Letters for October 6

Readers sound off on Alameda inspections, bad public art, redistricting, and John Burton

“An Art Project for the Birds,” Eco Watch, 8/25

Gas Masks and Burrowing Owls

This “art” project raises several questions. First, why do people have to keep fiddling with every bit of open space that exists? Granted, Cesar Chavez Park is a landfill — but it is open space. The entire area is a human artifact and is surrounded by human “art” … buildings, towers — not to mention one of the wonders of the world … the G.G. Bridge. Maybe leaving a place alone would be a good idea. And if the owls need protection, a simple split rail fence would suffice. It would cost $3,000 instead of $100,000. It would have a far lighter carbon footprint and it would be less visually obstructive.What has been created is ugly. It is out of scale and required wasting a lot of resources. I watched them use over 100 sheets of OSB (oriented strand board) as forms. They used hundreds of feet of re-bar (that’s iron … comes from brutal mining). Tons of concrete, toxic chemicals (for a few days the “artists” wore gas masks). Point is, there is low-impact art that would have been far more appropriate to the space. A truck load of stones and good mason could have created organic, freestanding walls for much less money, same protective effects and these would have blended with the land. But there is something that makes humans want to fill up empty space and put human signature on it. It is too bad. Berkeley has a tradition of selecting ugly public art and imposing it on all of us. This is no exception. There is virtue in leaving things alone sometimes or, at least, making the lightest impact. In Muir Woods you will see simple split rail fences — these work well, cost little, have minor carbon impact and, if you want to remove them later you don’t need dynamite and bulldozers. I just hope the owls are not too artistically sensitive or they might decide to go elsewhere.

John Koenigshofer, Berkeley

“Inspections from Hell,” Feature, 9/22

It’s Not Just Alameda

Thank you for the excellent article “Inspections from Hell.” Myself and others in my area have experienced this inspection/extortion racket firsthand.

In the Berkeley/Oakland hills area (I don’t want to say exactly where), it has become evermore like paying off inspectors with “protection money,” with dire consequences otherwise at stake. I watched one of my neighbors up the street from me go through a horrendous quagmire along these lines, when he attempted to build a very modest small deck extension in his backyard.

Apparently, there are various inspector personnel who literally drive around this area, looking for any sort of clues, such as a bit of lumber, a bag of cement, anything that might possibly be associated with some sort of home modification/improvement project, no matter how small or insignificant.

Like a cloud of locusts, as soon as such “clues” are discovered, they come by, with clipboards in hand. This is the nightmare my neighbor went through, having to actually tear down his deck, file a formal architectural set of plans and environmental impact documentation, and so on, with many hundreds of dollars of fees and the deck itself costing thousands.

Obviously the cities here in the East Bay are suffering budget difficulties, but this level of tormenting the local homeowners with this sort of heavy-handed extortion racket has created an underground revolt.

In my case, I also built a small redwood deck in my backyard. However, in my case, I rented a U-Haul van, and drove up to my house after dark with the lumber and other materials. I tore out my old deck at night, and delivered the remains to a trash container at a nearby shopping mall … also at night. I finished my deck, costing a couple hundred dollars to complete. In fact I’m sitting out on it now, typing up this article on my laptop. Others in the area are catching on, and just about everyone I know of here locally has been quietly engaged in or already have done some sort of “underground” stealth building/improvement project.

The worst example, though, was actually covered in a previous East Bay Express article. A woman near here had purchased an electric car, and decided to put in a small concrete pad she could park her car on for recharging. No structures or buildings were even involved. It was just a concrete pad, the sort of thing I could do in an afternoon. 

But no, heaven forbid, she dared to do this in broad daylight, and sure enough, the permit police thugs came by, requesting their “protection money.” This lady had to completely tear out the concrete pad, then file plans, pay many hundreds of dollars in fees, and then, just for good measure, had to hire a “recommended” concrete contractor to come in and install a concrete pad, with the end result costing thousands of dollars and unbelievable grief. 

Attitudes are hardening around here. People are getting really, really fed up with this organized-crime approach to inspections and permits procedures. Again, many thanks for publishing this article.

“C,” Berkeley

Great Job, Not

I know of at least two other victorians in Alameda, near downtown, that have numerous code violations for apartments, too. Yet, nothing was done about one apartment on Alameda Avenue until the resident complained to the city. The stove had stopped working for almost six months and there was no heater in the apartment for over four to five years (PG&E removed the old heater and never replaced it). The landlord/owner refused to fix these things until the city was contacted and an inspector went out. The other Victorian home is on Union Street between Encinal and Central Avenue. One of the two units upstairs has no working oven (Victorian stove), exposed electrical wiring all over, outlets that are literally hanging on the wall, outlets that don’t work, peeling paint, rusty pipes and fridge, no screens for half the windows, and galvanized steel plumbing. Yeah, the city inspectors are really doing a great job — NOT!

C. Young, Fremont

Inspect Berkeley

Thank you so much for your article. We need to hear about the way code inspections are done in Alameda County and how homeowners are harassed in this way. Years ago, perhaps 1984, numerous reporters told of horror stories involving favors to landlords and the head of Berkeley Codes and Inspections, Carlos Romo, who was referred to as the landlords’ best friend. Meredith May was one of the writers critical of Berkeley’s codes and inspections practices. There were numerous reports of apartments neglected and unrented for half a decade. Some of the buildings were called “slummy” by former councilperson Dona Spring. However, Berkeley landlords had the last say. Some of the tenants were evicted because they dared report code violations.

The same thing has happened in federally funded Section 8 units. Berkeley, known for a corrupt housing authority and mismanagement, is giving landlords more power by holding classes where landlords are taught how to evict tenants.

It saddened me to know that a 72-year-old senior on Social Security has to live in a warehouse in San Leandro because the City of Alameda has taken his home. Is he cold there? Does he have enough food? Will he survive the winter? My hope is that the attorney general of California will look into the allegations of corruption in codes and inspections and the housing authority in Berkeley. Codes and inspections have been cleaned up because of Loni Hancock, who listened to complaints by tenants, and there were also numerous articles critical of the practices in Berkeley.

Diane Arsanis, Berkeley

“A Bus Named Larry,” Culture Spy, 9/22

Cool Cat

John is one of the coolest of the cool cats I know. When I asked him if he could take our disabled group up to Sacramento he didn’t bat an eyelash. “I’d love to he said.” almost before I finished asking.

Dan McMullan, Disabled People Outside Project, Arnieville

Please Help

For the record, the North Oakland Co-op is created and sustained by a collective group of people; the media always seems to miss this part. The point is that it takes a collective effort to sustain the projects, organizations, communities and movements that we need for change and survival. It prevents burnout too! In the case of John and his bus(es), however, he shoulders the burden himself and could really use support. If you appreciate this way of providing free, all ages space for music, art, and fun, please help out now and in the future! For updates, check FollowThatParade.com

Elisa Smith, Oakland

“PG&E’s Most Dangerous Game,” Seven Days, 9/15

PG&E Is Just Following Orders

I don’t read liberal San Francisco newspapers, but I received a forwarded e-mail bash of PG&E by Bay Guardian as PG&E taking fat corporate profits among other things. Wrong. Then the article by Robert Gammon “PG&E’s Most Dangerous Dame.” WRONG. As a necessary monopoly, PG&E does not play games. PG&E is state-run, regulated, and outright ruled by the state Public Utilities Commission. It has been since it became a necessary monopoly. It could not raise its rates without the permission of the state. It could not grow to accommodate present or anticipated demand without permission of the state-controlled public utilities commission. Every thing PG&E does is regulated and overseen by the PUC. The article stated that the PUC ordered PG&E to disclose how much money it has spent on gas line maintenance and repair since 2005. PUC already knows, because it authorizes everything PG&E does.

After the blast, the PUC ordered PG&E to inspect all 5,000 miles of pipeline, as if PG&E wasn’t doing that as part of their normal operation. The regulators were told PG&E needs $48.5 million to replace pipelines. The article you wrote disclosed that PG&E has been planning to replace pipelines, including the one in San Bruno.

PG&E’s normal operations were set back while rebounding from bankruptcy. Normal operations included maintaining, upgrading, and replacing infrastructure such as pipelines. Maintenance operations were delayed while PG&E went through bankruptcy, then the long hard recovery and reorganization to recover from what the state had done to its own monopoly. The pipeline failure didn’t wait for PG&E to overcome the delay. PG&E will pay for the destruction, but moral shame is on political representatives and their constituents. Why?

Remember what happened. On their way to bankrupting the state of California, the representatives of the people have mismanaged state business including PG&E. To satisfy the voters who wanted cheap electric power, the state representatives and the governor created a state-controlled power system that resulted in blackouts, the dismantling of PG&E assets, and bankruptcy of California power supplier monopolies. Enron and others took advantage of state rule and the fools, pirates, and morons in our state government let them because they were being progressive with good intentions. (The road to disaster is paved with “good intentions.”) I believe state representatives and their constituents should understand why death and destruction became the unintended consequence of the people’s irresponsible representatives being progressive to gain votes. Yes, PG&E gets the blame and takes responsibility and will pay.

Phil Tribuzio, Alameda

“Far From Heartening,” Letters, 9/29

My Bad, Your Bad

I am pleased to see that you published my letter calling into community concern the opening of Zaytuna College, an Islamic institution founded by three ultra-radical, reactionary Muslims. The Express rightfully criticized me for erroneously saying that the Seven Days column in which news of Zaytuna’s opening appeared to be penned by Robert Gammon rather than Chris Thompson. Because Seven Days is most frequently written by Gammon, I assumed the column was his. My bad.

On the other hand, the fact that the column’s author called the new Islamic college’s presence in Berkeley “heartening” reflects the fact that he must not have investigated sufficiently to learn that its founders were fundamentalists. Your bad. Consistently. At least when it comes to the Seven Days column which, unlike the rest of an excellent publication, regularly reeks of political correctness.

Yes, I did add an “s” to Mr. Gammon’s surname. But somehow that pales in comparison to a column which tars liberals as “Zio-Cons” or fawns over the founding of an Islamic college whose students may well be indoctrinated with a religious justification for the worst excesses of treatment of females, gays, and non-Muslims.

As for the Daily Planet, the print edition of polemics passing as a paper are now thankfully history and other than a scant few KPFA ideologues and perhaps your editors, it is doubtful that many continue to read Becky O’Malley‘s screed online.

Dan Spitzer, Berkeley

“Know Your History,” Letters, 9/29

Serial Killer

Wolfgang Troullier, you are amazingly ignorant about the life and times of Che Guevara. He was nothing less than a serial killer. He killed Cuban patriots for fun. There is no point in trying to enlighten you and your neo-Marxist bizzaro world view. I suggest you get employed as a crash test dummy, you seem so very qualified for the job.

Victor (Ken) Hadaway, Oakland

“Jerry Brown Raised $12 Million for His Two Oakland Schools,” Full Disclosure, 4/28

If He Says It, Don’t Believe It

The author is perhaps the single most biased writer I’ve seen in recent years. Starting with the fact that he ignores high college attendance rates — a measure of success almost every qualified administrator of schools would favor over test scores, as does the National Association of College Admissions Counselors — to his advocacy for Rebecca Kaplan in the mayoral race and his blatant distortion of the facts in said race, this author is now in my mind a reverse barometer for the truth. Notice how Gammon, while reluctantly noting late in the article that these schools have 95 percent of graduates attending college, doesn’t even admit that the figure for all Oakland public high schools is well less than 50 percent? If Gammon says it’s so, in my mind whatever is claimed is somewhere between a distortion and a lie. If there is ever any relation to the truth in his case, I expect that is purely coincidence.

Matthew Fraser, Oakland


The September 29 edition of Full Disclosure, “The Baffling Mayoral Bid of Marcie Hodge,” erroneously stated that Hodge ran in 2008 for an open seat on the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees. She ran for reelection to the board that year.

Our September 29 story, “Beyond Vermouth,” misstated the recipe for a wine cocktail at Camino. The restaurant’s red wine cocktail uses Gamay instead of a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend.

Miscellaneous Letters

Wait Until 2012

Tea Party and Republican candidates are a scary bunch. What amazes me is that so many people want to restore power to the same people and party that created our present problems. Add to this, Republicans are blaming Obama for everything, when, in fact, he caused none of it. The midterm election is a choice between moving ahead or going back to a GOP agenda that has proved disastrous. We don’t have to guess how the Republicans will govern because we’re still living with the results of the lasttime the GOP governed. Republicans want to regain power so desperately that they’ve made a decision to do whatever they can to make certain that Obama can get as little of his agenda passed as possible. If Obama is successful in pulling the country out of the hole Bush put us in Republicans know they’ll lose again in 2012.

Ron Lowe, Nevada City

Save AC Transit — Or Abandon It

I read recently where AC Transit has to consider further cuts in bus service throughout the East Bay, in order to address a $57 million budget deficit. During three rounds of service cuts, AC Transit service has been reduced 20 percent, with no weekend service on most lines being provided after December 2010.

I believe AC Transit has not looked into reducing rapid bus service and adjusting transbay service to an appropriate level to meet the demand, in order to balance its budget. Also, I don’t believe AC Transit has considered joint purchases of fuel and bus parts, with other transit agencies for quantity discounts.

I don’t believe the AC Transit Board realizes the impact of these service cuts, upon the citizens of East Bay as many lines will be completely eliminated on Saturdays and Sundays in December, if the service cutbacks proposed by AC Transit take effect. Many parts of the East Bay will be left isolated.

By reducing Rapid service (1R, and 72R Lines) from every twelve minutes to every fifteen, AC Transit can reduce the cost of providing rapid bus service 20 percent, 16 buses could be eliminated which would be enough to avoid any cuts in weekend service — as well as keep the passengers that ride these Rapid buses.

Through its recent actions, I wonder if AC Transit has the ability to provide both adequate and convenient local bus service in the East Bay, and at the same time develop a Rapid bus system. I question the financial viability of the Rapid bus system and the wisdom of prioritizing rapid service while eliminating local service.

I would like to call on city leaders in Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro to 1) prohibit any city funds form going into a rapid bus project until all three 2010 local service cuts can be restored 2) ask for an audit of AC Transit, to assure that all funds that are provided by residents are spent on local service and in the public interest and 3) consider withdrawing from the AC Transit District and setting up a separate local bus service to meet the needs of residents — possibly contracting out this service with the City of Emeryville which provides its own local bus service (on a daily basis at 15 minute intervals).

I sincerely hope that our elected political leaders will seriously look into ways that local transit service can be maintained within the cities of Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro.

George Iwamoto, Berkeley


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