Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday March 23, 2011 - 10:26:00 AM

The Report on the Library Lawsuit Meeting; Steven Finacom replies; Community Engagement – For Insiders Only?;Library Lawsuit Meeting; Let There be Light;The State Budget; Library Advertising is Free; Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; EPA; Nuclear Power 

The Report on the Library Lawsuit Meeting 

Last Tuesday night, city council members from west and south Berkeley called a meeting which Steve Finacom describes in your recent issue. 

The people in those two communities have worked for years with the Berkeley Public Library to come up with plans for new buildings at the West and South Branches of the public library. Just as those plans were making their final way through the city's bureaucracy, and after hundreds of citizens had participated in dozens of meetings to come up with those plans, a lawsuit was filed which may result in those libraries not being built. Delays will cause construction costs to rise, the city may have to pay legal fees. The three councilmembers from those areas called last Tuesday's meeting because they are fearful their communities will end up with less appropriate, less modern libraries than they have asked for and deserve. In the case of the West Branch, the city's plans call for it to be the first net zero energy library in the United States. To see those plans sent to the dust bin by a lawsuit filed by one person representing a small number of her associates, would be a tragedy. 

The meeting was held to talk about ways to counteract the lawsuit by involving the affected communities. Councilmembers Max Anderson and Darryl Moore intended it to be a private strategy meeting among concerned parties. Mr. Finacom only mentions that "three Berkeley City Council members, the City of Berkeley Director of Library Services, two trustees of the Board of Library Trustees, and leaders of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation" were present. He fails to mention the most concerned parties who attended: ministers from south and west Berkeley churches, a school board member, a representative from the NAACP and residents of south and west Berkeley. (The plaintiff lives near the Claremont branch, as I do.) Mr. Finacom attempts to portray the meeting as some kind of secretive gathering that should have included the plaintiff in the lawsuit and the two people who accompanied her that evening. When has she invited those of us who favor new libraries for these deserving communities to the gatherings where she discusses her legal strategy as she seeks to prevent those buildings from being built? 

Linda Schacht 

* * * 

Steven Finacom replies: 

No one appears to have come to the meeting intending to be a gatecrasher at a private affair. Everyone who Councilmember Moore selectively barred from the meeting, including me, appears to have shown up after receiving an e-mailed invitation from either Councilmember Anderson or Councilmember Wosniak inviting them to a public meeting. 

Linda Schacht should know that because when she walked into the building lobby Councilmember Moore immediately called out to her that there had erroneously been a public invitation. “Oh!” she replied, in apparent surprise, looking at the members of the public standing around. 

Linda Schacht says I “failed to report” that a number of community members were present at the meeting. I was not favored with a complete list of attendees by Councilmember Moore (who said he would not speak to me), nor did I have a chance to ask other participants, including Linda Schacht herself, who was there. They rushed out of the Community Center on their way to reconvening their private meeting elsewhere. 

I listed all of the people I could identify who were allowed into the meeting—ten of them. I did not try to speculate in print on the identities of others, except for the apparent presence of Darryl Moore's aide. From where I was standing, there were, at most, another five or six people visible in the meeting room. Readers can look at the pictures accompanying the article, which show the meeting room and its occupants both as they gathered, and as they left. If others at the meeting included west and south Berkeley "ministers, a school board member, a representative of the NAACP, and residents of south and west Berkeley", I am glad to know that information. 

Finally, as I wrote in the original article, Linda Schacht vehemently denied in the lobby outside the meeting room that she would want to portray those who filed the lawsuit as working against minority communities in South and West Berkeley. I had no reason to disbelieve her. 

Then she walked into a private meeting that selectively included, as she states, Berkeley’s two African-American Councilmembers, two African-American Library Trustees, and African-American community leaders—including a NAACP representative!—to discuss responding to the Library lawsuit. She also describes it as a "private strategy meeting", which is quite different from the "community engagement" veneer laid over the public invitation. 

Steven Finacom 

* * * 

Community Engagement – For Insiders Only? 

I enjoyed Steve Finacom’s fine coverage of the recent “community engagement” meeting about the Concerned Library Users’ lawsuit over misuse of Measure FF funds. I do not think I have ever before been invited to an event – and then barred at the door. Fortunately I found myself in good company among a lively group of excludées. 

This experience did nothing to diminish my feeling that the entire process behind the Board of Library Trustees’ (BOLT’s) plan to demolish the South and West Branch libraries, rather than renovate and expand them as specified by Measure FF, was an “in-crowd” affair. 

City Councilmember Darryl Moore told Mr. Finacom that he had not seen the alternative plans by architect Todd Jersey for the South and West Branch Libraries. Mr. Jersey’s plans, like his recent success in restoring the Richmond Plunge, are BRILLIANT. I recommend that everyone interested in the branch libraries view them to see the many advantages they offer. 

For each library, Mr. Jersey’s design would preserve the historic portion and accommodate all the same programs as the BOLT plan – in a larger building than provided by the BOLT plan. For the South Branch, this could be done at significantly lower cost – thus, more library for less money. And the stunning reading room seen in the historic photo by Karl H. Riek could be restored. 

For the West Branch Library, Mr. Jersey’s plan would restore the 1923 reading room and Classical Revival façade. Furthermore, he has designed a truly magical space for children, a circular room with windows all ‘round, in the midst of the redwood trees at the site. Under his plan, the redwoods would be preserved, while the BOLT plan calls for some of these trees to be destroyed. 

The Todd Jersey plans for the South and West Branch Libraries are superior environmentally, aesthetically, fiscally – and they meet the mandate of Measure FF. Why are the BOLT demolition plans even being considered? 

Gale Garcia 

* * * 

Library Lawsuit Meeting 

The widely-announced “Community Engagement around Library Lawsuit” meeting at which Council member Darryl Moore denied admission to selected members of the press and public is emblematic of how library planning has operated in Berkeley: exclude or ignore the public if it disagrees with you, claim to have public support even if there is little or none. (See Steven Finacom’s excellent article, “’Community Engagement’ Meeting on Berkeley Library Lawsuit Becomes ‘Private,’” published March 16, 2011.) 

Some of the very people fleeing the public meeting have been making public statements about the supposedly public process that the library followed in making its Measure FF plans. From this aborted meeting -- and the interview comments about not seeing the Todd Jersey plans for renovation publicly offered by the litigants -- all can see just how desperately resistant they are to even consider anyone and anything not in their closed circle. 

And the incident raises important questions, such as: What were they hiding? 

Following the article’s publication March 16, the library held its closing event for Claremont Branch library on Saturday, March 19. Not one of the three Council members listed as “Honored Special Guests” attended. The no-shows included Vice Mayor and Council member Linda Maio, who fled the publicly announced community meeting and instead hosted the ‘private’ one at her house, and Council Member Gordon Wozniak, whose office sent out the community meeting announcement with the all-capital letters request to “Please Pass this Information Along!” 

It is beyond sad that those allowed in, who then fled -- including heads of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation and the Library, three City Council members, and members of the Board of Library Trustees -- clearly want the opposite of democracy and public process which so many of them have claimed is how the library’s planning has proceeded to date. Instead, they have worked to privatize the library and to silence and ignore legitimate criticism and real public discussion. 

Peter Warfield, Executive Director, Library Users Association 

* * * 

Let There be Light 

I would like to compliment Steve Finacom on some excellent reporting that uncovered Council members behaving in a manner they were ashamed to have exposed to the light of day. 

They should be ashamed! Council member Darryl Moore became a recalcitrant bully, blocking entry to a public meeting room. Council member Max Anderson didn’t have the courage to stand up for his own constituents, invited to the meeting by his aide. Then after saying there would be “no meeting,” Council member Linda Maio hosted a secret meeting at her own home. 

And for whom? Besides a few public employees, the only invited guests appear to have been some Berkeley Public Library Foundation board members. Why do they rate a special audience with Council members while ordinary members of the public are shut out? We’ll never know, because these people are too ashamed to tell the truth. 

So I would say to anyone who wants to know what to think about the library projects – believe the opposite of whatever these people tell you. That’s the only way you’ll get the truth! 

Lenny Chen 

* * * 

The State Budget 

Governor Jerry Brown is getting nowhere in the state budget battle. And
the reason is! It's the Republicans, stupid, who keep California from passing
its budget on time each year. The GOP with its catchy new slogan, "hell hath
no fury like a taxpayer scorned ... " is holding the state and its 32 million
residents hostage again. 

Sorry, but millions of California tax payers don't agree with the
anti-tax philosophy of Republicans and want them to get out of the way and let
democracy do its work. 

It's like a Wisconsin replay in California. Unions gave Wisconsin's
Governor Scott Walker the concessions he wanted but he still wasn't happy. In
California. Democrats slashed $14 billion from welfare, universities, health
care and other programs and the anti-tax neanderthals are still not happy. On
the other hand, try bringing up the subject of cuts to prison over expenditures
and Republican prison protectors go bombastic. 

If the GOP wants an "all cuts" state budget, then it's time to
start cutting programs that are dear to Republicans and their Tea Party
constituents, that, or recall these impediments to progress.

Ron Lowe  

* * * 

Library Advertising is Free 

In the March 9th issue, a letter was run incorrectly inferring that the Berkeley Public Library was wasting tax-payer money by paying for ad space in the EastBayExpress. I would like to correct this misconception: EBE DONATES that ad space to the library. We don’t pay a penny for it, and are really glad to have the opportunity to let a larger part of the community know about the great events and services that we offer. I know that there is a lot that people are choosing to get upset about when it comes to the library, but don’t let this non-issue be one of those things!! 

Jack Baur, Teen Services Librarian, Berkeley Public Library 

* * * 

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute 

For University of California retirees the place to be on March 18th was the Freight & Salvage Coffee House for an Open House of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. OLLI is an educational program for life long learners age 50 and up, eager to explore new areas of knowledge, but without exams or grades. Distinguished Berkeley faculty and other Bay Area teachers share their expertise in more than 20 stimulating classes. It's not surprising therefore that a large crowd lined up before the doors opened at 9:30. Complimentary coffee was served for new and would-be members who settled down for a two-hour program, as Susan Hoffman, the gracious Director, welcomed guests and gave a brief explanation of the new Spring 2011 classes. 

Going through the courses to be offered, she introduced faculty members who gave a brief synopsis of the class they would be teaching. And what a variety of subjects there were. How to chose among the intriguing topics was a challenge in itself. I, personally, am considering Robert Hurwitt's class, "Experiencing Theatre" and "Courtroom as Crucible: Famous Trials and Lawyers, taught by Curtis Caton, an attorney who practiced law for 40 years with the Heller Ehrman law firm in S.F. Discussion will center on such well-known trials as Sacco/Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs and O.J. Simpson. Other classes that will attract a large audience are Linda Rugg's "Yours Truly: Mark Twain" and Malcolm Margolin's "Memoirs: Structuring the Story of One's Life." 

Admittedly, OLLI classes are not inexpensive. Membership dues range from $40 to $100 (depending on your University status), and course fees are $125, with Workshop fees priced at $195. But the money is well spent as the programs inspire students to live with greater intention and an urge toward discovery. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 

* * * 


By now everyone knows that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions by automobiles. The U.S. House of Representatives claims that the EPA is overstepping its authority and there is a move to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases. But the EPA is not overstepping its authority. The EPA enforces the Clean Air Act and the scientific consensus is that greenhouse gases endangers the environment. Once such a finding is made, t he Supreme Court ruled in its 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA case that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act beginning with motor vehicles. Justice Stevens writing for the majority wrote, "if EPA makes a finding of endangerment, the Clean Air Act requires the agency to regulate emissions." Thus, by regulating greenhouse gases, the EPA is only doing what it should have done many years ago. On June 30, 2009, the EPA granted a waiver of the Clean Air Act preemption to California for its stricter greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles beginning with the 2009 model year. If the EPA is stripped of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases, California would probably lose its waiver. The House will probably vote to strip the EPA of its authority. Even if the Senate goes along with the House, President Obama will probably veto the legislation. 

We should not underestimate the power of the Big Energy lobby and global warming deniers. 


* * * 

Nuclear Power 

The unprecedented nuclear disaster in Japan is a dire warning to our increased vulnerability to suffer a similar fate. No longer can we accept the ‘feel good’ comforting words of our own nuclear regulatory body. There should be public hearings on the status of our aging nuclear power stations housing highly combustible and lethal materials. The nuclear power industry has a powerful lobby and is adversely influencing political discourse. James Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, a major supplier of nuclear energy, is co-chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention and an intimate insider to Obama’s reelection campaign. "It's troubling”, said Dan Hirsch, a nuclear safety advocate in Southern California, “Obama is cozying up to large financial interests that might become donors and who wish our policy to be blind to the implications of this catastrophe." 

The nuclear industry is so capital intensive and risky that it cannot be privately financed but must survive on taxpayer guarantees to the tune of 37 billion dollars. 

There is no safe repository for hundreds of tons of radioactive waste which will undoubtedly be silent killers to future generations of Americans. 

We cannot afford to play Russian roulette with current and future generations of Americans. I urge concerned readers to contact your lawmakers and the White House and demand action to reverse support for this dangerous and inherently unnecessary steam generation albatross. 

Jagjit Singh