Letters to the Editor

Tuesday December 14, 2004

Déjà vu 

Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Culvert Giving Way” reads the headline over a brief article on the front page of the Berkeley Daily Gazette of June 18, 1904. “The old wooden culvert that carries the waters of Strawberry Creek from the University grounds through the business section of the city, to a point half a block west of Shattuck avenue on Allston way, is beginning to give way in places. A large cave in has occurred… The Town Board of Trustees will soon recommend replacing the wood with cement.” 

It is exactly a full century later and we are at it again. 

Jill Korte 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Even before the voting machines were turned off in the wee hours of election night the American public began hearing an explanation to account for the sudden shift in election results which were in stark contradiction to the earlier exit polls showing Kerry to be the projected winner. There started what turned out to be a wave of cookie cutter analyses which swept through the TV and print media claiming that the Christian right backlash against gay marriage accounted for Bush’s slim margin of victory.  

By their timing and abundance it was almost as if these were planted by white house strategist, Karl Rove, designed in advance to explain an unlikely reversal of events. But then one would have to believe that this administration is capable of widespread deception and subterfuge. And what is the chance of that? 

Also, who the hell is Bob Burnett, anyway? He has now written two “news analysis” pieces on the stolen election in your pages that mirror other op-ed pieces in the Chronicle explaining away Bush’s suspect win of the popular vote. There are now thousands of documented incidents of fraud, vote suppression and voter abuse to indicate that in all likelihood Kerry did, in fact, win the popular vote. In his latest infotorial, Burnett’s use of confusing speculative presumptions based on an unreferenced poll suggests a somewhat more subtle but a very similar intention to explain the improbable. It does appear he’s attempting to anaesthetize a disbelieving, outraged voting public. 

Please do your readership a favor and feature Henry Norr, a well-known, trusted local writer whose substantive commentary of Nov.16 shows that he represents the predominant sentiment of Bay Area voters. I also applaud letter writer Judy Bertelsen (Dec. 10-13) who offers a cogent assessment of election irregularities backed up by references readers can check for themselves on the Internet. 

I urge the Berkeley Daily Planet to start printing some of the dozens of news stories around the country documenting instances of vote suppression, etc. which are available from newspapers such the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Columbus Dispatch. Even the Associated Press is wising up on this issue. 

Of the myriad number of websites devoted to the stolen election, www.solarbus.org and www.blackboxvoting.org are good starting points and www.votersunite.org has a detailed partial compendium of hundreds of serious voting irregularities backed up with links to specific print media reports. 

Peter Teichner 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As affairs of state coast along Mr. Bush prepares for his second term by reshaping his cabinet and prioritizing his initiatives. The reform of Social Security is at the top of his list. So, from the bully pulpit he will again direct the political equivalent of a hymn extolling privatization and his choir has already started to warm up. David Brooks, for instance, praises the power of a free market to solve Social Security’s “intractable problems”; the benefits, he sings, “vastly outweigh” the risks. 

Brooks’ melodic performance is seductive but ears accustomed to hearing common sense are sure to find his discords discomforting. 

So far the president has revealed only the direction: Increase private retirement accounts to make up for reduced benefits – a road to the past. 

Our septuagenarian system needs revitalizing but an honest effort to change it should not jettison its core principle – security anchored in community; wage earners holding up the roof to prevent it from falling on individuals. Privatization a la Bush operates the opposite way; it would take a portion of what the community now bears and distribute it onto individual shoulders. 

Community cohesion—slim threads plated into a rope—is reliable and vastly more powerful than the market, exposed as it is to capricious global influences. 

Marvin Chachere 

San Pablo 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I went over to the Magic Theater in San Francisco Saturday night (Dec. 11) to see the Riot Group’s play Pugilist Specialist. There were over 100 in the audience with a few empty seats. If you like tight theater drama on the edge try and catch this play before it disappears in a week or so. You won’t be disappointed. On a sparse set of two benches, four characters somehow dramatize all of the tensions of life in the U.S. today. Like the Iraq war itself the play appears to be about a military intelligence group’s assignment to assassinate a middle east dictator—who appears to be Saddam Hussein. Ultimately the play turns out to not be about that at all but about the contradictions in the internal culture within which the four characters exist and from which they derive. These guys and the Bay Area deserve an extended run of this brilliant play and it probably won’t happen unless they get a huge surge of interest. Pugilist Specialist has received rave reviews.  

Marc Sapir 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The founding fathers of this country for the most part were very religious, spiritual people but the reason they insisted on separation of church and state is because they were fully aware of the historic abuse when the church and state are not kept separate. The federal government/Bush administration is now making this huge mistake that our forefathers warned us against and which is not even suppose to be done according to the Constitution, so history is now repeating itself with dire consequences. It is also unfortunate that through out recorded history people in position of power have used religion and God to mislead people to fulfill their own agenda which even includes starting wars in the name of God. Most people do not realize this but that was something Hitler also did, an in depth article concerning this can be found at: www.buzzflash.com/farrell/04/12/far04041.html. 

Thomas Husted 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

I read your weekend edition regularly but not always the weekday editions. I did pick up the Dec. 7-9 edition and found the vote tally for Kerry and Bush to be very, very interesting. Also, Rob Wrenn’s analysis was very informative. 

I would like to suggest that you reprint that article and the table of votes again in some future weekend edition. There are probably many voters in Berkeley who like me found a bit of solace in knowing that I was part of a vast anti Bush majority. 

Max Macks 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Planet recently carried a commentary by Robert Cabrera attacking rent control (“Berkeley Rent Control Violates U.S. Constitution,” Daily Planet, Dec. 7-9). The rather inane claim was that Rent Control violates the Constitution, specifically the Fifth Amendment. How does Mr. Cabrera explain the fact that almost all judges and courts who have considered this matter came to the opposite conclusion? Almost all of those judges, with a very few rare exceptions, were Republicans and they certainly had no political motivation in upholding rent control.  

I would like to quote you something equally inane, from a philosophy professor well-trained in logic, by none other than Bertrand Russell. Said John Searle at a public hearing of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board on Sept. 10, 1991: “The treatment of landlords in Berkeley is comparable to the treatment of blacks in the South...our rights have been massively violated and we are here to correct that injustice.”  

Considering that it is largely the black population of Berkeley that has been protected by rent control and badly hurt by its recent undermining, I think the more apt analogy would be that Mr. Searle’s objections are like objecting to the tight government regulation of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. 

However, there is a germ of truth in the attitudes of Cabrera and Searle. It is that the politicos in Berkeley government have tended to compensate one wrong for another wrong, rather than correct all wrongs at their root. This stems from laziness and from over-politicization of governmental obligations. Very few of the Berkeley law makers have had much knowledge about the law, and so they have tended to play down proper law making according to constitutional rights in favor of tit-for-tat partisan bickering. 

I do not believe, for one minute, however, that tenants have come out on the long end of that stick. Quite the contrary. It is a formula that ensures the defeat of tenants rights, which in fact depend strongly on constitutional support, even as did the civil rights of blacks in the South. Although tenants are the majority, they are not the ones with political muscle in a capitalist society. Even as a small fraction of the population possesses most of the wealth, so does it possess most of the power that derives from that wealth. 

If Mr. Cabrera or Mr. Searle or any other gung-ho enemy of tenants rights would like to engage in a mock trial over rent control, I will be glad to demonstrate to them the errors of their ways. 

Peter Mutnick 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

“Only in Berkeley” again? That the La Vereda cottage, easily the most unsightly dwelling in its neighborhood, and only mitigated by Mother Nature’s 

forgiving terrain, should stir such passions is incomprehensible. If I had been Mr. Wurster (may he rest in peace), I would not have wanted my memory to be associated with it, nor with Wurster Hall, two unfortunate examples of the Post-Bauhaus geometric dreck that thrives in the Berkeley Hills, and which has ripped the soul out of most twentieth-century architecture. That short-sighted, superficial, Modernistic mania is hopefully drawing to a close. There is nothing sadder than an aging avanguard. 

Juergen Hahn 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

A Nov. 4 memo from City Manager Phil Kamlarz to department directors regarding “Budget Update” is being circulated this month. It refers to the fiscal year 2005 adopted budget that “included a number of departmental and programmatic reorganization efforts. We must immediately begin implementation of these plans.” 

One of the Police Department “Adopted Balancing Options” (page 2 of the fiscal year 2006 Reduction Plan) is to “Eliminate Police Officer—Sex Crimes”—a position which appears to be vacant, a potential “savings” of $142.500. 

Here’s a suggestion with potential for genuine savings of money and lives: Post on the city website photographs and names of the johns arrested in Berkeley. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I must respectfully disagree with former Berkeley Property Owners Association President Robert Cabrera’s surprising claim that the city’s rent stabilization program violates the U.S. Constitution. 

Mr. Cabrera contends that municipal rent stabilization policies are tantamount to an “uncompensated” private property “taking” or expropriation. 

In point of fact, the hundred or so community rent stabilization laws across California—including mobile home parks—have been declared constitutional 

by both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.  

For example, in Pennell vs. City of San Jose (1988) and Yee vs. City of Escondido (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that rent controls do not constitute a “taking.” 

Further, the state and federal Supreme Courts have explicitly addressed Mr. Cabrera’s central concern: Rental property owners are constitutionally entitled to receive a “fair return” on their property investment under a rent stabilization environment. 

The “fair return” doctrine articulated by the courts is a long established legal principle. Berkeley’s rent stabilization policies fully comply with this constitutional doctrine and the court’s rulings on this issue. 

Although space prevents from addressing Mr. Cabrera’s other op-ed points, it is a fact that the Bay Area has some of the highest rent levels in the entire nation. Without the city’s rent stabilization program, Berkeley’s unique character and diversity—including the city’s thousands of low income households—would have eroded away or disappeared a long time ago.  

Chris Kavanagh 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Donald Rumsfeld at the talk to the troops when they questioned him said “ Now, settle down, settle down. Hell, I’m an old man, it’s early in the morning, and I’m gathering my thought here.” His answers certainly were inadequate.  

He was a major participant in the decision of going to war in Iraq. It is his responsibility to provide our soldiers with all that is needed to fight in this war.  

These questions are not the first time that the fighting military has asked for proper protection in this Iraqi war. Recently 18 soldiers refused to go on a mission because of faulty equipment. 

Demands need to be made for his resignation. Rumsfeld states because he is an old man he is slow in formulating his thoughts. How can he then make instant decisions that affect not only the military, but also the citizens of United States and the people of the world? How can the president have any confidence in Rumsfeld’s abilities? The military who are fighting and dying in Iraqi are questioning his leadership. What can we expect from him in four years when he is 76 years old? 

We must have someone is this vital position who is competent all the time. 

Helen and Frank Sommers 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zelda Bronstein’s opinion piece about re-striping Marin Avenue (“The Stealth Plan to Bicycle-ize Marin Avenue,” Daily Planet, Dec. 10-13) shows that she does not understand the purpose of this project. Its goal is to make the street safer by reducing illegal speeding.  

When a street has two lanes in each direction, some drivers use the “fast lane” to speed. When it has only one lane in each direction, all drivers tend to travel at the same speed as the safest drivers.  

Bronstein says that the re-striping will “profoundly affect” the entire neighborhood, so the city should notify everyone, not just residents of Marin Avenue.  

In fact, the plan will affect Marin Avenue by making it safer. It will have only one profound effect on other neighborhood residents: People who now drive at high speeds will have to slow down a bit and take a few more minutes to travel on this street.  

The study for this plan found that the re-striped street will have capacity to carry all the traffic that now travels there, so re-striping will not cause congestion. In fact, the study found that the average speed after re-striping will still be greater than the legal speed limit: Drivers will be slowed down only if their current speed is well above the legal limit.  

The city has already re-striped Sixth Street north of Hearst Avenue in exactly the same way that is proposed for Marin Avenue—and I have not heard anyone complain about (or even mention) the “profound effect” of this re-striping.  

Bronstein sometimes plays at being progressive and writes about “renewing” the Democratic Party. But when it comes to the decisions that affect her own ºlife, she has not moved beyond the urban planning clichés of the 1950s. Many of today’s traffic engineers have rejected the ideal of 1950s traffic engineering—to move cars as quickly as possible, regardless of the impact on the environment and on neighborhoods. Bronstein will not renew anything by advocating this sort of out-dated, reactionary idea.  

Charles Siegel 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The commentary by Zelda Bronstein in the December 10-13 issue contains some very misleading allegations, which are reinforced by her unfortunate headline “The Stealth Plan to Bicycle-ize Marin Avenue.” 

I write as a Berkeley bicyclist (aged 67, and a daily participant in the Berkeley traffic) and as a member of the board of directors of the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition (BFBC). At a recent meeting, the BFBC Board made a considered decision not to commit resources or energy to the Marin Avenue reconfiguration project. It is indeed part of the Bicycle Plan—Bronstein at least got that right—and as such we support it in principle, but we consciously chose not to give it a high priority. 

I was disturbed by the fact that Ms. Bronstein chose to set up bicycling as a straw man. The Marin project is primarily about the safety of pedestrians and of residents backing out of driveways. Her headline suggests that it is being covertly driven by bicyclists. That is simply false. In the actual text, most of Ms. Bronstein’s substantive criticisms concerned the planning and notification processes. For all I know, some of her concerns in those areas may be well founded. However, if something is wrong with the city’s process it is not because of secret influence by a cabal of bicyclists. 

The Marin Avenue project will do a few good things for bicyclists, but it is far from the top of our wish list. It will, I think, do far more for pedestrians and residents of Marin Avenue, by reducing speeding. At the same time, the center left turn lane will allow vehicles to stop to wait for a chance to turn left without blocking a through traffic lane as they do now. Several knowledgeable observers have predicted that traffic flow will actually become smoother and easier as a result of that change. 

Ms. Bronstein ended by expressing concern about “...the Berkeleyans whose daily lives it will profoundly affect.” Think how profoundly it might affect your daily life if you were crossing Marin and were hit by a car going 35 MPH. 

David A. Coolidge 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a North Berkeley resident, I’m seriously affected both by the proposed choking of the Marin Avenue traffic artery, and by the actual choking of public participation in the city’s decision about this. 

The core traffic problem is this: As civic policies continue to increase congestion on the overloaded Ashby, University, and Solano corridors, east/west access to North Berkeley depends ever more vitally on the Marin Avenue corridor. It’s not ideal—but the cost of constricting its flow will be more than just significant inconvenience to its many regular users. Traffic diverted to nearby streets will degrade local neighborhoods, and the increased load on the other main corridors will have disproportionate effects on their already-jammed flows and on all drivers who use them. I sympathize actively with the needs of bicyclists, but another east/west corridor can be modified for them. There’s no other alternative here for car drivers, and the impact of restricting Marin’s flow will be felt city-wide. 

This makes even worse the failures of the Transportation and Planning commissions to adequately publicize this plan, and to invite citizen participation. Though local residents have had little chance to offer feedback, their reactions have been decisively negative. To have their careful analyses digested to bland bullet-points by the Transportation Commission’s consultant has made a mockery of citizen input. This matter is being pushed to the City Council with inadequate consideration even for opinions of the local public, and none for feedback from the larger community. 

What’s at stake here is not only a major traffic decision, but the process of participation. I hope other readers will help pressure council and commission members to make both of these better than what’s portending. 

Michael Rossman 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Earlier this year I watched my neighbor, Tom Bowen, die while crossing Marin Avenue. I have crossed Marin Avenue thousands of times at the same intersection, first as a student at Thousand Oaks School, later while heading to Ortman’s Ice Cream, or for shopping at Park and Shop. I learned to ride a bike on Marin and I learned to drive on Marin. 

I know the street well, and I support the proposed reconfiguration project. Traffic will flow more rationally on a three-lane street, due to the center turn lane. The weaving and lane shifting that occurs now will no longer be necessary. Cut-through traffic will be minimal, because Marin will still be the best route. And Marin will finally have one consistent profile, all the way from the circle down to San Pablo. 

But most importantly, with a reconfigured Marin Avenue, the type of collision that killed my neighbor will no longer be possible. Tom was killed by a common collision type called “double threat.” The car in the first lane stopped, but the car in the second lane continued at full speed. He and his small bag of groceries flew high in the air. His crumpled and broken body landed partially in the opposing lane. He died after 11 painful days in the hospital. 

Bryce Nesbitt 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zelda Bronstein’s commentary on the Marin Avenue conversion misses the point! 

My family lives on Marin Avenue, and has to put their life (and the lives of their children) on the line to walk across this speedway each day. Yes, the Marin conversion will impact automobile traffic, yes it will doubtlessly please cyclists. But, the ultimate beneficiaries are the many pedestrians who walk along Marin Avenue and its cross streets, and to Marin Avenue schools, and library, and community center. 

As Bronstein pointed out, 20,000 cars speed down this street daily. Your writer failed to mention that earlier this year, one of those cars killed a woman as she stepped into the crosswalk of Marin. 

Perhaps the greatest failure of Berkeley government is to their refusal to adequately enforce the 25 mph speed limit on Marin Avenue. Speeds of 40-50 miles per hour are common, especially at night. For this reason, the street has become eminently dangerous—the lane conversion is a logical, and hopefully a lasting, solution. 

To your commentator, I propose: Get out of your car and try a bicycle or your own two feet! 

Philip Krayna 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Zelda Bronstein, in her commentary about the “bicycle-ization” of Marin Avenue, implies that a handful of letters in opposition represents an accurate sample of public opinion. Not so. There are many of us north Berkeley residents using Marin as an arterial who favor the new three-lane plan. There has been a great deal of public advocacy supporting this plan, but Zelda leaves out all the voices in favor when she ads up her short public comment scorecard. The point here is that a small collection of letters is not a scientific survey of public opinion. Nor is it an accurate representation of political will. Self-selected advocacy groups, whether pro-bicycle or pro-traffic lanes, should never be regarded as speaking for the public at large. The commissions, on the other hand, derive their authority from the elected officials that appoint their members. So a commission recommendation—even though it may be at odds with what appears to be a preponderance of public comment —remains the more valid expression of representative democracy. 

The real value of public hearings and public comment is not to see who wins a skewed popularity contest. It is to bring up new ideas and focus attention on problems that may not have been apparent to the commission, council or staff. 

That said, Zelda does raise an important point about the flow of information from the public to the commissions. The problem is that a letter or e-mail to the commission’s staff secretary goes through the filter of staff. Theoretically, all communications are included in the information packet for the next meeting. But as Zelda has seen, this is not always the way it’s done in practice. Even when commission secretaries act in the best of good faith, which they almost always do, controversial material is often presented along with a rebuttal representing the staff position. In Zelda’s case, her letter and others were apparently reduced to a condensed summary. There can also be a considerable time lag before the next monthly packet goes out, and if the agenda is heavy, the communication can be buried under all the other documents in the packet and never receive the detailed attention from the commissioners that the sender intended. 

The moral: If you really want to communicate with a commission, mail to each commissioner individually. It will get full attention and bypass the staff filter. 

Only problem is, the commission web pages generally do not list e-mail or mailing addresses for the commissioners. This information is available to the public in hard copy from the City Clerk’s office, but it’s not there on the web. This is one of the reasons that I maintain an unofficial website devoted to the Berkeley waterfront. If you need to write to any or all of us on the Waterfront Commission, www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org has the contact list. I urge all commissions to make their contact list equally accessible. 

Paul Kamen  

Member and former chair of the Waterfront Commission 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

Regarding Richard Brenneman’s article on the appeal of the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) use permit (“Roberts Center Critics Appeal Project Approval,” Daily Planet, Dec. 7-9). ERC will be designed and built for people with disabilities. It will house eight disability-related nonprofits. Some services provided are: a fitness center for the disabled and seniors, a Childhood Center for disabled and non-disabled children, computer training and lab, and accessible meeting space. 

The ERC has been a cooperative process from the beginning. We had meetings with the neighbors, before applying for a use permit. We made major changes to address their concerns. Neighbors support the ERC. Design Review supported our design 6-0. The ZAB favored our use permit 7-0. 

I’d like to support Susan Parker’s column in the Planet (“Opposition to Ed Roberts Campus Masked in Historic Design Complaint,” Daily Planet, Dec. 7-9). Those few appealing the ERC use permit say they “they don’t want to stop or delay the project”. Yet if their appeal succeeds, it can have no other result than to at least delay our project. I also find it interesting that Mr. Brenneman chose not to include a response from ERC in his article. 

We can do something beautiful to remember Ed Roberts, serve the neighborhood, and people with disabilities. I hope the City Council will dismiss the appeal. 

Guy W. Thomas,  

Ed Roberts Campus board member 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

As a very close neighbor to the proposed Ed Roberts Campus (ERC), I want to respond to the column by Susan Parker. She said “the people who live near the proposed building site…just don’t want it in their neighborhood, and they will clutch onto any excuse not to have it”. Wrong. There are four very obsessed people, only one of whom is actually a close neighbor to the site, who have tried doggedly to highjack the right to represent our neighborhood, who have gone to such hideous extremes to avoid having a disabled presence in the area. They do not represent me or any of the other neighbors I know, but they have extraordinary amounts of time to push their agenda. They deceptively try to soften their opposition by saying they somehow support the concept of the ERC.  

At an early meeting on the proposal I overheard comments that “they (the disabled) would attract bad elements” to the neighborhood. Their true opposition is not to the design but to the people.  

Their current path to delay and destroy is the spurious claim that it would not fit in to the supposed historic character of the neighborhood. Just walk from Alcatraz to Ashby along Adeline Street and look at all the buildings on the east side of the street, the side where the ERC will be built. The majority are modern. The only buildings with character are very different from each other: the Orthodox church, the liquor store, and the Marmot store. The warehouse, the post office, the laundromat, the apartment and office complex buildings, the Children’s Hospital office building, the Black Repertory Theater, none have the slightest hint of architectural value.  

Just because a few buildings in the area are about 100 years old does not make them interesting or architecturally valuable. If you’ve been to Europe, Mexico, or even the east coast, you know that 100 years is not old. And if you wander around south Berkeley, you know that most of the aging buildings are of no historic value. The best of the lot are only mildly interesting, and no existing buildings will be torn down or altered. The buildings they select as landmarks were simply ordinary when they were built, have not yet passed the test of time (about 500 years), and are often not in great shape. There is nothing to match the Parthenon, or Palace of Versailles, Taliesin, or Hermitage, or even Claremont Hotel. And if you walk Adeline Street you will see no single theme, no consistency at all. They are making this all up out of whole cloth, hiding their ugly motives. Sadly, they have impugned the South Berkeley neighborhood and made us look like NIMBYs and bigots. 

I am convinced the Ed Roberts Campus will add in every way to the value of our neighborhood and to that of the whole city as well. It is a wonderful project and a beautiful design. The architects should be praised for the thoughtfulness and boldness and elegance they have offered. And, unlike the obsessed bigots, I believe having a strong disabled community benefits us all. 

Ronald Good?