Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday June 25, 2009 - 06:38:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Bob Burnett’s column, “Obama’s Honeymoon is Over,” I absolutely agree that Obama’s clean energy agenda needs to be pushed aggressively. Before July 4th, the House of Representatives is likely to vote on a crucial energy and climate change bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act. This bill sets strong energy efficiency standards, greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, and targets for clean energy generation.  

Unfortunately industry has already spent $79 million in the last three months lobbying to weaken the clean energy provisions, and there is likely to be a strong push to weaken the climate change provisions when the bill is debated next week. Our representatives will have to fight hard to keep the climate change provisions from being weakened and to strengthen the bill back to requiring 20 percent renewable electricity by 2020, in line with President Obama’s goals. 

Cathy Kunkel 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Plazas are often wonderful, and Berkeley does not seem lack for plaza advocates. The latest plaza enthusiasm is for conversion of Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford, described in the June 1 issue of the Daily Planet. More details can be found in a link to the city Planning Commission website. It’s an exciting concept, but, as a famous architect once observed, “God is in the details.” So let’s look at some of the details: 

The bird’s eye view on the web is especially telling because the plaza is shown full of sunlight, and the buildings on its south side are shown as those existing now. If these should be replaced by a new structure, say, for example one as tall as the Brower Center, there would be no sun in the plaza in the winter and not much in the summer. Does the downtown plan say what will happen to these buildings? 

Besides concerns about sun what else may be problematic? Cost for one thing. $12 million is the current plaza price tag, and considering the unknowns involved in digging up the street, relocating utility lines, and realigning part of Strawberry Creek, these numbers have got to be regarded as very, very preliminary. Who pays? The university will own all the properties on the north side of the plaza, and the plaza will be essentially a forecourt to its art museum and hotel. Will UC pay half the cost of the plaza? 

Traffic needs to be studied a lot more, too, as the preliminary report admits. While Center Street may not have a lot of cars now, it has a number of bus lines, and will become an important taxi route once the hotel is built. Shunting hotel traffic to Addison, as the preliminary report suggests, flies in the face of the way ordinary travelers behave. When you go a hotel, you drive up to the front door, not to the block next door. If the newest hotels in downtown San Francisco are any guide, a hotel developer is going to want street front access for guests in private cars or taxis.  

Finally, is it total heresy to question whether bringing a kind of wild landscape to the absolute center of the city is right? Just a few years ago the city and UC collaborated to put in the wide sidewalk, bollards, and double rows of trees of the south side of Center Street which create a landscaped but very urban connection from BART to the UC campus. Here’s a modest suggestion: Instead of spending $12 million to reconstruct these fairly recent improvements, extend the same concept in the other direction. Repeat the wide sidewalk and landscaping on Center, west of Shattuck to Milvia. This would create a link to downtown’s other post secondary institution, Berkeley City College, and to the Civic Center. Price? My guess: $3 million. 

Christopher Adams 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Willard Neighborhood would like to say “Two Thumbs Way Up!” to Joseph Ayankoya, Luther West, Julie Thompson, Ken Etherington, Jim Hynes, Shallon Allen, Peter Quintin, Vivi Nordahl, Winston Burton, Jeff Mackelroy, Jan Stokely, Ian Quirk, Irene Hegarty and Linda Williams for their efforts in the student moveout program. Among other things, the program provides dumpsters on the street corners during the end of the semester. This has all but eliminated the piles of trash in the Willard Neighborhood that we were so used to seeing at the end of the semester. We have also marveled at the skill, efficiency, and care that has gone into placing and removing the dumpsters. This has improved our neighborhood quality of life and contributed to the betterment of the environment, since many of the items are recycled. It has also improved the relationship between UC’s students and their longer-term neighbors.  

So score one in the “win” column for town-gown relations. We appreciated being part of the solution and work forward to many more successful collaborations in the years ahead. 

George Beier 

President, Willard Neighborhood  





Editors, Daily Planet: 

As co-founder of Ohlone Park and People’s Park and as a member of the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame, I would like to completely, wholeheartedly and unreservedly endorse Dr. Walter Hood’s brilliant Center Street Plaza plan. 

I hope it goes forward 100 percent the way he has laid out his thoughtful and inclusive design. The public deserves a gathering place such as this vision, which encourages spontaneity and gives people existential rights to be and to have an individual soul acknowledged as legitimate. 

Without his design, allowing porous and evanescent grouping and regrouping within all sectors of the Venn Diagram that represents the physical and intangible community, people who do not fit one mold, i.e.; who are deemed unacceptable by the “acceptable” narrow segment of the more fully empowered—the implicit alternative central and sole mass gathering place design espoused by my friend Jim Novosel would become a place of exclusion, expulsion and would end up being overly patrolled and still creating problems that can be avoided with Dr. Hood’s plan. 

Dr. Hood’s design will ultimately make everyone happy—trust me! 

Wendy Schlesinger 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

A few years ago, I was “given” a marked-up Daily Planet news/display box by the then-distribution manager. Unlike the many wantonly vandalized boxes Berkeley’crats recently threatened to pull from the streets or fine heavily, I consider this one to be a true work of folk art, decorated no doubt by some streetperson with a sense of visual flair. In addition to previously applied bits of unsightliness, it’s covered with small gold and silver peace symbols, poetic stumps, and a few sexual editorials. I “liberated” it before it suffered more real damage, and it’s been sitting behind the gate since. 

I would like to find it a real home, ideally in a museum or collection of such artifacts, which was always my intent. Therefore, this an appeal to Planet readers and ownership to take it off my hands, and give it a place to live it deserves. Anyone? 

Phil Allen 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I like the ideas presented in your June 18 editorial on Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan. The vision of linking the campus and downtown with a broad, tree-lined plaza is very appealing. Embellished with a creek running through the downtown brought to mind Paris and the Seine.  

If thinking of Strawberry Creek in parallel with the Seine is too much of a leap, I refer you to San Luis Obispo Creek as it runs open through the city of that name. There, one can see a mother mallard leading a line of ducklings paddling through the downtown with the banks lined with riparian vegetation. Above, at the street level, are arts and crafts shops and galleries, as well as outdoor cafes. Nearby is the historic mission.  

If Strawberry Creek is daylighted, Berkeley can also display a fine collection of interesting historic buildings, including art deco and other fine architectural structures and motifs. Opening the creek would be complex and costly, but its economic, environmental and social benefits would be enormous and on going.  

For other examples, one can look at the recently resurrected Napa and Petaluma rivers as they flow the cities that share their names. They have attracted much investment in buildings, business and street upgrades. Urban streams can easily become little more than open storm sewers and it is difficult to maintain bank vegetation and provide safety for children and flood protection. Yet, it can be done. The urban renewal in and around the Guadalupe River in downtown and southern San Jose is another recent example of environmental and urban renewal. 

Please keep up your interest in downtown Berkeley. 

Dick Lerner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As promised, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Policy Steering Committee (PSC) took a vote at its June 19 meeting on the fate of local bus service on AC Transit’s Route 1 line. The committee decided that implementation of BRT in Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro will include elimination of the local service on Telegraph Ave. and International Boulevard. 

At the meeting, the location of the bus stops under the “all-in-one” service was revealed. In Berkeley only the BRT stops would remain! Between Webster and Derby Streets on Telegraph Avenue, three local stops will be removed. Yet according to AC Transit’s self-serving calculations, hardly anyone will be inconvenienced (I doubt that nearby residents will see it quite the same way). 

During the public comment period, Joyce Roy logically pointed out that this plan would be a decrease in service, and would lead to a decrease in ridership and an increase in automobile usage. But logic doesn’t factor into AC Transit’s desire to acquire hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars by taking over lanes of our streets. 

AC Transit has lost sight of its original mission, providing bus service. For the past seven years it has been in the business of promoting VanHool buses, despite vigorous complaints about these Belgian buses and an increase in injuries to riders. 

In addition to the PSC meetings, I have been attending AC Transit Board meetings—an eye-opening experience. General Manager Rick Fernandez seems to care about nothing other than buying buses and negotiating deals that benefit the VanHool company. Sometimes a Board member will grumble about the latest sole-source deal cooked up by Fernandez—but the deals are always approved. 

Now that the decision makers have revealed that local bus service will be expunged if BRT is implemented, it is clear that BRT is a lose-lose proposition for the community. We would lose convenient bus service and street parking on Telegraph Ave. We would lose the small businesses that won’t survive years of disruptive and polluting construction. And perhaps the largest loss—a “transit” agency that cannot be trusted would squander $250 million. 

Gale Garcia 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Contrary to City of Berkeley staffer Dave Fogarty’s claim that the Berkeley Bowl West measures 51,000 square feet (letters to the editor, June 18), according to the figures provided by the developer, the new place actually totals 90,965 square feet. 

True, the grocery proper is only (?!) 51,553 square feet. But the project also includes 29,114 square feet of “marketplace storage,” 3,667 square feet of “prepared food” space, 3,547 square feet of “marketplace offices” and a 3,084-square-foot “community room.” 

In calculating a supermarket’s size and corresponding environmental impact (meaning, above all, traffic), it’s customary—except in Berkeley City Hall—to include storage, i.e. a facility’s warehouse. So the new Bowl is at least 80,667 square feet (51,553 square feet grocery plus 29,114 square feet storage). Since its offices are essential to the store, I add their 3,084 square feet; that makes 83,751 square feet. I also include the 3,667-square-foot “prepared food” space, since it will no doubt account for a good deal of the 50,000 weekly vehicle trips that, according to the environmental impact report, would be generated by the new Bowl. 

So, leaving out the “community room,” we have an 87,418-square-foot development. That’s over twice the size of the old, 43,000-square-foot Berkeley Bowl. Remember that this behemoth, the size of a Wal-Mart, was sold to the community as a neighborhood grocery store. 

Zelda Bronstein 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Here’s an interesting question: “Our Himmlers, Eichmanns Unscathed as Obama Dithers: Why Is He Afraid of the Torturers?” This is the title of Ray McGovern’s talk Thursday, June 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Fellowship Hall, on Cedar Street. 

Wait a minute—we have our own Himmlers and Eichmanns? Why yes, and right here in the Bay Area. 

Heard of “torture lawyers” John Yoo, Judge Jay Bybee and Jim Haynes? All three work in the Bay Area, and all three gave a legal green light to using inhumane treatment and torture on detainees in U.S. custody. And just like Nazi lawyers who were held accountable at Nuremberg for their complicity in Hitler’s crimes, these gentlemen are war criminals. We have evidence of their crimes in their legal memos. Thank you, President Obama and ACLU, for making the memos public. Much has been written about Yoo, Bybee and Haynes, ranging from the April 18 New York Times opinion calling for Bybee’s impeachment, to the wonderful Glen Greenwald, Scott Horton, Marcy Wheeler, David Swanson and Ray McGovern articles calling for prosecution of these torture enablers. 

McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, says “I don’t want my grandchildren, of whom I have six now, coming up to me when they’re old enough and saying, ‘Grandpa, you worked for the CIA. What was it like torturing people?’ I would say I didn’t torture people, and they would say as the German kids say to their parents, ‘What did you do to stop it?’” McGovern returned his CIA “Intelligence Commendation Award” medallion in 2006 saying “I do not wish to be associated with torture.” 

June 25 events are happening in Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and more.  

In San Francisco at noon there’s a “Bye Bye Bybee Rally” at the Ninth Circuit Court where a formal Judicial Misconduct Complaint against Bybee will be submitted to the Chief Judge. 

Sunday, June 28 at 4 p.m. people will gather at John Yoo’s house on Grizzly Peak to say “Shame on Yoo” and ask him to apologize to us all for his shameful, shoddy, and unethical legal work providing legal cover for torture. Yoo has sullied the moral standing of our country. I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from this. Join our peaceful witness against torture at his house. 

Cynthia Papermaster