Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday June 04, 2009 - 07:06:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

We are writing as members of the East Bay Labor and Community Coalition, whose participants are clergy, current and retired workers, including professionals, public employees, and others who represent the rich mix of residents in the East Bay. What brings this diverse group together is our common belief that working people, like the business community, have a right to form their own associations to represent and protect their interests. 

We therefore would like to congratulate Berkeley Bowl on its progressive decision to allow its employees, without any interference from management, to make a free choice on whether they want to form a union when the West Berkeley store opens. From a business perspective, promoting a democratic environment assures high employee morale, which in turn promotes productivity and a pleasant shopping environment. Everybody wins; business, workers, and customers. 

Our experience tells us that most area residents prefer to shop in a unionized establishment. This is why, for example, Berkeley Honda has hung a large fluorescent green sign in its front window saying “Union Shop.” It is among our responsibilities to encourage consumers to shop in establishments where unions represent workers. 

Again, we applaud Berkeley Bowl’s decision to allow workers free choice. 

Harry Brill for 

The East Bay Labor &  

Community Coalition  

(formerly Berkeley Honda Coalition) 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s May 28 column raises many questions that, as a veteran of the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, came immediately to my mind as I read about the OPD-Lovelle Mixon debacle in East Oakland. 

From my perspective no one in their right mind, with any experience in urban warfare, would enter an unsurveilled building without making their presence known from the outside. If you don’t take measures to evacuate the building first, then logically when you enter anyone inside is subject to die. It’s not due to the alleged professionalism and alleged careful planning of OPD’s SWAT squad that others, beyond the two officers and Lovelle Mixon, didn’t die that day inside the apartment building. 

Indeed, where was the OPD leadership? 

Another unasked question: Is the Berkeley police officer going to get a complete pass for initiating and sustaining the high-speed chase through Berkeley and Oakland residential neighborhoods that resulted in the deaths of two innocent bystanders? Is this standard operating procedure in Berkeley and Oakland? 

It would seem, given the high level of communications technology available to law enforcement agencies, some other procedure may be put in place that is safer for everyone. Granted with budget constraints and all, it’s not a perfect world. In the end, however, three people rather one are dead. 

In my mind the Berkeley situation is not that different from the one in Oakland. Due to implementation of police policy the number of victims multiplied. 

Who will draw the lines that divide responsible from irresponsible police reaction? 

Jean Damu 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Recently, dueling commentaries regarding the widely-publicized difficulties at Pacifica’s New York station WBAI appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet. One was authored by the former board chair Richard Phelps, the other by part-time reporter and board treasurer Brian Edwards-Tiekert. They traded charges about “who’s responsible” for the troubles. This is less important than the fact that the foundation, which is now led by people more akin to Phelp’s side of the fence, is finally—after many years of paralysis—taking assertive actions to address the financial bleeding in New York. 

Why did it take so long? That’s a good question. The answer is, despite Edward-Tiekert’s protestations, under the leadership of the former board majority he is speaking for, which goes by “Concerned Listeners” in Berkeley and the “Justice and Unity Coalition” in New York, things got pretty bad and nothing was done. The record is clear.  

Unfortunately—as Edwards-Tiekert reported in his capacity as treasurer at the last board meeting—KPFA, whose board and management team remain dominated by the “Concerned Listeners,” accrued a $300,000 deficit in the first six months of the 2008-2009 fiscal year, partially caused by mandated spending cuts in the approved budget which have not yet been carried out. 

These are tough times for everyone, but it’s not a glowing record of financial responsibility for the Concerned Listeners and their New York allies, the JUC. 

When you add in a year and a half of unpaid staffer union-busting, a police beating on the premises, and the Women’s Magazine, the only weekly women-produced news collective in the Bay Area, going on and off the air like a yo-yo the past few months, you have to wonder. 

“Concerned Listeners” has done an excellent job of supporting management teams, here in Berkeley and also in New York before recent changes. When they’ve done a good job and when they haven’t. What they haven’t done is oversee them when they screw up. And that’s part of the job of a nonprofit foundation board. Board leadership isn’t possible when a board “slate” partners with management teams. 

I understand why Edwards-Tiekert happily endorses the “Concerned Listeners.” I’m just not sure it’s the best thing. 

Support independent candidates for the KPFA board. That will make these “who’s responsible” arguments a thing of the past. 

Tracy Rosenberg 

Executive Director, Media Alliance 

KPFA board member 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for your ongoing coverage of the never-ending changes occurring at Berkeley High School. Unfortunately, many cruel changes may be forced by state budget cuts. Thus, the district may be wise to slow down the proposed schedule changes to create advisory periods, which will cut instructional time, at a time when the governor’s gutless budget proposes reducing the school year. Our students need class time to learn. 

Also, I take exception to repeated statements that the achievement gap is larger in Berkeley than in any other district as a pejorative description of Berkeley schools. The large gap in Berkeley may not be attributable to the failure of our schools, as implied, but because so many affluent and well educated families—whose children typically do well on standardized tests—choose to attend Berkeley’s schools. I dare anyone to identify another school district in the state with such a diverse student body as Berkeley is doing any better. While we must strive to do better, we should not forget that families from all backgrounds are working hard together to support our amazing teachers to continue to make the Berkeley schools a wonderful American experiment. 

Paul Lecky  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Joanna Graham’s May 28 letter to the editor asking us to “do the math” on the size of Berkeley’s Jewish population and to deduce its attitudes toward the Planet’s position on Israel shows several errors. Let me hasten to state I have no idea how many Jews live in Berkeley, but imputing to Berkeley, or any other place, the same percentage of Jews in the national average misrepresents both culture and demography. Jews, like a number of other ethnic groups, tend to cluster in certain areas and not in others. Although Jews comprise about 3 percent of the national population, no one, except perhaps Graham, would ever deduce that the Jewish population of New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles is 3 percent. And while it is eminently true, that the Jewish community is not a monolith of opinion on any topic, including Israel; it is also true that the Jewish community, with the exception of a small but vocal minority, overwhelmingly supports Israel’s right to exist in peace and with secure borders. Whether we are secular or orthodox, we are offended when criticism of Israel crosses the line into demonization of Jews—as we perceive the Planet to have done. We would experience the same outrage if the Planet described the barbarism in Rwanda in terms of race. 

Abraham H. Miller 

Walnut Creek  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Where are the petitions to put a proposition on the ballot removing the requirement for two-thirds approval by the Legislature for a state budget? The two-thirds law is wreaking mayhem by enabling a handful of Republicans to block raising taxes on the rich to pay for the benefits that have made California prosperous. I’ll sign for a 55 percent proposition. 

Bruce Joffe 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

While I am no fan or advocate of fast food or corporate presence in Berkeley, I was struck by the image of protesters outside of the downtown Berkeley McDonald’s. I was reminded of a poem I read in a recent issue of Street Spirit. I cannot remember the exact words the author used (it was likely in an edition in the past two or three months), the general message was this: The downtown Berkeley McDonald’s is the only place where a street person, a poor person, a mentally ill person, an unclean person, a mentally retarded person can go and be treated as an equal. Nobody minds the random change they pay with. Nobody asks them to leave. It is warm and clean. They can eat a hot meal without shame. They are no harassed or followed. They are not stared at by other patrons. 

I remember well working at a Berkeley restaurant (of notable stature) and the discussion that was had of what to do with the homeless who begged outside the doors. The police were often called, the manager often demanded they leave ... and thinking about both of these situations caused me to feel a bit differently about the McDonald’s in Berkeley. Berkeley has successfully kept fast-food presence to a minimum—especially in-light of the fact that we are a university town. We have successfully promoted healthy, local and organic eating. But we are still hostile and unwelcoming to our population that has nothing. Even at places like the Cheeseboard—where the owners are sympathetic towards the homeless—the patrons are not. I, for one, have no issue with a public space—be it corporate, fast food, whatever—where a homeless person can go and not feel alienated. Until Berkeley is willing to deal with the hostility towards the homeless, I suggest we put our efforts into more positive and uplifting endeavors. 

Britt Alamo 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a regular Berkeley Bowl shopper who lives just west of the store, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to the city for the timing of the stoplight at the corner of Oregon and Adeline. The walk cycle on this stoplight is so short that to get across the street in the time allotted—starting just when it turns to WALK and finishing by the end of the red flashing countdown—requires a brisk jog; I appreciate the weekly exercise forced upon me. 

Moreover, I enjoy the sense of superiority I feel every week: I know to start running as soon as the light turns, lest I be stuck in the middle, and I get to privately gloat over those less fit than I, and those stuck in wheelchairs, who must wait two full cycles to get across. Occasionally, when the oncoming cars are far enough away, I head into the street early, before the light turns; I love the excitement of required jaywalking. Sometimes I don’t make it, and the light changes while I am still in the intersection. On these occasions, the angry looks from drivers for whom the light says “go” but there is a pedestrian in the intersection—those looks provide the humility I need, and stay with me all the way home as I berate myself for failing to get across in time. 

In short, the only things better about Berkeley Bowl than the stoplight outside are the crowded aisles and rude customers. The store’s selection, and particularly the always friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable staff—them I could do without. 

Theo Johnson-Freyd 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Congratulations to the San Francisco Chronicle and writer Victoria Colliver for the front page article (Saturday, May 30) entitled “Health Care Reform—Anger grows over single payer snub.” It’s an important milestone for the Chron and the public; and an excellent piece of work as well. In response to a comment in the article from Laurence Baker, associate professor of health research and policy at Stanford this brief rejoinder: Baker claims that some polls show a distrust of government’s ability to take over health care. My observation differs. People aren’t worried about government as an abstract concept, but about today’s corrupt politicians, the corrupt people politicians appoint, and the lobbyists who pay for their decisions. The public knows this corruption stymies effective governance. Two of three Americans want an efficient Medicare program for all without any insurance company interference, profit taking, exclusions and redlining. Obviously, the resistance to single-payer is coming from Wall Street and the political hacks everywhere who they fund—like Senator Baucus—and not mainly from the public.  

Marc Sapir 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

No one disagrees that we are in a severe recession. But I fear that in the stampede to balance the budget, California will eliminate or reduce many of the public assistance programs serving as social safety nets for children, the poor, and the sick and the elderly. Such programs include public housing, hunger and nutrition programs, childcare and child support, etc. Safety nets are designed to keep the down-and-out afloat during an economic slump. Families, local communities, and charities will be insufficient to take up the slack for lost or reduced publicly-funded programs. And a long-term recession could create a lost generation of people stuck in unemployment lines for so long that they become unemployable. Look what happened to Japan’s “lost” or “suffering” generation. 

For over 100 years America’s social safety net has expanded dramatically. At the turn of the last century, Americans still viewed themselves as “rugged individualists.” The family, the community, and charities formed the basis of the social safety net at that time. This all changed in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal began by establishing Social Security in 1935 and a modern day federal welfare program began with a small program called Aid to Dependent Children. During the Johnson administration in the 1960s, Medicare, Medicaid, public housing, and other programs were established. 

Much of America’s welfare programs remained largely unchanged until 1996, when a Republican Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, a sweeping welfare reform law that is still the subject of much controversy in public policy circles.  

The latest data (2005) shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively had as much income as the bottom 150 million. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person earned in the bottom half. With the rapidly growing unemployment, I suspect the 2010 census will show that this gap has widened even further. But these are just numbers. We’ve heard the reports of executives of failed corporations receiving millions of dollars in compensation juxtaposed with daily articles about people facing home foreclosures, loss of benefits, pay reductions, and layoffs. And I bet each of you know friends or acquaintances who are in a precarious financial situation.  

Clearly, budget cuts are necessary. But tax increases should be seriously considered to ensure a continuation of a social safety net. It is time for our politicians and the public to step back and carefully consider the short and long term consequences of the proposed budget cuts.  

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In regard to Rich Walkling’s letter, this will be my last about the meadow. It was futile for me to write all the others and I give up all hope of ever seeing it open to the public again. Mr. Walkling and his gang—Joe Eaton and Toni Mester and Carol Denny and the CESP and the EBRPD and all the others of their special interest project—have gotten their way and there’s nothing I can do about it. 

I had hoped more people would join me with their own letters in our concern for the general public, but aside from two others I’ve remained alone, either because they don’t read your paper or they already know how futile it is to go up against those in power. 

Regardless of whether or not the meadow turns out as Mr. Walkling says, it will be viewed only from outside the fence like any other private property. For him to call it a public park is a travesty, but he obviously doesn’t care. As he says, he’s part of the Audubon Society and he’s a so-called “restoration planner” with his own special interests at stake, not the general public’s. There is nothing in civilization uglier than a chain-link fence with signs that say, “Keep Out,” and whatever Mr. Walking and his gang plants in the grave of the Naked Ladies who once thrived there, it will remain because of the fence an abomination of landscape design. 

And so the fence will remain and after I’m dead and gone the next generation will not know that what he calls his “project” was once a free and open wilderness that humans enjoyed as well as wildlife. Nor will there be any more wildlife than before the fence, only the kind which he and his gang have chosen, which will not really be “wild.” What is public land has now in effect become their private nursery. 

Pete Najarian 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This has been a difficult and emotional time for those of us who knew Archie Green, Him Mark Lai, and Ron Takaki, all passing away these past few weeks. They are three giants who brought light into the human, neglected histories of our vital American heritage. 

In the 1980s, when I was director of the Maritime Humanities Center of the San Francisco Bay Area, Archie Green became a member of the board of directors. His had pioneered the study of Laborlore that probed the folk lives of men and women who sustain the lifeblood of our industries. The center celebrated the life and labor at sea and shore. Through Festivals of the Sea, public forums, lectures, and films, Archie contributed his insight and expertise. His insightful studies of coal miners, longshoremen, pile drivers, and seafarers made him a natural supporter of the center. He was the major force behind the establishment of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. The Maritime Humanities Center is honored to have tape recordings of his interactions with longshoremen and seafarers at its Public Forums. Our holdings will be taken over by the library at Chapel Hill sometime in the future. 

Him Mark Lai, who I met when I was a board member of the Chinese Historical Society of America in the 1980s, was an indefatigable researcher into the lives of Chinese-Americans. He was the co-editor of seminal studies, two syllabi on Chinese in California, the other, in America, 1969 and 1971. Other editors are/were alike superb scholars, Philip P. Choy, who is still writing, and Thomas Chinn, who passed away. Mark and Phil taught those courses at San Francisco State, the first time anywhere. Mark’s optimism influenced many a young researcher. I always believed the word “impossible” was not in his vocabulary, and his numerous studies on the hidden history of our American ethos are legacies to that end. 

Ron Takaki’s writings give incredible insight into the dynamics of ethnicity in American society. When I taught at Laney College in the 1990s, I attended his seminars on American Cultures at UCB. The seminars gave birth to innumerable courses, attended by instructors from campuses throughout California. His numerous writings helped to spur other budding scholars into the field. Although not always mentioned in listings of his works, I will always prize my copy of the lovely, powerful study: Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii. Ron revolutionized the way higher education embraced ethnic cultures. 

All were dear, extraordinary people. Their demise is a painful loss to our country, especially the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Robert J. Schwendinger 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Several weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the Daily Planet calling on Berkeley Unified to hire a director of special education to properly serve students with special needs. I am very happy to report that not only was Superintendent Bill Huyett listening, he asked me (and two other parents) to join the committee of individuals interviewing for the new position.  

We outspoken parents on that committee were very pleased with the selection of Kay Altizer, current special education director of Vallejo Public Schools, as the new director. Ms. Alitizer has a daunting task ahead of her, to make sure that the 10 percent of students with special needs in the district receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment, to eliminate spending waste and to fully optimize state, federal and private insurance funding opportunities. However, I believe she is the right woman for the job. 

Thank you, Superintendent Huyett and Berkeley Unified School Board members, for your leadership in and commitment to providing appropriate educational service to ALL of Berkeley’s children. Our community will be a better one in the long-run because of your actions. 

Mark Chekal-Bain 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On May 28, letter writer Dick Bagwell contends that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not about land, but about hatred. Examining the situation more carefully, and with an open mind, one can see that this is not the case, as is naively believed by some. The conflict is much more complex, and is not just about land, but about a disenfranchised people’s right to self-determination and their undying will to control their own destiny. 

Robert Kanter 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Employee Free Choice Act, currently being debated in the U.S. Senate, will make it harder for companies to illegally fire or retaliate against workers attempting to unionize. It has bipartisan support in Congress, and is co-sponsored by every California Democrat save one— Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She was a past sponsor of the act but has withdrawn her support, allegedly due to economic concerns in this recession.  

This logic is hopelessly flawed. This recession creates more urgency for strong labor reform than ever before. Obama’s stimulus package calls for 3 million new jobs, many of which will be “green-collar” jobs for the new clean energy economy. The Employee Free Choice Act would ensure that all these new green workers have a fair opportunity to unionize. 

If our transition to a sustainable society is to succeed, jobs like solar installer and energy efficiency electrician must be attractive positions with family-sustaining wages and benefits. Sen. Feinstein must not stand in the way of a green-collar middle class. 

Tracy Shepard 

San Francisco