Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday May 07, 2009 - 05:51:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The “rebuttal” by city officials is alert damage control. However it cannot erase the ominous intent as displayed in the direct quotes from the advocates for mandated “improvements” to our quality of life. 

I am retired, and my 401K has gone to hell. I pay $10,000 per year of property taxes on a one-bath home of less than 1,200 square feet. Paying out $30-50,000 will most emphatically not improve the quality of my life. Although I’m sure it would further the life-meaning credentials of some other folks. 

An interesting question comes to mind. Who would want to purchase a home in Berkeley? Why would anyone put a substantial part of their nest egg at the mercy of this crowd? Perhaps it would only be the people referred to by Willie Brown as “the no jobbers. Those who have no jobs, have never had a job, and will never need a job.” 

A quote from a friend, who is a longtime Berkeley resident and a lifetime liberal, may help communicate the disgust endemic regarding this proposal: “Our only hope may be that these idiots get caught up in a big battle with the preservationists. Double-paned windows aren’t part of the craftsman look—or any other of the wonderfully diverse and distinctive architectural styles that make Berkeley housing so interesting. This is the dumbest idea these idiots have ever come up with. I can’t believe it will go anywhere—even in Berserkeley.” 

Bill McIntyre 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Randy Shaw’s April 30 commentary offers an interesting proposal: “This could involve the city renting longtime vacant storefronts...and then subleasing the space at below-market rents to desirable users. Or the city could agree to subsidize the rents for desirable businesses that lease such locations...”  

While these ideas offer solutions to the vacancy problem, they both constitute a money drain that the city can’t afford. So let’s take the concept up a notch. How about a zoning ordinance stating that any storefront that remains vacant for a year must be put up for sale to the highest bidder. If no bids are accepted within six months, the city could then offer the highest bid and become owner of the property, rent it out, and enjoy the rental income. If the city’s bid is rejected, the nuisance property would be confiscated by the city to the same end. Such a law would provide a powerful incentive to property owners to reduce rental rates to realistic values. 

Jerry Landis 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The zoning board’s temporary fixes for the traffic problems at Berkeley Bowl seem inane, to say the least. Ashby and San Pablo are major streets without any consideration of Berkeley Bowl. To say that traffic coming off the freeway and up Ashby can’t make a left turn at San Pablo seems ridiculous. The same thing will be true of people headed west on Ashby. People will have to go a block further and wind their way back to San Pablo through a residential district. What a grand mess that will make! 

As far as Heinz and Ninth streets go, some of us who live in the neighborhood go to Orchard Supply by going down Ninth, crossing Heinz and going in the back way. It’s shorter and we avoid the major traffic congestion of San Pablo and Ashby. When I come out of Orchard Supply I go straight down Ninth to the stop sign at Dwight, which is the safest way to get across Dwight, and turn left at Channing to get to my house on Eighth. If I’m not allowed to cross Heinz, but must turn left or right, I will have to go across Dwight without a stop sign. I can do it, but it’s not as safe or as logical. Sometimes I will be doing this trip by bike, and Ninth is a bicycle boulevard.  

This is dumb. It’s like everything centers around Berkeley Bowl, as if the rest of our lives don’t count. Just leave things as they are until Caltrans can put in the lights on San Pablo.  

Connie Tyler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

What’s up with the plan to expand the Safeway at College and Claremont? I haven’t been involved in the process, but as a very frequent, satisfied customer of this Safeway, and happy neighborhood pedestrian, and occasional driver to this Safeway, I decided to attend the April 29 meeting “hosted” by Safeway at the Claremont Hotel. (If I hadn’t read the Planet, I would not have known about the meeting. I don’t think I saw a notice at Safeway until the day of the meeting, but I could be wrong on this.) 

I assumed that drawings and information, provided and prepared by Safeway would be available at the “meeting” in hard copy, but drawings and statements were on boards and the large crowd had to go up and attempt to read them—much like when one is attempting to read information at a crowded museum exhibit.  

Safeway reps and architects were stationed at video stations around the room. To me the most important question was and is, “Why do you want to expand?” The very limited response from the representative was “to better serve our customers.” Really? What customers? Did Safeway Corporation survey current Claremont/College customers? Do we want a bigger Safeway? I think the large majority is happy with the quality and quantity of our current Safeway. We certainly like the convenience and the warm and helpful staff. Does Safeway think it will be able to compete with the new giant Whole Foods? I doubt that an expanded Safeway will cut into Whole Foods’ clientele. Does Safeway corporate management really believe that a Safeway that looks like a Ralph’s in Encino, or perhaps a megamarket in Danville will draw customers from the other side of the tunnel?  

I can only surmise that the representative who said the reason for the expansion is “to better serve our customers,” misspoke. Perhaps he intended to say, “to better serve our “shareholders.” From the drawings and tenor of the April 29 meeting (which wasn’t really really a meeting), it looks like Safeway is more focused on the landlord business than the grocery business. It also seems to me that if a street needs to be widened to accommodate a proposed expansion, it is likely that the proposed expansion is too big. 

Kathie Zatkin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley City Council has been talking trash—specifically, about increasing the rate of refuse and recycling services. Unfortunately, the council’s proposed rate increase in order to meet the very worthwhile goal of diverting 75 percent of waste from landfills by 2010 is not fiscally justifiable. The council has consistently failed to show budgetary discipline where it really counts. Approximately 77 percent of the city budget goes toward employee salary and benefits, yet the city manager (who has a $200,000 salary plus $100,000 in benefits) was given an 8 percent increase this year. Police and fire personnel received in 2008 a 14 percent raise over a period of four years, presumably because other cities have similar contracts. This is the same rationale Wall Street CEOs used to hopscotch their way to excessive compensation. Instead of asking citizens (some, such as myself, who have had their income cut this year) to pay more, the council needs to address the systemic problem of an unsustainable model of employee compensation. Admittedly, this will be a very unpleasant task. 

Robert Gable 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Even in our enlightened times I notice that bus stops in Berkeley and Albany are full of second-hand smoke. Smokers don’t stop, even when they are close to passers-by or to children waiting to board the bus. Smokers feel they have a right to light up anywhere. For example, they continue smoking near the rehab center where ailing and sick people come to recover and heal. 

All of us know that second-hand smoke is bad for our vital organs, especially the lungs of young children. But smokers don’t pay any mind to the health needs of others. I would like to know how the spirit of caring for others can reach those who are addicted to cigarette smoking. 

Romila Khanna 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As we listen with furrowed brows to the pundits trying to explain what caused the economy to go into the tank, one thing, unmentioned, keeps bothering me. Trillions were lost, no question about that, but where did the trillions go? CEOs got millions and the banks got billions. That still leaves billions unaccounted for. Some entity and/or people must have been the covert recipients as the bubble burst and the gap between the wealthy and poor widened. As Butch inquired of Sundance: “Who are those guys?”  

Robert Blau 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Carol Denny’s complaint about dogs in the Berkeley Meadow, there was never any “abuse” of it by “dog owners.” Even disobedient off-leash dog-walkers had to keep their dogs on the beaten path, since the brush was too thick for any dog to penetrate it. Nor were there any less migratory birds than since the area has been fenced. 

But even if Ms. Denny disputes this, she speaks not for the entire community but only the individuals I named, who, via the Citizens for Eastshore Parks, were instrumental in locking the public out. 

In the meantime, a creative landscape design could provide protected areas for wildlife while not excluding the public, since the area is so large that no amount of birds need it all to themselves. 

In regard to Gui Mayo’s letter, there was only one small temporary homeless camp before the fence, and though the meadow was, yes, wild and untended, it was not “dirty,” lest readers be misled. It was a wonderful place when it was free and open, and many of us, like Gui Mayo himself, enjoyed it for over a generation. I wish more of you out there would write and confirm this as well. 

Pete Najarian 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Dead pigs found in a southeastern province of China; an al Qaeda plot involving Mexican drug cartels; pharmaceutical companies working with the International Monetary Fund and G-7. These are just a few of the conspiracy theories attempting to explain the deadly swine influenza outbreak in Mexico and spreading to the United States. Unfortunately, after a big event like the current swine influenza epidemic, conspiracy theories inevitably appear. Too many Americans are uncritical consumers of information. Tell a whopper (the larger the better) often enough and many people will come to accept it as the truth. Now many of these same gullible consumers are falling for swine flu scams. Let the buyer beware (caveat emptor) when evaluating information and product claims. Trust, but verify. 

Governments and private entities do engage in conspiracies. However, most conspiracies do not hold up under critical inspection. The danger of succumbing too easily to a conspiracy theory in the present crisis is that it can be damaging to the needed immediate action to avert a possible worldwide pandemic. Conspiracy thinking can produce a deep cynicism towards positive action and long-term organizing upon which change depends. Conspiracy theories also increase the anxiety of an already frightened public.  

What we need is to find the source of the new virus and how it jumped to humans, which could lead to more effective vaccines and drugs to help prevent future outbreaks. Now we need sound science, not wild conspiracy theories. 

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The World Health Organization has just ratcheted up the threat alert for the swine flu epidemic to Phase 5 (out of 6). Along with the avian flu of a decade ago, the Hong Kong flu of 1968, and the Asian flu of 1957, swine flu has been traced to animal waste in a factory farm. Its H1N1 type virus is nearly identical to that of the Spanish flu, which killed more than 50 million people in 1918-1919. 

Today’s factory farms constantly expose sick, crowded, highly stressed animals to contaminated feces, urine, and other secretions. They provide ideal breeding grounds for the replication and mutation of viruses and bacteria into more lethal forms. 

In fact, Wikipedia lists more than 70 human diseases that are developed and transmitted by animals, frequently through confinement and crowding. Among these are such infamous killers as AIDS, bubonic plague, cholera, diphtheria, Ebola and dengue fever, measles, SARS, smallpox, West Nile virus, and yellow fever. 

Every one of us can help prevent the development and spread of these killer diseases by replacing animal products in our diet with healthful vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains. These foods don’t carry deadly microbes (unless contaminated by animal waste), are touted by every major health advocacy organization, and were the recommended fare in the Garden of Eden. 

Jeff Garner 

Walnut Creek 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

If Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) is worth doing, it is worth doing right with ample thought and discussion by the City Council and public—which has absolutely not yet occurred. I implore our council, in the interests of democracy and the well-being of this city, to postpone any adoption or pre-adoptive votes until: 

1. There have been several council 5 p.m. workshops or public hearings to thoroughly and publicly, together, discuss and vet the plan. No more strong-arming, please. 

2. There has been a full environmental impact report (EIR) to determine impacts. The idea of the proposed negative declaration (“because the CAP would not result in any significant adverse environmental impacts,” per Climate Action Coordinator Burroughs) is patently absurd. We cannot know the negative impacts without the EIR and a plan of this scope inherently has negative impacts. 

On specific CAP proposals, we need at least the following changes: 

1. Creation of homeowner incentives, not mandates, whether at time of sale or otherwise. Use of a transfer tax and other possible tax rebates as incentives is excellent. Yes, the city will get less revenue, but if the CAP goal is so worthy, the money will be well—and likely, better—spent. In these economic times, it is cruel and unusual punishment to suggest further financial burdens on our residents. 

2. Careful study and reconsideration of any measures that are inherently wasteful, like new appliances, cars, windows, buildings etc. when the old ones still work or can be made to work. 

3. The EIR needs to assess the impacts of the CAP on open space, solar access, views, historic resources, etc. These are also part of our physical environment and have climate as well as social impact. This assessment is exactly what a full EIR will do and why it is absolutely necessary. 

4. More attention paid to UC Berkeley impacts on the local environment and Measure G goals. What good will it to for the city and its stakeholders to reduce their impacts when UC Berkeley is ratcheting up negative impacts? 

Our city must not continue the strong-arm behavior that this CAP has thus far engendered. Let’s have a thorough and civil discussion. Measure G was not a license for a totalitarian remake of our city. The City Council should take no action now on the CAP other than to extend the timeline, recommend a full environmental impact report, and input several preliminary amendments based on the foregoing. 

Barbara Gilbert 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

A few weeks ago I wrote about plans to install artificial turf at the Sankofa Academy adjacent to Bushrod Park in North Oakland, a plan with numerous problems, not the least of which is a playing surface subject to disease transmittal that has barely an eight-year manufacturers guarantee. 

Today I notice another gardening debacle: lovely three-foot-tall brown ceramic flower pots filled with plant material of varying hardiness installed along Telegraph Avenue below Ashby every few blocks into North Oakland, and perhaps further to the north and south. 

I have been in the business of urban landscaping for nearly 30 years, beginning with my career at the old California Street Nursery, and I can tell you that raised street planters, unless the local merchants or nearby residents adopt them, are a waste. Even if the city or merchant group responsible assigns gardeners to water them, it won’t be long before the plants are gone and the barren planters are filled with trash and cigarette butts. 

I hate to sound cynical, but this well-meaning project was recently completed in an area with acres of empty and weed-filled sidewalk tree cutouts and planting strips that would better support rugged trees and hardy perennials than large clay pots. 

Hank Chapot 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Two years ago the United Nations General Assembly in New York adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is a declaration that recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain their way of life such as identity, languages, cultures, health and education, as well as prohibiting discrimination against them. 

Unfortunately, four countries with large indigenous populations—the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia—voted against it. However, recently Australia, under a new government, has reversed course and supports the declaration. I hope that President Obama will follow Australia’s new government and support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

Billy Trice, Jr. 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The city must be able to give the schools something of sufficient value such that the school district would be swayed to leave the warm pool where it is at Berkeley High School and to remodel the old gym into much needed and much wanted classrooms. The voters of Berkeley have always been generous to fund new buildings and maintenance, including remodeling older buildings for BUSD. 

The building on Milvia Street that housed Vista stands vacant; it is near both city hall and the other city offices and near the High School. Could the city lease that building, remodel it (it really needs some upgrading just for appearance), then give half the space to high school classrooms and other BUSD functions? Why not? 

A plan for remodeling the old gym has been worked out by Henrik Bull, a talented, semi-retired local architect—a major gift in itself. 

The local schools suffer from many problems related to education of their young charges; and we all want the schools to return to their old high status in the state and nation. We are all appalled at the so-called achievement gap here. 

Terry Cochrell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Even though the City of Berkeley seems certain to increase the rates we’ll all be charged for refuse collection, it’s still possible to reduce your bill. How? By reducing the size of your city-provided refuse container. 

For example, downsizing from a 32-gallon to a 20-gallon container also downsizes your cost by more than a third. 

Doing this would also help achieve Berkeley’s climate-action and zero-waste goals—so it’s a rare chance to save money by doing the right thing. 

And it’s no big sacrifice: Once we recycle cans, bottles and paper, and compost or recycle food scraps (in the green bin), all that’s left for the “garbage can” are a few still-unrecyclable containers and packaging and the occasional irretrievably broken object.  

If you now usually roll a partly-empty black container to the curb, you’ve been paying extra money every week for the empty space you didn’t need. Why pay the City to collect your air? 

To downsize your refuse container, call Refuse Customer Service at 981-7270 during city business hours.  

Alan Tobey  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to the Berkeley Public Library’s April 16 request for feedback from the public about our experiences with the Radiofrequency ID system: When I go to the main library with my mother, very often the gate alarm goes off when we are leaving with our checked out books. When this happens, the security person checks our paper receipts, but not our bags of books. It seems most odd that the gate alarm so often goes off for no apparent reason. 

At the South Branch, the gate alarm used to go off when anyone passed through and I observed the staff just waving people on through without checking them at all. 

I wonder how safe our collection of books really is with this RFID system. 

Send your feedback to Director of Library Services Donna Corbeil, 2090 Kittredge St., Berkeley, 94704. Or e-mail her at 

Jane Welford 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The likely defeat of the propositions on the May 19 ballot will cause many disadvantaged people to be denied help. But is this help really more than a scrap of moldy bread? A vote to reject would suggest a public that sees a scam and is disillusioned with the present government. 

Paul Hogarth notes in the April 30 Daily Planet that beyond the outcome of the coming election, it appears that the people of the state are ready for major political reform. He calls for elimination of the two-thirds requirement in the Legislature for passage of tax and budget matters. But his plan is time-consuming, involving collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment that will not go to a vote until next year. Meanwhile, short of massive fed funding, the cities and counties of California will likely see more tent cities, more service cuts, more empty shops, more suicides, more potholes, fewer buses, more crowded schools, more people driven to crime, a worse health care situation and more general malaise. If we survive to next year and the reform amendment passes, then we wait while the legislature gets around to voting something that our governor will sign. 

Personally, I see no meaningful change short of a California “velvet revolution” in which 10 million people descend upon Sacramento and force the whole corrupt government to resign. A rejection of the May propositions will be a sign that people are ready for the creation of a new deal, in that such a vote suggests that disgust at the present political system is at revolutionary levels. Perhaps our new government could be like what the Czechs got after their “velvet revolution,” a literary figure in a top office. They got Vaclav Havel, perhaps we can have governor Alice Walker. 

Should the polls be wrong and the propositions pass, well, then we have seen that the majority still has confidence in this government, which is a pity. 

Ted Vincent 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington had a list of 15 amendments for the latest Climate Action Plan. Most are good government, climate action best practices —buy local, hire local. 

But the three AC Transit items on his list are very controversial. 

Kriss’s no. 1 and 2 amendments are Bus Rapid Transit-friendly strategies that could hurt local business by forcing Eco-Pass fees on financially strapped small businesses. Shouldn’t we be advocating Eco-Pass for all residents and encouraging all to ride the bus? 

Kriss’s no. 8 amendment is a controversial AC Transit strategy, which includes plans to eliminate local bus stops. This strategy is being considered right now for AC Transit’s most popular bus, the 51, which is also AC Transit’s top moneymaker! Removal of stops, as well as building bus-sized concrete bulb-outs on College Avenue and other tactics being considered, would begin to turn our favorite local bus (es) into Limited, or Rapid, or BRT. This would diminish local bus service for Berkeley seniors, disabled, workers, students, and others, and discourage bus riding. 

It’s right for the entire community to be informed about BRT, Eco-Pass, and reducing local bus service in favor of Rapid BRT, etc.—huge, noisy, speeding buses that cause parking and trees to be removed! BRT is a strategy used to encourage redevelopment. 

When I asked Kriss at a public “Sunshine in Government” meeting how he felt about disclosure regarding government meetings held outside Berkeley, he said he did not have time for that. 

Kriss is an alternate for Mayor Bates representing Berkeley on Alameda County Congestion Management Agency, which allocates gas tax monies to transit. Kriss and Mayor Bates, together, represent Berkeley at the AC Transit BRT Policy Steering Committee, which meets in Oakland. 

Disclosure of meetings like these that take place outside Berkeley is necessary. 

They do “disclosure” in Albany in about five minutes—no big deal, but a critical part of sunshine in government—the people’s right to know what’s going on. 

Merrilie Mitchell