Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday April 16, 2009 - 06:40:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

According to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, Office Depot was allowed to overcharge Berkeley by more than 50 percent “because there was a lack of attention to the management of our account.” He promised to do better: “Kamlarz said his office will monitor the remaining three months of the Office Depot contract on a quarterly basis.” 

Quarterly—that would be every three months. By an odd coincidence, that is exactly the number of months left in the Office Depot contract. This is very reassuring. Instead of paying no attention at all, the city manager now promises to monitor the proven price-gouger, Office Depot, once. Then, as added punishment, I guess, the city intends to exercise its option to extend its Office Depot contract through June of 2010. 

Behind these ridiculous antics is a more somber story: International vendor Office Depot, headquartered in Florida and with international sales of $14.5 billion, outbid local Radston’s on the city contract, and then hugely overcharged the city. Radston’s President Diane Griffin is about to be honored by the city for blowing the whistle on Office Depot. But Radston’s is no longer in Berkeley, and Office Depot still has our city’s office-supply business. Something is terribly wrong with this picture.  

I call on our City Council to make good use of this experience. Berkeley should prioritize supporting our local businesses, whose revenues circulate in our community and support beloved institutions like the Daily Planet. A local business would risk public shame and ostracism if it cheated its own city.  

Glen Hauer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was a bit bemused by the recent article about claims of grade inflation at the Berkeley High small schools. Both my children were a part of the small schools program, my son for four years in CAS. As part of his college application process he wrote why he felt that small schools were so important and that the reason he was part of CAS and was sticking to it was his support for their mission to provide a quality learning experience for the spectrum of students that make up the BHS student body who come from a variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. By way of bragging, let me say that he was accepted early admission to Brandeis and has made the dean’s list each semester there. He will always take pride in his training at CAS while at Berkeley High. 

David J. Cooper 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I regret that Berkeley High School’s small school program has been subjected to heavy criticism. While we have not followed the program in recent years, when our daughter participated in CAS under its founders, Rick Ayers and Bill Pratt, it was an extremely positive experience, not just academically (our daughter went on to Reed), but in bringing together a community of students from all backgrounds where they learned to get to know and appreciate one another across class lines which often divide high school students to their detriment. Most impressive was how the students worked as one raising money for trips to Vietnam and Cuba enabling all to go. I hope this esprit and rapport have not been lost. 

Tom Miller 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

My daughter graduated from the CAS program at Berkeley High Schohol, and with a BA comfortably finished in four years at UC Santa Cruz, is now trying to decide between graduate programs. She has been accepted at several top-flight universities. 

In the CAS program she became an excellent writer, vanquished some bouts of teenaged malaise, made longlasting friendships, successfully took the SAT and AP exams, including biology, and had a choice of colleges. She subsequently found that college reading material was about the same level as in the CAS classes. I was intrigued that when contemplating grad school she went right back to CAS teachers to discuss her options, and felt that they were trustworthy and informative, perhaps more so than some of her college professors. 

I believe that her continued connection with the program shows its value, and its success in creating a sense of community rather than drug-addled alienation in a huge school. The CAS program should continue and should be supported by the administration. 

Naomi Schiff 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I cannot speak for all the small schools at Berkeley High, but I tutored a student in the CAS program for all four years of his high school career. I also had a daughter at Berkeley High who was not in a small school program a few years before I tutored this young man. I have to say if I had it to do over again I would have insisted that my daughter join the CAS program. It was clear to me that the teachers in the CAS program were tremendously committed to their students and to their subjects, and that was not always true in some of the classes my daughter took. Some teachers, in fact, seemed not to be doing much work at all.  

While tutoring the young man in the CAS program, I learned many things in the field of history that I had not learned at my prestigious high school, in my four years at a respected private college, or in graduate school at the University of California here in Berkeley (well, I didn’t take any history at CAL so that probably doesn’t count). I helped my student struggle through complex reports (he had a learning disability), read literature from countries all over the world. I listened to him talk about the exciting classroom discussions about world affairs and the personal lives of the characters of the books he was reading.  

He did get good grades and he earned them. He worked very hard for his grades.  

Connie Tyler 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

As the parent of one student in a BHS small school (International) and another who graduated in 2005 from another small school (CAS), I wanted to add our voice to those who believe, as my children both do, that the small school experience has been, and remains, exceptional, exciting, and, most importantly, reflecting the diversity of our community, state, country, and world.  

The small school movement as it has grown and matured at BHS has offered a unique and invaluable combination of high quality classes, student choice, and academic challenges. Accusations that these programs somehow dilute the grades of some students are unsupported and would be unconscionable both to me and to small school faculty I am sure.  

While the personal and educational horrors of the “achievement gap” continue, BUSD in general, and BHS small schools in particular, seem both aware of that and committed to fighting inequality with a combination of rigor and caring—the small schools seek to do just that. We are proud to be part of that. 

Stephen Blum  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I would like as a parent and an educator contribute with a personal feedback about the experience of my son Arie Kuipers who graduated from the CAS program in June 2007. We are a French American family living in Berkeley since 1988. 

Arie came to Berkeley in 9th grade and was an average student with no great motivation for studies. After 3 years in the CAS program he was accepted at the University of Oregon, he is now for the second year in the row a straight A student with a major in Political Science. 

Arie is doing very well both as a student and as a young human being. His experience with CAS enabled him to do critical thinking which helped him down the road in College and in life in general. He is a boy who does not get easily brained washed and even if, at times, it was challenging he learned to stand up for his believes, and developed skills in political debates. 

He opened his eyes to world issues including the ones in Middle East. He went to the West Bank and Jerusalem last summ er, started studying Arabic and is now the president of a debate club that he founded on conflict in the Middle east.  

He wants to transfer back to Berkeley and apply for Law school later on. 

He is really motivated and wants to do make a difference in life. For me it is a huge success when I think that a few years ago he had no goals and envisioned going to the Army!!!! 

CAS is an excelllent program. Many of my former students graduated from it and are now doing very well.  

As parents and educators, we are planting seeds which grow later on. It takes time to see the fruit of our work sometimes but CAS has planted those seeds for our children. 

I will be happy to answer any questions you might have. 

Francine Kuipers 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The merits of the school lunch program aside, I must comment on the miserable marketing job that the “school lunch folks” are doing. 

I frequently drive past the banner-sized signs that have been put up at various school sites, pleading with students, parents or someone to “support our school lunch program.” What on earth are these people thinking? Are they selling a product or soliciting charitable donations?  

If the “school lunch folks” are indeed trying to sell a product, they should delegate the selling job to someone who has even just the slightest clue about marketing and advertising. They should create the desire in viewers, to want to purchase (or use) this product and not come across as if they were bleating lambs, soliciting alms for the poor. I suggest that the district engage the services of a competent ad agency to come up with a more aggressive campaign. It does not have to cost a lot; after all there is no need for expensive media buys, just some well-illustrated, professional-looking banners to make kids drool in anticipation of lunch period. Given Alice Waters’ connections, some agency might even be willing to take this on, on a pro bono basis. Of course they will then also have to deliver. But, based upon the recent articles, the food quality seems not to be an issue, only getting people to buy it, is. 

Peter Klatt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I for one am willing to give up my first amendment rights to rid the streets of menacing newsracks, which far outrank the economic crisis and global warming as threats to my cherished American way of life. 

Carol Denney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Good work Daily Planet! The outpouring of highly emotional letters condemning the Planet and Joseph Anderson and his commentary on the karmic justice of four Oakland cops being killed by Lovelle Mixon proves that dissent and free speech are alive and kicking. Unfortunately, the letter writers want that freedom to run only one way, theirs. 

Yes indeed there was much kicking—towards Mr. Anderson for even exercising his right to have his opinion published. (How dare he!) One writer went so far to say that Anderson’s piece shouldn’t have been printed because “[Berkeley] citizens want peace.” May I point out that peace is a nonviolent dynamic process? It’s not a passive, bland state where there is no dialogue between differing viewpoints. 

The Planet and its stalwart executive editor were assailed for printing the commentary. Anderson was called a sociopath, should be straitjacketed, ad nauseum. Such attacks are the products of amnesiacal logic. It is still very, very difficult for whites to give up white-skin privilege. This difficulty means that an African-American perspective on the killings is not only highly condemned (Go away! Go away!) but is clearly not comprehensible to the white letter writers. 

They have no idea where Mr. Anderson is coming from. Therefore, he must be insane, not them. This viewpoint is the most saddening and disturbing aspect of their letters. 

All the letter writers disassociate Mixon’s acts from the institutionalized violence that has been incessantly sicked on people of color since the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. The letter writers are asking all of us to forget our bitter history as if that could help us understand Mixon’s actions. 

But it’s precisely because of that history that any encounter between people of color and the police instantly becomes racialized. When Mr. Anderson asks us to remember 400 years or just one year on MacArthur Boulevard with the police constantly stopping cars driven by other than white drivers for “routine traffic stops,” he is seen as a moral monster just as Mixon has been labeled. By this perverted thinking, Rodney King is guilty of causing his own beating and Oscar Grant III is guilty of causing his own death. 

By the way: How convenient that one day after the shooting, the Oakland Police Department announced that it had come up with DNA evidence linking Mixon to a rape. Not mentioned in the announcement is the fact that for previous DNA evidence to be valid, there must be a current sample taken for a certifiable match. No matter! “Mixon was a monster” is a more welcomed explanation for some minds to absorb. 

That write-off means nothing changes, not our criminalizing justice system, not our unequal schools, not soul crushing poverty, not armed cops on BART in preventing future confrontations, . 

People! We’ve got to do better. 

Maris Arnold 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

There are many black men who have never been stopped by the police. Ever. Not once. They don’t work at KPFA or the misnamed (as in lie) “Daily Planet.” While it’s true that blacks commit crime way in excess of their proportional numbers, not all are criminals who walk around with a giant chip on their shoulders. You remind me of the former, unlamented “Judge” Julie M. Conger who had a reputation for coddling black criminals and being a leftist white self-hater. She got her slimy ass off the bench and out of Berkeley. After the Daily Planet fails, you might consider the same. People have every right to boycott you and to peacefully encourage others to do the same. If I was an advertiser I’d pull out after garbage from Anderson, Damu and hyphen-Taylor, just for starters. I don’t agree with the Zionist crazies and “holocaustamaniacs” for their reasons for boycotting you. But one halfway good stand hardly makes up for years of the foulest, most putrid leftism. Every time another one of these lousy left-liberal (statist-collectivist) rags folds I have the same holiday in my heart that Begin did when hearing of the demise of British soldiers. Even the New York Times now has to rely on rightist Mexican mob money to stay afloat! I love it. Sales of Atlas Shrugged are going through the roof.  

Al Blue 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Seth Katz and Maureen Logan’s April 8 letter claims that the murderer of four Oakland cops, Lovelle Mixon, was a rapist. At this time that is unproven. I suggest they get their facts straight prior to writing. 

Regarding their assertions about what should, and should not, be printed, I say: Free speech only works when it applies equally to those whose views you find repugnant. 

Jeffrey L. Suits 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s unusual when one new retail project lands in the intersection of multiple Berkeley trends. But that’s why the Trader Joe’s opening next year on University at MLK will be watched so closely. It represents 1) a welcome change in use from auto-oriented to neighborhood-oriented retail; 2) a return to a full-selection grocery within walking distance of downtown; 3) an instructive example (with the rest of the building) of a mixed-used project bringing needed transit-friendly housing, retail and jobs to town. 

All that sounds great, but we’ll still have to see “how Berkeley they can be.” As the recent farmers markets’ decision to ban most packaging and all non-recyclable bags shows, many Berkeleyans will be shocked and disappointed if our new Trader Joe’s continues its current practice of selling most produce only in cardboard trays shrink-wrapped with plastic—“industrialized produce,” a seeming oxymoron that appears nowhere else in town. Even most of their store-brand shelved food, such as breakfast cereal, is excessively packaged—often with a cardboard box unnecessarily “protecting” an inner airtight bag that would do the job just fine on its own. Other TJ stores may be cool and bargain-oriented (I shop at one regularly), but they’re certainly not yet up to the green standards our Climate Action Plan calls for.  

Will Trader Joe’s adapt to Berkeley’s zero-waste commitments, or will they simply be out of touch? Their current fresh-produce policy is certainly not “tray cool.” 

Alan Tobey 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Russ Tilleman writes (April 8) that no one in Berkeley has responded to his preposterous proposal, which he calls “The Express Lane” as though it were a solid idea thoughtfully conceived by people who know something about transportation planning, which he clearly does not.  

Well, I’ve lived in Berkeley since 1976, and I’m responding. 

Here’s my response: Whatever happened to the notion that Berkeley is a place filled with intelligent people with good ideas? When did Berkeley become a bastion of resistance to change, where people like Russ Tilleman are wasting so much time, energy, and paper as they stir up patently foolish discussions, making the rest of us long for the good old days when people argued about matters of real substance? 

Specifically referring to the obsessively car-oriented idea of “The Express Lane,” which would be advantageous to cars only and not to bus riders or pedestrians at all, whatever happened to the idea that Berkeley is trying to reduce the impact of the private automobile—not trying to build a freeway in disguise so drivers can go fast through those annoying intersections and stoplights? 

Give us a break, Russ, and move to Walnut Creek. No one even pretends to care about public transportation there—it’s so much more refreshing and honest than Berkeley’s hypocrisy about public transportation. Walnut Creek is one giant express lane. You’d feel right at home.  

And, by the way, Russ says Bus Rapid Transit would cost $400 million. Opponents of BRT have never been very strong on facts. The current price tag is approximately $250 million. Does Russ have any idea how much his glorious car-filled underpasses would cost? 

Hank Resnik 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

We definitely do not need an “express lane” on Telegraph Avenue. The concept is to reduce the number of cars clogging our streets, not encourage more traffic. If we had a lot fewer cars, we might not need a bus-only lane for Bus Rapid Transit either.  

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Russ Tilleman’s proposal (“The Express Lane and Bus Rapid Transit,” April 8) to make it easier for users of private automobiles to drive the length of Telegraph “without stopping,” to the detriment of public transit service, continues to ignore current reality: Berkeley is not going to be building any new fast lanes for the added convenience of drivers. 

The best evidence is contained in the just-released final draft of our Climate Action Plan (, which the City Council should approve on April 21. Section 3B, “A Growing Problem: Dependence on Driving,” describes our recent history: while the population of Berkeley has remained essentially unchanged since the 1970s, the number of registered automobiles has increased by nearly 50 percent (to 59,500, nearly three for every five residents).  

So has the contribution to greenhouse gases (GHG) from this source: overall, nearly half of our GHGs now come from transportation (27 percent from gasoline- powered vehicles).  

The Climate Action Plan aims to reverse this trend. Its “vision for 2050,” by when our GHG production is to be reduced by 80 percent, includes this statement: “Public transit, walking, cycling, and other sustainable mobility modes are the primary means of transportation for Berkeley residents and visitors.” I find nothing in the CAP about helping drivers more easily speed through town “without stopping” on their way to local freeways. Berkeley, for well-considered reasons, is already a Transit First town and will only become more so. 

Mr. Tilleman needs to take off his driving cap and put on a thinking CAP instead. Eighty-one percent of Berkeley voters approved Measure G in 2006, and our resulting Climate Action Plan will help ensure that in years to come the fastest way down Telegraph will be on BRT, not in a private car.  

Len Conly 

Co-chair, Friends of BRT 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I understand that many Berkeley residents do not want any new buildings to be erected. I understand that many of the Planet’s readers are self-proclaimed preservationists. By all means, request that environmental impact report, check up on the contractor’s license. Make sure that no one involved in a new building project might make a profit. As we all know, Profit = Evil. This will of course require a sort of cognitive dissonance, since the houses that we, as Berkeley progressives, happen to live in were not built on a composite foundation of hopes and dreams, and the meter outside is run not by our good intentions, but by PG&E. Every single one of us is responsible in part for the impact of the whole. Those of us who are secure in our superiority should realize the impact that we have, even if we drive a Prius, even if we bring our reusable shopping bags to Berkeley Bowl, even if we compost and recycle and spare change. 

Matthew Mitschang 

South Berkeley 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

After all these years why hasn’t a theater group in Northern California staged a production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, a play composed from the journal entries and e-mails of the 23-year-old from Washington state who was crushed to death in Gaza in March 2003 under a bulldozer operated by the Israeli army? The play had a successful run in London and the Royal Court got bids from around the world, including a theater in Israel, seeking to stage the production. The Royal Court wanted to stage the production in Rachel’s home country first. The New York Theatre Workshop agreed to stage the show in March 2006, but succumbed to “pressures” and delayed the production. The Royal Court took this as a cancellation.  

We keep hoping a theater group will have the courage to stage a production of the play. Given recent events in Gaza, the play seems timely. 

Judi Iranyi 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the April 8 Planet Russ Tilleman writes “David Vartanoff seems to feel that his neighborhood is somehow more important than mine, that he should have the right to simply move a problem from his street onto mine....”  

Having reread my March 19 letter, I fail to find that I made any such suggestion. As a nondriver, I am not interested in increasing traffic anywhere. I did, however, state that turning Telegraph into an expressway was a bad idea. Now, for Berkeley residents, please consider the following: As I went to campus Thursday last, my Telegraph bus was delayed in the last two blocks of Telegraph because the second traffic lane north of Durant was clogged by semi-trucks making merchandise deliveries. Having got off the bus, I hailed a parking control officer who responded that, under “the mayor’s orders” he could not ticket the trucks. Apparently “Green Tom” is more willing to increase smog from idling vehicles in a traffic jam than to enforce traffic laws.  

David Vartanoff 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Congratulations to Berkeley Unified School District for the award of federal stimulus funds for serving low-income and special-needs students (Daily Planet, April 9). As a BUSD parent and former student school board member when I was a high school senior, I urge Superintendent Huyett and the school board to spend this money to set up systems that will reduce costs or increase revenue in the future. For example, 

1. Recover eligible expenses from health insurance companies. Establish a system to bill MediCal and other health insurance companies for special education services such as occupational therapy, speech services and staff time at IEP meetings. These are allowable costs under most insurance plans yet BUSD lacks a system to actually bill insurance companies. School districts throughout the state bill insurance companies, particularly MediCal, with great success. 

2. Reduce BUSD legal costs and settlement agreements requiring BUSD to pay for private school and other private services outside the district. BUSD needs to deliver free and appropriate education to all eligible special needs students in the District in the least restrictive environment in accordance with a student’s IEP. This is required under state and federal law; however, over 100 families showed up at a meeting last fall to complain to the state that Berkeley Unified was not delivering special education services as mandated by law. These same parents end up prevailing when they seek restitution for BUSD’s failure to comply with the law costing millions of dollars. BUSD must hire a competent Special Education Director who is seasoned in providing legally required services.  

3. Reduce outside consultants. Post and fill positions for special education services in the spring and summer so that all positions are full by the beginning of the school year, reducing the need to contract with outside vendors for more expensive services when parents begin pushing for the services that are mandated under their child’s IEP. 

4. Create a climate in Berkeley where district administrators work collaboratively with the parents of special-needs students. Currently, most parents feel district employees are dishonest and out to get away with providing minimal services when it comes to meeting legal requiremts under IDEA. Neighborhing districts have parent advisory boards that work side by side with district employees to develop systems that work for students and families. They wouldn’t have 150 parents show up at a public meeting to complain to the state about their districts. 

Parents of students with special needs are simply tired of hearing BUSD officials complain about the high cost of providing special education services when the district has failed to get its house in order. BUSD is missing out of being reimbursed for high costs and wasting money due to poor management. I applaud Superintendent Huyett and the Board for recently deciding to hire an experienced special education administrator. However, I beg district officials to stop groaning about the high cost of providing services until a complete overhaul of special education is done. 

Mark Chekal-Bain  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read with disgust the commentaries by Jean Damu and Joseph Anderson in your April 2 edition. 

Contrary to Damu’s commentary, the families of the murdered officers did not “racialize” the shootings by their choice of speakers for the public funeral service. If people at the Hip Hop conference in Texas cheered the television broadcast news of the four murders, then there is something seriously wrong with them. 

Contrary to Anderson’s commentary, the shooting and killing of the four officers was not “karmic justice,” but foul, cold-blooded murder by a convicted violent felon on parole. The names of the four murdered officers will never be forgotten. 

Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve their communities. They are the thin blue line between civilized society and anarchy. 

Contrary to the letter by Dorothy Snodgrass, the NRA does not make our cities killing fields. The criminals do. 

Contrary to the letter of Jeffrey L. Suits, the Bill of Rights is still the law of the land. The Second Amendment guarantees to the law-abiding citizen the right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes such as self-defense. The Fourth Amendment guarantees to the people the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. 

David R. Russell