Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday February 18, 2010 - 08:58:00 AM


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Several years ago working people with the active participation of the East Bay communities won a 10-month strike against the Berkeley Honda dealership. The role of the Berkeley Daily Planet in winning that battle was enormous. Essential to winning that strike was organizing a successful consumer boycott. The Planet played a major role in helping us achieve this objective. Unlike any other of the established newspapers in Berkeley and vicinity, the Planet covered the labor dispute frequently and favorably. It also printed almost all our commentaries and letters. The tremendous coverage we received helped us reduce the dealership’s business considerably in a short period of time. The public also received an education on how much an independent community paper with very limited resources can accomplish.  

We live in an imperfect democracy. The lack of a free press is among its shortcomings. The Planet has played a very important role in enhancing our democracy. The absence of its printed edition, which undoubtedly will cheer many members of the establishment, is a serious blow to democracy in the East Bay. It is a blow because getting at the truth is made more difficult. It is a blow because it leaves us more atomized. It is a blow because it chips away at a source that has inspired movement politics.  

For the many of us who are pained by the decline of democracy we have an essential task ahead: how can we fill the void created by the absence of the printed edition of this extraordinary and wonderful vehicle for building democracy and community.  

Harry Brill 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Alarmingly, The public school district, BUSD now, currently sits upon funding sufficient to build a new high-school stadium and to demolish the old gym and pools; this came from the horse’s mouth to me just a few weeks ago. At any moment now the BHS new stadium work may commence. (Parenthetically, I sought and I was promised that disabled parking given to us warm-pool users years ago by BUSD would remain available for the most part and would remain accessible during stadium construction; this promise was given to me by the facilities planning director, recently.) 

  Yesterday evening, the City Council discussed the existing warm-pool, and concluded, assumed that BUSD could and would wait until a November school-construction bond passes before it, BUSD acts to demolish and build anew at the old-gym site, at BHS. This remains to be seen. That is to say, it is dangerous to assume anything about school bored decisions re the warm-pool, especially in light of past broken promises emanating therefrom. (The remodel bond issue wording was restricted to the existing warm-pool building in 2000 because all or most parties had verbally agreed to that scheme, but to our immense chagrin, as it turned out had not on paper so agreed.) 

It certainly makes sense to link sequentially the demolition with voter approval of bond funds for replacing the old-gym, but I urge the council to immediately confirm this supposition, and to begin lobbying now if there is any doubt that the school district will wait until a new pool is complete and ready for the warm-pool community, now about five hundred in number, before it, BUSD proceeds with gym-pool demolition especially—and generally with its grand master plan, phase II at south-of-Bancroft on the public high school campus. 

Otherwise we warm-poolers will very likely again paternalistically be ushered into using the wholly inappropriate tiny wading pool at the YMCA, which we almost all find virtually useless for our needs, sadly. 

We appreciate the efforts of the council to keep the warm-pool function alive and flowing in Berkeley. But work remains to be done; coordinating with the school district re the warm-pool has been and is a very delicate matter requiring tact, diplomacy, bargaining and good-will; I hope that the council members will proceed with caution and sincerity in that effort. 

I knew Dona Spring and Fred Lupke reasonably well, and I believe they would appreciate the council’s efforts to date this year, for this warm-pool. Please do not let things go down the drain again. 

We all hope that all city pools can soon be funded for massive improvements for swimmers of all ages and classes. 

Terry Cochrell 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Recent coverage of the Solid Waste Management Fund deficit in Berkeley wrongly places the blame on recycling and composting. Recycling and Composting are cheaper to provide than garbage disposal. The problem lies in how the services are paid for. 

The problem, which all cities are facing, is that as more materials are disposed of through recycling and composting, the bill to residents is still only tied to the garbage can. 

Whether a public or private entity provides the service the issue is the same: When we produce less garbage and opt for a smaller cheaper can, revenue goes down. All of the services still need to be paid for, but are not showing up on the bill. So it is the rate model that needs rethinking, not the services. 

Berkeley is not unique in this struggle. What would be unique is if Berkeley actually tackles this structural rate problem or takes the leap to bi-weekly garbage collection. These are two forward thinking approaches that may actually solve the problem rather than masking it by more across the board rate increases. 

Martin Bourque 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Sorry that your article on the Oaks Theater is so full of misinformation. The Albany is not locally booked nor does it play Hollywood films. Landmark Theatres is Los Angeles-based and also books the Shattuck and California in downtown Berkeley. The UA and UA EmeryBay are booked by Regal in L.A. and of course AMC in Emerybay is another out-of-towner. Only the Elmwood and Cerrito are locally booked by owner Ky Boyd, and Pacific Film Archive of course programs here. 

Allen Michaan, who once operated the Oaks and now only has the Grand Lake, long ago stopped “bringing vintage films to new audiences” and has not restored a theater in many years, having all but given up on the movie business for his antique auctions and flea market in Alameda. 

The Oaks is a challenge as operating a few-screen complex is tough because distributors want movies to play for several weeks. A multiplex can move a film to smaller auditoriums while opening big films when more seats are needed. But a twin like the Oaks can’t do that and rarely can afford to hold movies more than two weeks, too few weeks for distributors to accept. 

Hopefully someone will come along with a new concept and tender-loving care to build audiences again. 

Gary Meyer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

For almost 10 years now AC Transit has been pushing their BRT proposal slowly down the road. There have been countless consultations with consultants, frequent flights to far off destinations, and money has been spent casually and carelessly with little to show for the tens of millions consumed by the project so far.  

Almost no money has been spent to inform the public or to meet with those who might ride the BRT, and even less to inform the businesses and neighborhoods that would be impacted by the project. It’s no surprise then that as the community has grown to understand how expensive, detrimental, and unnecessary the BRT is, the greater the outrage has become.  

But where to voice this outrage?  

The AC Transit consultants tried presenting the BRT plan to the community, but when those who attended the presentations unanimously objected to the BRT plan three times in a row, the meeting that was expressly for the public to speak was canceled.  

Then the plan moved to the commissions, Transportation and Planning. At each commission meeting so much time was consumed in presenting the BRT boondoggle, that those who asked to speak were restricted to just 60 seconds. Not much time for merchants that worked a lifetime to build a business. Not much time for citizens that worked generations building a community. But it didn’t really matter—the commissioners weren’t listening anyway.  

Then, last Wednesday...finally... a real response. Anne Wagley, as a substitute planning commissioner, had studied the subject, had read the letters. She listened to the neighbors and the merchants and then she responded...forcefully.  

Ms. Wagley criticized the claim made by AC Transit that BRT would reduce greenhouse gases, pointing out that AC Transit’s own draft EIR referred to the reduction as “negligible.” Ms. Wagley also found the projected increase in ridership by 2035, touted by AC Transit, to also be negligible. She expressed concern for the merchants, both downtown and along Telegraph, who might not survive the removal of hundreds of parking spaces. And, she strongly condemned the plan to remove all local bus stops along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, pointing out how the extra blocks that bus riders will have to walk to reach the handful of BRT stops will severely impact the elderly and the disabled.  

Ms. Wagley also brought out some new information concerning a recent AC Transit construction project, the Uptown Transit Center in Oakland. Scheduled to be completed within a year, it ran 60 percent over budget and two years late. Coupling this poor record of project management with AC Transit’s recent history of fiscal mismanagement, this new information left no doubt that the BRT project was beyond the capability of AC Transit.  

The opposition to AC Transit’s BRT continues to grow stronger every day. Elected officials and their appointees are beginning to realize that BRT needs to be terminated. The BRT project was ill-conceived and should have been stopped long ago. In March, when the Berkeley City Council considers BRT, they should do just that—ask AC Transit to end the BRT project.  

Christopher Lien  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It was with great sadness that I learned of the impending death of the print Planet. This newspaper has been a vibrant, essential part of our community, and provided a forum for news and opinions that, while controversial, significantly contributed to the body politic. 

However, perhaps this crisis presents an opportunity, as the Planet transitions to a web-only format. Frankly, the Planet’s current site looks and feels like an archaic holdover of late 1990s slapdash web design. The Planet should take a cue from sites like and relaunch in a format this is more interactive, immediate, accessible, and graphically enticing. The dkos model of user-contributed stories, voted up or down by community recommendation, is a good place to start. After investing so many hundreds of thousands in the Planet’s print version, I hope the O’Malleys—along with the community—will contribute enough funds to a hire a talented, technically savvy webmaster. 

Perhaps more importantly, this crisis should be an opportunity to refocus editorial content and direction. The new Planet website should be overseen by a progressive, diversified editorial board, with the O’Malleys holding no more than two seats out of eight or ten. For too long the Planet’s editorial content has narrowly focused on certain issues to the exclusion of others. And to those who are worried about a KPFA-like meltdown, the key is to ensure that all prospective board members agree with a basic set of progressive principles. So long as the board members are nominated and chosen based on these guidelines, the board will not be usurped by malcontents. 

Matthew Taylor 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The AC Transit Board is to be congratulated on instituting the audio streaming of its bi-monthly meetings. This is a good beginning, but it is not enough. Audio-visual streaming and televised broadcasts would not only capture information lost in audio-streaming, they would also expand access to board proceedings to virtually everyone in the general public.  

Immediate actions the board could easily take in order to support their audio streaming of bi-monthly meetings could include: 

• Posting notices of audio-streaming of board meetings inside buses for present riders to see. 

• Posting this same notice on the side of its buses for the general public to note. 

• Putting a ? to ? page notice in the front pages section of the Oakland Tribune. 

These actions alone would go a long way toward fostering well-informed interest in and input into the formulation of board policy. This is essential if the board is serious about establishing a high quality local bus system that enhances community well-being and economic productivity.  

To accomplish this, it is critical that the present board successfully solve important pressing issues such as funding, basic service, long-term unbalanced budget, increasing loss of ridership, severely reduced bus routes and schedules, and the question of the efficacy of a possible BRT among others.  

Again congratulations to the board for realizing that a high quality local bus system happens when citizens support it with both informed input and ridership.  

AC Transit Board meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month beginning at 6pm. They can be accessed on the Internet at Request/meeting schedule email list can be made to Toshonna Ross at 891-7207. Board meeting information can also be obtained by calling 891-7200 the Friday evening prior to scheduled board meetings.  

Jane Kramer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Mayor Bates has come up with a new voluntary plan that could create jobs, bring new businesses downtown, provide more affordable housing, mandate green buildings and add public open spaces. But at what price? 

To entice developers to voluntarily provide all these amenities, Mayor Bates would shield them from enduring and paying the costs of years of Berkeley’s infamous inclusionary democratic process. Community activists would have far fewer opportunities to force developers to make design compromises to satisfy the critics? urban design and aesthetic tastes. As a result, architectural excellence might bloom in Berkeley. Without an ever-increasing supply of mediocre buildings, the critics would have fewer opportunities to shout, “We don’t want more of this!” 

Even though Mayor Bates’ plan is pro-choice (it wouldn’t be compulsory), it would come at a high price for those who have never seen a new building they like, an old building they don’t love, or a public hearing they aren’t dying to attend. From my perspective, that makes the mayor’s plan quite appealing. 

Will Travis 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Yes, you can grow eggplants in Berkeley, contrary to what Shirley Barker thinks (“On Gardening,” Feb. 11). For over 25 years, I have had an abundant crop of eggplants grown in my South Berkeley garden. I have tried many different varieties and found a number of them that work quite well including the Ichiban or Japanese Eggplant and the Italian Listada de Gandia (Solanum melongena) or the heirloom Rosa Bianca. The crop is usually harvested in late summer or early fall because of our cooler climate. I have not had as good a crop when I tried to duplicate the big, huge eggplants found in the local markets. You probably do need that very warm climate to produce that large size.  

As for tomatoes and chilies, yes, they are grown in abundance also. Careful selection of variety and starting plants early are some of the keys to a successful Berkeley garden. 

Tom Graly 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Events in local politics seem to be spinning even faster, without Laurie Bright’s leadership and intelligence. His help on so many pivotal issues of importance to neighborhoods can be found listed on the web under—Laurie Bright, Berkeley.   

For example, when politicians wanted to declare one third of Berkeley a Redevelopment zone—South and West Neighborhoods, of course—Laurie gave a powerful speech in protest. He was well informed on the issues as shown in a video tape of him speaking to the Planning Commission.  

When our current Mayor wanted to weaken the city’s landmark laws, Laurie was part of the community leadership that turned it down. 

Recently our downtown was on the verge of Manhattanization when a Referendum with over nine thousand signatures put the Mayor’s plan on hold. Again, Laurie was an important leader. 

In 1990 Laurie ran for a City council seat. Alex and I made a 10-minute video supporting his campaign. It would have been a great benefit for District 1 and West Berkeley residents if he had won. That video will be shown at his memorial coming up in March. 

While operating his auto repair shop on San Pablo Avenue, he did political work by phone and computer. He was an outstanding Berkeley citizen and a friend that Alex and I will seriously miss. 

Alex and Martha Nicoloff 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I had a chance to speak with Michael Meehan, the new chief of police. Unlike his predessor, and unlike UCB Police Cheif Mitch Celaya, Michael Meehan actually listened to me about my concerns regarding police interactions with Autistics. He didn’t belittle my Autism; he didn’t laugh at me. I gave Michael Meehan a copy of “Treatment, Care and Custody”, which was written by Joel Lashley, a cop out of Milwaukee who has an Autistic son. I also gave him some information for police by the Autism Society of America. One percent of adults have a form of Autism. Ninety percent of adult Autistics are unemployed. Left to our own devices, interacting with the world with our unique sensabilities, Autistics are seven times more likely to have a negetive encounter with a police officer. During a police interaction with an Autistic, the police has total control of the situation. In these moments, the Autistic becomes powerless and does not drive the resolution of the interaction. Michael Meehan seemed interested in the data. My hope is that Autism Awareness training beomces mandetory for all police officers in the city of Berkeley. It could spark a statewide, even national trend, and Michael Meehan can say that he was on the forfront of the Autism Awareness movement. 

Nathan Pitts 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have been wondering how cutting down on AC Transit bus services will save a fortune and balance California’s budget. One way the general public contributes to state coffers is by legally working and paying taxes. But when people lack public transportation to where the jobs are everybody suffers. I hear that the AC Transit Board of Directors has decided to drop many bus routes and especially the No. 51 bus route which comes from the Berkeley Marina via Berkeley Bart station to Broadway and Macarthur Avenue in Oakland. My friends who work in Berkeley and Oakland will never be able to see their doctor in the Oakland Kaiser Hospital due to the forthcoming change. Will it take a public boycott before the AC Transsit Board of Directors understands the economic need of people who ride the bus daily? This is not an issue for the moneyed class that can afford multiple cars. It is the need of ordinary people who ride the bus daily but may not be able to complain as loudly as the rich. 

Romila Khanna 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ve lived all my life in the Bay Area and have read and written for various independent small newspapers, starting with the anti-war, counter-culture papers of the 1960s and ’70s. Later some small-scale independents were launched by special groups (remember the many fine women’s and gay periodicals of the 1970s and 1980s). Not to mention the old and continuing tradition of small literary publications that put out at least a few issues before being stopped by the huge cost in money and energy. As grants dried up and hard economic times cut down on volunteer labor, these publications disappeared more and more quickly. Whenever publication was halted, readers would mourn another “death” or “failure.” I wanted to say, “Don’t say this or that weekly or monthly died—say its birth and short life was a miracle—and give thanks.” 

The weeklies or monthlies that “survived” by tacky means, like sex ads and trendy trivia, or by selling out to some large syndicate that combined both, did not really survive. Rather, they succumbed, and changed into a market product, exactly what they were created to oppose. (Remember the old East Bay Express? A good weekly in its early days, but now only an occasionally significant article breaks through all the flashy trivia). 

I am not qualified to trace the history of how the spread of literacy came with a sell-out to commerce by accepting the idea that media financed by advertisers is “free” information. Advertising inevitably and instantly breeched the borders of paid ads to affect, indeed determine, content of news and information—usually the bigger the advertiser, the worse for the truth. When electronic media—radio and TV—came on the scene, content was further reduced to bland audio/visual bites between sales pitches. 

But the newest electronic media offers some hope for the survival of independent voices—including the survival of the Berkeley Daily Planet on the Internet, in an era when all print media is endangered. Of course, the Internet presents problems as well as advantages, but, right now, I’m grateful that the BDP can go on in electronic form.  

Thank you, Becky and Michael O’Malley, for a heroic seven years (!) of uncompromisingly good local reporting, commentary, and readers’ feedback, in print (which I prefer, but we can’t always have just what we want.) 

See you online. 

Dorothy Bryant 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m sorry to hear about the massive payroll fraud that has damaged the finances of the Daily Planet. However, it does seem “two of a pattern” because in the last mayoral election the Planet supported Shirley Dean. Those of us who were progressive activists in the 1980s and ’90s especially learned the hard lesson that Shirley was not an authentic advocate, but a “Ponzi” person who always held “progressive cards” but routinely let us down when our backs were against the wall or when we had something creative to give to the city’s polity.  

I’ve been hoping the Daily Planet will take a “straightforward progressive path,” as it has often seemed to intend to do. With advocates like J. Douglas Allen-Taylor and a host of other good people on board, this has continually seemed within the realm of possibility. Well, good luck! 

Andrew Phelps 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding the Anthem Blue Cross plan to raise California health insurance rates up to 39 percent: We have heard from Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner about the Anthem’s proposed rate increase, but we haven’t heard from Attorney General Jerry Brown about whether his Antitrust Law Section has any proposed or pending antitrust investigation against health insurance companies operating in California in general or Anthem Blue Cross in particular. With the 1990 Proposition 103’s repeal of the insurance industry’s immunity from the Cartwright Act—California’s basic antitrust statute—insurance companies are now fully subject to California’s antitrust laws. Just thought I would ask. 

Ralph E. Stone 

San Francisco 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I strongly oppose S. 3002, “A bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to more effectively regulate dietary supplements that may pose safety risks unknown to consumers” which would de facto criminalize over the counter vitamins and nutritional supplements. Millions of Americans are keeping themselves healthy and productive by opting for safe alternatives to expensive prescription drugs. I for one am one, I vote, and I am not alone. 

Ralph Steiner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The state Legislature’s newly formed “Animal Protection Caucus” gives great hope to animal lovers throughout the state. It is both bi-partisan, multi-ethnic, and growing, up to 22 members at last count. 

The caucus is co-chaired by Senators Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks), and Assemblymembers Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) and Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara). Kudos to all. 

People who care about animals and the environment comprise the biggest lobby in California. Here are three animal welfare bills in need of an author (in print, but unbacked). Deadline for introduction is Feb. 19: (1) a bill to amend current rodeo law (Penal Code 596.7) to require on-site veterinary care for injured animals; (2) a bill to ban the brutal “steer tailing” event, which cripples steers and horses alike; and (3) a bill to ban the use of the hugely unethical electronic duck decoys (“roboducks”), disdained by most hunters. 

Sen. Loni Hancock would be a great author for any of these bills. Please encourage her to do so. 

Constituents should encourage their legislators to join the Animal Protection Caucus, and consider introducing one of the bills noted above. All may be written c/o the State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814. 

Eric Mill