Letters to the Editor

Tuesday November 23, 2004


Editors, Daily Planet: 

As was planned by President Bush, we have removed Saddam and given Iraq an opportunity to plan their own democratic future. Post-election U.S. is also at a political crossroads, with vital decisions being considered about the extent of our continued military and reconstruction involvements in that country. There are strong feelings, perhaps by a majority of Americans, that we have no choice but to “finish the job.” But isn’t there an option? 

Instead of wasting more human lives, and more billions, in repairing the war’s vast destruction, perhaps it is time to give Iraq’s new government the respect and the funds to begin this restoration of their country.  

This would not only bring home our military, it may even prove to the citizens of Iraq that our intentions were always, to aid in their freedom from tyranny, to respect their values, their culture, and their innate abilities to govern themselves. It would also trust them to find their own answers to Iraq’s current political discords, expected in a nation’s re-birth.  

The billions we are spending for our military, and for often controversial U.S. contractors, can be used instead to provide the jobs, the self-esteem, and the reinforcement necessary for Iraqis to begin the rebuilding, of their own infrastructures, as well as their critical social and civic needs. 

More American, more coalition, and more Iraqi deaths will not aid them in these recoveries! 

Gerta Farber 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The monthly-except-August meeting of the Commission on Aging has for years been scheduled for the third Wednesday of the month at 1:30 at the South Berkeley Senior Center. The Nov. 16 Daily Planet’s list of commission meetings included for the Commission on Aging: November 17 at 1:30 at the South Berkeley Senior Center. 

• Is it not Brown Act non-compliant when the meeting is subsequently and thusly changed to another location, at another time later in the day? 

• Is it not notable that the meeting’s agenda included “Action re: the Housing Department’s Paratransit Proposal” re: taxi scrip eligibility changes? 

• Were five members of the public present to comment? (This commission provides for public comment from five persons, three minutes each.) 

Here’s a reminder of the Commission on Aging’s mission: “Charged with identifying the needs of the aging, creating awareness of these needs, and encouraging improved standards of services to the aging. Council shall appoint one of its members as liaison.” 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I disagree with the characterization of the Nov. 15 ZAB hearing in the article “State Agency Challenges Ed Roberts Campus Plan,” in the Nov. 19-22 edition. There was a large contingent of ERC supporters and many speakers (outnumbering opponents), including neighbors and a former Landmarks Preservation Commission chair, who spoke eloquently about the design and fit of the ERC in the Ashby BART neighborhood.  

The ERC’s design was approved unanimously by the Design Review Commission and at two ZAB hearings commissioners praised the building. The ERC’s design is elegant and symbolic of the disability rights movement. The building does not displace an existing historic building, and it will add beauty to an unattractive slice of Adeline. 

Susan Henderson 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The architects of the Ed Roberts Campus, the local firm of Maytum Leddy Stacy, are part of a tradition of Bay Area modernism that traces back to Bernard Maybeck. Their design (which I heard Bill Leddy present last year) responds to a community of users who are also part of Berkeley’s history. Ed Roberts helped to liberate people as surely as Martin Luther King did.  

Beginning with the rejection of Pfau and Jones’ design for the Public Safety Building downtown, Berkeley has seen a succession of “genre” buildings that purport to relate to its historic fabric. The results are Disneyesque, turning an important part of the city into a themed environment. This is not our tradition, or the tradition of the Bay Area.  

The Ed Roberts Campus is not “an airport,” but a humane and reasonable interpretation of a setting, a program, and an urban context, using a vocabulary that has been part of Berkeley since the thirties. It is part of a real tradition, which can’t be said of most of the other recent buildings in downtown Berkeley.   

John Parman 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Ed Roberts Campus president Jan Garrett’s letter (Daily Planet, Nov. 19-22) correcting inaccurate statements in a recent letter from neighbor Rosemary Hyde itself needs some correcting. 

Jan says, “The ERC garage will have the capacity to provide 21 more spaces than the estimated peak parking demand.” According to the ERC’s own traffic study, peak demand is 133 “daily” plus 29 “additional.” Since the proposed garage has 118 spaces, its capacity is actually 15 to 44 spaces short of estimated peak demand. Moreover, that traffic study did not include demand that might be generated by the proposed meeting room, which could hold up to 280 people. 

She also says “the BART parking lot will see a net loss of 16 parking spaces.” The east parking lot currently has 250 spaces; the ERC proposal would cut that to 187, a net loss of 63 spaces. The ERC arrives at the 16-space count by subtracting the 47 spaces that were added eight years ago by restriping the west lot. 

The ERC soothed neighbors’ initially intense concerns about parking by promising to build an underground lot with 143 spaces and not to reduce BART parking spaces from the current 250. From discussion at a Design Review Committee hearing two years ago we expected to lose 20 to 40 of the BART spaces to save some trees, but otherwise we thought that deal was still in place. So far as I know no one in the neighborhood was aware that the ERC had dropped a total of 88 spaces from its design until we found the information buried in the 50-page proposed mitigated negative declaration the ZAB approved last week. 

Robert Lauriston 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

In behalf of Friends of Downtown Berkeley, I would like to thank the Daily Planet for covering our appeal of the Seagate project’s use permit (“Seagate Foes Challenge Zoning Approval,” Nov. 19-22). I’d also like to correct some errors that appeared in the article.  

Nowhere do we contend that each of the objections we raise to the project “would be grounds for a reversal” of the Zoning Adjustments’ Boards approval of the Seagate’s permit.  

Nor do we state “[t]hat city calculations which permitted the construction of the additional four floors [over the legal base height in the downtown core] were wrong, because they included ground floor space.” Our appeal says nothing about “ground floor space.”  

Nor do we contend “that the [Zoning Adjustments Board’s] findings included no basis for violating the downtown limit of five stories.” As we emphasize, the maximum legal height in the downtown core (C-2 District), as set out in both the Zoning Ordinance and the Downtown Plan, is seven stories—a base height of five, plus a maximum of two bonus stories.  

Finally, the name of our group is Friends of Downtown Berkeley and not, as reported, Citizens for Downtown Berkeley, though the latter, I grant, might be an improvement.  

Zelda Bronstein 

Friends of Downtown Berkeley  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

While I agree that there is uncertainty in the outcome of the contract with Upstream, I take issue with your conclusions that Richmond should simply do nothing or wait for someone’s vision of the perfect offer (“Richmond Takes a Piece of Pie,” Daily Planet, Nov. 16-18). The land was given to the city with a mandate from the U.S. Government to make it productive—not to keep it all as open space or land bank it. (“The magnificent bay front sites which are jurisdictionally in Richmond could be around to sustain our children and our grandchildren and their children if we conserve them prudently.”) Despite the apparently common perception that Point Molate is pristine open space, it is not. It is a former industrial complex that became highly polluted over the last 60 years and is still being cleaned of toxics. Some 50 acres (Winehaven) is also a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places with some 300,000 square feet of invaluable historic structures in danger of irreversible deterioration. It costs at least $500,000 annually, and should cost more than twice that, just to perform minimum maintenance. The City of Richmond does not have the resources to maintain Point Molate indefinitely in a state of genteel decay while naïve dreamers from other places ponder its future.  

The only plan for Point Molate that has been through an extensive public review process is the Reuse Plan adopted by the City Council in 1997. It was endorsed by every environmental group and open space advocate, including those that are now suffering from memory loss. The Upstream Plan incorporates all of the park, trail and open space components of the Reuse Plan. People may object to the Upstream Plan based on its incorporation of a casino or the scale of the development, but an objection based on open space is simply misplaced and based on misinformation. 

The Reuse Plan includes an alternative for mixed use, including approximately 800 housing units. These may or may not be “upscale condos,” but what if they are? Richmond provides more low cost housing than any other city in the Bay Area, including Berkeley, so why shouldn’t our city be able to attract a few well heeled residents who might also bring their businesses and purchasing power to our city? In any event, Richmond does have a very aggressive inclusionary housing ordinance that will require any new housing at Point Molate to incorporate or pay for low cost housing as well. 

Tom Butt  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A recent letter suggested that “Palestinians get their act together” and criticized “friends of Palestine.”  

Some context here would be helpful. During a recent military campaign conducted in illegally occupied Gaza the Israeli military killed over 133 Palestinians, including 31 children. Including a girl sitting in her schoolroom (so it is true that children may learn to distrust Israelis, but the lesson does not come from the textbooks). The military destroyed 85 homes (damaging 235 more), making hundreds homeless. Crops were destroyed, olive trees uprooted. In the West Bank, Israeli settlers brutally beat those who were accompanying Palestinians harvesting olives, including local Christopher Brown (who was volunteering with a pacifist organization).  

What was the purpose for this campaign of terror? To “freeze out the peace process” a candid top aide to Sharon put it in an interview with an Israeli newspaper. Campaign is a remarkable success by that criterion! 

The urgency many of us feel in regards to this conflict is not merely because of the lack of accountability Israel has to world opinion or international law. Israel gets $5 billion a year from U.S. taxpayers. Therefore how it is used is U.S. policy, and we have a right, and a duty to dissent. Our demand is that the U.S. must stop funding this occupation.  

Jim Harris  




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Marcia Lau writes that we are yelling madly (Daily Planet, Nov. 19-22). Marcia, it is you that needs to look beyond the city limits. We live in an ever increasing metropolis now reaching into the Sierra Foothills. Earth’s, California’s, San Francisco’s, Berkeley’s, and UCB’s populations, will continue to grow. These are macro economic forces far larger than we care to imagine. We can only respond responsibly by planning well for that which is inevitable. Like a cancer metastasizing, concrete and asphalt swallow up farmland because economics dictate that farmland is more valuable as housing. Talk all you want about “ rights,” urban communities have responsibilities too. To house their workers at very least.  

I have a business in Berkeley, that employs managers earning $40,000 -$60,000 a year. Not one can afford or find appropriate housing to own. Our town enjoys the sweat of their labors, but makes no effort in planning to house them. 

Old buildings, some poorly placed and designed (by previous communities who did not plan smart growth), will burn down, fall down, come into dis-use, or will not be economical to maintain. These empty lots will be filled. So, Marcia, how would we like these lots to be developed ? 

I believe we could grow smartly and sustain our “livable neighborhoods, daylight access and (increased) views.” How you would define “a reasonable population size” baffles me. More people and smart growth do not preclude a “face to face public sphere” and “responsive city government,” rather they might promote it. Face it Marcia you want nothing built at all. The “skyscrapers” you are so scared of are placed along San Pablo, University and Shattuck. Exactly where it makes sense to build them. Few views, very few back yards, no parks or open space, are affected by these “skyscrapers.” Rather, they usually replace urban blight, existing eyesores or buildings that serve almost no one in the community. What is progressive? And what ultimately is conservative? It is not so crystal clear how best to preserve open space and quality living.  

I am proud to have lived in Berkeley for 20 years and have no plans to “go away.” I am not an interloper. I do not want to move to Emeryville. I am, however, saddened to see our downtown movie theaters become less vital than Emeryville’s because it is too difficult to develop viably in Berkeley. It is unfortunate that vigorous dialogue so quickly disintegrates into name calling and side taking. Businesses, architects and developers are part of the solutions. Rather than thinking of us as outside interlopers, try and see us as we see ourselves. People who are as much a part of the fabric of Berkleley’s streets and communities as those who wish we would go away. We will not go away, and we love Berkeley. We might just see it differently. 

P. Levitt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am responding to two related lines of discussion occurring in the letters to the editor section of your paper. One started with a letter from Sig Cohn (Daily Planet, Nov. 16-18) that was responded to by Chris Kavanagh (Nov. 19-22) and the other started with comments from Dan Marks (“Housing Boom Ending, Says Berkeley Planner,” Nov. 12-15) that were responded to by Ignacio Dayrit (Nov. 19-22). As for Sig Cohn, his position seems to me to border on the inhuman. I will not attempt to quote facts in this brief letter, but I am presently making a study of the effects of vacancy decontrol under the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, as aggravated by the combined effects of the Ellis Act. I am accumulating facts from several cities and using statewide studies as well.  

The preliminary results indicate nothing less than a devastating housing crisis, wherein the majority of tenants have either been displaced or are paying over fifty percent of their income in rent. Thirty percent is the federal guideline for the maximum that a person should have to pay. As for the claim of a housing glut, from a high-ranking city official no less, I am astounded. I would like to see Dan Marks’ data, but I have a good idea of what it really shows. There is a slight glut in the rental market for lousy apartments that are now renting for three to five times (300 percent to 500 percent) what they rented for under original rent control. Even that is only a slight glut, however, as Berkeley becomes rapidly gentrified, and housing conditions that are at all decent remain very difficult to find for ordinary people who are not well-heeled. It is not a “renter’s market”—that is a myth.  

If the absurd plans of opportunists like Patrick Kennedy are somewhat stalled, that is wonderful beyond belief, because it will give people like Max Anderson a chance to rethink their policy about increased density in commercial districts. Who really wants to live in a commercial district? Does Max Anderson? Having spent several months in the Shattuck Hotel, I can testify that it stinks, literally—you are breathing bus, truck, and car fumes 24 hours a day, which is not too good for your lungs, heart, or nervous system. I am sorry to say that Berkeley is going to hell in a hand-basket along with rest of the brainwashed country, following the pied piper, embodied as Mr. Bush, down the primrose path.  

Peter J. Mutnick 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

To those who insisted that Ralph Nader and David Cobb voters hold their noses and vote for Kerry, the aftermath of this last election ought to show them how wrong they were. 

John Kerry tucked his tail and fled and left it to the third party candidates, with their limited resources, to save any vestige of legitimacy to the process. While Kerry has reported $51 million left in the bank, Michael Badnarik, Cobb and Nader are left scrambling to pull together a low budget recount effort.  

It seems clear that, no matter what the true outcome of this last election, that the country needs paper trails for all voting machines and instant runoff voting (IRV). 

Given San Francisco’s recent history election history, the fact that they managed to not only pull off the cleanest election in recent memory but add IRV at the same time should show that making IRV is not a Herculean task, we just need the will to make it happen. 

I call on all those people who insisted we vote for the “lesser of two evils” (LOTE) to really make a difference and support the people and join the parties that are now making sure all votes are being counted. And in the future, don’t LOTE the VOTE! 

Dave Heller 




Editors, Daily Planet, 

Having just read the Daily Planet interview with Albany Chamber Director James Carter (“Albany Race Hinged on Waterfront Plans,” Daily Planet, Nov. 9-11) I feel compelled to point out that his concern about a waterfront shopping center harming local business fails to take into account the unique nature of the site. Its isolation from Albany makes the waterfront area primarily a regional resource, whereas Solano and San Pablo avenues are mainly local resources. The great majority of customers on the Albany waterfront would come from Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, and Emeryville as well as travelers along the I-80 corridor. The result is that the Albany community would take in more money from waterfront sales and property taxes than it would spend on goods at the waterfront. Some of this surplus would be spent at local stores. Retail development on the waterfront would likely result in a gain and not a loss to local businesses, particularly if the mix of waterfront stores is carefully chosen to minimize competition with our local merchants. 

We cannot take preconceptions about malls, casinos and hotels which are based on other sites and blindly apply them to the Albany waterfront. To get the best possible outcome we must examine all our options carefully based on the unique properties of this site. 

Tony Caine