Letters for May 5

Readers sound off on Devon Blood, Alamedans, and suburban sprawl.

“The Death of C3 Cannabis Collective,” News, 4/21

Civic Challenges in Nut Creek

This article makes me sad, especially because Walnut Creek is now my adopted home.I know from experience how difficult it is to fight City Hall, since it took me a year just to get a flag on the library flagpole in WC, and now am fighting just to get some signs put up at bicycle crossing in my neighborhood.Thanks for the article though

Jason Ruderman, Walnut Creek

“Businesses Can’t Thrive Without Schools,” Letters, 4/21

You’re An Angry Little Man

Nice letter, Tom Jackson. Instead of threatening local businesses which (thank god) class up this backward town, how about you get your facts straight?

I’ve lived here for 42 years, 20 of which I have spent paying property taxes. While I’m sure that you’re just adorable, clearly you’ve never bothered to read the text of Prop 13. It specifically slashed the tax rate on residences, effectively gutting the AUSD budget when it passed.

The “untold story” is that you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about and are (surprise) an angry little man who doesn’t want to pay taxes. Boo hoo.

Gotta love Alameda, the island of homophobes and deadbeats. God help us.

Erik Kolacek, Alameda

“Back to the Green Future,” Eco Watch, 4/7

Dense Cities Won’t Affect Sprawl

I appreciate Mr. Gammon’s hardworking attitude towards his journalism, but I am getting tired of his ill-informed synthesis of history in regards to the metropolis and the automobile. The geographic split between living and working places primarily dates to industrialization in Europe, predating the domination of the automobile by over a century. What was the cause? Mechanization, which increased dirt and noise, capitalization, which financed the machines and building of factories, and urbanization itself, which packs people in close. This last point is important — all metropolitan areas, even those built before the automobile, are surrounded by suburbs, many of which were made possible by trains, etc. This counters the currently popular idea that Mr. Gammon seems to subscribe to: that dense urban development will slow suburban growth. In fact, all evidence points to the contrary.

Ivar Diehl, Oakland

“An Oakland Icon May Close,” News, 2/24

Canned Vegis Don’t Deserve a Bailout

A longtime Oakland resident, I would like as much as the next person to see Merritt Bakery and Restaurant continue to succeed.

I am disturbed, however, to learn that the restaurant is asking the city “for a $300,000 bailout, plus $50,000 a month to help (owner Charles Griffis’) cash flow until business turns around.” 

And I do not believe a supposed lack of parking should be blamed for the decrease in receipts. There are plenty of food shops in town with little parking — let alone designated free parking — that seem to do quite well (e.g., Bakesale Betty, Arizmendi, shops in Chinatown and Rockridge, etc.). 

There are no doubt things Mr. Griffis could do to try to increase bakery and restaurant foot traffic, things that would not entail handouts from the City of Oakland:

Work to improve the menu. Though Merritt is known for its strawberry shortcake and fried chicken, its menu selection can be updated and refined. Why not play up the fried chicken sandwich, for example, the way Bakesale Betty does one of its specialties?

Improve the quality of the food. The toast, for example, is often dry; the hash browns equally mediocre. The vegetables taste like they are canned. Make sure the food it serves is consistently good.

Rework the prices. Perhaps Mr. Griffis should not have “raised food prices during the recession in an effort to increase revenues.” Menu prices need to be on par with the local competition (e.g., Rolling Dunes, Diggery Inn, Lakeshore café, etc.). This is basic economics.

Improve and update the interior. Though a renovation is not financially feasible, minor changes will not go unnoticed. Even Denny’s has flat-screen monitors these days. People like to feel comfortable when they eat out. The restrooms can also be significantly better.

To further drum up business, Mr. Griffis needs to make a concerted effort to get the word out. Merritt is a decades-old institution in a prime Oakland location. Celebrate it. Remind families. Send out fliers. Brainstorm coupons and promotions. Give children balloons, something. Offer a slice of cake or a scoop of ice cream for birthday guests. Advertise in local newspapers, etc. 

Like any other Oakland business, Merritt Bakery and Restaurant needs to figure out on its own how it can thrive. It should not rely on city government for bailouts nor should it expect them.

C. Eng, Oakland


An Open Letter to OUSD School Board Members

I have been teaching in Oakland for seven years. Throughout my career I have put students first. I am proud to say that students and parents (and principals) have been very happy with my performance. I think this is true for the vast majority of Oakland teachers and OEA members. I was very disappointed with the school board’s 7-0 vote to impose working conditions on Oakland teachers and, by extension, their students.

A public school district in California has only imposed a contract on its teachers twice before in recent history. This is a highly unusual action. Please don’t make the claim that rising health care costs forced you to do this (publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/199410331174255857/site/ default.asp?1994Nav=) when total employee health care as a proportion of the OUSD budget has decreased since the last contract was agreed due to an exodus of experienced teachers with families from our district. Please don’t make the claim that OUSD cannot afford fair compensation for OEA members when OUSD ranks at the bottom of Alameda County districts in combined pay and health care. Please don’t make the claim that OUSD cannot afford reasonable class size when we are spending tens of millions for Sei Swun, Edusoft, Cambridge Education Group, Action Learning Systems, and other outside contractors to perform work of questionable value. Such claims are disingenuous and do a disservice to your office.Would it be irregular to suddenly refuse to renew all these contracts? Certainly, but no more irregular than it is to impose a contract on teachers without even meeting once after the report of a neutral fact-finder is released. We can talk about cuts, but let’s not forget that Governor Schwarzenegger’s May revise on the state budget has not even come out yet. Let’s also keep in mind that California revenues have been higher than expected in recent months. The future is not necessarily as dark as you make out. If OUSD school board members are happy to be the bully boys of pro-privatization and pro-charter advocates in California they should be forthright and say so. If OUSD school board members have some kind of vendetta against the OEA they should say so. If OUSD school board members have been told by state officials that they need to impose or they risk being taken over again by the state, they need to say so. But don’t insult the intelligence of your employees and your constituents by making the claim that you can’t afford the contract that you freely admit teachers and other OEA members deserve.I look forward to working very hard for your defeat the next time you run for office.

Steve Neat, 5th Grade Teacher, Kaiser School

Reconciling Abuse

My name is Paige Lawrence and I want to talk to you about reconciling abuse. Reconciliation is about making things whole again, about restoration. My experience was that the anger and the pain that sexual abuse caused in my family and my life was compromising my ability to accomplish the things I wanted for myself ten, fifteen, even twenty years after the actual abuse occurred. So, in my late twenties after trying spiritual counseling and psychotherapy to no avail, I tried contacting the sexual abuser who had started it all and talking to him directly. It was not easy, it was scary and it took a long time to develop the level of respect and trust that we needed to be able to speak plainly to one another; but we did it and I want to share some of what I learned from that experience with you. I am not a therapist and I am not a Ph.D, I’m just a guy who experienced sexual abuse firsthand and I want very much to share with you what helped me.

My younger sister was sexually abused by our father. When I was 8 my father went to jail for molesting my sister; she was 5 at the time. My mother and father were divorced and my sister and I have different mothers. She was growing up in Los Angeles with our father and I was in the Bay Area with my mother and stepfather. I learned that my father had gone to jail and my little sister and her mother disappeared for the next 20 years. At the time we had no reason to believe we would ever see them again. I took the news very hard and I became terrified that I would become a child molester myself one day like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I also mourned for the loss of my sister for the next 15 years. I kept her picture on my desk; I prayed for her, you name it. I really wanted to know where she was and that she was all right. Turns out she was.

When I was about 12, a man in my neighborhood befriended my parents and gradually visited more and more often. Eventually he started inviting me over to his house to watch movies and play his drum set. Soon enough he started showing me adult movies and eventually he molested me. While there was only one incident of physical molestation, there were several years of mental molestation in the form of repeated requests from him to do sexual things in front of him or with him.

At the time, I remember thinking that I did not want to endure the embarrassment of a trial and police and telling my parents, so I said nothing. By the time I was 20 he had been arrested and sent to jail in connection with a case involving another boy across town. It was 1996 and he was sentenced to 53 years in state prison. I felt that justice had been done and that was that. Still I held a deep-seated anger at my father over his abuse of my sister and her subsequent disappearance. He contacted me when I was 21 and asked me to meet him. We met, but I quickly came to the conclusion that he was making a lot of excuses for his past while asking me to reconnect with him and I just couldn’t do it. He seemed really phony to me and at the same time, I realized I had no confidence in myself. Being abused took that from me; took my ability to set boundaries; to disagree, to say forcefully, “no.” As a result, I couldn’t have a reasonable conversation with him and say what was and was not acceptable. I could only run away.

Eight years passed and I contacted my father again. At that time, I decided that as his son I wanted to know something of who he was besides the abuse. I figured we would have a few conversations and that I would be on my way. We met and I told him that I had been abused as an adolescent and he was furious. He felt what any parent would feel in that situation: anger at the man who abused his kid. I thought that was a powerful thing for him to experience. In turn he told me that he had been abused when he was a boy on multiple occasions by multiple abusers from the time he was very young (perhaps 4 or 5) into his high school years.

Hearing that I felt that there was something greater than either of us going on. I felt like we had a family curse. I remember thinking, “this is going to end with me.” The more I talked to him, the more I heard that he was a human being who had been abused and confused for most of his life. He had acted terribly and only now in his late sixties was he speaking honestly about that to me. On some basic level I felt sorry for him and I had a compelling urge to help him recover if I could. We kept getting together and yet after almost two years I started to feel that we had done what we could.

I still missed my sister and with that lingering over us, I was not prepared to really forgive him. We had simply learned how to be civil with one another. I was preparing to part ways with him and then my sister contacted him out of the blue.

He quickly put us in touch and I met her 2 days later. She was living in Texas but visiting San Francisco for a weekend and we met. It was wonderful; we connect in a lot of ways. We like a lot of the same music, we have a similar sense of culture and style and even some mutual friends. So now I have my sister back and that’s amazing; still, things between my father and I were not perfect.

In some basic sense I thought of my friendship with my father as a favor in the first place. So we were not really equals. I also finally saw that I was treating him as though he was still abusing my sister even though they had been separated for 20 years. That was a hard revelation because I felt that he deserved whatever he got, no matter how unpleasant. In other words, I didn’t want him to get better. I didn’t want us to get better and without realizing it, I was actually fighting to remain a victim and my sister with me.

My father pointed some of this out to me and I didn’t want to hear it from him or anyone, but ultimately I saw that it was true. He has been re-offense free for 20 years. He served his prison sentence and his parole without any problems. Now he is a public advocate for sex-offender registration and prisoner/parolee rights. His has written a book, “Overcoming Sexual Terrorism,” and spoken on numerous television programs and in print on the subject of abuse, recovery and constitutional legislation of sexual abuse issues. In short, he has done some truly good work. He corresponds with prisoners all over the country who write to him asking for advice and counsel regarding their various situations and problems. There are a lot of different ways he could have responded after parole; he could have simply moved to Thailand to be a pedophile in seclusion, he didn’t. Though it has been strange to accept, I have to admit he has done some very good work that benefits the public at large and raises the level of conversation regarding sexual abuse issues.

When I look at him honestly, I cannot at the same time look at the same man and treat him like he is the abuser he was 20 years ago. I don’t have to forget who he was; I don’t have to let my children hang out with him to prove that I’m not afraid or anything like that. I simply see that he has done what a man in his position can to recover and that’s admirable.

Seeing him as admirable was a curious thing as well. One day I was at lunch with him, running the story of “this is a favor anyway, I just want the free lunch.” He was talking about something or other and I wasn’t even listening. This was at the time when my sister had not yet returned; her absence still weighed heavily on my mind. I didn’t say anything, but I realized right there at the table that I was more interested in the free lunch than in talking about my sister, or him and I. I felt like a total sellout. I went home and decided that I would end my relationship with him. I didn’t want to look inside anymore, I just wanted the stress to end.

As luck would have it, my sister reappeared and all of a sudden I found the words. I finally told him how I had been feeling towards him and he was surprisingly compassionate; admittedly he does understand adversity well. He said if he had grown up hearing about how his father was the worst person in the whole world, and that he ruined our family he’d be angry too, but I’m the one who was giving that story power. When I finally saw my father for who he is now; I saw a man who has paid a very high price for a lot of years of terrible behavior. I see a man who has worked very hard to do something positive with himself since he got out of prison and in many ways he has succeeded. Beyond that, I have a relationship with my father now, one that isn’t permanently discolored by his abusive behavior. In this light he and I can talk about simple things, things a normal father and son should like movies, and dinner and things we find interesting. I can ask him for advice and he can do the same with me. It is territory I never expected to explore and it has been surprising and rewarding. It was very hard for me to let go of that anger towards him after so long. It was a part of me and my anger had spilled over into other areas of my life like my relationships. It cost me love, vitality, happiness. But when I really looked at him as a human, for who he is now, without any bias, a tremendous weight lifted and that radiated into the rest of my life as well.

At present I am taking some time to speak to people about what the reconciliation process was like for me and what the benefits and hardships have been. If you are a survivor, I’m not here to suggest that you go charging off to confront your abuser; rather I want to share what it was like for my father and I. I hope that there is something in my story that will be of benefit to others.

Paige Lawrence

Help Save 924 Gilman

In July of this year our rent will increase to almost $7,000 per month. Accepting this raise was the only way to secure our continued existence through 2010. It was painstaking process that started with being told the property would be put on the market for $1.1 million. Our landlord was convinced an “angel” would save us (and him) but ultimately the cost was prohibitive to any interested parties and was not comparable to similar properties. The building was never listed with a real estate agent. As a back up plan we were offered to rent the building for $10,000 per month. With no way to pay that much we eventually obtained the landlord’s agreement to charge us the minimum amount of rent he can afford. We received formal notice of the rent increase via e-mail at the beginning of April.

As some of us looked at the numbers we quickly realized there was no way to make up the difference without full non-profit incorporation, fund-raising and a lot more effort by our dedicated volunteers. We struggled to figure out a way to give those of us committed to seeing the club through this setback more control over the result of our efforts. Gilman has historically allowed anyone who attended two, non-consecutive meetings to vote on every matter presented. Another curious aspect of the original decision-making process is a lack of consideration that an individual, group or scene could easily stack the vote. Again, you only had to attend 2 non-consecutive meetings to vote. These meetings have happened over 20 years during which no attendance records were kept. We had been seeing attempts at vote-stacking in recent meetings and felt a natural resentment to being directed or criticized by former volunteers or patrons we won’t see again until the next call to arms … if at all. Our current staff is pretty sizable and experienced but cannot prevent entire meetings from being distracted or controlled by whoever has the most numbers, loudest gripe, most authoritative way of speaking or who is held in highest esteem, regardless of current contribution to the collective effort. All of the club’s decisions have to be made in this environment. It’s probably the biggest reason we still trying to become a non-profit.We have 2 months to figure out how to generate the $2500+ per month difference in rent. Our entire income comes from shows and generous donations. We have a donation link on our web site at www.924gilman.org. Since 4/19/10 we have received a lot of support and are very, very grateful for it! Unfortunately, the pressure has already proved too much for one long-time volunteer who is also an officer and board of directors member. The beginning stages of incorporation will be delayed by at least a month due to his departure. For anyone interested: we need to elect a Secretary and a Board of Directors member, preferably but not necessarily 2 different people. Nominations close May 1 and the election takes place May 15. To find out more, come to a meeting on the first and third Saturday of every month at 5 pm or e-mail one the folks listed below. There’s a sign-up sheet by the office door until elections close. It’s absurd that one person could single-handedly delay our incorporation process at this critical time. Worse, that anyone who is no longer attempting to be involved in the club would take to blogs and chat rooms or create fake e-mail addresses to trash us. What we have here is unique and valuable. Please appreciate that!The non-profit incorporation must be completed as soon as possible regardless of the roadblocks ahead. Part of this process entails changing our bylaws. Until a couple of weeks ago there were no copies of our previous (1991) bylaws available at the club. When a former volunteer offered access it was a little surprising to read that a voting member had an obligation to perform one task per month. The language used to define this responsibility was purposefully vague; the word “should” instead of “must” complete etc. but it showed that some kind of effort was required by the decision-making body, even back then. Most of the active members, even some with 6+ years in, had no idea. It was simply assumed that anyone could do whatever they want and still have some say in the direction of the organization. That’s not realistic or fair and has left a lot of volunteers very bitter when their administrations could not be sustained. It would have been better to establish a way to reward and acknowledge meaningful worker efforts rather than have a constant turnover of people that were exploited, burned out and left.

We decided that there needed to be more required by a voting member and our officers should have clear and reasonable expectations. For example: how often a task should be completed, requirement of ongoing attendance at membership meetings where all our decisions are made, as well as addition of certain rules of conduct for our corporate officers. The revised bylaws were e-mailed to all officers and all heads of department before the meeting. Unfortunately this attempt at transparent collaboration was marred by outside organizing and unexpected addendum. Nevertheless the changes were brought to the meeting, discussion ensued and the proposed changes lost by one vote. After reviewing other members’ ideas, we tweaked a few things and brought the revised bylaws to vote again on April 17. We were subjected to all kinds of dime-store psychology, criticism, insults and little constructive input but were prepared with a well thought argument for change representative of the will of our current staff. We were told that “this was not how things are done” and other arguments were made against us but in the end changes were approved by a 2/3 majority. Something like 17-3 with a few abstentions and all but a few key-holder staff present to vote, for or against. Towards the end of our discussion a new volunteer pointed out the changes made can always be refined in the future. As an organization we should welcome change, especially given so much has happened since 1991.

Here’s what we changed:

* You no longer have to be 21 to be an officer.There’s no age requirement in the California Corporations Code and we are supposed to be an all-ages club after all.

* Each of the officer position responsibilities are clarified to reflect clear expectations of the position.

For example our Treasurer position is very important to the organization and the officer’s responsibilities were clarified. It was also recognized the Secretary should not be able to overly influence decision-making and alternatives were put in place for this and other situations.

* A voting member  must attend one meeting per month and must complete one task per month.

For example, you’re back from a summer-long tour and know there’s an important issue coming up. Naturally there’s concern your voting privileges were lost in this absence. All you have to do to renew them is volunteer at a show and attend the meeting you were going to anyway. It’s pretty simple. For anyone familiar with the original document the rest is pretty much the same. We should have it posted on the web site soon and will be available at the next meeting as the discussion continues.In the words of a former volunteer “Advocate for a position, go to a vote, & win or lose a collective vote. Rinse, wash, repeat. Democracy sucks, get used to it- or change the rules …”  and that’s exactly what we did! Now we have something closer to a democratic workplace where people who actually show up, participate and work will make decisions. Hopefully readers can understand why these changes were made and are able to support us in spite of whatever other information is spread. So far, since Sunday, we have been accused of violating people’s freedom of speech because we want acknowledgment that the process can be corrupted by influence instead of directed by meaningful involvement. We have already found demands to stop supporting us and suggestions that our only successful fund-raising would necessitate the involvement of a single, former volunteer …The rest of us are still here though and committed to keeping the place open. We are really grateful for your support.

If you have an questions please contact:Jeff Armstrong- Head Coordinator at [email protected]

Max Montez-Booker at [email protected]

Erik Thomas-Head of Security at [email protected]

Jay Unidos-Head Booker at [email protected] 

Thanks for reading! See you at the show!

Karen O’Brien, Executive Director, Alternative Music Foundation, aka 924 Gilman Street


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