Letters for February 16

Readers sound off on the Berkeley Free Clinic, OpenTable, and Anthony Batts.

“Free Clinic Faces Tough Times,” News, 1/26

Cutting Hurts

All the clinics and services that serve the poor and the marginalized are now under the knife. The voices that would have decried these cuts just two months ago now speak of “common ground” and re-alignment, euphemisms for abdication of state responsibility to counties that are either broke or openly hostile to the types of services being targeted. At the federal level, Obama officials pat themselves on the back for having the courage to seek defense cuts, knowing those cuts target VA clinics. A rose (or something less pleasant) by any other name is still a rose.

Orlando Chavez, Oakland

“OpenTable Reconsidered,” Feature, 1/26

They Brought It Upon Themselves

The fact of the matter is that most restaurateurs have been abysmal marketers for decades. It was — and still is — rare that a restaurant can even identify and contact a customer after the customer has walked out the door. As to customer relationships, they have been scattered and inconsistent — and customer feedback has been limited to complainers. This lack of information, and customer retention tools, has made for a perfect storm for a company like OpenTable to arrive on the scene in an industry that believes in “build it and they will come.” The company has captured more and more of the restaurant patron’s attention with its easy and almost enjoyable-to-use system.

Restaurateurs like Mr. Pastore are now complaining about this; they brought it upon themselves, through a long history of ignoring the basics of marketing — and not recognizing the “new world” they exist in today. Also, the concept of applying financial analysis (attributed to Mr. Pastore) to the restaurant’s entire customer base is faulty; restaurateurs should instead establish a break-even analysis and then apply different profit analysis to customer counts above the break-even point. Many restaurateurs cannot comprehend this, and Mr. Pastore may be one of them. If they truly feel that OpenTable is a profit-sapping system, let them drop it! Hopefully such houses will have a fully filled reservation book and be turning diners away every night of the week before they do so.

Having been the general manager of multi-restaurant operations and owning my own marketing firm for more than twenty years, I can recall the days when a restaurant owner or manager could not tell you where the customers who just dined came from, why, or what they thought of the experience. As to ever having them come back and getting in touch with them to do so (such as a simple birthday invitation), that was totally unknown. There are still too many restaurants like that, and they simply don’t recognize the world they are trying to compete in.

Today, applying marketing systems and establishing a proactive marketing culture are as important to a restaurant as its chef, menu, wait staff, host, and the equipment in the kitchen. OpenTable is one of the firms that has recognized this, and its growth is proof that the concept is worthy.

William H. Thompson, Walnut Creek

“Is Batts Going to Quit?” Seven Days, 2/2

Causing a Disturbance

So, if not Batts, then who? What change do you propose to deal with our crime problem? All I read here is a diatribe against Batts, with no proposed solution for preventing crime in Oakland. Criminals from other towns come to Oakland specifically to commit crimes. I have had to call 911 several times this year, and the response varies each time, even though the severity of the crimes hasn’t. This has been the norm in Oakland for the eight years I have lived here. Every July 4, I feel like I live in the Gaza Strip, there is so much gunfire in our neighborhood (as opposed to the regular, everyday gunfire). In 2007, while I watched my neighbor’s house being broken into, I was told by 911 dispatch that they couldn’t send anyone right away. I ran the criminals off myself, wearing my pink flannel pajamas. My other neighbor was held at gunpoint two weeks ago in front of her house while holding her infant in her arms.

This isn’t journalism — it’s shit disturbance. While you are tearing Batts a new one, why don’t you tell me where my Measure Y and Measure BB taxes are going? I thought these measures were intended to provide funding to achieve and maintain our police force of 802 officers — not from pension contributions from its members. If the money that is being collected by taxpayers under these measures was spent how voters intended, we would not have to close parks, kids programs, etc. Tell me what Jean Quan is doing with my money to improve our police force.

Rachael Miller, Oakland

Robert Gammon Responds

Measure BB, which replaced Measure Y, relieved the city from having to fund 802 police officer positions. It is unrelated to the city’s current budget deficit.

Not His Problem

The article makes a fundamental mistake in confusing Batts’ job as police chief and the roles of elected officials — Oakland city councilmembers and the mayor. Batts’ job is to run the police department. The job of elected officials is to allocate resources, raise money, and explain it all to their constituency. The article reframes the situation to put all the responsibility for city government failures on Batts. Most of the failures lie with the electeds.

Michael Ferro, Oakland

“Shane’s Campaign,” News, 2/2

Dangerous Mission

I almost killed Mr. Gray!

Not intentionally, but the dude rode his bike through a red light on Carlson Boulevard. in Richmond. He blasted through a red light, holding a big “Free Leonard” sign that totally blocked his view of traffic on his left side. 

Needless to say, I almost hit him and he never even saw my car, which missed T-boning him by about two feet.

Shane, please try to stay alive, if you want to get your message out.

Eli Barbosa, Richmond

“What’s Left of BRT?” Full Disclosure, 2/2

What’s Wrong With Berkeley

As an Oakland resident, I cannot wait for this project to open and see an immediate boom in ridership and reliability (like every other BRT in the country). But almost more than that, I cannot wait for Berkeley to scratch its collective head and wonder why its buses get stuck in traffic while Oakland’s streets offer no bus delays, continuous bike lanes, and friendlier crosswalks.

Ruth Miller, Oakland

A Disappointing Loss

It should be made clear that the cities are not expected to pay a dime for BRT, and actually stand to benefit from the investment of millions of dollars in new infrastructure, which helps to attract future investment.

Perhaps most disappointing about the loss of BRT in Berkeley is the fact that, with BRT, the cost per passenger would be reduced by about $1 more than what taxpayers subsidize today. This translates to lower operating costs overall, which would help to avoid service cuts and/or fare hikes in the future.

Making transit more efficient is the most effective way to preserve service when funding is low.

Joel Ramos



Coordination Is Needed

This is an example of why California needs to legislate inter-transit agency cooperation. There is already a rapid way of getting from San Leandro BART to Berkely BART: BART! It would be nice if AC Transit took all the money it spends on routes that compete with BART and instead spend them on all the places BART doesn’t go.

Christopher MacKechnie, Long Beach

“The Hidden Costs of Brown’s Plan,” Full Disclosure, 1/26

Not Perfect, But Close

Redevelopment is still one of the only tools cities have to remedy Proposition 13, which is holding who-knows-how-much money out of the city. My property bill is twelve times higher than my neighbor’s. Same house. That’s absurd.The ability to bond against future increases in property taxes — how redevelopment agencies are funded — is an essential tool. I’m not saying redevelopment agencies are perfect — far from it. But in cities like Oakland, we must have a way to work around Prop 13. It’s killing our city.

Doug Johnson, Oakland

“New Rules Threaten Small Fishermen,” Eco Watch, 1/26

Shortsighted Greed

This is from a boat owner in New England, where catch shares were imposed last May: 65 percent of the New England groundfish fleet has been tied to the dock since May 1, 2010, because of low total allocations, but especially due to impossibly low individual allocations.

Do not believe the lies of the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is not true that “revenues are up.” That is statistical sleight of hand and pure BS. The cost of buying allocation is not factored into their “revenues” count. Eighty percent of the total allocations went to 20 percent of the boats, and so some of their revenues are up, for sure. Smaller operators, however, are going out of business after generations of fishing — I know, I’m one of them.

It is not “a few individuals,” it is the majority of the fleet in the largest fishing port in the nation; estimates are from 60 percent to 70 percent of the vessels in the New Bedford, Mass., fleet are idle — and hurting.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are now working on privatizing our monkfish; next will be whiting, scup, and squid.

Separate the fish from the license (which, in essence, is what catch shares do) and Wall Street will make a shambles of this industry, as they’ve done with so many others. Any “safeguards” or “caps” on ownership can be undone as quickly as they’re instituted. If the money manipulators can get the Supreme Court to reverse one hundred years of campaign finance restrictions, they can certainly get a fisheries council to remove a few “safeguards.”

We must stop this catch share scam; it’s nothing but shortsighted mindless greed, including some bought-and-sold fishermen posing as poster children for the EDF scam artists. Firm resolve will overcome.

Dick Grachek

Owner F/V Anne Kathryn, Point Judith, RI

Mystic, CT


In our February 9 cover story, “Fund-Raising for the Facebook Generation,” we got wrong the amount of money that Awaken Café owner Cortt Dunlap raised. It was more than $3,500. Also, we got the name wrong of the Lighthouse Community Charter School.


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