Letters for May 26

Readers sound off on Nic Nak dispute, redevelopment agencies, Oakland nightlife, and more.

“Kaplan Ensnared in Racial Dispute,” Full Disclosure, 5/12

Potential for Crime

Robert Gammon’s story on the struggle over Nic Nak’s liquor license left out some important information. As one of the many neighbors who opposed the Planning Commission’s waiver to grant the license, I would like East Bay Express readers to know the full story behind our opposition.Once a liquor license is approved, it stays with the business. From then on, whoever buys the Nic Nak can sell liquor at the site. The current owner, Mr. Pannell, tried to sell the store in 2004 and again in 2008. Obviously a mini-market with a liquor license would be more attractive to buyers. So although Mr. Pannell’s store hasn’t been a crime magnet, it could well become one under a new owner. Studies show that more alcohol outlets mean more violent crime in neighborhoods. A 2010 report by researchers at the University of Indiana reported that the increased density of alcohol sales outlets has a direct affect on the average number of assaults in the immediate area. The clear connection between liquor sales and crime is the reason Oakland bans new liquor stores close to existing outlets.The Oakland ordinance requires at least 1,000 feet between liquor stores. The nearest liquor outlet in our neighborhood, T&K Market, is literally across the street. The Oakland ordinance says that if a store is closed for ninety days or more, it has to re-apply for a liquor permit. Mr. Pannell closed his store for five years. Now he wants the city council to treat him as if his business never closed, and ignore its own law about the distance between liquor outlets. If the city council upholds the Nic Nak appeal, it will create a exception big enough to drive a beer truck through. Other neighborhoods may well see mini-market owners applying for such creative exemptions.The neighbors opposed to the Nic Nak appeal include African-American residents. This is not about race. It is about Oaklanders working to make their neighborhood safe not just now, but into the future.

Judy Pope, Oakland

It’s About Crime, Not Race

In regards to the Nic Nak dispute, Rebecca Kaplan asks, “If you run a store that hasn’t caused crime and people are trying to take away your permit, might not you wonder whether your race is an issue? And wouldn’t you feel that’s unfair?” I honestly don’t think that’s the case this time. People in Oakland are very tired of the crime and this is one way they feel, whether effective or not, they can take a stand against it. So often there’s been a connection between alcohol, drugs and crime, so adding one more liquor store to the mix in Oakland certainly isn’t going to help bring down the crime rate. Also, race is not always an issue when it comes to these matters. I truly feel that if Mr. Pannell was any race other than African American, there would still be an objection to reinstating Nic Nak’s ability to sell liquor.

On another note, I’m a bit disappointed in Rebecca Kaplan. I’ve been reading that she’s a shining, new bright light in Oakland politics but, based on what I’ve read in this article, she’s just business as usual. In order for things to truly change in Oakland, the would be movers and shakers need to see things from more of a commonsensical, ‘justice is blind’ perspective, and not rely on the old ‘tried and true,’ which is not always true any more.

Gery Tinkelenberg, Oakland

“Oakland Cops: ‘That’s Not the Way We Do It,'” Seven Days, 5/12

Karma’s a Bitch

Ah, yes; whoever said revenge isn’t sweet was a liar. When Gray Davis was governor he remarked that redevelopment agencies should be outlawed; they involve public money in private sector business, which encourages cronyism and governmental corruption (only a fool would think otherwise).

In Oakland particularly, the R.A. is run in a rapacious and corrupt way; for example, pet developers can be given “forgivable” loans (read: money giveaways) for their “service to the city” (read: large campaign contributions). To insulate the R.A. from taxpayer wrath, the city government makes it a separate legal entity from which money cannot be transferred for other uses; this creates a monetary Black Hole where money goes in but it can’t never come out. This is intentionally designed to create a ready cash cow for crony developers to milk.

Complaints made to the city council about this contrived set-up have fallen on deaf ears, perhaps because the city council is also the R.A. wearing different hats (life is full of coincidences).

Ain’t karma a bitch? Now, the state plans to do the R.A. what it’s been doing to us all along, expropriating money. Well, GOOD! I hope the state uses the money wisely, but even if it doesn’t, watching it empty the R.A. Pork Barrel is satisfying enough.

Maybe there is some justice out there after all.

P.S. I’ve spoken to some economically savvy people who agree that the proliferation of redevelopment agencies contributed to the current “recession” (read: depression). On reflection, I agree.

James J. Fenton, Oakland

“Oakland Unified Has Too Many Schools,” News, 5/5

Perpetual Motion Machine

First, a quote: “The aim of education is knowledge not of facts, but of values.” — Dean William R. Inge

Robert Gammon is treating the issue of the depopulation of the Oakland schools as some sort of political conundrum that can’t be explained, so is best ignored.

The answer is obvious to all who wish to see. Inflation of the housing market has driven many working-class people, especially those with children, out of the area. This in turn causes school class size to go down; which in turn gives a ready excuse to close ever more schools.

The prime movers of this connected affect is the California Redevelopment Association working hand-in-glove with Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency (which is actually the Oakland City Council under another name). Years ago, the city council had to choose between selfish intersects and public service, and it decided to go with the former (like some journalists).

But what goes around comes around; and so Oakland, having adopted the philosophy of the cancer cell and produced growth for the sake of growth, now has a surplus of “developments” for nobody.

The really remarkable thing here is how few people have noticed that this economic Perpetual Motion Machine is hopelessly broken down; and that the abject condition of our own public schools is one of the many predictable side affects. What does anyone think happens in an ethically bankrupt society with corrupted values? How can schools teach “Civics” classes when the adults themselves have no sense of just what that means? But oh, I forget, teaching public morality is out of fashion now (unless, of course, it’s done hypocritically).

Years ago, it was predicted there would be a dog fight between the developers and the California Teachers Association for public funds; let’s hope it happens soon. Let the developers hold “bake sales” for funding in the future, instead of schools.

James J. Fenton, Oakland

“What About the Children?,” Letters, 5/12

Who’s the Terrorizer?

This is in response to Richard Levine, who doesn’t like people playing music that he can hear at night where he lives, feeling that people are “adversely affected” by noise from bars and clubs and such. Levine calls it “amazing, what a single dance band — a single percussionist — can do to terrorize an entire neighborhood.”

“Terrorize?” Please. How do you think dozens or hundreds of people out enjoying themselves feel when a handful of grouchy NIMBYs complain enough to get the police to come and shut down a party? 

Siccing the law on somebody bears a lot more resemblance to “terrorizing” than simply playing music!

And what about being “adversely affected” by the very vocal grinches who insist on living in a built-up urban area but appear to expect it to conform to the characteristics of a bucolic suburb? Not to mention the evident bias against fun — unnecessary use of emergency vehicle sirens and the clanking of garbage trucks probably do more to interrupt nighttime rest than do the sounds of your fellow residents out having a good time.

Many people feel there is far too little to do for fun at night in the East Bay. Compare Oakland with fabulous European cities like Paris and Madrid, where you can find the streets full at 3 o’clock in the morning. “Nightclubbing in Oakland is almost an oxymoron,” said the friend I was having breakfast with when I told her I was writing a letter to the editor in response to a person complaining about nightlife.

Levine writes of “ordinary, hard-working, early-to-bed-early-to-rise citizens.” This sounds like a thinly veiled attempt to brand people who enjoy nightlife as second-class citizens who are somehow lazier or less important than other folks. Since he talks up employment, presumably he is making money and can invest some of it in soundproofing his house. If he’s not “hard-working” enough to be able to afford that, he can always pick up some earplugs for a couple bucks at the local drugstore. Not everybody who works hard has a daytime schedule, and just because you do have a 9-to-5 job doesn’t necessarily make you a better person or mean that other businesses and activities should be structured around your preferences. If you live to work, don’t hate on those who work to live!

Levine also writes of being “able to go to sleep when we wanted to.” But he shows no similar concern for others being able to dance and play music when they want to. Dancing, socializing and enjoying music are no less valid social activities than sleeping, and going out and partying is an important part of life to hundreds of millions of people in the world, especially young people. Perhaps Mr. Levine has forgotten what it’s like to be young. But does he really think it is preferable to restrict late-night entertainment venues so that more bored youth are out cruising the streets?

Finally, he complains that sound reverberates upward from the bottom of the valley along which Grand Avenue runs. But playing the adversarial NIMBY card is not the best way to address this issue. A win-win solution would be to relax zoning and land use rules so that entertainment is allowed to happen in more non-residential areas such as in large parks, on the waterfront, etc., where those who can’t get with the groove are less likely to be disturbed.

If you follow these suggestions and still have trouble sleeping, maybe it’s because you have a guilty conscience about trying to use government to stop people from having a good time.

Starchild, San Francisco

“What Just Happened to Nina Wise,” Theater, 5/12

Truth, Not Fiction

Thanks for attending my show and reviewing it. FYI, the material I use is true not fiction.Re: “Nor is it clear whether the visit happened at all, or if it happened exactly the way she described it. Wise appears to have phenomenal event-recall, but she often blurs the line between reality and her elaborate fantasy life.”I do my best not to blur the line between my fantasy life and my real life. I did spend a week at Max’s home as I said in the performance, and the experiences there were as I reported them.

Nina Wise, San Rafael

“Reading, Writing, Replanting,” Feature, 4/28

The Kids Are Leaders

Namaste dear siblings from East Bay Express!

May this e-mail find you well.

I just read the incredible article “Reading, Planting and Replanting” by brother Luke Tsai and I’d like to congratulate you all for being bold enough to put it as the cover. The shining eyes and smile of the kid in the cover speak by themselves. What a beautiful way to call our attention! (I have to confess that I have read two of your stories and I have been around here for six years).

I love science and the awe and wonder of the Universe. This article taps into the foundations of learning. What graded oriented education often misses, is that when art and science are balanced the beauty of life blossoms at its best.

As a scientist, I’d rather have responsible citizens of the world who know how to grow, harvest and cook their own food, than having blind paid “scientists” developing nuclear weapons at the labs of the University of California. When they went to middle school, they might have aced the “standard” tests, but today they are miserably failing as human beings. That is a greater ignorance and these people (not true scientists) need to understand that violence and science are mutually exclusive in the long term. And if they don’t understand reasons, let them eat numbers.

Thus, the children of Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School are not only honoring the name of the man by growing beloved community and healthy food (the foundation of social justice), but they are also taking care of the Earth (and all of us!) in this age of climate change. They are leading a nonviolent movement, they are the inspiring example of possibility, they are the champions of world citizenship, the slow food, slow down, slow science movement at its best.

Thank you for sharing this powerful inspiration with all of us in the Berkeley community and the Bay Area. This is what we need to replicate all over the Planet. [Just in case you haven’t seen the latest TED prize, here is Jamie Oliver addressing the same topic: Teach every Child About Food.]

Once again, congratulations and please keep planting more seeds of critical thinking/feeling and keep awakening more hearts and consciousness, because where ignorance is your master there is no possibility of peace. We must educate the hearts of our children and learn from them in the process.

May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.

Have a ONE-derful week! 🙂

If you want to be a rebel be kind. Human-kind, be both.

In big smiles + big hugs + service + solidarity + insurgent learning,

Planetizing the Movement of the Ahimsa (R)evolution from some corner of our round borderless country…

PS: Thanks to brother Luke, now you will have one more frequent reader/commenter 😉

Pancho Ramos-Stierle, Berkeley

“California Ready to Legalize Pot If Youth Rock Vote,” Legalization Nation, 4/28

Christ Approved Of Cannabis

Cannabis (marijuana) should be RE-legalized whether or not young citizens show up to vote. The small majority should not be allowed to persecute and discriminate against the large minority.

Another reason to end cannabis prohibition and extermination that doesn’t get mentioned is because it is Biblically correct since Christ God Our Father, The Ecologician, indicates He created all the seed-bearing plants, saying they are all good, on literally the very first page (Genesis 1:11-12 and 29-30). The only Biblical restriction placed on cannabis is that it is to be accepted with thankfulness (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5).

Stan White, Dillon, Colorado

“The Lecture’s Online, Let’s Play Hookie,” News, 4/28

No Proof, But Students Like Them

Having created the Berkeley Lecture Webcasting system, I have a few comments. Many people ask about the effect of the webcasting system on class attendance and student learning. Studies done by Dr. Diane Harley when we were running the system showed that student attendance declines for the majority of classes regardless of whether they are webcast. And, the one formal study done comparing student learning with and without access to lecture webcasts showed no measurable effect on learning outcomes. On the other hand, students and faculty find the webcast system a valuable addition to a class. My personal belief is that the system does improve learning, but like most educational technology tools, it must be used appropriately. As in most situations, some students do and some do not.

The majority of students use the webcasts to study for exams. Their primary motivation is to review what the instructor said about a specific topic or scheduled event.

The biggest challenge is finding where the instructor discussed a particular concept or topic amongst the forty hours of lecture in a typical course.

Recently I have been working on a research system that will allow people to search through lecture videos to find discussion about a particular topic. The system, which is called TalkMiner and will be released for public use on the Internet in the next month, identifies slide images in the video and OCR’s the text to create a search index. Early experiments with course lectures have been extremely positive.

Larry Rowe, Emeritus Professor EECS, UC Berkeley


In our May 12 Summer Guide story about the 2009 Rad Massaker alleycat race, we incorrectly identified the person awarding prizes to the finishers after the race; he was Ryan Akers. We also failed to note that Dustin Smith designed the spoke card we used to illustrate the publication’s cover.


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