaru Outback. I have heard the dispirited police perspective that traffic stops are unpopular and get nowhere in the local courts. But for the sake of kindergartner Cruz, Berkeley police should begin to stand their ground. Everyone would probably drive more cautiously and respectfully if we were to see the traffic laws enforced more often in Berkeley. How much is enough? The brief enhanced police enforcement on Solano Avenue after two pedestrian deaths was roughly what other cities have year-round on all of their major thoroughfares. 

Paul Kalas 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Over the past few years I have worked with Terry Doran on several BUSD committees. I found Terry to be a kind and gracious person as well as a dedicated public servant and ardent supporter of public education. I might add that I do not know Jesse Arreguin. It was for all of these reasons that I decided to support Terry’s campaign for City Council and then made two $25 contributions—one in September and another in November. 

When reading Richard Brenneman’s Feb. 26 article, “Developer Dollars Fell Short in District 4 City Council Race,” I was surprised to discover that my contribution was actually part of an eleventh-hour effort led by Berkeley’s “best-known real estate industry players” and that my motivation, as an architect, was obviously the desire to maintain billings in these hard economic times. I want to thank Mr. Brenneman for clearing up my confusion! 

Carl Bridgers 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Terry Doran is right. The Daily Planet is largely a journal of opinion. But the news story about the Zoning Adjustments Board approval of 1200 Ashby Ave. was a short factual summary of a two-hour discussion of the project, a five-story apartment building on San Pablo Avenue between Ashby and Carrison Street. 

Mr. Doran should have expanded on his support of the project if he feels that the Planet didn’t pay enough attention to his remarks. 

Since he is so shy, here is a snippet of what he said about the project, not on Jan. 22, but at the ZAB meeting of Aug. 14, 2008: 

“I’d actually like to see a 10-story building at that corner but we can’t do it right now. Five stories doesn’t bother me at all. I’ll be very clear about that. I think Berkeley could benefit tremendously from the amount of affordable housing that we could put into a 10-story building.” 

Toni Mester 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I feel honored! As a career urban planner, I was mentioned in your article about the District 4 City Council race as one of the numerous pawns of the development community that gave money to the Terry Doran campaign. I just don’t get it. Why does your newspaper consider a person and those they support bad if they focus their careers and education on land use, the urban environment, and livability? We, of all people, care deeply enough about our city’s environmental, social, and fiscal health to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of designing and repairing our cities and fostering walkable, transit-friendly communities that reduce human impacts on climate, air quality, and precious farmland. Your narrow-focused, fear-of-any-change point of view is limiting and only serves to move us backwards. Partly because of your paper’s efforts, this city has lost much of its progressive luster. I for one will continue to support candidates who I believe will put Berkeley back on the map as a leader in progressive environmental and social change. 

Joe DiStefano 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Heaps of praise on the miraculous rebirth of the fantastic Fox Theater in Oakland. Despite too many years of abandonment, a fire and vandalism, she has somehow managed to survive. Now, after a lengthy and expensive restoration, one of the few remaining old-time Hollywood motion picture palaces celebrated her gala reopening on Feb. 5, 2009. The majestic Fox Theater is alive and well in the heart of Oakland.  

Congratulations also to the architect and builder, Maury I. Diggs (1886-1953), the California state architect, noted racetrack design specialist and student of Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Jack Biringer 

Oakland native 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Tuesday, March 10, 7 p.m., at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the Berkeley City Council will consider Berkeley’s new Cell Antenna Ordinance. It will impact all neighborhoods in our city. An independent radio frequency radiation engineer will also submit data on RF radiation measurements taken before and after cell antennas were activated at the UC Storage Building at Shattuck and Ward.  

We believe Verizon is operating these antennas illegally. As you might remember, Linda Maio’s tainted vote was the crucial vote in overturning the ZAB decision to deny Verizon the permit for antennas facing many homes in our neighborhood. At the time of her vote, Linda Maio was involved in buying property and getting a loan for the property from Patrick Kennedy, the owner of the UC Storage building. Unfortunately, Ms. Maio failed to declare a conflict-of-interest and did not recuse herself from Council deliberations, as required by law. 

We urge all interested people to attend this meeting. We need a vigilant community which demands that cell antennas be spread out more evenly and equitably throughout Berkeley. Only then will Flatland communities be able to protect themselves. Please show the City Council that we stand united in our opposition to antenna farms in residential areas. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the right of local municipalities to have more power to determine placement of cell antennas. And our current local ordinance discourages placement of cell antennas which face residential communities. 

Please stand with us once more and show the City Council that we expect them to protect our neighborhood by refusing any more permits for antennas on UC Storage. Come to the City Council Meeting on March 10. 

Laurie Baumgarten 

Michael Barglow 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Women’s Faculty Club is, without question, one of the University of California’s greatest treasures. Designed by John Galen Howard and completed in 1923, this gracious building remains a splendid “refuge from bustle,” as it was once described, providing hotel accommodations and fine dining to university faculty and staff. But it also offers wonderful programs open to the public. 

This afternoon I weathered thunder, lightning and driving rain to attend the club’s “Arts in the Afternoon,” a piano recital featuring Percy Liang, a dynamic performer playing music by Haydn, Liszt and Beethoven on a Steinway piano, owned by Benjamin Ide Wheeler. Liang is a fourth-year Ph.D student in computer science, specializing in artificial intelligence—a far cry from the world of music. Sitting in the warm comfort of the lovely Lucy Ward Stebbins Lounge, listening to rain beating against the window, sipping sherry and enjoying this glorious concert, I thought how blessed we are to have the opportunity to escape the doom and gloom of today’s world for an afternoon of sheer pleasure. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was very touched to read Annette Herskovits’ “Who Remembers the Holocaust?” How courageous and extremely sensitive was the author’s concern toward the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli Zionists. She belongs to a noble fraternity which I feel nowadays is in short supply. 

It was also rewarding to read the many letters to the editor from people who shared the author’s anguish. I am almost 91 years old, yet my anger goes beyond the mere display of solidarity with Annette’s sentiments, to angrily asking how in the world can there be so much apathy toward such abuse of the Palestinian people? I personally hold the United States culpable for the barbaric situation. I consider the U.S. and Israel rogue nations for colluding, and for defying for decades all the international human rights laws and vetoing all of the United Nations’ deliberations on this matter. 

Not even the courageous stand of our stalwart for peace, Jimmy Carter, has been able to arouse the world to end this shameful situation. Why was there so much concerted effort directed toward apartheid in South Africa, while being so misled by the Zionist lie? 

George Barbero 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Does MTC have a criterion on Cost or Social Equity when they allocated $70 million stimulus funds to Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) or their Automated Guideway Transit (AGT)? It is not a cost-effective nor socially responsible project. 

The OAC’s original environmental impact report indicated the cost of AGT was almost eight times greater than the Quality Bus (QB). It also showed, on Table 6-4, the annual ridership for year 2020 for QB was 133,087,410 versus AGT at 134,879,560, only a 1.3 percent difference. However since then, the cost for the AGT has about doubled, making the AGT at least 12-15 times more costly. 

The AGT ridership increase will be no more than 30 percent of the present bus service or around 3,500 additional daily trips. If AGT costs around $500 million to build when including the annual operation/maintenance, its overall cost over 20 years will be $20 per trip per new rider! 

As for equity, the AGT benefits the more affluent who can afford to travel, whereas, there are far more people with lesser income and students who are transit dependent and use transit daily and will suffer from state funding cuts with higher fares and less service. 

Roy Nakadegawa 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his address to Congress last week, President Obama promised to stop funding wasteful cold war weapons systems and invest in domestic priorities like healthcare, education and green jobs. 

Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee recently said that he believes we can finance health care for all Americans by cutting the defense budget and re-investing in America. 

One project reported to be on the chopping block is the F-22, a bomber that costs $143 million dollars apiece, has no utility in the Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts. Even the Secretary of Defense says he doesn’t need any more of them! 

For a fraction of what we spend on this Pentagon pork, we could be creating healthcare for every American, giving our kids the education they need, or putting millions of our neighbors back to work. 

Congress needs to listen to the President Obama and Representative Frank and shift funding away from useless Cold War weapons and toward rebuilding our country. 

Support education not war. 

Patti Rich 






Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read with interest “Pancho” McClish’s letter about those truly ugly sculptures on the Pedestrian Bridge, and I must disagree—those sculptures actually could never ruin the pedestrian bridge. Yes, they are dreadful, completely without any redeeming aesthetic or artistic qualities and an utter waste of taxpayer money, but they are minor bookends upon a really nice piece of functional public architecture. 

What bothers me most about the “Pedestrian Bridge Experience” is those huge mounds of dirt which completely block what could be a spectacular view of the Golden Gate and Mt. Tamalpais. Is that land not owned by the East Bay Regional Parks District? Why is that property being used by a private, for-profit industrial corporation? It’s actually an incredible eyesore, and a completely inappropriate use of that property. The only redeeming feature of those mounds of dirt is that they deflect the traffic noise if you are on the west side of them. I cannot imagine that having such piles of dirt so close to the water could possibly fulfill any environmental concerns regarding the silting up of the bay. Perhaps the sculptures were placed there to divert our attention from the true ugliness. 

Arthur Fonseca 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Whole Foods’ intention not to renew Ashy Flowers’ lease is very disappointing, and depressing in what it says about the state of corporate governance in this country. They may be a publicly traded corporation, but their brand and entire business model is based on an ethos that sets up very different expectations of community citizenship than what we’ve had to face from the car companies, banks and other fatally myopic enterprises. Now Whole Foods has corrupted their image, in Berkeley no less! What’s next, irradiated genetically modified organic free-range chicken?  

Two points I think your story should have covered: First, Whole Foods is not just Ashby Flowers’ landlord, but also a competitor—and not a very successful one in my opinion. Despite a relatively large floral sales area, Whole Foods does not compare well to Ashby Flowers in service, quality or price. About all Whole Foods has in its favor is convenience and longer hours, and I’m not surprised they want to push Ashby Flowers out.  

Second, there does happen to be a vacant retail property of the sort described by Mr. Lannon, just across the intersection on Telegraph, where a camera store used to be. It might not be economically feasible for the flower shop, although it has been vacant for a long time, and of course even a move across the street is a hardship for an existing business. But if Whole Foods wants to do something for the community, and do good while doing well, maybe they should open their cafe over there—it’s got its own parking and a drive through, and would give them even more visibility. How about it, Whole Foods?  

Ross Bogen  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is incredible that Mayor Bates and the City Council gave the city manager a pay hike. It is equally amazing that they’ve gotten away with it with very little public outcry. 

The city manager’s salary and benefits are worth over $300,000 a year. The mayor justifies the pay raise by pointing out the city manager could “collect more by retiring.” 

This is not a justification for a pay hike but reason to reevaluate benefit and salary packages. 

At the same time our elected officials were raising fat salaries even higher, Santa Rosa decreased salaries for all public employees earning $100,000 or more. Their city manager earns $65,000 less than ours, even though Santa Rosa is geographically 4.5 times larger with a population 60 percent greater than Berkeley. If Santa Rosa can be fiscally responsibly in these difficult times, why can’t Berkeley? 

Mayor Bates was in Sacramento too long spending big bucks, learning the culture of the elite and getting use to fat salaries and obese retirements. Gordon Wozniak, coming out of UC, is likely accustomed to the same gravy train.  

How long will we consent to pay “experts,” “consultants” and bureaucrats salaries that far exceed those of the people they’re supposed to serve? Perhaps less self important “public servants” would do a better job for reasonable pay. There are plenty of talented people looking for work. 

Is our city manager such a genius that he can’t be replaced? As Charles DeGaulle once quipped, “The world’s graveyards are filled with indispensable men.” 

John Koenigshofer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Reading your “Spring Thoughts From Home” as a fellow English major, I was moved and delighted by the selections and the editorial thoughts and feelings. Additionally, on a less somber note, I can’t help but add that T.S. Eliot’s poem in which spring (April) is described as the “cruelest month” (he was such a scamp!) can be construed as mourning the month in which the I.R.S. brings dread to us all. And, there is that old cliché about the inevitability of death and taxes. We may “gather our rosebuds as we may,” but the IRS will always charge us for the bouquet. 

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read the Planet each week (when I can get a printed copy), pretty much from front to back. I skip much of the (tedious, repetitive, or predictable) letters to the editor, but pay attention to much of the rest of it, including the ads and the funnies. I frequently read and appreciate the editorials and opinion pieces. I especially like the house inspection articles by Matt. Cantor, the bird/wildlife/planting articles by Ron Sullivan and Joe Eaton, and the local history. I read the calendars and am frequently better informed because of it. I slog through the news of city business, but need as much as anything else to know when the city manager is making more money because of specious claims about his retirement made to City Council during recommendations for his new raise. 

The Planet has steadily improved in quality over the years and I am certain our community would feel the loss if it should fold up and disappear. I doubt if we’ve ever had a better paper in this city. It is no more biased than any other paper; perhaps it leans toward the good of the public commons more than Mr. Doran (or others who complain about it) might wish. Que lastima, chicos! 

The Planet is doing a great job. We need this kind of dialog in our community. We need the real news of what is happening, whether the bastions of power want us to have it or not. I need to know what is happening with the toxics battle in West Berkeley as much as I need to know what is happening with the nanotechnology development battle or stadium rehab battles being fought by my Panoramic Hill neighbors. I need it all. 

I could perhaps afford 50 dollars a year for a paper, but would only regularly read the printed version if one existed. I cannot imagine spending even more time in front of the computer, even if to get news. Thus at current rates, I would get the news once a week. I would prefer to put a dollar into a box to get my paper, and would go out of my way to do so, fairly often if not every week, rather than subscribe. Piled up newsprint of any kind is a horrid waste. No news at all is a travesty. 

Keep up the good work, 

Lynda Winslow 

West Berkeley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ve found some helpful ways of thinking about the economic and financial challenges facing the world that have brought reassurance and peace in the midst of turmoil and fear. As I work to make God the center of my life, what a friend said has uplifted me: there is, there can be, no deficit of ideas. Of course there needs to be the willingness and determination to try various approaches until ones are found that work to open up the job and credit markets and stabilize financial institutions.  

Knowing that the good flowing from spiritual sources is infinite, like a river, yields an abundant supply of calm, grace and joy, dispelling dismay and anger. Investing in such qualities of thought supplies strength and wisdom from which to draw in the days, months and years ahead. The only deficit occurs in my thinking and this is remedied when I use a spiritual lens on these difficulties and focus thought on higher realms for inspiration and encouragement. 

Marilyn McPherson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In Ms. Khanna’s latest admonition, she states that young kids in school need to flourish creatively before they learn educational discipline. This sounds good, but it is exactly the kind of mushy thinking growing out of the 1960s that has destroyed our once-proud public schools. When such concepts as “creativity” and “self-esteem” assume more importance than actual learning, students don’t learn anything except self-indulgence. We see the results every day: illiteracy, ignorance, nihilism and the need for instant gratification in so many young people that the future of our democratic republic—of our entire society—is seriously threatened. 

I grew up in those dreadful old days when we were forced to learn. Rote memorization and other tried-and-tested educational tools, which fill the souls of people like Ms. Khanna with horror and disgust, actually resulted in kids who could read, write and speak intelligently. And, few things contribute to real self-esteem as well as decent grades and recognition for educational achievement. 

Throughout history, school has been a place where we demanded the best from our youth, and getting there was rarely fun. Most kids would rather not be in school at all, and if their happiness is the main goal, our country will just become dumber and dumber and dumber. 

Our students, and our country, would be much better served if most educational “reforms” of the past 40 years were eliminated, and schools began to teach once again, and to demand that students learn. 

Michael Stephens  

Point Richmond 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am thinking about the importance of networking at this time of economic downturn. Many people have been laid off. Many others have lost hope that they can ever get a paying job. This is the time we can be good neighbors to one another, telling our employer friends about our qualified acquaintances, sharing our resume writing skills, doing job research in the library on behalf of our friends. Even if jobs are slow in coming we will meanwhile be building communities in which people care. 

Romila Khanna 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Today, I wanted to address two letters that were written to the editors of the Berkeley Daily Planet: “Love of Learning Comes First,” by Romila Khanna, and “Fines for the Homeless,” by Autif Kamal. I agree with what Autif suggests when he says that the laws Mayor Tom Bates wants to enforce on the homeless people in the Berkeley streets should not be fines, but instead rehabilitative programs. Charging them fines will only keep them down in the same position of being homeless, and the problem of homelessness would not be solved; it will only get worse. Another solution for homelessness is attacking it at the root of the problem. That is, educating children about life while making their surroundings comfortable and safe. I agree with Romila when she says that we should open the doors to opportunities and let children’s curiosity prevail before. In other words, let the children be their own persons while creating an environment that they can easily adapt to. These practices can’t only be applied to children, but also to the people in society who need rehabilitation. If we create an environment that the homeless feel safe in, they may be able to focus on other things. The environment we would want to create would be one where the homeless would not have to worry about food, clothing, and shelter. If the homeless has these basic necessities, they can focus their thoughts to helping themselves to become positively and financially stable. 

Tamar Lee 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

My mother, a wise woman, used to tell me,”You can only eat so much food. You can only drive one car at a time. You can only live in one house. What can these rich people buy with so much?” I wondered for years, until I realized the answer: Congress. 

Also privilege. Madoff is confined to his luxury home except for trips to the post office to mail wealth to friends and relatives, while the mugger who steals $40 and a laptop computer (bad) is immediately jailed. 

I have an updated class analysis (sorry, Marx): The MOCs, the OPs, and the Ns. The Members of the Club, the Ordinary People, and the Nobodies. 

Capitalism is collapsing; communism as manifested isn’t working. We need a hybrid. Socialism? The opposition to the word may be equating capitalism with God and all other systems with atheism, which is equated with evil. Oooooh. (Helen Caldecott). 

Bill Moyers says that the American Eagle needs two wings: The right to make the system productive, and the left to make sure that the benefits are distributed fairly. 

Robin Hood had it right, although he lacked details. Details I’ve noticed: No interest is paid to us for withholding. 

A sales tax is regressive. A yacht tax is not. 

The Daily Planet is a community treasure, well worth a dollar a copy. I’m sending a check for at least part of the year. 

Ruth Bird 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am very disappointed in Elephant Pharm because it is incomprehensible to do business in Berkeley, of all the cities in the world, and not ask for help from the community before closing. I must be idealistic, because I feel we are the one city that would have rallied around Elephant. The store’s closure has had a direct impact on us collectively. This was Berkeley’s store.  

For some time I had noticed less and less restocking of shelves, which breaks brand loyalty. I heard rumors of bad management that caused many good employees to leave. That was hard to hear. 

I have worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years and learned that management is crucial to the success of any establishment. Perhaps a more stringent eye should have been kept on management in order to retain good employees? 

Becoming a collective might have helped. It worked for San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery. Worker buy-in is a great option as part of a bailout plan. If Elephant closed because of not getting a bank loan, they might have come to us, their public. We here in Berkeley might have taken on the bank, or found a way to save the store. Another option might have been to sell shares to the public. I would have invested at least $100, and I know for a fact there are many of us who would have risen to the occasion, given the option. 

Please pardon me for assuming more about the Elephant story than I know for sure, but the store’s downfall was predictable for the past year and a half.  

Needless to say I am disappointed; I am disappointed in the traditional route of caving in and not moving towards collective help. 

Thanks to Elephant for being in and enhancing our community. The store’s sales pitch at the beginning was fabulous and welcoming; the classes, photography lab, health practitioners, and products were really eye-opening as to what can be done. 

Lisa L. Wetmore 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Republican propagandists, following Sen. Judd Gregg, have been criticizing non-stop Obama’s tax reform plan to make the very rich pay a more fair share of the cost of running this nation. They wail about how taxing people who make more than $250,000 will “hurt small business.” Hmmm, where were their voices last year when Bush’s administration allocated seven hundred thousand million dollars to big business, with virtually no strings attached? Did small business get any of those bailouts? Did Sen. Gregg argue against that huge theft, er, transfer of our national treasure? 

Now, Republicans are squealing like stuck pigs at the prospect of paying more taxes on their unearned incomes. All those golden parachutes, bonuses, and bailouts have been class warfare against working folks. It is due time for war reparations. 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I urge the Daily Planet to contact Hamas as a source for additional revenue. Doesn’t that make perfect sense? Good bye.  

Harry Lieberman