Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday July 02, 2009 - 10:00:00 AM



Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have been meaning to comment on the attack on the Daily Planet. If the paper had been attacked because of its NIMBY bias I could perhaps understand it—though censorship would still be beyond the pale. But anti-Semitism? Really? The O’Malley family is about as anti-Semitic as David Ben Gurion. Now anti-Likud, you may count me in that camp myself.  

The Jewish fascists who have set out to destroy the Planet may otherwise be perfectly nice people who don’t beat their spouses, contribute to the United Way, pay their rent (which seems to be Leon Mayeri’s criteria for appraising Dan Spitzer), etc. But they are objectively acting as fascists by attempting to censor the views of those they disagree with on a subject dear to their (collective) hearts. That they may (or may not) on other issues be liberal misses (or ignores) the point. And while I would usually admire anyone who Art Goldberg dislikes, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, so I am willing to make an exception in the case of Dan Spitzer. Not for his alleged financial misdeeds, but for his overt attempt to conflate a distaste for Israeli misdeeds and crimes with a desire to wipe out the State of Israel and/or anti-Semitism. As far as I know I never met the man, yet I loathe his conduct, and that of John “Zorro” Gertz, Sanne DeWitt and Jim Sinkinson. That you printed one letter three years ago that was avowedly anti-Semitic, out of all the many letters over many years about Israel, is by now a dead horse that has been beaten to death already. It hardly stands as a beacon of the Planet’s own position, or that of the publishers. 

I would add one little point: the surest way for Israel to perish in the long run, in my opinion, is for it to continue to follow its present path of antipathy, conquest, occupation, rejection and war towards the Palestinians. Those who not only disagree with that position, but equate that view with a desire to see Israel eliminated are fools or liars. 

Mal Burnstein 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The paid advertisement which shows “Palestinian Loss of Land — 1946 to 2009” made me wonder why the neighboring Arab countries which won’t take in the Palestinians aren’t shown on the map, too. They are huge in comparison to Israel, as you know.  

I wonder also why the Arab-initiated wars that caused the advertised map probably to be accurate weren’t mentioned. 

Rita Wilson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I will say that I am perhaps one of the Daily Planet’s biggest cheerleaders and supporters. In this recent go round of a select few attempting to drive the Planet into the ground I support the Planet 100 percent. Yet I find I do not agree with the editorial decision not to post letters by the provocateurs at the bottom of the recent controversy. I will say up front that, as with most conflicts, it is probable that I do not know the full story. But from what I do know I think it is wrong that those making charges against the Planet are not given the space to voice them. From what I gather an offer of dialogue was made a while back and declined but that is the part of the story I admittedly do not know. 

I think it only fair if one is purporting to promote free speech that that include all speech—even speech designed to culminate in your demise. Please fill me in on facts I may be ignorant of. I think the letters offered and declined should be published. 

Ruthanne Shpiner 

El Cerrito 


EDITOR’S NOTE: This forum has been open to these men for years. John Gertz and Dan Spitzer have each had many letters published in these pages, most of them attacking the paper and fellow readers. Spitzer and Jim Sinkinson each declined to be interviewed for the story. None of the three have offered any substantive, verifiable challenges to the facts of the story; we have, however, made two clarifications at their request.  

Since the story’s publication, Mr. Sinkinson has distributed letters to advertisers alleging many inaccuracies; these were addressed in the June 25 letters column. Readers interested in learning more about Mr. Sinkinson’s views should have no difficulty getting their names added to his mailing list. Mr. Gertz has his own website—given plenty of ink in these pages—where readers can get a steady helping of his opinions. Mr. Spitzer has not contacted the paper since the article’s publication, although his landlord wrote a letter in his defense, which was also published in the June 25 edition. 

The paper no longer feels obliged to publish the falsehoods and allegations of three men who have taken advantage of this forum for years while making a concerted effort to shut it down and to silence the voices of their fellow readers. To decline the chance to speak on the record for our story and then accuse the paper of censoring their views is absurd. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In her June 25 “Green Neighbors” column, “Everything’s Hitched,” Ron Sullivan seemed to find the flock of crows around her house amusing. I don’t like them.  

About three years ago a flock of 12-20 moved into the trees and gardens around our building. They started tearing nests apart, eating eggs, and killing nestlings. I think they were driven out of areas that have been subjected to housing developments in the outer suburbs. Then I read about a town in Indiana plagued by hundreds of crows. They hired a company that drives away pest birds and animals. This company used the danger call of the crows. They broadcast the call where crows were congregating in the evening, and beamed laser lights into the trees. It worked.  

I Googled “crow danger call” and found a site that let me download the call. When the crows congregated around our building, making a lot of noise and driving other birds away, I opened my door and windows, turned up the sound very loud on my computer and played the danger call several times. Immediate silence. Then one crow repeated the call and they all flew away. I repeated that whenever they came back for a few days, and now they only occasionally appear. The house finches, gold finches, tits, nuthatches, robins, towhees, doves, sparrows, hummingbirds, and the migrating songbirds are all back in their former numbers.  

Julie Keitges 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just read the somewhat cursory coverage, “Lab Plan Describes Bevatron Demolition” in your June 25 edition, and realize that while quite a roster of hazardous, poisonous material is mentioned, and we’re assured of various abatement and handling measures accordingly, I’m left wondering some significant things anyway. For instance, how dangerous is all this stuff, really? And just how, and where, is it all being transported locally for removal to another state? 

I’m guessing that such detail may be in the formal and official documentation for the project. But can I encourage your paper to help the community by providing us with a more insightful and accessible summary accounting for this? After all, with so many serious materials being disturbed and shunted around up on that hill (outdoors?) and then with the actual structural features being “demolished” in order to extract all this stuff and somehow then put it in containers or whatever, this could sound like there’s also some risk of messiness, even though at some point it’s all eventually properly wrapped and secured. 

I happen to have some training and background in some of the mentioned hazardous material abatement procedures and so realize how extensive and cautious it can be. But there are far, far worse materials listed up there which might compel all the more demanding and careful procedures. And the same could hold true when it comes to moving it anywhere else. It sounds like an awful lot of dangerous stuff that’s got to somehow get taken off that hill and trundled through town on its way out. 

As reported, some of this has been going on for some time already. Are those all the big trucks I’ve been spotting heading up Dwight Way? What’s the rest of the route? How about a map? 

Oh, and just how “radioactive” is the material that’s rated as that? And how much of that is being kept in a demolished form on the hill and being moved through Berkeley? 

Christopher Kohler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

So why are people like Zelda Bronstein kvetching about Berkeley Bowl West? What do they hope to prove by ranting about square footage? As for the neighbors being “sold” anything, the only thing we are being “sold” is the opportunity to buy fresh, healthy and affordable food within walking distance of where we live and work. 

Since Bronstein certainly wasn’t there from the beginning when we first learned about Glenn and Diane Yasuda’s plans for a warehouse and office space on that long-vacant, weed-strewn lot, nor was she there when, in response to our wishes, they presented their idea to expand that plan to incorporate a full-scale supermarket (which turned out to be the exact size of the project which opened in early June). You see I was there, for those meetings and for the many public hearings and meetings afterwards. I was also there at a meeting attended by only a handful of local residents when, outsiders and planning commissioners like Bronstein and John Curl started to bandy loaded, hot-button terms like “big box store” and Wal-Mart to characterize the efforts of a local, family-owned green grocer.  

So people like Bronstein, and others whose points of view often appear in this newspaper, have their facts wrong. It really does no good to review how incorrect, and wrong-headed their positions were, and how their opinions were smokescreens for trumped-up fears of development taking over West Berkeley, and even worse, using this Berkeley-based enterprise to create a wedge-issue among neighbors. Fears of increased traffic haven’t materialized either. But what has increased is foot and bicycle traffic! Living around the corner from the Bowl, we actually get to witness the birth of a vibrant cityscape—similar to what Bronstein must enjoy in her Solano Avenue neighborhood—young families, seniors, workers from nearby businesses, neighbors all making their way to the market. This is a first for Potter Creek, as this small area (the least densely populated in Berkeley) is called. We were isolated from the rest of the city, and lived in what urban geographers and sociologists refer to as a “food desert.”  

But the Yasudas stepped up to turn our neighborhood into an enviable food oasis, and added a compelling reason for people to come here. This is a family who had the determination, grit and courage, to go through a long, drawn-out, very expensive and rancorous planning and permit process, that was partially imposed by process-loving politicos and, yes also by the likes of Bronstein and others from both inside and outside the neighborhood, that delayed construction and added millions to the cost of this project. I feel that Glenn and Diane Yasuda are local “green” heroes, and their success story should be celebrated. But for now I just urge everyone to visit their fabulous new store and show your support by shopping there. While there, do walk around and check out the Potter Creek neighborhood, there are great restaurants, like the charming 900 Grayson, arts and crafts businesses, lovely gardens and friendly neighbors there too. 

Claudia Kawczynska 

West Berkeley resident  

and business owner 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Can we set the record straight and stop arguing about the square footage of the new Berkeley Bowl West? I write this as a resident of the neighborhood that welcomed the Bowl’s recent opening—I live one block away from the new building, and was there at the neighborhood meeting when the idea of the Bowl was first presented. Zelda Bronstein writes (June 25) that the Berkeley Bowl West “was sold to the community as a neighborhood grocery store.” That is untrue. At the first meetings I attended (and Zelda did not, maybe because she lives in North Berkeley)—the owners of the Bowl and Kava Massih (the architect) presented plans that showed a warehouse-office space for the existing Berkeley Bowl store on Oregon Street—there was no store planned initially. It was only after neighbors requested a retail component that the idea for a store entered the discussion. The owners, after operating in the cramped, poorly designed space of the Oregon facility, agreed, if they could build the store they felt they needed—spacious and fully-equipped. The long, protracted battle over size, usage, permits and traffic ensued until the Bowl finally opened in early June.  

I do not speak for all of my neighbors but all of those whom I have spoken to seem quite happy to have a world-class market and green grocer within walking distance. West Berkeley has long wished for a food market, and anybody who knows the area can lament the large stretch between West Oakland and El Cerrito that is devoid of quality and affordable food shopping options ... until now. 

Yes, the new Bowl building is large. But I for one welcome its grandness and scale—and, most of all, the fresh, natural food that it now provides to West Berkeley residents. I encourage others from surrounding neighborhoods and cities to share in the bounty. Berkeley can certainly use the tax revenue. The nearly 200 new Bowl employees can surely benefit from the job security. What was in this location before the Bowl moved in? An empty lot with overgrown weeds and a metal warehouse that stored roofing refuse.  

Do I welcome the new Berkeley Bowl to my neighborhood? You bet I do. And so does everybody I see who lives, works and passes by, stopping into the Bowl to share in good, affordable, healthy food. It has added a fresh vitality to our often neglected neighborhood. The “food revolution” that other parts of Berkeley have enjoyed for so long, has finally made it’s way to the flatlands. Long live the Bowl. 

Cameron Woo  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m writing in response to Victoria Peirotes’ commentary, “Berkeley City Budget 101,” which made my blood boil. I’ve lived in Berkeley for 20 years and have willingly paid my share of fees and taxes, unaware that so much of my money was going to salaries and benefits for our extravagantly staffed city government. I’m appalled at the measures our mayor and City Council have already instituted and are now proposing to address the city’s fiscal crisis, none of which touch on overstaffing and the level of compensation. I absolutely agree that instead, the mayor and City Council should consider a revision of our city budget in October that includes the implementation of a modest reduction of 12 percent of the city’s cost for employees. The city may say that such a reduction is impossible because of “union contracts”—I don’t believe it. San Francisco recently announced that 86.4 percent of Service Employees International Union members voted to accept contract concessions and that more than 1,600 jobs are to be eliminated under Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget. What’s more, in Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums offered to himself take a 10 percent pay cut and proposed slashing his office’s budget by 20 percent, matching city council members proposals to cut their own staffs by 20 percent. Let’s follow the lead of our neighboring cities and cut staffing costs. As Ms. Peirotes’ article points out, it may then be unnecessary to cut services and raise so many fees. 

Carol Henderson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On behalf of myself and other like-minded Berkeleyans, I want to thank Victoria Pierotes for the commentary in the June 25, “Berkeley City Budget 101,” in which she recounts the status quo of our city’s governance. The facts regarding such items as the egregious ratio of city employees to city residents; salaries and benefits for employees that far exceed those of the average citizen; and dispensations of the budget have been known by anyone paying attention for the past 20 years or so, but they bear repeating over and over.  

One question that comes begging is: just how many citizens have been paying attention? Considering that the current state of affairs is the result of a constant trend in the City Council’s governing policies, there are two possible answers. Either the voting majority is perfectly informed and likes the way the councilmembers have been running our town, or very few voters keep informed enough to know the facts recounted by Ms. Pierotes and to vote against the politicians responsible. 

With nothing to support my opinion but years of observation, I believe the latter is the case. Most people in Berkeley like to pride and congratulate themselves on being “progressive” but pay little to no attention to the full range of issues or councilmembers’ past performance and vote like sheep. (How else to explain the approval of the last two measures for “essential” services that by rights ought to have been covered by the general fund, which is habitually tapped to cover non-essential items—the kind of legerdemain that for years has allowed the council to avoid placing non-essential pet schemes on a ballot for citizen referendum.) 

While one major responsibility of a city council is budget management, in my experience it seems that, come election time, neither the mayor nor the incumbents are held accountable for their budget management. High fallutin’ rhetoric about social issues and city planning and “progressive” solutions resound through the campaigns, and the reigning political machines win the day, and the nuts and bolts of city management fall where they will (to be swept into a pile by the city manager). 

More of us should pay attention to such educational efforts as the Newsletter of the Council of Neighborhood Associations and to such astute observers of city government as Zelda Bronstein. Otherwise, our government won’t change. 

A. Chavkin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I think the Victoria Peirotes piece in the commentary section was well done, timely and raises issues which should concern us all. The situation she has drawn attention to is so clearly unsustainable that it cries out for more public scrutiny and action on the part the elected officials who we have entrusted to manage and guide our city in a responsible and sound way. I particularly like her suggestion that the mayor and council should direct city management to produce a plan to show alternative ways to reduce personnel costs during this time of financial stress. This needs to be done now so it can be considered in the up coming budget cycle. I hope the Daily Planet will use it’s editorial power and influence to make sure this issue receives the attention it deserves. 

Noel Marsh 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Your Editorial, “What’s Wrong With Downtown Berkeley, and How to Fix It” hit the nail on the head. “What is wrong?” For one thing, I do not understand how the City of Berkeley can pass on a plan that does not consider the new, huge building, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, that will sit one block from the BART station on Oxford Street, facing the University campus. Who is talking to who? Why is there no dialogue going on between the City of Berkeley and the planning committee of the university and the director and his staff at the museum? Just think how wonderful it would be for people of all ages if the city and the museum planners could create a green plaza around the new museum with walking streets on both sides. Think of the beauty added for everyone when small trees, gardens and various places for young children and their mothers could gather without the concern of traffic, and also senior citizens as well as numerous visitors to the exhibitions at the museum from around the Bay Area as well as the international crowds who come to see the action at the museum and in the City of Berkeley. 

One can only conclude that as of now, the City Council is in no way prepared to vote on a final downtown plan on July 7. 

Kati Casida 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

AC Transit has been hit hard by the state budget crisis. So far, the response seems to be “cut service and raise fares,” a sure-fire loser of a combination. Here are some alternative proposals for easing the budgetary pressures on AC Transit that wouldn’t jeopardize the future of the system. 

1) Transbay Deployment: Buses on 26 separate AC Transit lines currently make their way back and forth across the Bay Bridge every day. Many of these buses run virtually empty. Lightly-used AC buses cross the bridge almost 2,000 times a day and yet carry only 14,000 riders a day. Recent field investigations revealed that the loads on the buses leaving the Transbay Terminal during the peak evening period averaged about 17 persons per bus, with the off-peak loads being even more anemic. 

If the 26 lines were consolidated into say, six or eight frequently-operated trunk lines, thousands of empty transbay bus hours a year could be saved. Redeploying some of those saved hours into beefing up the neighborhood lines so as to better feed the trunk lines with timed-transfers would cause AC’s transbay ridership to rise. Result: better service and therefore increased lower cost. 

2.) General Deployment: The same applies to the many other AC buses that one constantly sees operating throughout the East Bay with between 1 and 6 people on board. To increase ridership, the AC system should be simplified and clarified by: 

• Eliminating duplicate service, 

• Eliminating unnecessary turns and detours, 

• Shortening lines where required to ensure good schedule adherence, 

• Improving connections between AC lines, and between AC lines and other transit services, 

• Returning streets to two-way traffic where necessary to consolidate AC lines now operating inefficiently on separated one-way streets. 

• Ensuring that crowded buses run free of traffic congestion, at least during morning peak periods. 

3) Safety and Security: To voluntarily ride a bus, an individual must feel safe, not only from harm, but also from loud, vulgar and inconsiderate behavior. That means that the standards of behavior on AC buses....including in particular the behavior of junior high school and high school aged youth....must be high. Whatever steps are required to ensure a safe and comfortable bus ride for everyone at all times must be taken. 

4) Marketing: Once the above-indicated deficiencies were on their way to being eliminated, it would be time to begin explaining the improvements as part of a stepped-up marketing program. 

For the above reasons AC Transit would benefit from an objective outside operations and marketing analysis, whose ultimate aim should be to increase AC Transit ridership by at least 35 percent.  

Gerald Cauthen 

Transportation Engineer 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

As self-declared “Berkeley Ambassador for Cultural Affairs,” I wish to express my appreciation for our splendid Berkeley Public Library. Closing its doors in November 1988 for extensive renovations, it re-opened on April 6, 2002—a striking art deco structure gracing the corner of Shattuck and Kittredge. In the seven years that have followed its re-opening, this wonderful library has offered an amazing wealth of free programs—films, lectures, and live concerts, to name just a few. 

An intriguing program now offered each Wednesday from 12 to 1 p.m. is “Playreading for Adults.” Led by Debbie Carton, the vivacious Art and Music Librarian, this program brings together actors, theater lovers, travel and science fiction writers. Sitting at a round table in the Fourth Floor Reading Room, a group of 20 of so participants are handed copies of the play being read, with each of us assigned a role, changing parts frequently so everyone gets a chance to read. (This while we munch on brownies and banana bread, courtesy of our leader.) 

Since the first meeting in February 2009, the plays featured have included Antigone, The Lady’s Not for Burning, Inherit the Wind, King of Hearts, and King Lear. At the moment we’re reading Arsenic and Old Lace, which is great fun. 

As Debbie points out, theater literature is hard to read to oneself; it needs to be read aloud, as it’s intended to be performed. Many lines which sound foolish when read to oneself work beautifully in this fashion. 

On one occasion, An ESL teacher brought her adult English Language students to read with us. This was while Inherit the Wind was being read. To hear this classic American play read aloud by Serbians, Asians and Spanish speakers was a unique experience for us all. 

On Thursday, Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. members of this Playreaders Group and the Teen Playreaders group will join together to read aloud the story of Sadko Sasaki, of Sasako and the Thousand Paper Cranes fame. As we’re all aware, Aug. 6 is Peace Day, the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. 

I should mention that last Thursday noon the library presented a delightful program by the Berkeley Opera Company, offering excerpts from The Ballad of Baby Doe, directed and narrated by Jonathan Khuner, with roles sung by first rate soloists of that company. The opera, for those of you not familiar with it, is a true story set in the 1880’s in a Colorado silver mine. This program attracted an overflow audience in the fifth floor Art and Music Room. 

I think you’ll understand why I have such admiration for our Berkeley Public Library, which contributes so much to the enrichment and education of our community. You’re encouraged to keep up with these worthwhile activities by checking the Berkeley Daily Planet calendar. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 



LOCAL 123 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

On June 14 we opened Local 123 in West Berkeley. The café has a warm atmosphere and already serves as a community gathering place. Our simple menu features locally sourced foods, excellent coffee and an assortment of homemade items. Additionally, we hope to feature a number of handcrafted beers and wines made in the East Bay and the greater Bay Area. As our name implies, a core tenet of our mission is to serve and participate in the local economy. 

In mid-February, we began our application process for a beer and wine license with the City of Berkeley and State of California. At that time, a Berkeley Senior Planner told us told that it would take three to six months for our public hearing. Most recently, we were informed that our hearing is now scheduled for Feb. 10, 2010, nearly 12 months after we submitted our application. We have been forced to reassess our business plan and cash flow expectations and hope that our other revenue streams will support us for now. 

By contrast, California’s office of Alcoholic Beverage Control took less than two months to process our application. The state required us to mail letters to any resident or business owner within a 500-foot radius of our building, and to post a sign in our window alerting passerby to our pending application. We sent letters to nearly 600 neighbors and landlords and received no complaints. 

We are aware that the city and its Planning Commission are considering a proposal to simplify the application process for on-sale beer and wine permits in downtown. Surely the city is enacting this change to encourage economic development, so why isn’t the change being extended to the West Berkeley San Pablo Corridor, an area similarly targeted for development? 

Beer and wine consumption in an eating establishment is one of the most innocuous forms of alcohol consumption, particularly in a quiet, safe setting such as a café. 

We urge the city to support business growth in West Berkeley and simplify the application process for on-sale beer and wine licenses. This change will aid many small business owners like us, thereby encouraging a healthier local economy. 

Frieda Hoffman and Katy Wafle 

Owners, Local 123