Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday December 19, 2006


Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’m no public policy wonk so I have become quite puzzled having read the Dec. 5 article reporting on the revised ABAG guidelines doubling the quotas for the construction of new housing in Berkeley. This was followed by the commentary by Fred Dodsworth (Dec. 8) expressing concern that “Berkeley’s charm is at risk.” 

Up to now I have believed in the value of creating infill housing along the traffic corridors of University, Shattuck and San Pablo Avenues as a way to provide new living spaces for our residents and to reduce urban sprawl. But as I have been visiting these new buildings recently, I have noticed curious facts: The units are incredibly small and the rental or the selling price is incredibly high, not satisfying the needs of most of our long-time residents, many who are looking for ways to downsize. UC students may be able to afford renting by doubling up in each bedroom, but most of us cannot — nor do we wish — to do that. 

Someone needs to explain to me how ABAG directed infill housing for the Bay Area is going to stop middle class families from buying homes in the suburbs, or now the exurbs. Their needs are not met by simply requiring more units to be built without first establishing guidelines for livability standards. If under the current economic conditions this cannot be done in an affordable manner, then what are we doing to our cities? 

ABAG should come clean with what the real goal is, because affordable housing for families does not appear to be the magical result. 

Helene Vilett 





Editors, Daily Planet: 

Back in the ’60s there was a little old man named Tom Roberts who performed his street puppet act out on the Berkeley streets, and he also published his own books of poetry. One example: I Gotta Hunger — I Gotta Need, by Tom Roberts (The Puppet Man), Berkeley local folk artist and puppeteer, 44 pages, Cody’s Books, Inc. Berkeley, CA, 1971. In addition to poetry, it contains photocopied portraits of Tom, one of which was taken by Imogen Cunningham. Does anyone have a story to tell about Tom, or articles, photos, or additional info about him? Would be much appreciated. You can contact me at 

Nathan Rounds 



Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Zoning Adjustments Board voted on the 148-unit residential complex that includes a potential Trader Joe’s at MLK and University Thursday night, and Michael Alvarez-Cohen, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s sudden replacement for neighborhood activist Dean Metzger, hit the nail on the head as he was urging the board to approve the building exactly the way developers Christopher Hudson and Evan McDonald wanted it: “We’re kidding ourselves if we think anyone but students are going to live there.” But here’s where I don’t agree with him: I don’t think that’s what makes a good building for Berkeley. 

The building Hudson McDonald first showed the board had lots of units a family could live in. They told us that if we’d just accept a building that size, they’d come back with a Trader Joe’s. We got the Trader Joe’s, but the building had grown in mass by 7,000 square feet, and the size of the residential units had shrunk by more than 20 percent. All the three-bedroom units were gone. How many families can live in 700-square-foot apartments? 

The original building also had more affordable housing units, and all those units were to be priced for families making $33,000. Now there are fewer affordable units, and they’re priced much higher. Alvarez-Cohen was trying to convince the board not to approve a very modest amendment to make half of the affordable units family-sized (two-bedroom, now the largest-sized units available). The amendment lost by one vote. 

The sole purpose of the state law Berkeley interprets to require us to approve these immense projects is to increase the production of modest- and low-priced housing for a growing California. We’re supposed to be building housing for everybody, but what we got Thursday was just what we don’t need: another big dorm, especially since UC is not building enough housing for its students.  

Jesse Arreguin 

Zoning Adjustments Board Member 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I’ve just read J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s hit piece on Jerry Brown and I have ask what in the world could have motivated you to write that way? 

It seems to me that when Jerry came to Oakland he saw something he thought needed done and was willing to take a stand for it. As Oakland embraced Brown’s Oakland First and elected him, Jerry set about to make good on his promises when he was in office. 

In a continuum of his hope for a better city he walked the streets as virtually no elected mayor had ever done, and for that real ability to see the man , the city residents surely felt there was someone in government that was there, even in the dead of night on the mean streets. 

He looked at the city as it was, saw it as it could be and set about to make it happen. To be sure there was more that he could have done, and there must have been things he simply could not get done and there is the rub, but always I am sure he did what others failed to do and for that he has earned a place in Oakland’s future having left the city as mayor better than he found it, and that is a great deal more than what others throughout the country can honestly claim. 

Whether Jerry will stay in Oakland for the rest of his life or not I surely cannot say, but I do believe he will always have an eye on Oakland as the states top cop and in that capacity he will continue his assault on crime that he could not do as mayor as he will throughout the state and for that Oakland and every city in California will be better off too having seen first hand and standing against the violence he saw during his tenure. 

Your views on his planning scheme are yours and time will tell what the results of Brown’s vision will be over the long term but for today?  

I cannot see that his leadership failed Oakland at all. 

Stewart Resmer 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I just came across John C. Sanderson’s letter on the recent KPFA board election in your Nov. 24 issue. Although it was published several weeks ago, his misunderstanding of choice voting, the method used at KPFA, still requires a response. 

Sanderson wrote, “The voting system the station uses means that one top vote getter on a slate drags most others on that person’s slate onto the board with them. Other slates and individuals have a tough time winning a seat. It precludes the possibility of a diversity of people or ideas and is a winner takes all system.” 

Despite the different name, choice voting is actually the multi-seat sibling of instant runoff voting (IRV). It does exactly the opposite of what Sanderson says. When candidates run as members of slates, and most voters support one slate or another, each slate wins seats in proportion to its support in the community. An independent candidate can get elected by winning a percentage of votes that depends on the number of open seats being filled. Far from precluding diversity, choice voting guarantees it. 

The election method that best facilitates the sweeps that Sanderson doesn’t like — where the largest slate wins more seats than is justified by its support — is the vote for N method we use for many city councils and most school boards and special districts. Political scientists call this block voting because one block of voters can control all the seats. Choice voting overcomes this problem, while also reducing negative campaigning, promoting higher voter turnout, encouraging more candidates to run, and overcoming the inherent defects of district elections. One last note: when the proportional logic of choice voting is applied to elections to fill one seat, the result is majority rule, as guaranteed by instant runoff voting.  

Bob Richard 

Marin County Coordinator 

Californians for Electoral Reform 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Thank you for Ken Bullock’s Dec. 15 review of The Forest War. He revealed layers of theatrical and filmic influences on Shotgun Players’ rich play that I’d entirely missed. 

All I can add is: Go see this remarkable production before its Jan. 14 closing date, or be prepared to kick yourself when it moves to some place like Broadway and wins something like a Pulitzer. 

While deep, Mark Jackson’s epic is also an accessible and transparent allegory about the last decade. It refracts the sabotage of the Clinton presidency, the Bush restoration, a needless war based on concocted “intelligence,” and the risks of flirting with apocalypse. 

This play runs just under three hours, but flies by at the pace of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. (The prologue ends halfway through the first speech, and there’s not a spare word or gesture afterwards.) It’s a tragedy leavened with laugh-out-loud slapstick. You’ll root for the hesitating good guys and hiss the neocon villains. 

The Forest War isn’t your uncle’s sackcloth-and-kazoos Brechtian performance. Its fluid, rigorously pure style might be called Screwball Noh/Kabuki/Kurosawan/Manga/WPA/New Deal/Brechtian/Shakespearean/Marlowean/Strangelovian/Pelepelosian/Lewinskyan/Looney Tunes/Austin Powers/Mimetroupean dell’Arte. Don’t worry, it all works. 

Michael Katz 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I totally agree with Ron Lowe’s letter urging the impeachment of George W. Bush. To those who would argue, “Why bother — he only has two more years in his presidency?,” I would say, in those two years thousands more American soldiers and Iraqi civilians would lose their lives, there would be utter destruction of a country that never posed a threat to the United States, and our standing among nations around the world would plummet even lower than it is now. What greater reasons do we need for impeaching this arrogant and obstinate man who doesn’t even fathom why his ratings are sinking to an all-time low? 

Dorothy Snodgrass 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I am concerned about the unkindness I find on buses and at bus stops. People bring their beer and wine bottles. They sit on the benches, drink the contents, and toss their bottles onto the pavement near the bus stop. The area around the benches is littered with cigarette ends and broken glass. Others bring their bottles into the bus, start acting funny, use abusive language and play their radio very loud. Most of us who uses buses travel on them to get to work and make our living. How can we feel safe from the recklessness of those who have forgotten about the caring for one another we poor people depend on? 

Romila Khanna 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Dec. 8 letter from Margot Smith pointed out the inadequacy of AC Transit and proposed a shuttle service for Berkeley. This could be paid for by creating a Berkeley Residents’ Association. Dues-paying members would receive a pass that lets them ride on the shuttle at no charge. It could also be valid for AC transit. Landlords could be offered one membership for all their units, so that tenants would ride for free. There would then be no cost for an extra trip, which would get people to use the shuttle instead of their cars. The key is to make the transit riding a fixed cost, with no extra cost per ride, unlike today with the absurd extra charge for AC transfers. 

Fred Foldvary 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

You know, I’ve got a penchant for waxing nostalgic as much as the next native Berkeleyan. If an old timer wants to chat about the good old days, I’m always a happy participant in the conversation. I draw the line however, when it comes to people who refuse to join the 21st century when it comes to paying their way through life. The old rent control logic rears it’s ugly head again with the cry from tightwads who won’t buy a ticket to Cal football. “It’s always been this way, therefore it must stay” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Like the rest of the fans, buy a ticket, be a fan, support the Blue and Gold. Go Bears! 

Tim Cannon 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Nothing made me happier last Friday than to see Steven Finacom’s article encouraging shopping on Telegraph Avenue. The Ave needs us all. I’ve been having a good time lately there myself. The flower guy in front of old Cody’s always has incredible deals in bouquets — stunning ones for $5 — and plants — orchids for around $20. I bought the wonderful new (and expensive) book of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs at 10 percent off at Moe’s, may he rest in peace. The new guy on the block, What the Traveler Saw, is “testing” the waters of Telegraph. So for heavens sake, take a look! And I always browse Ed and Carol’s hat store south of Dwight for gifts and village gossip; it’s a social center. And on the weekend before Christmas, the sidewalk array of original and beautiful clothes, jewelry, pottery, etc. is stunning and is worth appreciation. Merry Christmas/Hanukuh!  

Heidi Seney 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Save the Oaks people and UCB need help so here it is: Build up and over the right of way of Piedmont Avenue. It’s free of trees and is public space.  

Richard Splenda 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Anne Wagley and her compatriots deserve praise for their efforts to get the truth out regarding the city’s agreement with the University regarding the new Downtown Area Plan (DAP). However, I am wondering if her recent commentary gives the “whole truth” on this important issue. 

Based on the agreement’s wording, no one can deny that UC retains a veto power over the DAP. I’m not sure, however, if that is the same thing as a controlling voice in shaping Berkeley’s downtown. 

Suppose that, after a long contentious process, the city adopts a new DAP that is not satisfactory to UC. What would happen if UC determines that the DAP does not meet its needs? Section II.B.6 indicates that the DAP would not be released. 

In that case, it seems to me that the city (and UC) would be left with the existing downtown plan. (Can someone confirm this interpretation?) Since UC is obviously not content with the current plan, it would not be in their interest to veto a new DAP unless it presents them with a situation that they see as worse than the existing plan. 

If my interpretation is correct, the city need not bow to UC’s wishes. Rather, the city would have the power to create a plan that meets some of UC’s demands, and then say “Take it or leave it.” If the new DAP dies, I would imagine the city could conduct its own downtown planning process in the usual manner (drawing on the information gathering in the joint DAP process). 

One question: if the new DAP is not issued, is the entire city-UC settlement agreement void? 

Steve Meyers 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

This holiday season, when resolutions run high, let’s think about benefits. Ahhh, the good old lose-weight-and-excercise one is popular. May I suggest walking dogs at your local animal shelter? What a great way to get in shape and help homeless dogs. The Berkeley Animal Shelter on Second Street has friendly, fun, happy dogs that love to go out for walks. give it a try, you will be glad you did. These dogs need homes and foster care as well. 

Vanessa George 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

I have a very different take, a quite neglected one, on North Korea’s atomic bomb test: the disarmament (or “non-proliferation”) one. 

It is now high time to get rid of nuclear bombs by the countries most likely to first use them, especially the United States, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, along with Russia, China and India, before these bombs get rid of us. (Also the U.K. and France.) 

(Note: I have carefully thought about the order in which I listed these countries.) 

Bruce Provin 

P.S.: Too often of late the way world affairs are carried on reminds me of a cabal of sixth-grade boys in the playground running things. I think it’s time to try to regain our sanity. 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

Roy Nakadegawa is right about too much parking downtown. It takes up space without merchants selling anything from that space. Parking should be on the periphery of downtown and then planned very carefully. 

There is already a glaring instance of bad planning. The free charging for electric vehicles is on the top floor of the Center Street garage. By the time any drivers get up there, they may run out of any juice they have left, if they make it! 

On another topic, I’m suspicious of the traffic court’s move to Oakland. Doesn’t that mean more people will just mail in their fines on citations, rather than go to Oakland to contest them? This puts the mayor in a contradictory position. How does he oppose the move at the same time the city wants more money for the General Fund? 

Charles Smith 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

The New York Times has now published photographs showing the physical abuse of Jose Padilla under arrest by an arm of the United States. Yet, if memory serves accurately, I read quite recently that having obtained, by leaks or whatever means, information of the United States’ sending “terrorism” suspects to other countries, although they knew them, the Times has not printed the names of those countries that received the suspects and frequently tortured them. 

To me, the Times thereby sidestepped the highest calling of a free press — to shine light on matters needing urgent remedy, wherever and whenever. The citizens of those countries, that on request, and probably to cement expected or continuing “aid,” etc., took United States suspects, need to know and punish those responsible for what their own governments have done, and possibly are still doing. 

Here we struggle against secret repressive government (under the guise of protections), and I urge all who know their names to publicize the culpability of those countries guilty of scenarios like that imposed on Jose Padilla. The full facts can help ensure humane government abroad as well as in the United States. 

Judith Segard Hunt 




Editors, Daily Planet: 

It is amazing that the reader in the Nov. 17 edition would defend the undemocratic practice of OakPAC’s buying the District 2 City Council election when it had succeeded in having the Oakland campaign reform law lifted so they can spend their money in the last minute of the election, to the incumbent, Pat Kernighan. 

Kernighan is known to be pro-developer next to City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and the both favor outside developers’ interests over the majority of Oaklanders. With Kernighan still in the council seat, the developers can build as many condos as they want without any checks and balances. Their actions can result in further water shortages in the city. 

By criticizing commentary writer Paul Rockwell for exposing the dirty deeds of OakPAC for buying the District 2 City Council race, it seems that this reader is either part of the corporations or developers that want to encourage more water shortages in Oakland in order to build as many condos as they want. 

Billy Trice, Jr.