Letters for December 22

Readers sound off on solar energy development, the A's ballpark, and Jean Quan's tweets.

“Oakland Invades the Desert,” Feature, 12/8

Castles in the Sand

Good article on desert solar and the environment, but the economics were not explained. The sun is dilute requiring the 5.6 square-mile “footprint” described, but there’s a further limitation: Solar panels get no light at night. They are effective only when the sun is most direct, about 6-8 hours a day. Thus the 370-megawatt output alleged for Ivanpah is misleading. Power averaged over the year comes to something like 100 megawatts. Company statistics for all plants quoted are actually 65-75 percent lower.

By contrast the gas plant across the valley is rated at 500 megawatts. Gas plants are run around the clock, produce power 24/7. Over a year they’ll typically run 80 percent of the time, giving an effective megawattage of 400, four times that of BrightSource’s facility. And no other plant will have to be kept running in parallel to give electricity at night. The gas plant sits on one-tenth the area of the solar plant. Megawatt for megawatt, you’re damaging only one-fortieth of the area, and you get to surf the web at night after work as well!

Promotion of solar goes back to the 1970s, but even now provides only 1 percent of our electricity. The dilute quality of the sun’s rays requires a huge expense. When Ivanpah was approved earlier this year, BrightSource had put up only $160 million of its own money. The Obama administration put up the rest in the form of $1.34 billion loan guarantee out of stimulus funds (the bailout). That’s a 90 percent subsidy on construction. Add to that the 30 percent subsidy on operations and the 33 percent guaranteed market (by law), plus state subsidies. Now you can see why there is such interest in solar contraptions in the desert. It’s the taxpayers, Stoopid!

And the ratepayers. When ratepayers find out that they’re expected to pay three to five times more for solar-generated electricity than they would for real power from a real power plant, it will be the Tea Party all over again. Unfortunately, we will find ourselves with 1000 square miles of wrecked desert that cannot repair itself. That is the Obama’s stated plan for solar build-out. 

Castles in the sand, indeed. Impeachment, anybody?

Steve Tabor, Oakland

The Lesser of Two Evils

Thanks for your article about building solar power plants in deserts. We environmentalists have been arguing about this for several years. It basically comes down to the usual Democrats v. Greens debate (do you support the lesser of evils or advocate for what you really believe?) plus whether you are the type of environmentalist who believes in technological solutions or the type who realizes that we must lower our consumption while also using the least harmful technology available.

Overconsumption and overpopulation are the roots of all environmental problems. As your article clearly shows, there will be no magical technological solution to the environmental and ecological problems caused by consumption of too much energy. The proper solutions to residential electricity overconsumption are to put solar panels and wind generators on every roof, and to build these solar and wind plants in the cities and other areas where the electricity is being consumed. Power lines in otherwise natural areas are not only ugly, they’re also environmentally destructive.

Because of the ecological and environmental harms outlined in your article and because of the aesthetic and ecological harms caused by power lines, I strongly oppose the supposed “clean energy” solar plants, which are actually very dirty in environmental and ecological terms.

Jeff Hoffman, San Francisco

Reduce Power Demand

The arrival at the newsstands of the Express with the “Oakland [Solar] Invades the Desert” article and the arrival in the Bay Area of the new electric plug-in hybrid from Nissan called the Leaf all brings up the techno-fix vs. city design issue that is at the base of solving our long-term environmental problems.

Solar electric generation in the desert does take up a fair amount of land but car-dependent “sprawl” development takes up many times more. As the Express article points out, both sides of the pro- and anti-desert solar electric power plants are trying to solve environmental problems, problems that ecological city design would solve in an even more fundamental and much larger way.

The electric car requires energy from some place, and, along with the arrival of the Leaf, PG&E gave us a hint of things to come on the demand side, demand that would be caused by trying to put our car-based transportation system on electricity. PG&E warns us that they will have to track neighborhoods where the Leaf ends up because these cars will add greatly to the demand for electricity, demanding up-grades and more generation from somewhere — desert solar, oil, nukes, hydro? —­ requiring higher capacity wires, transformers, new generation capacity, etc.

Basically, electric cars are not only far more energy, not to speak land, inefficient than public transit systems and bicycle access that can be provided by compact apartment in-town living, but electric cars have to cart around an extra few hundred pounds of batteries per person that simply does not exist when electricity is delivered by wire to streetcars, electric trolleys, and BART, and of course bicyclists don’t carry around multi-hundred-pound batteries in their baskets. The electric car ­hybrid or pure ­is an energy- and land-squandering disaster —­ get used to it! It is an integral part of a destructive city layout and design that perpetuates one of humanity’s worst mistakes: building cities for cars instead of people.

The demand side solution is cities that move resolutely away from cars —­ including the electric cars that provide green cover for yet more sprawl and massive new energy demand, no mater where the electricity may come from.

Best of both worlds: less demand in the first place and solar energy from the desert but not to be massive in scale to support cars in badly designed cities.

Richard Register

author, Ecocities:­ Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature, Oakland

Solar Is Better Than the Alternative

The article, “Oakland Invades the Desert,” has a lot of good information and makes many useful points. However, it misses the big picture. Global warming is threatening millions of species and the future of humanity. The article only acknowledges this problem begrudgingly, saying that solar companies “believe they’re doing something good.”

The fact is that they are doing something good. The earth can only absorb about 8 billion tons of CO2 per year, just over one ton per person on the planet. But right now the world produces about 32 billion tons of CO2 per year, over 4 tons per person. The US produces about 20 tons per person. This simply can’t go on. All electricity needs to be generated by solar, wind, and other renewables, and all transportation needs to run on clean electricity or low carbon footprint biofuels. Use of fossil fuels simply must be stopped.

Large-scale solar is part of the solution. Yes, that will impact the desert. And yes, we should protect as much habitat as possible. But all of the energy for the US could be generated by an area less than 100 miles x 100 miles of photovoltaic cells. Of course, that’s a lot, but it is less that 3/10 of 1 percent of the US area. So it is simply not true that “the entire California desert is under siege by solar power developers.”

The problem with the article is that it does not understand the urgency of getting off of fossil fuels. Instead of portraying a 250-megawatt plant as “massive” or a 1,000 megawatt plant as a “leviathan,” we should be working to find ways to build plants 10 or 100 times these sizes. The US consumes 360 billion kilowatt hours per month. To generate that much electricity, we need on the order of two thousand of the 1,000-megawatt plants.

While conservation, rooftop solar panels, more windmills, and other such efforts should also be part of the solution, and would reduce the need for many of these new solar plants, the dire situation on the planet makes large-scale solar a very beneficial effort.

Jack Lucero Fleck, Oakland

Do It Ourselves

As chair of the local Sierra Club chapter’s Conservation Committee and a delegate to the state-level conservation committee, I have followed the desert solar issue with some interest but limited information. I thought you did a nice job of making the enviros not look like a bunch of time-benders or the developers look like yahoos.The other story is the horse coming up on the outside, local generation of solar power with retrofits of existing structures. Big business wants to have our solar from “far away places with strange sounding names” so we can continue to pay them for what we could do on our own roofs.

Arthur Boone, Oakland

“Oakland’s Play for the A’s,” Full Disclosure, 12/8

Look at the Numbers

Both liberal and conservative economists have studied dozens of sports stadium deals over the last several decades. These academics are not paid by interested parties, and their studies nearly all conclude that new stadiums do nothing for the host cities or actually worsen their local economies.A few weeks ago the cost to the city of an environmental impact report was said to be $350,000. Already the expected cost has more than doubled to $750,000. Before an EIR is commissioned, City Hall should make a credible case to Oakland residents on economic grounds. It is not enough that a mayor-elect, already known for being arithmetically challenged when she speaks on public issues, merely hopes a stadium will help pull Oakland out of the national recession.

Charles Pine, Oakland

Local Businesses Should Get Dibs

What I hope is that the existing businesses (especially Peerless) get offered first dibs on the retail space in the new park. I think a brewery in a ballpark would be really cool (even if it’s coffee!)!! Knowing Lew Wolff, he’d probably want a Starbuxks or Dunkin Donuts in there instead.

Jim Richards, Oakland

Small Businesses for Valdez Triangle

The Valdez Triangle development plan is a story unto itself, independent of the new ballpark boondoggle. I admit that I have a soft spot for the area bordered by 20th, Broadway, Harrison/the lake, and 27th streets. It is a very walkable, bikeable quiet area with some art spaces, including the thriving “Creative Growth” center. The buildings are lower and don’t tower like the high-rises nearby. The sun shines onto the street and the apartment rents are cheap. This plan is being popularly represented as a plan for Broadway Auto Row, where many people would like to see change. But there is no real plan for that corridor, beyond condo developments. Currently the plan on the table is to build a large retail complex in the above-mentioned Broadway Valdez Triangle, and hopefully lure some “anchor tenants.” Names currently being talked about are Macy’s and Nordstrom’s, which is pretty laughable, considering the mixed success of the recent Westfield mall in SF, etc. Is retail space a sustainable plan in the Internet shopping age? Maybe. But don’t we have tons of vacant retail space in Oakland? Yes we do. Is more soon-to-be vacant retail space what we want to spend our redevelopment funds on? I think not. Why doesn’t Jean Quan set up a contest between local business plans for funds to rejuvenate derelict space already built and available? There are lots of this kind of environmentally responsible, small-business-friendly redevelopment plans that would be a refreshing change of pace.

If I wanted ideas like a new mall instead of a quiet neighborhood, I would have voted for Don Perata. Of course, Signature and Waverly properties, primary owners in the area, are pleased. They’ve been trying to bulldoze the area for over fifteen years. Let’s not give them our tax money to help them do it.

Ivar Diehl, Oakland

980 Park Is Better

Contrary to statements made by Oakland city officials, 980 Park, a baseball park, envisioned on the air-rights of the I-980 freeway between 14th and 18th streets, is capable of meeting the same time schedule as Victory Court.

Victory Court and 980 Park are both subject to environmental studies to be reviewed by Caltrans. In the case of Victory Court, it is dependent on freeway improvements that can be studied as part of the I-880/Broadway/Jackson Improvement Project. Currently, Victory Court, and for that matter all of Jack London Square and Chinatown, are served by one pair of I-880 freeway ramps at Oak/Jackson. These ramps already perform poorly, and will clearly be overwhelmed by Victory Court and its 2,500-car garage at its current ramp terminals, not to mention future backups on mainline freeway.

The I-880 study envisions improving the performance of the freeway, especially the access and egress from the Posey tube to Alameda. The I-880 study, initiated in 2006, is already gravely ill because it hasn’t received approval from the Oakland Chinatown community due to the overwhelming traffic impacts from all the new proposals since. Hence, the EIR that is scheduled to require 24 months has not yet even been started.

980 Park would also require Caltrans approval to build a ballpark on its air-rights: Think about connecting the three bridges over the freeway where the freeway is already depressed). Caltrans has stated that this process could be completed in 24 months! Therefore, what is needed ASAP is for city officials to negotiate a cooperative agreement to study 980 Park.

Why do this? Because the 980 Park alternative would require an investment of $25 million versus $200 million for the Victory Court proposal. Projected property tax and land rent is estimated at $100 million over the life to the facility. Our profligate Oakland city officials want to provide a $100 million subsidy for Victory Court, when they could reap a $75 million profit if they promoted 980 Park.

Bryan Grunwald, Oakland

“Jean Quan and Twitter Spam,” News, 12/1

Tweets Are Awesome

I really don’t see why anyone is taking issue here? The WHOLE POINT of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of the social-media networks is that they link us together in ways we’ve never been linked before. A single tweet is a drop in the bucket, so the more tweets a politician has, the more chances there are someone will hear the message they want to hear. It’s not Jean’s fault if you only use Twitter once a month and have less than ten followers. Sorry, don’t follow Jean then, if you don’t want 90 percent of your wall to be Twitter posts from her. Twitter is awesome! The more tweets the better! Just be sure to keep them relevant AND as an avid follower of www.twitter.com/jeanquan, I LOVE every one 😀

Kevin Mann, Oakland

“Once-Classic Cocktails Are Making a Comeback,” Bars, Clubs, & Coffeehouses, 10/27

Transphobic Cocktail

Please be aware of your language. Stating that “Rosemary Collins — a transgendered Tom Collins” is a transphobic statement, shows a lack of knowledge and respect for the the transgendered communities, and is unnecessary. Having statements such as this in newspapers makes it appear acceptable to the general public and is not okay.

Dean Khambatta, Oakland

“The GOP Is Toxic in California,” Seven Days, 12/1

Oakland Should Be Punished

The cards might help the poor and homeless and others who might fall prey to check cashing shops, or being robbed of their cash. However, if you are illegal in this country then you are what it means: illegal and should not be given any special privileges. Entering the country the correct way takes time and money. For example, my wife entering as a fiancée was not allowed a California ID until her status was approved six months after legal entry by homeland security.A city like Oakland that harbors and coddles illegals should be slapped by the federal government. Withholding money is surely yet to come.

Jim Zigenis, Oakland

The Posies, CD Reviews, 12/1

Worth the Buy

Blood/Candy is a wonderful album. Great lyrical twists and turns and lots of unusual moments for a band stuck with the “power pop” tag for so long. I love the album and have it in heavy rotation in my car. “So Caroline” is a divine creation; absolute pop perfection. That track ALONE is worth the price of the album.

Fred Cooper, Hollywood

“Don’t Dilute Our Trademark,” Letters, 12/8

Zzzzz …

Obviously the desert lawyer Mr. Eichler has never heard of the popular expression “technicolor yawn.”

Jim Buser, Oakland


In our 12/15 Culture Spy, “A Comic Death and Resurrection,” we attributed the incorrect relationship to the surviving relatives of Rory Root and Comic Relief. The surviving relatives are the current owners, not the prospective owners. The possible new owner is completely unaffiliated with the store.

In 12/1 news story, “The New Parkway?,” we misspelled J. Moses Ceaser’s name.

Miscellaneous Letters

An Open Comment on the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission

The 1969 People’s Park protest in Berkeley was the culmination of an activist movement centering on Free Speech and opposition to the Vietnam War. Since then, a small group of veteran Berkeley residents have been unable to let go of the limelight, believing it to be the responsibility of local government to comment on geopolitics. This mistaken claim is most obvious in the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, which will consider this week a resolution that would declare the Army private suspected of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks a hero and call for his release.

Recent BPJ Commission agendas have listed such issues as “War Crimes Investigation of the Bush Administration,” a “Resolution Requiring Berkeley to call for and support Universal and Unconditional Amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan War Military Resisters and Veterans,” “a Proposed Resolution Calling for the Immediate Withdrawal of United States Armed Forces and Private Mercenary Contractors from Afghanistan and Cessation of United States Military Drone Attacks on Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and a “Recommendation Calling for U.S. Support for Third Party Diplomatic Negotiations in the Niger Delta, Nigeria.”

These items have competed for time, attention, and funding with pressing local matters on BPJ agendas such as a “Public Forum on Immigration Policy and its impact on the Berkeley community,” “Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week,” and a review of the installation of local cell phone towers.

I moved to Berkeley almost four years ago, and am disappointed that my local government abdicates local responsibility in favor of an inappropriate (and outdated) sense of international self-importance. No one cares what Berkeley thinks about the Bush administration, US Military resisters, drone attacks, or Nigeria. The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, an advisory committee to the Berkeley City Council, serves no enduring purpose, except to allow those with a memory (real or adopted) of People’s Park in 1969 to perpetuate the narrative of their truly historic movement.

We in the city of Berkeley have important problems like unemployment, creating jobs, curtailing crime, fixing our streets, and creating a positive business climate that will attract revenue and jobs into our city (not to mention the library system, which is in serious need of attention, as residents were unable to successfully address at the June Peace and Justice Commission meeting, due to two hours of heated and harsh debate on the Israeli/Palestinian issue). I believe local governing is the primary responsibility of the elected officials of the City of Berkeley.

Our communities need leaders who recognize that local government is called, especially in economic times like ours, to lead locally. I pray the worthy goal of peace and justice be experienced every day in Berkeley, thanks to the work of the city council and its advisory committees.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Berkeley


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