Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday August 27, 2009 - 01:00:00 PM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

If the City of Berkeley has the “green” agenda of pushing high urban density, it can easily do so by preventing developers from building within Berkeley city limits until the other East Bay cities served by BART match Berkeley’s population density. Berkeley has 9,823.3 people per square mile, while Hayward only 3,547. Berkeley also beats Oakland, San Leandro, Fremont, Albany, El Cerrito and Richmond for population density (statistics from Wikipedia). 

We have enough density in Berkeley, much of it unfortunately concentrated in the heads of the people who argue that more development here will improve anyone’s quality of life other than that of the developers, and of the city staff they bribe. 

A. Baldwin 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Berkeley ordinance requiring the independent press to clean and maintain its distribution boxes seems like overkill (of independent journalism). Couldn’t the mayor just clean up the boxes while he is cleaning them out? Then he’d leave both his smaller carbon footprint and fewer fingerprints as well. 

Julie Ross 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to Michael Freeman’s letter about the BART parking lot—I was also curious about the funding source, assuming it was a stimulus project because the signage there has a federal contract number. But after some digging, I found out it was not stimulus related, just normal federal support of public transportation. The project also was not a “million-dollar-plus” deal but apparently cost $187,000.  

Regardless, I agree that it is a complete waste of resources to repave that parking lot, even if the lot hadn’t been repaved in 20 years as their contact person said. I wouldn’t second guess a decision to repave made by a private company, but in this case, BART/Federal Transportation Administration pays for these projects with our tax dollars, and doing so makes them inherently less careful and than if they were spending out of their own pocket. 

Damian Bickett 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I don’t read many of your articles, but I found the one on Reza Valiyee very interesting because I live less than a block from those run-down and strangely “improved” properties on Derby Street. I had no idea that the same person owned those hideous vacant buildings on Shattuck. Isn’t there some way that the city could take them by eminent domain and sell them to someone who would do something useful with them? I was amazed to read that he actually thinks that BART would build another station so close to the existing stations. I will refrain from making comments about his sanity because I don’t want to risk being sued for libel.  

Mary Kazmer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In response to last week’s speculative commentary by a well-dressed, educated African-American male who was arrested on a “bench warrant” in Berkeley while en route home from work, to set his mind at ease he should understand that the police are obligated by law to arrest him because a court ordered that he be arrested (presumably for failing to appear in court as promised). The decision to arrest is not properly a matter of police discretion. The African-American officer who followed through in making the arrest was doing his job truly, the way it is supposed to be done; the other officer apparently was not. Surely we do not need police officers deciding who they will and will not take into custody once a court “commands any peace officer in this State forthwith to arrest” the person named, which is how the court-ordered “bench” warrant is phrased. This man’s arrest was his own fault, not that of the police. Let us collectively scratch off the list one supposed incident of class- or race-based law enforcement.  

Edward Moore 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Cecil Brown’s commentary, “Racial Profiling and Swimming While Black,” describes outrageous behavior on the part of the University of California police. Not only did they demonstrate a clear act of racial profiling, their behavior was disrespectful and unprofessional in any number of ways: derisive, sarcastic, and going so far as to tell him to stay away from the pool even after he had irrefutably established his every right to be there. His experience highlights the need for disciplinary action against the officers involved and better training for the UC police force. 

However, I must take issue with Mr. Brown’s attacks on Lucia Whalen, the Harvard Magazine employee who phoned the police in the Gates case. While he takes her to task about not recognizing Professor Gates and states that “like many ‘educated’whites, she projected a racist template when she saw two black men out of their social space,” his account of her actions contain several inaccuracies, adding to the media disinformation that have led to Ms. Whalen being the target of death threats. If Mr. Brown had followed the initial reports of the outrageous treatment of Professor Gates, he would have known: 

1. Lucia Whalen didn’t recognize Professor Gates because she never SAW Prof. Gates. Nor did she claim to see him. She made the call at the behest of an elderly neighbor who said she’d seen two men force their way into the house. 

2. Lucia Whalen never identified either of the possible intruders by race. In her call to the police, the recording of which was made public, she stated that the older woman had seen two men force in a door, and that she was reporting it because of the possibility of some wrong-doing. She added that she didn’t know that the men were, in fact, intruders, rather that they might be residents. It was not until the dispatcher asked her the race of the men that she said that she wasn’t sure, but that one of the men “might be Hispanic” (the driver, who was not African-American) and that she had not seen the other one (Professor Gates). 

Mr. Brown’s should never have been so mistreated at Strawberry Canyon. Nor should he add to Lucia Whalen’s victimization by a 24-hour news cycle that substitutes surmise and speculation for evidence-gathering and fact-checking. 

Anne Hallinan 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a 30-year resident in Berkeley, I would like to make three points about Cecil Brown’s commentary: 

My personal experience is that many men who are poorly educated deeply resent people who are well educated, irrespective of the color of their skin.  

If I had been at the pool, I would not have given a second thought about Cecil being black. Of course, I also live in an area that is 50 percent African-American. On the other hand, if I had crossed paths with Cecil walking in my neighborhood late at night, I would have given him a wide berth. I have been mugged and harassed by black men, watched black youths jump my fence and vandalize my car and read countless Berkeley crime stats about blacks robbing, shooting and killing people. I have never been victimized by whites, Asians or Hispanics. Indeed, as long as most evening news about blacks is about black men making mayhem, my guess is that it is going to be difficult for many people to view black strangers in anything other than a negative light.  

I think Cecil is reinforcing racial profiling by making himself invisible at the pool. What has happened to the legacy of Dr. King? Cecil and several other UC Berkeley faculty people of color should visit the pool with video cameras. After the police show up, put the videos on TV and YouTube; hold protest marches to condemn the racism; get the Berkeley police department to reeducate their officers on racial issues; and reeducate the community on racism. 

Jeff White 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As it looks now, the proposed Swine Flu vaccine may be more dangerous than the swine flu.  

We are being told that it has the posssibility of killing “hundreds of thousands” as it runs it’s deadly course. However, so far it has remained a relatively mild disease, no different than any other flu epidemic. Worldwide, there have been 311 deaths from swine flu, with 70,893 reported. One might wonder why all the hoopla. 

The government has contracted with two corporations to produce the vaccine (Bater and Novartis) and they are now battling for the billions of dollars at stake. No matter what happens with the development of the swine flu, the ball is in play. The money will continue to flow. 

In addition, modern scientists who have been studying the virus have been debating whether this virus was genetically modified or not. It is known that scientists around the world are now developing and experimenting with genetically altered viruses in the laboratory. 

If they can create a virus that the human body has no acquired immune defense, they can also create the vaccine that everyone will need.  

One part of the vaccine, that is most suspect, is made from squalene oil, a substance implicated in autoimmune disorders. Coincidentally, Novartis’ scientists are the ones entrusted to conduct the safety tests and reports. It’s no t surprising that their results yielded no dangers whatsoever. 

If you are truly interested in your health, be suspect of corporate health claims. Take responsibility for your own health through diet and lifestyle. Your life may now depend on it. 

Michael Bauce 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Saturday, Aug. 15 my wife and I were at a table at the Farmers’ Market peacefully gathering signatures on the downtown referendum petition. Lo and behold, there suddenly appeared the mayor of Berkeley, Tom Bates, standing directly in front of us just two feet away and obstructing our contact with passersby. When we asked him to move, he replied petulantly saying he did not have to. He just would not budge even when the Farmers’ Market Manager came by telling him he would have to move. He blatantly refused to do so. Eventually, one of us challenged him by standing in front of him in the walkway. At this point having made a fool of himself, the mayor got the hint and moved to his anti-referendum table some l5 feet down the street. In his refusal to move, he had demonstrated the unmitigated gall of attempting to physically obstruct citizens on the street from signing a petition, just a block away from City Hall.  

Clearly he has no regard for the rules of the Farmers’ Market when he actually muscles in on a table where his opposition is gathering signatures against monstrous high-rise structures planned for downtown Berkeley. He has lost public respect. 

Since he does not hesitate to behave obnoxiously in public who knows what he is capable of doing in the privacy of his offices in City Hall. Indeed, he has the reputation of behaving this way while conducting public Council meetings. If that is how he treats the general public he can surely be expected to treat his associates as arrogantly. He and his wife State Senator Loni Hancock with their cohorts, Dorothy Walker and Terry Doran, will need to be watched carefully because they are in a position to do a great deal more affecting a great many. What he did is in fact the impeachable offense of interfering with a citizen’s right to petition. It continues his despicable reputation of stealing newspapers from news-stands a while ago that were supporting a candidate opposed to him.  

So much for free speech in the town of Berkeley. It needs to be defended constantly. 

The petition for the referendum was eventually signed by over nine thousand people. Only five thousand five hundred were needed. 

Alex Nicoloff and 

Martha Nicoloff, petitioner and co-author of the  

Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The article by your reporter Riya Bhattacharjee about the event at La Pena in support of the Cuban Five moves me to offer this statement about Cuba and the Cuban Five: 

Contrary to the accepted wisdom, I believe that U.S. policy toward Cuba is consistent, unrelenting, and driven by rational interests. The United States will continue to pursue a policy of embargo, encirclement, sabotage, and destabilization against Cuba until that country discards its publicly owned egalitarian economy and moves unequivocally to a free-market system that is open to capitalist investment and limitless private-profit accumulation.  

Cuba’s refusal to do this explains the mean-spirited approach that the U.S. has taken over the past half-century, including the U.S. government’s current harsh treatment of the Cuban Five. Here are five exceptionally intelligent, sensitive, admirable, dedicated, and democratically-minded men who committed no act of espionage or sabotage against the U.S. government, whose efforts were dedicated only to uncovering the terroristic practices perpetrated against Cuba by the rightwing Miami Cubans.  

For their valiant efforts against the terrorists and imperialists they have been given draconian sentences. I give them my heartfelt support and I urge everyone to join in support for the Cuban Five.  

Michael Parenti  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Arnie Passman, in his Aug. 20 commentary, made several errors of fact concerning the identification of perhaps the most famous anarchist revolutionary of all time. Passman, like most Americans, might be forgiven his ignorance of the bigger issues of the Spanish Civil War and Revolution, with its intricate alliances and betrayals. But when it comes to details, the slightest mistake looms larger than life. 

First there’s the correct spelling of the name: Buenaventura Durruti (not “Bueneventura Derutti”). Who was this man? Was he, as Passman relates off-handedly, a “revered Catalonian Trostkyist”? The short answer is No! Here are the corrected details: 

Revered? Definitely; his credentials among anarchists and other anti-state revolutionaries were impeccable. 

Catalonian? Not unless residency bestows some kind of automatic ethnicity; Durruti (the name itself is Basque) was born in Leon (Old Castile), his family moving to Catalonia when he was still a child. Catalonia has its own ethno-cultural history, with its own language and traditions; the term does not just refer to a geographical region of Spain. So unless he learned to speak Catalan or became involved in the political intrigues of the Catalan nationalist cause (which he did not), it makes little sense to refer to Durruti as Catalonian. 

Trotskyist? Not unless Passman inhabits a parallel universe. Durruti joined the anarcho-syndicalist industrial union National Confederation of Labor (CNT) in 1919, and remained a member until his untimely death in 1936. And from as early as 1930, his affinity group was part of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), an anarchist caucus within the CNT. The Trotskyists in Spain were organized as the Bolshevik-Leninists—all dozen or so of them. The other group of anti-Stalinist Communists were the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), who eventually became the reluctant allies of the anarchists. 

After Durruti’s death, a group of anarchists who had become frustrated with the political shenanigans of the “influential militants” of the CNT-FAI created the Friends of Durruti group to remind anarchists of their revolutionary principles and try to combat the reformist and even counter-revolutionary trajectory of the CNT. Many historians have alleged that the FoD, by standing up for revolution, were some kind of Trotskyist or POUM-influenced group—despite a complete lack of evidence. The Friends of Durruti, despite their annoyance with, and radical criticisms of, the CNT, never relinquished their memberships. Perhaps Passman was thinking of the FoD and the slurs leveled at them, perhaps not. Regardless, I cannot let his triple error in mentioning Durruti slide without corrections. 

Lawrence Jarach 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

With school about to start, I want to encourage other retirees to spend time mentoring young children. In Berkeley, volunteer efforts, and other support for enrichment in the schools is organized by the Berkeley Public Education Foundation. The work that I do as a volunteer is as rewarding as any I have ever done, and I will tell you one story to let you know the kind of difference you can make. 

  Jane spent first grade in a full immersion class, but she wasn’t reading as well as expected so she was held back. She spent a second year in first grade in a class where I volunteer, but at first she was angry and not much interested in my help. Towards the end of the year her reading had come up to grade level, but she complained to me that math was too hard. I told her that I could make math easy for her, but would need to see where it got hard for her. She seemed to like the idea, and we sat spent nearly an hour using pattern blocks building different combinations of ten. This was a dramatic change in her attitude, and she was willing to try things that might hard. She asked to do math again the next day, and I could see that she could add but could not subtract, and didn’t have a mental picture that numbers can run forwards and backwards. I started her counting backwards from 100 by tens and fives and she made progress, but the school year was coming to an end and she really wasn’t ready for second grade in math. 

I asked Jane if she wanted to do more math in the new summer “BEARS” program. She was eager to continue, so four days a week for six weeks, I spent about an hour with Jane and a handful of other kids, working on their math skills. At first, Jane struggled, and was reduced to tears one day because I made it too hard. But we both persevered, and on the last two days of the summer program I gave her two work sheets that focused entirely on the subtraction that she couldn’t do at the beginning of the summer. One day she got 12 out of 14 correct, and the last day of summer school, she got all of the problems right!  

Jim McGrath 

Volunteer at LeConte School 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

The landmark Courthouse Athletic Club at 2935 Telegraph in Oakland is still threatened by a phantom high-end, market-rate condo project. Trammell Crow Residential, a Southern California-based developer, has been underwritten to the tune of $11.3 million and counting since 2005 by San Francisco-based Bank of the West. The condo project was approved in 2007, but only now—after the Oakland Housing Authority dropped out of the picture as a buyer for $9 million—is TCR finishing up their plans and applying for permits, including one for demolition. But, if demolition and site clean-up happens, including redwood removal, the 142 unit condo project will not happen—only a vacant, for sale lot. Just what Oakland doesn’t need. 

There are still some things the public can do. 

1. The site contains two stands of mature redwoods, which are protected trees in the city. Because of inadequate noticing, the public comment period has been extended until Sept. 22. Email or write Gay Luster in the City of Oakland’s Tree Division. Gay Luster, Tree Division, 7101 Edgewater Dr., Oakland, Ca. 94621. A decision will be made soon thereafter, an appeal is possible by the developer or neighbors to the City Council. 

2. Bank of the West is experiencing financial problems as are many banks. It reported losses of $143.1 million for its second quarter of 2009; this after losses of $85 million the first quarter. The bank announced in May it was eliminating 300 to 400 jobs across their 19-state territory. If this project is typical for them, it illustrates why they’re doing so badly. Already out the $11.3 million, they’ve just contributed $330,000 to the city just for permits, with another $200,000 due before they get the green light. Then, their additional costs of demolition and site clean-up. 

Encourage the Bank to pull the plug and stop throwing good money after bad. Write to Michael Shepherd, President/CEO, Bank of the West, 180 Montgomery St., 25th Floor, San Francisco, Ca. 94104. Call or write to Allen Kirshchenbaum, Executive Vice-President and Division Manager, Real Estate Industries Division, 300 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles, Ca. 90071. (213) 972-0384, (213) 972-0616 (Fax). 

Robert Brokl 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for your coverage of the protests about John Yoo being hired this semester to teach law at Boalt Hall in spite of the fact that he is prosecuted as a war criminal by other countries. I missed last Monday’s protest so I went on my own and stood in silence in front of Boalt Hall carrying a large sign “Waterboard John Yoo.” I received a lot of support from students and one professor told me he was against John Yoo being allowed to teach but did not approve of anyone being waterboarded. I do not approve of any form of torture but I believe that John Yoo is a coward as most torturers are and would faint at the thought of having his head placed in water. Having first hand experience of torture inflicted to Jews and Belgian citizens by the Nazis during World War II, I am appalled that in spite of his criminal record, John Yoo is allowed to teach. I am incensed that Dean Edley is hiring someone who wrote an ideological and legal base for torture. Any Berkeley person who has a social conscience should stand up and demand that John Yoo be disbarred and jailed for aiding atrocities and torture. 

Andree Julian 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Monday, Aug. 17, John Yoo resumed teaching at UC Law School. His class in Civil Procedure for second-year students started at 3:20. Prior to the beginning of class there was a press conference held just outside Boalt Hall with speakers who are students and former students at the law school, and from National Lawyers Guild, CodePink, National Accountability Network, Progressive Democrats of America, World Can’t Wait, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, and others. Some of the speeches were videotaped and I highly recommend them to readers, especially those by Dan Siegal, Sharon Adams, Ann Ginger, and Stephanie Tang. You can find the speeches at 

After the press conference many of those assembled for the protest went inside the buliding and up to Yoo’s classroom. Before the class started I went inside to meet Mr. Yoo. I stuck out my hand and introduced myself, but he didn’t shake my hand, and he already knew who I was. He said something along the lines of “I know who you are... you’re that woman who is bothering us at our house.” So I said “Are we bothering you? We don’t mean to be bothering you, we just want you to be prosecuted for advising the Bush administration that it’s legal to torture people.” Before we could continue our conversation a UC security person pushed me out of the room. The security person asked me if I wanted to be arrested and I said, “I want you to arrest him. He’s the criminal,” pointing to Yoo. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tell Professor Yoo that we mean him no harm by protesting at his house. We simply want justice and accountability for him, and won’t rest easy until he is prosecuted for his illegal actions and the resulting torture of many who have died. Children have been tortured because he said it was legal.  

We continue to gather at John Yoo’s house on Grizzly Peak, Sunday afternoons from 4-6 p.m., beginning again on Sept. 6. Join us if you want to stand up against torture. 

Cynthia Papermaster