Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Thursday April 29, 2010 - 08:09:00 PM

04-30-10 Letters to The Editor  


UC Berkeley’s New Hybrid 


The odd-shaped new hybrid cars racing around the roads give me hope that someday driving won’t always be considered such a deep insult to the planet. The word hybrid has an intriguing tone; old and new in combination, possibly representative of things green, sustainable and good. 

So I was fascinated to read that the UC Berkeley’s athletics program was now a hybrid. The sports programs used to be considered “auxiliary”, an April report explained, which meant they had to be financially self-sufficient.  

But now, under the new “hybrid” status, they can use money meant for academic programs and enjoy a new, more flexible financial standard. 

Sports programs which used to have to raise their own funds through ticket prices and fees can now, according to the report, use more general campus funds previously reserved for academic departments.  

It still may annoy the Academic Senate that sports programs enjoy subsidies while academic courses are cut and instructors are laid off, but the semantic sleight of hand reduces the impression of fiduciary impropriety. 

UC Berkeley’s willingness to redefine accounting vocabulary to excuse misplaced financial priorities inspires awe in this alumna, especially against the backdrop of Goldman Sachs employees testifying before congress that betting against their own financial instruments is perfectly legal and reasonable.  

The unilateral move of athletics programs from auxiliary to hybrid status is undeniably impressive. The football team may have been an embarrassment this year, but I must say, this hybrid stuff is a really good game 


Carol Denney 



Smyth-Fernwald Situation 


This is in response to Mr. Michael Stephens’ opinion piece posted April 13th entitled “Just love the Hysteria.” His letter contains several inaccuracies and misrepresentations which I would like to address. 

In his critique of my letter from the previous week entitled “UC Plans to Destroy Smyth-Fernwald,” Mr. Stephens erroneously claims that I had “no suggestions” to make other than that UC was planning a “seismic installation” at the Smyth-Fernwald property. In truth, I had a great deal to suggest. I cite numerous examples and provide a significant body of evidence signaling UC’s intent to destroy Smyth-Fernwald. I also explain my opposition thereof. The already installed “seismic device” mentioned was described only as a precursor to the imminent destruction which, as I predicted, has indeed already begun. 

Mr. Stephens then goes on to describe me as “hysterical,” “confused” and “paranoid,” for my referring to Smyth-Fernwald as an “irreplaceable treasure,” and an area of “ecological significance.” I even managed to elicit a “laugh out loud” reaction to my assertions that the natural beauty and fragility of the area should be preserved rather than destroyed. Mr. Stephens cites his reasons for such mirth as….1) The area is largely unknown and rarely visited by Berkeley residents, and…2) The area sits adjacent to a protected parkland, (therefore rendering it, presumably, not deserving of protection itself.) Without expending dozens of words in explanation, I believe most educated people will agree that the ecological value, significance or importance of an area is not measured by human visitation, nor predicated on its proximity to already protected lands or waterways. 

I have received other, more reasonable reactions to my letter. I was contacted by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association in which they expressed their dismay over the possible loss of the historically precious Smyth House, which they have discovered to be even older than previously believed, having most likely been built in the 1860s. BAHA explained, however, there is nothing they can do, as UC is “a law unto itself.” I have also heard from 2 property owner groups whose properties lie adjacent to Smyth-Fernwald along Hamilton Creek. Here, “deer graze, wild turkeys display” and even “wild fox” have been seen. I was told that these owners “benefit from the wildness,” and are seeking to “join with other owners in permanently protecting the area.” Perhaps Mr. Stephens will laugh out loud to learn that these property owners are concerned with preserving the value of their properties, as well as maintaining their quality of life. How hysterical of them. 

Because the intent of Mr. Stephen’s letter was clearly more about deriding me for my “sensitive soul” environmentalism, rather than offering coherent arguments against it, I can only surmise that he was simply p.o.’d over my criticisms of his beloved alma mater, UCB. Speaking of which, evidence has recently come to light from old Berkeley City Council records, that there was an agreement between the University and the city of Berkeley in 1946, designating the Smyth-Fernwald property to be kept as a “parkland” and an “open buffer” zone between Hillside and UC. However, now UC claims they cannot find any such document. Wow, what a surprise! But realistically, it wouldn’t matter anyway. No written agreement, or even environmental law is going to stop UC from arrogantly wielding its power and doing whatever it wants, Berkeley citizenry be damned. 


Kevin Moore 



Housing Advocates Oppose 1200 Ashby Deal 

There are actually a lot of HAC members who are against allowing 1200 Ashby from being built. This mostly stems from the building hogging section 8 credits from other deserving building projects, also the question of the plans showing that this is as it stands not a Senior Housing facility. Anyone can go to the Planning Dept. and check this out. Also, some members are just waiting for June 30th to roll around and disappear the development for the time being at least. 

With this in mind, I believe that along with making the plan changes I wrote about in my first letter to make this actually a senior housing facility. I also think that up to 32 apartments ( no studios are shown in the plans, a mistake )should be removed and intermittent lounges should be planned for. 

As a 47 year veteran of architectural practice and having worked with many developers in the past, it appears in my opinion that this is a "move to market" development and I believe that as soon as he can (when the market improves) he will attempt to remove it from senior housing rolls. 

I think if most of these changes (and those from my first letter) are made, staff, commission, council and the people of Berkeley will stand behind it. 


Alan (Avram) Gur Arye 

retired architect 



The Answer is Plastics 

In the SF Chronicle, April 28, a front page story is about plastic toys being banned in Santa Clara County over concerns of their contributing to childhood obesity. The main concern should be for their contributing to the expanding environmental overload of plastics already causing floating plastic garbage patches over thousands of square miles of Pacific and Atlantic oceans. These toys made of non-biodegradable plastic quickly get broken, lost or thrown away to end up going to our dumps or worse, if loose on the ground as they may in rainfall events get carried to streams or drains eventually getting to the oceans. Floating around whole or in pieces some plastic gets mistaken for food by fish, which end up with their guts jammed up and unable to take in real food. Several ocean conservation groups have pictures of fish collected with their guts crammed with plastic. I urge readers to get action in Alameda and other counties to do what Santa Clara County has done, and I propose further action to get the chains to substitute plastic food containers with biodegradable containers. 

Another point to go with this is that the federal govt. has no office or agency to develop a comprehensive best program to handle our waste messes especially organic wastes and sewage. In the UK two different offices have been established to develop wastes strategies. I urge readers to call on their federal elected officials to get such an agency going; perhaps posting a comment on Obama's Whitehouse website might get some attention quickly if more than a few comments get posted there. 

One action for such an agency quickly to consider might be "strip mining" as it were of the plastics on the oceans, at least in the part with the thickest piling up of plastics, especially the middle of the patch in the Pacific ocean as an eddying action keeps pushing outlying plastics to the center. Just about all plastic that floats is of the 1-7 recyclable type that can be burned with just carbon dioxide being given off to generate electricity. A surface skimming, which the US Coast Guard was supposedly trying, would get a coal-like fuel without coal mining dangers that have gotten much recent attention due to deaths at several mines, without environmental scars from blowing off mountain tops or from dumping mine wastes, and without mercury emissions. The collected plastic might be gotten cheaper than mined coal so that the cost of collecting it could be recovered, perhaps even with some profit being made, and many extra benefits for the environment would occur with getting plastic from being eaten by fish. 


Dr. J. Singmaster,  

Ret. Environmental Chemist 


Accountability on Wall Street 


# The Wall Street Accountability Act will regulate shadow markets that previously escaped regulators and hold big banks and financial institutions accountable for their own decisions and make them plan ahead for possible losses and also assure tax payers they won't be stuck bailing out banks again.It will also give shareholders new power to stop exorbitant bonuses that reward executive failures. Finally, it would require banks and non-lending institutions to provide clear, understandable information to consumers. 

In addition, it would require complicated derivative transactions to take place in an open, transparent way. 


Amity Buxton 



Oppose Smart Meters 


PGE is installing Smart Meters on Alameda County homes and businesses, often without residents’ consent. State Senator Dean Florez has called for a moratorium due to inordinate billing increases. Sebastopol requested a moratorium citing concerns about health and radio frequency radiation, reading accuracy, and interference with appliances. In light of those issues, lack of security and vulnerability to hackers, or inadequate privacy, Alameda County residents may wish to sign a petition to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and City Councils, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, State Senator Loni Hancock, Governor Schwarzenegger, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The petition requests that they:  

1. Call for an immediate moratorium on the installation of Smart Meters;  

2. Thoroughly investigate the program and the six concerns above by holding public hearings and requiring independent testing;  

3. Require PGE to submit a characterization study of the system planned for Alameda County;  

4. Allow customers to "opt out" of program; and  

5. Call for a moratorium on the disposal, recycling, or permanent alteration of the old meters.  

Here is the online petition: For people who prefer a paper petition, that is often an option at the north Berkeley farmers' market on Thursday afternoons. 

Phoebe Anne Sorgren