Letters for March 17

Readers sound off on Merritt Bakery, Berkeley's solar plan, and the Berkeley Daily Planet.

“An Oakland Icon May Close,” Town Business, 2/24

Bakery Doesn’t Deserve a Bailout

I’m dismayed to learn that the cash-strapped City of Oakland has been bailing out the flailing Merritt Bakery and Restaurant for years, and recently spent money for a consultant to examine the viability of another bailout. Blaming the Merritt demise on inconvenient parking is absurd. Especially since a competitor diner was demolished during the Albertson’s store remodel. Similar diners have long closed their doors. It all comes down to value and quality of food. I can think of half a dozen restaurants and bakeries in Oakland (and many more in Berkeley) that have a constant line of customers out the door, despite difficult parking. In fact, the Merritt briefly attempted to revive their bakery business (with a city bailout), on the corner of 51st and Telegraph. That Merritt venture failed, but a thriving bakery has been active in the same space, and even expanded their menu to include diner staples like fried chicken and egg salad sandwiches. Oakland bakeries and restaurants do not usually supply storefront parking. Merritt’s mismanaged business model does not merit a city funded bailout. So will Oakland get their bailout money back when the business is sold?

Karen Broder, Oakland

“Berkeley’s Solar Plan Goes Dark,” News, 2/24

Solar Plan Succeeded

Judith Scherr suggests that Berkeley’s recent solar financing plan was not a success. To the contrary, I believe that Berkeley FIRST may be our city’s most important contribution to combating climate change.

Berkeley FIRST (Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology) is an innovative renewable energy financing program designed to overcome the barriers to property owners’ adoption of renewable energy technologies. There are many advantages of the Berkeley FIRST program for property owners, including:

Relatively little up-front cost

Up-front costs for the solar system are paid through a special tax on the property, and are amortized over twenty years.

The tax obligation stays with the property, so if the property is transferred or sold, the new owners will pay the remaining tax obligation.

In her article, Ms. Scherr neglects to highlight several key accomplishments of our program, including:

1) Berkeley FIRST was a catalyst for the expansion of residential solar energy. Ninety percent of applicants who were accepted into the original pilot program have now installed or plan to install solar on their homes. Those applicants who did not take advantage of the financing credit the program with exposing them to the benefits of renewable energy.

2) The greatest advantage of this program is its scalability. Berkeley FIRST has become a national model for energy efficiency and renewable energy adoption. Vice President Biden recognized Berkeley FIRST and, in taking it to national scale, renamed the program Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). Seventeen states and more than 200 cities are now preparing to launch Berkeley-like PACE programs. In California, Berkeley FIRST was the foundation for what is now a statewide California FIRST program.

3)  The CaliforniaFIRST program has incorporated lessons learned from our Berkeley FIRST initiative and will serve as an improved product. In the statewide program, homeowners can amortize the costs of energy efficiency and water conservation improvements as well as the installation of solar panels and solar thermal systems. Benefits of the scaled up program will also include lower interest rates and administrative costs for each participating property owner. Berkeley residents will have access to this program once it launches this summer.

The success of Berkeley’s pilot has laid the foundation for the larger scale state-wide program that will give thousands of Berkeley homeowners the chance to lower their energy bills, make their homes less drafty and become energy independent, while at the same time creating meaningful green jobs for our area. Whereas, Ms. Scherr feels that our program went “dark,” I would argue that it has illuminated the road to a more vibrant and energy efficient future.

Tom Bates, Berkeley

Off to Greener Pastures

BerkeleyFIRST program was change for a greener, more sustainable world and now, we learn, it’s going dark. The program was a leap forward in the “greening” of our nation; too bad it couldn’t survive. Yes, only a few Berkeley residents participated in the pilot program (emphasis on PILOT) but it still brought awareness for other governments to start thinking seriously about sustainability. If I’m not mistaken, a pilot program is sort of a test run. Since we don’t truly know the outcome, we need to test it. We have tested it. We learned from it. Off to greener pastures we go!

Emese Danko, Berkeley

“Eco-Plaza Needs a Green Light,” Eco-Watch, 3/3

Who’s Surprised?

Regarding the faux riparianification of Center Street, it should be notedthat the 8,000 people walking to Cal enter a REAL riparian corridor after crossing Oxford Street. Who can be surprised at the lack of momentum? We’re in a recession, public finances are terrible, and the entire north side of the block (presently ugly and underused) will eventually turn into a blighted construction zone as has Center a block west for the past several years. Suiting our modest circumstances, we should pay heed to the low-budget success of SF’s “Pavement Parks.” Simply put: bollard off Center, add planters and benches, and give the plaza a trial run. Get some ambitious grad students to analyze receipts and determine the economic impact. The city can get merchants on board by offering to offset potential losses as measured against the neighborhood. We’re never going to have a 3rd Street Promenade (Santa Monica) or a GardenMall (Santa Cruz), but we could do something amidst the endless jaw-jaw of competing downtown plans. Is Center Plaza a pleasant place to sit or is it actually a cold windy street next to six lanes of traffic? Does a traffic-free street reinvigorate commerce and culture or should the city start thinkingabout eminent domain for empty storefronts? 

John Vinopal, Berkeley

“The Berkeley Daily Planet: A Personal Obituary,” Feature, 3/3

Ludicrous Suggestions

Regardless of the economic reasons behind the demise of the Daily Planet, attention will always be focused on the subservience Becky O’Malley accorded to a group of writers and contributors who endorsed, promoted, fostered, and enabled a pathological hatred of Israel. The tendency for this monster to rear its ugly head, week after week, was worthy of the criticism that prevailed from a number of progressive observers, none of whom could be described as “right-wing Zionists.”If you visited one of the anti-Israel rallies in the Bay Area, you would note that there is no longer a line drawn between Israel hatred and Jew hatred. By featuring a maelstrom of hostility towards Israel in her pages, O’Malley effectively cottoned up to the most disturbing, virulent form of modern Jew hatred. To suggest, as Brenneman does, that O’Malley’s critics were limited to three “zionist perpetrators” is ludicrous. Hate speech was heard — loud and clear — throughout her publication, and an entire community of progressives became outraged.

Leon Mayeri, Berkeley

Experts Aren’t Objective

In Richard Brenneman’s predictably self-serving post-mortem of the Berkeley Daily Planet‘s checkered existence, he queries two “independent experts” about the value of the newspaper, both of whom, it so happens, published extensively in the Planet (not exactly the most “objective” voices?). He quotes Gray Brechin, a frequent and exceedingly strident critic of Israel in the pages of the Planet, as lamenting, “It’s really sad that the paper’s critics were willing to sacrifice the paper for their own agendas.” 

Excuse me? This formulation is exactly backwards. The “critics” of the Planet had absolutely no power to sacrifice the paper to any agenda. They merely exercised their First Amendment privilege by voicing their own concerns about frequent prejudicial content to the wider community. But Brechin is half right. The Planet was, in fact, shamefully and needlessly sacrificed to the malignant agenda of its editor and owner for whom providing an open forum for relentlessly attacking the legitimacy and existence of the world’s only Jewish state superseded any other raison d’être for her vanity newspaper. Brechin concludes, “But I really developed a respect for Becky O’Malley because she didn’t shy away from controversial issues, including the Palestine question.”  Indeed, the “Palestine question” was of such capital importance to the Planet faithful that the newspaper’s ruin proved preferable to focusing on organic local issues which could have made the paper more sustainable in the long term.

S. Z. Underwood, Berkeley

A Forum for Terror Apologists

I used to work for a newspaper publisher for over three years and have felt the pain first hand of changes in the newsprint industry. So when I hear about yet another newsprint source going out of business these days I usually feel a certain degree of sadness for the before mentioned reason and because it is evidence of a still troubled economy. But not so with The Berkeley Daily Planet for which I take great delight in saying good riddance! The Daily Planet provided a forum for Israel bashers and terror apologists to demonize the Jewish state. Standing up for Israel here in the “tolerant and liberal” Bay Area has always been an uphill battle. As such, the occasional victory that comes our way is most welcomed. Jim Sinkinson and Dan Spitzer should be commended for their efforts in informing the Planet‘s advertisers about the paper’s anti-Israel bias which contributed to its demise. The publisher and editor Michael and Becky O’Malley however don’t appear to have learned a thing from all this. Richard Brenneman’s article concludes with a prediction of friends and foes alike who will miss The Daily Planet. Rest assured, Mr. Brenneman, I will not be one of them.

David Holsey, Castro Valley

Berkeley Has Another Newspaper

The Pepper Spray Times, a satirical newspaper in its twelfth year of publication, continues to publish print issues in Berkeley, subscriptions to which are available at [email protected]

Carol Denney, AKA Grace Underpressure,Editor, Pepper Spray Times



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