Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday August 13, 2009 - 10:37:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Citizens have few tools to rein in a City Council that has been corrupted by money and greed. Lawsuits (very expensive), citizen initiatives and referendums are all we have. Referendums are extremely difficult to pull off; thousands of signatures of qualified voters must be gathered within just 30 days after the council approves a misguided plan. 

A petition is in circulation to “referend” the Downtown Area Plan recently passed by a majority of Berkeley’s City Council. 

The plan is utterly ridiculous. 

Our town is slathered with apartment vacancies, retail vacancies and bank-owned condos, while several huge construction projects are poised to open into a depressed market. It is therefore difficult to imagine how anyone could think that 22-story buildings would solve Berkeley’s woes. 

At the North Berkeley Farmer’s Market on Aug. 6, several citizens were exercising their right to gather signatures for this referendum. Five people, including developer and Planning Commissioner David Stoloff, showed up to interfere with the democratic process. When Berkeley residents agreed to sign our petition, these disinformers swooped in to persuade them otherwise. Petition gatherers are required by the Ecology Center, which runs the Farmers’ Markets, to stand at a table; they are not allowed to approach customers. Yet the disinformers were allowed to break the rules and approach people freely. 

Before the referendum began, Mayor Tom Bates promised to fight it vigorously. I have to wonder if the Ecology Center is acting in concert with the man who began his mayoral career stealing newspapers (and lying about it)—to subvert the democratic process. 

Gale Garcia 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It’s been quite a week for the weakened state of democracy in Berkeley. Barely Livable Berkeley, the developer’s lobbying group masquerading as environmentalists, has mounted a full-scale assault on the attempt to put the City Council’s Downtown Area Plan before Berkeley voters, coordinating articles and pushing publishers across the East Bay to cast the attempt as anti-growth, while sending out developers and their employees to physically obstruct signature gathering. If you’re a progressive, it says a lot about the level of the onslaught that it’s necessary to be reminded that Berkeley, like most cities in America, is a place where money talks; it’s screaming right now. 

So here are the essentials. There are indeed anti-growth forces in Berkeley. But those of us hoping to actually have the people of Berkeley involved in the discussion of the fate of their downtown are not among them. We are the people who foolishly believed this council when they set up a process we bought into, called the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), to assure that the costs to the people of Berkeley of the university’s ambitious downtown expansion plans would be monitored and mitigated. 

The council took the vastly increased height limits from the plan that 17 out of 21 DAPAC members endorsed (there’s simply no legitimate way to cast the DAPAC plan as anti-growth!), and threw out the unionizing rights for hotel workers, the guaranteed minimum wages for construction workers on the height-excepted buildings, the fees for open-space generation that were supposed to balance the cost savings from the greatly reduced parking requirements, and went back on their promise to protect the residential neighborhoods immediately surrounding the downtown. (The official parameters of downtown are expanded by ten blocks, to Hearst and Dwight to the north and south, and the eight-story height limit that the new areas were not supposed to face has been extended to every part of downtown.) 

To give people a chance to sign the referendum without being harassed we’ve set up a place on private property to sign during work hours: Urban Ore at 900 Murray, just south of Ashby at Seventh. We need money, of course, but in this last week we especially need help gathering signatures; visit our website,, or call us at 548-8332 or 260-4894 to help. 

Dave Blake 

Former chair, Zoning Adjustments Board 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for printing my commentary in support of the downtown plan referendum, although my last name got misspelled. Meister and Mester both mean guild member but in different languages: the former German and the latter Hungarian. There’s a Mester street in Budapest, the city that my great grandfather left in the 1880s. Like many European families, mine came to this country to work for a better standard of life and to exercise political freedom. A referendum is an instrument of democracy, used to expand debate, not to obstruct, as the City Council majority claims. If you are unsure about the downtown plan, that’s a good reason to sign, to give yourself and others time to become familiarized with the proposals. A special election is unnecessary. The item can be added to the next scheduled vote in June or November. There isn’t any money to build now anyway, so there’s no rush.  

Toni Mester 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The editorial in your Aug. 6 issue (“Paris and Berkeley’s Downtown Development”) made many excellent points. Unhappily, I didn’t find there or elsewhere in that issue any clear indication of what Berkeleyans can do to slow or deflect the runaway plan which would turn the downtown area into luxury condos and office buildings as much as 22 stories high. There is a fleeting reference to “referendum supporters” in Becky O’Malley’s editorial, and some sneering references to a petition in a letter to the editor by David Soffa. Mr. Soffa is to be thanked for his candor. His heart’s desire is that downtown Berkeley become Manhattanized in coordination with the university’s march of “BIG buildings” toward the bay. 

But many readers are likely to ask questions. What is this referendum? What is this petition? What does it say? One can understand why the Bates-developer-UC interests are keeping it below the radar. But Berkeleyans need to know the factions at work and their wildly different visions of the city’s future. The petition itself is short and simple: it asks only that we be allowed to vote on the Manhattanization plan. I understand that some 5,500 valid signatures must be gathered in a very few days. There will be no professional signature gatherers. I don’t know if there is so much as a central office or telephone number. I obtained some petitions to circulate among my neighbors from Jurgen Aust, a retired city planner. He may be reached at 540-548l. He probably knows other places petitions may be obtained and where they should be turned in when completed. Everything is being done on a volunteer basis, and it will take all the volunteers we can get. 

If this referendum fails because people are uninformed about it—or misinformed—it will be the greatest Berkeley tragedy since the death of the Co-op.  

Henry Anderson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Good heavens, Berkeley is hardly Paris. No one seriously suggests it could be (although Paris indeed works, as your editorial notes rather contradictorily). Furthermore, we’re not all developers here, and we’re quite literate, thank you, and adequately sophisticated. Many of us who wholeheartedly support the Downtown Area Plan realize that what matters right now is the growth taking place in California, not some vacation destination. Our community is much broader than Berkeley alone. We care about the edges of our urban area (where there’s still open country and farmland) as well as the centers (where one can get around easily to workplaces, marketplaces, and entertainment). We need both, and conserving the former depends on improving the latter.  

William H. Whyte made the case convincingly some 40 years ago in The Last Landscape: “How our cities and suburbs can be better places to live in—because more people will be living in them.” No one could accuse the famously urbane Holly Whyte of being unsophisticated, and he was certainly no developer (he was Jane Jacobs’s mentor, even). His views, to which many of us subscribe, are as persuasive as ever.  

Steve Scholl 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Aug. 6 editorial was excellent. As a dual-citizen (American first, French second), as an “architecte” graduate from UC Berkeley who practiced in France, and as an early Jane Jacobs convert, I congratulate Ms. O’Malley. 

Actually, anyone who lived in or visited Paris, if she/he is observant will note three things instructive for Berkeley:  

1. Le Tour Monparnasse: “Constructed in 1969-72; the architecture, gigantic proportions and monolithic appearance were criticized as being out of place in Paris’s urban landscape. Two years after its completion, the construction of skyscrapers in the city center was forbidden.” (Wikipedia)  

2. La Defense: Charles De Gaulle led an effort to level the western slum area and to concentrate skyscrapers in a single business district rather, than altering the character of downtown Paris. (Wikipedia)  

3. The Low-Rise Fabric of Paris has survived. Where there is blight and horrible living conditions, they are, as Ms. O’Malley points out, in the suburbs. Not good, but at least central Paris doesn’t “go down” to speculators. We are not Paris but surely we can learn. Don’t we have the “brightest per capita” electorate in the whole wide world? So let’s do it right. The EastBay had an aricle “You Can’t Be an Environmentalist If You’re Also a NIMBY.” Well I, and many others who have responded, beg to differ. We CAN be an “Environmentalist” without being a NIMBY. Please sign the petition asking for a referendum on the Bates and developer engineered, unilateral Council Downtown Plan. The referendum is endorsed by Council Members Arreguin; his fourth district is the downtown district affected, and Kriss Worthington, District 7. 

Before the Bates-crafted Downtown Plan is foisted on us, let’s talk. We are, after all, the taxpayers and voters. A request for a referendum is an opportunity to do this.  

Victoria Peirotes 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for the wonderful Aug. 6 obituary for Doris Richards, Ohlone Dog Park Association president from November 1985 until April of 2001. Though Doris was a dynamo when it came to protecting Ohlone Dog Park from its doubters and adversaries, it was friends who made Doris’s life so rich with laughs, food and unique memories. 

ODPA and Doris’s many friends will host a Memorial and Potluck from 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 1901 Hearst Ave. ODPA will provide light beverages, and attendees are asked to bring a dish for eight to share at a sit-down meal at 5 p.m. Remembrances, for those who wish to come after the meal, will begin at 6 p.m.  

Dawn Kooyumjian 

Treasurer, Ohlone Dog Park Association 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I must take exception to Hassan Fouda’s “Propaganda from Kensington” in the Aug. 6 issue of the Daily Planet. It has always perplexed me that Israel is judged only by its worse representatives and that any obscure quote from an obscure figure from history, politics or popular culture can be turned into “evidence” of Israel’s inherent immorality. The essence of prejudice is the moving from the specific to the general—and that is precisely what Mr. Fouda does, when he quotes extremists that have been widely condemned and rejected by Israeli society. 

Should we be as quick to judge the people of Gaza, who have elected a government whose very charter includes this incitement to genocide? Should we be as quick to judge the people of Gaza who have elected a government that categorically rejects peace? 

I urge people of conscience and Mr. Fouda to look beyond the extremists on both sides, to reject those that reject compromise, and to embrace the true peacemakers on both sides of this conflict. This is the path of justice and of lasting peace.  

Faith Meltzer 

El Cerrito 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I wouldn’t let anyone tell me what to think, be he Stephen DeGange (Aug. 6) or whom to support or not to support, i.e. Sinkinson and his ilk. In regard to opinions, nobody tells the whole truth or presents the complete picture, only what supports his or her point of view. In the interest of full disclosure, I am Jewish, of Lebanese descent, and have not supported most of the policies of the Israeli governments for many many years.  

Carmel Hara 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Richard Brenneman’s op-ed on the contemptible tactics of Jim Sinkinson is outstanding. We should bring back dueling a la the Burr-Hamilton match (contrary to received opinion, the good guy won in that duel.) Any business person with self-respect needs to tell Jim Sinkinson to shove it. Who does this pompous behind think he is in trying to speak for a whole group? And if he did, so much the worse for that group.  

Becky O’Malley’s editorial on Paris was very interesting. My brief foreign journeys have been limited to northeast Asia and Central America. Granta had an issue some time back on those horrible high-rise suburban ghettoes that ring Paris. Some of those people are probably sorry they ever left Rwanda.  

Jesse Allen Douglas-Taylor’s column on the parking mess is right on target. The utter stupidity of our city officials here in Oakland is unending. Brown certainly made a major contribution to this situation. They can blame it all on Prop. 13, but we still pay lots of property taxes with little perceived benefit. Also Jesse’s story on KPFA was hilarious. I thought they believed in the principle of from each according to his ability to each according to their needs. KPFA is the profitable part of Pacifica, they should be happy to altruistically self-sacrifice for their less fortunate sister stations. And deficit spending is a bad idea? All their copies of Roosevelt and Hopkins need to be repossessed. 

Michael P. Hardesty 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his Aug. 6 commentary, “Green Should Be Green,” John Koenigshofer describes David Brower as “co-founder” of the Sierra Club. In fact, the Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by John Muir and others, before Brower’s birth. David Brower’s storied tenure as the Sierra Club’s first executive director started some 60 years later in the 1950s.  

Brad Johnson 

Legislative Coordinator San Francisco Bay Chapter Sierra Club 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While walking near downtown Berkeley several months ago, I happened to notice a friend of mine parked in her car with the windows up and the car’s horn blaring constantly. A tall man in civilian clothes was standing by the driver’s side door trying to talk to her. The man had a police medallion clearly displayed on his chest. His unmarked police car was parked several feet behind her car. The man was African-American; my friend was white, somewhat frail, and about 70 years old.  

The officer was telling her that if she did not roll down the window and speak with him, she would be arrested. My friend was having none of it.  

Nearing the car, I said quietly to the officer, “Is it OK if I mention that I know her?” He nodded. 

I explained to my friend that the gentleman was a police officer and he was asking her to roll down the window so he could speak to her. She opened the window a small way and they talked. 

The officer explained that he was stopping her because he had observed her driving too fast in a local school zone. He said the limit was lower there to protect the children, who are sometimes impulsive and you never know what they may do. 

The two people reached some kind of understanding and no arrest was made. Perhaps some situations benefit from having a neutral third party who has at least some degree of trust with each of the participants, which could help both feel a bit more secure, so they could have their conversation.  

Brad Belden 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

What does “no safe exposure” for radiation mean (Mark McDonald, Daily Planet, July 30)? The public safety model for radiation damage is that the health risk for chronic low dose exposures varies linearly with dose. The scientific debate over whether there is actually a threshold below which there is no danger is irrelevant for public safety purposes, as there is currently insufficient data to determine a threshold level. The safer procedure is to assume the linear model is correct. 

However, because the linear model predicts that the risk becomes infinitesimally small as the dose becomes equally small, the statement that there is no “safe” exposure for radiation is equivalent to claiming that it is not safe to step outside (lots of hazards), drink a glass of water (you might choke), or indeed do anything, as everything you do carries some risk. Radiation safety standards are set at levels where the risks (calculated using the linear model) appear small relative to people’s normal range of risks. 

Holding LBNL to a zero-risk standard is hypocritical and counter-productive. Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission had little time for other environmental issues while the Tritium facility was debated. Terminating a research program, eliminating jobs, and discouraging competent people like Elmer Grossman from volunteering their time to the city is not something to be proud of.  

Robert Clear  

Part-time employee in building sciences at LBNL, 

Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

John Yoo resumes teaching at UC Law School on Monday, Aug. 17. He’s teaching civil procedure, a requirement for all students. He has 123 students enrolled in his class. Should students be allowed to take civil procedure with Yoo when Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Federal District Court of Northern California ruled in June that Yoo can be sued for torture by Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, and his mother? Padilla is asking for $1 in damages from Yoo for the torture he suffered for many years, and the court decided to permit Yoo to be sued for torture. Yoo is appealing the decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but he will no longer be represented by Department of Justice lawyers. We will foot the bill for his appeal, however, and his lawyer is one of the highest-paid litigators in the nation, Miguel Estrada of the DC office of the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm, the same firm where Ted Olsen and Eugene Scalia are partners. Olsen became Bush’s Solicitor General after he sucessfully represented Bush in 2000 before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Scalia is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s son; Scalia was asked to recuse himself in the Bush v. Gore case because of clear conflicts of interest—not only that of his son working for the firm arguing the case for Bush, but his friendship with Cheney—but Scalia of course refused.  

Is it acceptable for students to learn the law from a law-breaker of monumental proportions? With Spain and other countries moving forward with prosecuting Yoo for violating the human rights of men tortured on his legal say-so, does it hurt the reputation of the University of California at Berkeley to continue employing a professor charged with war crimes? How does the Berkeley community feel about this “torture lawyer” living in our midst? How does the University community feel about employing a professor who admits publicly that he gave legal advice saying it’s legal to torture children? How do you feel about John Yoo? While the world’s rage is growing toward John Yoo, will we simply look the other way? Many people, including many of John Yoo’s neighbors, want him prosecuted by Attorney General Eric Holder and the World Court.  

How do I know this? Because every Sunday afternoon from 4-6 p.m. I and many other concerned citizens are in front of John Yoo’s house on Grizzly Peak Blvd. to speak up about his complicity in torture. We have decided that we are not “good Germans.” We pass out flyers, talk to passersby, hold banners, and hope that we’ll spot Yoo. While we know he’s in Berkeley, he avoids being around between 4 and 6 on Sundays. Perhaps he doesn’t want to face his neighbors and the Berkeley community members who are calling for him to be dimissed, disbared, and prosecuted for his role in torture. With over 100 deaths and hundreds of children in Abu Grahaib and Bagram prisons, Yoo cannot be comfortable facing the truth. He is guilty of enabling those deaths and the torture of those children. He should be dismissed and prosecuted, just as Nazi lawyers were at Nuremberg.  

There will be a large protest on August 17 at 1:30 p.m. in front of the law school. A coalition of groups and individuals including Progressive Democrats of America, CODEPINK, National Accountability Network, World Can’t Wait, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Library, National Lawyers Guild and others will show up to ask for Yoo’s dismissal, disbarment, and prosecution. If you agree join us.  

Cynthia Papermaster  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This morning I had the great pleasure of watching the swearing-in ceremony of our new Supreme Court justice on television. It was a brief, dignified affair, but one epitomizing the American success story. 

I like and admire everything about Sonia Sotomayor—her rise from public housing in the Bronx to a career as federal prosecutor, trial judge and appellate court judge. I like her pleasant, easy-going style and her no-nonsense stride as she enters a room. 

But most of all, I like her name! “Sonia Sotomayor”—one befitting an opera star or ballerina, certainly not a Supreme Court Justice. I have every confidence that Justice Sotomayor will bring a breath of fresh air, compassion and informality to the present rather staid Supreme Court. 

You go, girl! 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Children need guiding from their youngest years. Parents and early childhood teachers have a great responsibility towards the newest citizens of the nation. It is important for children to receive the best from their family members and their teachers. Somehow, this does not happen every time. Many children hear abusive language and incorporate it in their own speech. Roughness and coarseness become habits. 

We know that young children try to imitate their parents and teachers. We know children are deeply affected by the media or environment around them. We may not be able to control what the media offers children but as parents and teachers we can practice restraint in our own lives. If we are conscious that our slackness will travel down generations we may choose polite language and civilized behavior over acting it out. 

Let our message to our children be: Do as I do.  

Romila Khanna