Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday October 29, 2009 - 09:27:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The issue of West Berkeley zoning is no doubt a complicated one, but one thing seems to be missing from the picture—the health of the surrounding community. The recent article “West Berkeley Land Battle Heats Up Near Finish Line” acknowledges some arguments for and against the new zoning ordinances, but clearly shows the lack of consideration for environmental and public health in the battle. For years West Berkeley has been a haven for industry but also a breeding ground for toxic air and horrible environmental health. 

Sure, the changing of use permits might bring economic prosperity and potential to develop greener technology, but what about the health of West Berkeley residents? With more relaxed permits what will the environmental standards look like? Since the mid-1930s the Pacific Steel Casting company has been operating in West Berkeley with incomplete use permits and as a result—according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District—they now account for 100 percent of the manganese and 99 percent of the nickel in the air—both toxic chemicals that have adverse effects on health. On top of this BAAQMD has some of the worst air quality standards in all of California, but that’s a whole other issue. 

Before we lighten restrictions that currently provide for some sort of protection in West Berkeley we should consider stricter regulations for the companies that already exist there. A standard needs to be set for new companies that may or may not join the West Berkeley neighborhood in the years to come. The expansion of industry in West Berkeley should not have to come at the expense of the people who have suffered for far too long already. 

Courtney McDonald 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Next Wed. Nov. 4, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the West Berkeley Project, staff’s latest scheme to scuttle the protected uses in the West Berkeley Plan and to increase building heights and mass in the M zones. 

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, the Planning Commission’s usual venue, when it should be held in West Berkeley, where such changes will impact the nearby residential neighborhoods. 

Please attend and tell the commissioners and staff to delay action on this agenda item until a special meeting can be held in West Berkeley and notices sent to all residences in the MUR and R-1A zones west of San Pablo Avenue. 

Most property owners are oblivious to these plans that will transform our neighborhoods. We who have invested in West Berkeley should have a voice in determining its future. While the MUR property owners have been recognized as stakeholders, residents of R-1A have been completely ignored. 

If you cannot attend the Planning Commission meeting, contact Councilmembers Maio and Moore and communicate your concerns. 

Toni Mester 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you, Jill Posener, for your lengthy, detailed article about the Berkeley Animal Shelter “Still a Doggone Dilemma.” It is discouraging to me, as a voter and as a long-time, almost life-time resident of Berkeley, that my yes vote on Measure I, seven years ago to fund a new animal shelter has come to naught as yet. Furthermore, it is depressing that the site finally selected for the shelter, according to Posener, is inadequate in many ways. 

Using Posener’s analysis of this problematic site and her suggestions for possible solutions, I hope that the new shelter will be constructed as soon as possible, but not without making the changes that are necessary to provide space for more animals, not less, and a low-cost well pet clinic—especially needed by some pet owners in these economic hard times. 

It is appalling to me as a resident of a so-called progressive city that a new animal shelter has yet to be built after seven years of dithering and that the animal shelter—with no changes—will be built to such low standards. We can do better! 

Christina Tworek and animal companions 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was extremely sorry to see that Richard Brenneman will no longer be writing for the Berkeley Daily Planet. He was a remarkable journalist and shaped much of Berkeley’s conscience-driven actions. He was fair, always presented all sides of a situation, and was so thorough that a reader could clearly understand the situation presented by the end of the article. I don’t think anyone can replace him and I’m sorry that Berkeley will no longer have his articles to contemplate. 

Marcia Poole 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In the Oct. 22 issue, “Roy Speaks Out on Fernandez’ Exit” Jesse has accurately recorded my answers. But I cannot claim to be one of the first opponents. In fact, I was rather slow because I saw so many email complaints when the Van Hool came out, that I thought I don’t have to get involved with this because, surely, AC Transit will not continue to buy these buses! But what woke me up was a commentary in the Feb. 18, 2005 Daily Planet by Dorothy Bryant titled “New AC Transit Buses Are a Safety Hazard.” And the replies by Jaimie Levin and Chris Peeples showed a bus agency in total denial and total disinterest in the bus riders they were suppose to serve. 

Joyce Roy 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Not everyone hates the Van Hool buses. I ride AC Transit every day, and am rather pleased with the Van Hools overall. The company was founded in Belgium in 1947. They sell buses of all kinds all over the world. Many tour buses in the Bay Area are from Van Hool. If our buses are really so overpriced and costly to maintain, one wonders how Van Hool has stayed successful all these years. I hope an investigation will look at what we are getting overall for the price paid, or whether perhaps AC Transit asked for too many expensive special features. 

AC Transit gets Van Hool parts in the US, from the ABC Companies, which have outlets all over the US, including Costa Mesa, CA. ABC is the exclusive distributor for Van Hool parts in the US. 

I think the local antipathy toward the Van Hools has been entirely fallout from the poorly designed seat layout in the first models delivered to AC Transit. This seat layout was totally specified by AC Transit. Like all city bus suppliers, Van Hool expects to customize buses in order to suit the buyer. Thanks to local complaints, the newer Van Hool models that have arrived here have a much improved seat layout. 

I don’t fault Van Hool for bad choices made by AC Transit. No practical use was made of the three doors in the first Van Hools to arrive, because AC Transit decided not to implement all-door boarding and proof-of-payment (POP). Muni does POP on the streetcars, but requires front-door boarding on the buses. POP may indeed be a bad idea here in the lawless East Bay, but wasn’t this known when the Van Hools were specified? Didn’t the board realize the implications of all-door boarding? The three door requirement was said to be a reason why Gillig buses were not bought, from their plant in nearby Hayward. The more recent Van Hools now have just two doors. 

I don’t totally fault departing General Manager Fernandez. I think the AC Transit board has to take a big share of the blame. If “buy-America” is the right policy, why did the board wait until now to pass a resolution requiring it? I had thought that the federal funding for U.S. bus companies required buy-America long ago. Was Fernandez such a wheeler-dealer, dominating the board? 

If the successor General Manager ends up buying buses from Gillig or some other U.S. supplier, I hope the board will do a better job of oversight, and I hope the new buses will have a well thought-out seat layout. If the board needs advice from senior citizens, the East Bay Gray Panthers will be glad to get involved. 

Steve Geller 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

No one has done more to popularize and promote Berkeley history than Richard Schwartz. 

Thank you for the excellent article and congratulations to Richard on teh 10th anniversary of his book Berkeley 1900. 

Burl Willes 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This morning I was walking through San Pablo Park with my infant son when I passed a city employee shooting the breeze with a woman with an off-leash dog. The dog ran up to me and barked threateningly, and the city worker did nothing—other than continue chatting with his pal. This is just one example of the many flagrant violations of city regulations I see every time I go to San Pablo Park. Over the past year, I’ve been there at least a couple times a week at various times of day. Every single time there’s something uncivil, or, to put it less subjectively, something in violation of city regulations going on—adults smoking cigarettes, teenagers smoking pot, dogs brought in the small-child play enclosure, swearing by the Berkeley High boys baseball team, the woman defecating outside the bathrooms (in all fairness to her, the bathrooms were inexplicably locked in the middle of a weekend day), the kid urinating against the wall of the community center (he has no defense—the community center was open on a weekday afternoon), and more offleash dogs than at Cesar Chavez Park. Nobody official seems to take any responsibility for anything that goes on there—it’s like a no man’s land. I’ve seen many city vehicles, including police cars, drive by these scenes. Clearly nobody cares about San Pablo Park, and believe me, I’ve asked myself why I should. 

I understand that it’s a busy, well-used urban park and can’t be expected to be pristine. But really, I have not been there even once in the past year, with multiple visits per week, without seeing a flagrant violation. I have lived in Berkeley too long, and in the district ignored by Darryl Moore too long, to expect much in the way of quality of life issues like this one, or to expect a response to the complaint I sent the city. I am bothering to write in order to point out that sending a team of community service officers through the park could generate some revenue from the many citations they would see. While I am tired of the unpleasantness for myself and don’t plan to go back to the park, my neighborhood park, it would be nice for the city to make a little money from it. 

Amalia Cunningham 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Muchas gracias for another fine week, with Matt Cantor at perhaps his personal best. Pattern recognition and language—meme, too, meme, too—are marvelous topics for meditations between applications of Cantor’s OTJ lessonry. Now, if I could only rejigger the insipid prompt at LinkedIn to instead draw from the Oblique Strategies deck!  

Jay Tharp 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Many thanks to the Berkeley Daily Planet for printing my article which explained the problems facing Pt. Isabel Regional Shoreline Park and the Hoffman Marsh Preserve. 

Some individuals misunderstood my comment that if there must be a Kohl’s in Richmond to place it elsewhere with one suggestion being next to the casino at Pt. Molate. PIDO, my many friends and I are all opposed to the plan for this casino. Since the Richmond City Council voted in favor, I thought it was a done deal. However, I have learned that there is an EIR as well as a lawsuit and that many Richmond citizens are strenuously fighting the plan. 

My comment was not intended as an endorsement of a casino at Pt. Molate. What was meant was let’s not destory the entire Richmond seashore. Let’s put all the commercialization in one spot. There is a beautiful park situated at Pt. Isabel and a delightful undeveloped rugged site at Pt. Molate. Both should be left alone—free of further development other than the improvement of the environment so that citizens can enjoy the natural beeauty of these locations. 

Eleanor Yukic 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was very upset to read in Eleanor Yukic’s piece “Confronting Threats Facing Point Isabel,” that one of her solutions to preventing the possible construction of Kohl’s Department Store there, is to build it instead “as part of the casino enterprise planned for Point Molate.” I’m also amazed that she, as past president of PIDO (Point Isabel Dog Owners), lists the Sierra Club and Audubon Society as part the effort to protect Pt. Isabel from large scale development, without realizing that these groups, plus many people in Richmond and beyond, have been fighting to prevent similar development at Pt. Molate, trying to perserve it as a “shoreline for future generations and to protect the environment and its wild creatures.” 

I suggest that the PIDO folks get on board. The idea of pushing one disastrous development idea up the shoreline to do similar damage to a so far more pristine site, works against the whole “save the bay” concept. This needs to be a regional, not a local in my back yard, effort. Perhaps the PIDO board could take a ride out to Pt Molate, noting the existence of sand dune bluffs that will most likely be destroyed, the fact that bird life is probably safer there than at Isabel, and that whatever new development eventually does happen at Molate will only benefit us all if it includes shoreline preservation, manageable public access, and the development of structures that truly make sense for a shoreline site. The casino plan is still in draft form. Hopefully Yukic will get PIDO to be part of the effort to preserve Pt. Molate as well as Isabel, when we still have a chance to make sure large facilities, such as a casino and the Kohl store, are not permitted to be built there. 

Lyn Reese 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

On Tues., Oct. 20, a glorious, sunny day here in Berkeley, I was making my way up Kittridge about 2 p.m. in the afternoon. I had just taken a short walk to do some errands and was on the last leg of my journey to the library. As I was walking up, three young men were making their way down towards Berkeley High School. As we passed one another, I suddenly felt a deluge of liquid on my left side—then the voices of laughter coming from the same side. I was stunned and at first could not figure out what had happened. 

As I touched my side, I felt the syrupy goo of something—it was soda—spit at me by one of the boys/men who had passed to my left. It was on my hat, my hair, my face, my fanny pack, my jacket. As the tears began to fall from my eyes, I turned to face my attackers, and shouted at them “What is wrong with you? Shame on you Shame on you.” One of the youth replied “ We didn’t do it, he did,” pointing to the one who was running away near the back of the Post Office. I replied “But you laughed at what he did to me. You thought it was funny. It’s not funny. Is this what you do to your grandmothers?” 

They turned away quietly and continued towards the high school. 

I continued to the library feeling distraught, abused, dirty and crying. 

I am still crying as I write these words down for the community to contemplate. 

After picking up my book in the library, I quickly fled to my car, sobbing, and drove home. I removed my soiled clothing and jumped into the shower, crying the entire time. After some time, I decided I needed to do something. I called the high school and spoke with a kind woman who tried to comfort me as I related what had happened. She quickly told me that since it did not occur on school grounds, they were not responsible. Perhaps I should call the police. I replied that it was not a police matter, that what had occurred needed to be shared with the school community. She offered that they might not have been students of the high school, but rather coming to meet friends there after classes let out. I replied that I felt that the school community needed to hear what had happened to a 75 year old woman, close to their school and open a dialogue with me and others in the community. What hurt me most I think was that once upon a time, 50 years ago, in another urban environment, I taught young people like them and was never treated to such behavior by any of them. She took my name and address to pass it on to the principal. I am still waiting to hear back from him. 

Why am I sharing this story today? It saddens me to know that the society I have given my heart and soul to appears to be deteriorating even more than I suspected. To confirm this, ironically enough, the article concerning the ugliness that took place in June relating to Berkeley High School appeared in last week’s issue of this very paper. What are we as a community going to do about all of this? I do not have any answers. Perhaps as a community we can begin to explore some together. 

Sheila Goldmacher 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Telegraph Business Association clean-up crew, UC workers, and perhaps even anti-flier vigilante Jim Sharp, keep taking down fliers letting people know that the newly created People’s Park Theatrical Society is working on a production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. On. Nov. 1, there will be a production meeting and a casting call on the Free Speech Stage in People’s Park. There will be meetings every Sunday until showtime. We need people of any gender or color to play parts—except Helen of Troy who is being cast by a very special actor—and to help design sets and costumes out of recycled and found materials. While everyone will be asked to try their hardest, there is no prerequisite level of talent. The Trojan Women is to be performed on the Free Speech Stage, with an additional performance in front of the Marine recruiting station. The People’s Park Theatrical Society has no affiliation with the UC; it is a activist/grass-roots collaboration that promotes Free Speech, the arts, and on ending the war.  

Nathan Pitts 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am totally disgusted by the “build first, fight later” attitude. Approximately one month ago I was disturbed by an adjacent new neighbor at 365/367 Panoramic Way, Dr. Steve Kanofsky, Ph.D. He rang my doorbell and demanded that I immediately repair the small part of a fence on my property that is leaning. I informed him that because the retaining wall is failing, and I was still seeking bids from contractors, I could not immediately have the fence repaired. I also informed him that I would appreciate he telephone in the future because I did not appreciate his physical interruption. 

Last week someone cemented poles into what they assumed was the mutual property line. When I discovered the poles last week, I immediately informed these neighbors in writing that since the poles were 42 inches from my house and the setback shown on the original plans approved by the city is 48 inches, I suspected they have trespassed onto my property. I’ve had the property corners surveyed years ago but have been unable to locate the markers. My surveyors indicated that they will help me find them this next week and I informed these neighbors.  

Later, I came home from errands to discover that neighbors Sherry Sank, Steve Kanofsky and Debbie Kanofsky hired a worker to build a fence on our mutual property line. I asked the man doing the construction for his name. He gave me his first name only. I asked to see the zoning certificate. There was no response. Neighbor Sherry Sank stated she would not speak with me. 

Prior to this construction, I informed Dr. Kanofsky in writing that he needed to go to the Zoning Office to get a Zoning Certificate as required by the Berkeley zoning ordinance for the Environmental Safety-Residential (ES-R). I also informed Dr. Kanofsky on June 24, 2009 that because the height of a fence on a slope is measured from a distance 3 feet away and that there is an immediate 2 foot drop the height of the fence would be severely restricted. What has already been constructed shows that no one read or understood my writings. 

I hope tomorrow I can get a stop work order. But I am right now looking at a letter a third of an inch thick that I wrote and delivered to the city last year about its lack of enforcement of city laws since 1980 just for this one property. Is it any wonder I suspect I will run into red tape and trouble? 

Perhaps I ought to be glad I sat on the zoning board and then became an attorney after I was the victim of another “build first, fight later” project where the neighbor misrepresented his property lines two different times and city did even bother to look at its records. But even with the ammunition I now have, I feel I have been badly abused. I guess I was supposed to lie down and let them walk all over me. After all, I am a female. 

Ann Slaby 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

For as long as I can remember, October has been my favorite month of the entire year. I think back fondly to my Midwestern childhood when I’d walk to school on a thick carpet of leaves, the smell of bonfires in the air. And I’m reminded of the familiar James Whitcomb Riley verse, “When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.” 

So enamored am I of glorious autumn foliage, I’ve taken several fall color tours to New England—New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, all offering breathtakingly beautiful trees, pumpkins lining the road side and scarecrows on front lawns. Surrounded by so much beauty I’d be literally intoxicated! 

But now, driving through the streets of Berkeley, I’ve come to the realization that there’s actually no need to cross country to the East Coast to witness gorgeous autumn colors. Everywhere I go these days, be it the Alameda, Ashby Avenue, Alcatraz and my own street, Dana, I find magnificent trees—Liquid Amber, Sycamores, Honey Locust, Ash, and Hawthorn, all boasting vibrant red and yellow leaves. I find excuses to go out and explore these streets, to drink in this beauty, which lasts for such a short time. 

If I have one wish in life, it’s this. I wish it could be October forever!  

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet:  

Why are progressives afraid of the word stupid? 

It is long overdue that someone start calling a spade, a spade. It may not be good politics to call an individual stupid, or an organization for that matter. But when the opinion-shapers of the GOP become so detached from reality, and the pundits so afraid of the facts; then it is up to individuals like Bob Burnett to keep the record straight. 

His column was a breath of fresh air to what’s been simmering in the far reaches of my mind. Mark Shield’s weekly commentaries have washed my mind clear of a straight talk over the years. 

Carl Friberg 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have empirical knowledge that Berkeley High School, nay the entire district is racist. Until sixth grade I went to a small private school in New York City. My classmates went on to Columbia, U. VA, Bryn Mawr, etc. The next year I attended Albany Middle School where I was placed along with all of the other kids of color in the remedial class. You can’t learn in an environment where your teacher is mostly doing crowd control. I agitated and was transferred to an Advanced Placement class for which I was prepared. The following year we moved to Berkeley. At Martin Luther King I again found myself in a minority-packed remedial class, apparently transcripts were unknown to these people. I once again had agitate to get into Advanced Placement. Just to illustrate the difference; in the first class we read aloud from a reader that was based on the television show “The White Shadow” while the other discussed Shakespeare. When you warehouse and don’t even bother to teach standard English to kids of color you create an achievement gap. 

Zac Morrison 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I don’t agree with the idea of a prolonged school year and adding Saturday as a workday for teachers and students. I am repeating my thoughts regarding learning and other issues related to the achievement gap. We, as educators and parents, have not given any thought to another way of giving information to our students. Our teaching must focus on each student’s desire and need to get information. Any information, which a teacher gives in a classroom where students don’t show any interest in learning, goes waste as far as time or money is concerned. 

In the present system the students are not able to choose subjects of their interest because of limited choice in the curriculum. As a result, they lose interest in learning and they are disruptive. 

The most important thing in the school curriculum should be creative learning. This will lead our students to freely express their thoughts and they become effective communicators. I read school children stories every day and also ask questions such as the following: How can we make school meals more nutritiou without adding to the cost? How can we keep school hallways quieter? I call our problem solving dealing with immediate school experience our Thinking Club. 

Children begin thinking about who started talking loudly in the hallway, who got hurt. When, what and where becomes their work for 20 minutes that day. They told me that X child waited too long to ride the swing but due to the time factor could not enjoy the swing ride when his turn came and he was upset. That is why it was so noisy when the group was coming into the classroom. 

Even subjects like mathematics, science or language can be made very interesting by changing our curriculum. We have to give our students practical knowledge which relates to their everyday life and which can give them job openings and the ability to compete with the wide world. 

I know every student has different learning needs. I introduce extempore speech, building a story by having each student add a sentence to the opening sentence and engaging my students in alternative ways to develop their expressive skills. 

Students love the newness of the task and their own active participation. 

Teachers should use their observational skills and take the lead from what students are spontaneously interested in. When students are able to express their opinions, they feel empowered and learning becomes fun and meaningful to them. 

Without any extra cost to the school districts or the state department of education this kind of interactive learning experience will make our students eager to learn and turn the classroom into a cooperative environment. 

Romila Khanna