Letters for the Week of April 20

Readers sound off on Oakland trees, landlords, and art galleries.

“Oakland Overgrown,” Feature, 4/6

Trees as Development Tools

This is outside my usual line of political discourse, but here it goes:

I am, and have been for more than thirty years, a certified horticulturalist. A large part of my extensive collegiate training was the care and maintenance of trees (arboriculture) in all its aspects, even so far as the study of plant genetics and botanical classes. I know my subject. But the problem with our local trees are not primarily technical, they are political.

During the Jerry Brown years, already marked money that should have been ear-marked for public landscape maintenance was funneled to other uses, namely development-related expenditures and other pet projects by Oakland city officials. This was before the big housing crash-and-burn, so everything was hysterically focused on build, build, build, way beyond common sense.

Now, an inconvenient regulation that obstructed development was a little known law that “Heritage Trees,” that is, trees of a certain size and age, could not legally be cut down without a special waiver to do so. A person desiring to cut down an old “specimen” tree had to show overriding cause. One such cause was imminent danger to the public. This brought to the minds of political weasels and greedy development a simple dodge: Engage in a campaign of intentional neglect to old specimen trees. Then when they become hopelessly decrepit and potentially dangerous, declare them “blight” and ask for a waiver to cut them down. The people in charge of issuing said waivers were often “in the pocket” of development interests, and were glad of any excuse to give out a permit for arboricide. In this manner, many beautiful old trees were destroyed to make way for cheesy condominiums and other unnecessary structures. This is still going on to this day.

And so it goes, and will continue to go, until the electorate puts a government in place that serves public interests instead of private corporations. But don’t hold your breath.

James J. Fenton, Oakland

“Why a Politically Connected Firm Lost Its Contract,” Seven Days, 4/13

Changing Oakland’s Image

The “no” vote certainly damages Oakland’s pay-to-play image. Hurrah! I felt proud of the councilmembers who voted “no.” Too bad Kaplan, who said little, voted “yes.”

Joyce Roy, Oakland

“Landlords Put on Notice,” News, 3/30

Not Depressed Enough

“Market rates” for rental properties are obscene in the Bay Area. For that matter, so are even the depressed “market rates” for home sales. The working class is being squeezed out of the area, as anyone can see who has lived here for more than a couple of decades. It is unlikely that the jury in this case was dominated by tenants, so if the jury felt strongly enough to render such a large award in favor of the tenants, we can probably be confident the landlord here was particularly stinky. “Jurors found that Cox had knowingly violated Measure EE, and they awarded each tenant damages for emotional and mental anguish relating to the case. A handful of tenants also received damages for costs incurred in having to move out. In fact, the tenants, one-by-one, had left the building as the case dragged on; only one resident remained by the time it ended.” Now the appeal proceedings begin, the paper chase continues, and the landlord has his (nearly) empty building. It may have cost him too much, but his apparent aim of presenting a multi-unit property to the market, free of encumbrances like affordable housing contracts, seems to have been achieved.

Scott Gilpin, Alameda

“Far From the Maddening Crowds,” Insider’s Guide, 2/23

Gallery in My Living Room

I find it interesting that this article seems unaware of the fact that those of us who live around these new galleries that are popping up are finding the “maddening crowds” newly delivered to our doorsteps. This seems to be happening without much thought from the artists who run these “shoestring-budget storefronts” on how their projects are negatively influencing neighbors, and without much attention to the details of creating a venue in a space not built to house noise or crowds.

In my case, I intentionally avoided a loud social hot-spot when choosing my apartment years ago. Now I am looking for a new living space due solely to the arrival of a “gallery” in the apartment adjacent to mine, whose noise and scene bleed freely into my residence.

I love and support the arts when promoted responsibly, and have visited Art Murmur off and on for five years. However, I would argue that not all venues listed above “merit support from local art mavens.” Not so if those mavens understand that art, like love, is wonderful and expansive, but most of us prefer to go out and find it, not have someone else choose what it is for us, and when we will get to enjoy it in our living room.

Justin Patterson, Oakland


In our April 13 Last Call column, we misstated the price of a six-pack of Lakefront Brewery New Grist. It’s $9.49.

In our 4/13 Culture Spy, “The Fight Club,” we mischaracterized Miguel Reyes as a “career anarchist.”

In our 4/13 Eco Watch, “The Cruel Irony of the Oakland Zoo Expansion,” we refer to the bulldozing of a vernal pool that served as a breeding ground for red-legged frogs. However, while the park is known to provide red-legged frog habitat, it is not confirmed that the particular frogs in question were red-legged frogs.

In our 4/13 music story, “Henry Rollins Ages Against the Machine,” we said Henry Rollins blogs for the LA Weekly. He actually has his own column.


Beyond Neutering

To Contra Costa County Supervisors, A dangerous-dog-neutering law is a must. Living things need protection, even such dogs. As people who like dogs, we know neutered dogs protect better and are less prone to wrong attacks. So are well-kept dogs. In Atchison Village and beyond, owners walk fine dogs of many breeds. But all over Contra Costa County, dog blight comes of two causes: over-breeding, which increases dogs’ numbers and disease, and bad behavior in dogs and owners. Neutered dogs might attack “less,” but the cause is beyond just neutering and overall numbers of dogs. And attacks burden us all, in decreased commerce and home prices, and higher hospital and court costs, such as damage awards governments might have to pay, because Animal Control won’t remove dogs till they attack.If that seems minor compared to problems like Japan’s, imagine a California quake letting loose dogs of lethal force. Over-bred to be over-protective, dogs become dangerous when ignorant people “train” them so. Dogs have wolf DNA that hard-wires them to love, protect, and feed animals and people, even bad ones, in their “packs.” Abused canines “protect” by attacking, turning on whatever seems a threat or prey. So Contra Costa County, put teeth in the neutering law so that it ends dog abuse, too. It’s harder to get authorities to look into than child abuse, but a faster threat. Ill-kept dogs are unpredictable, dangerous, and depressing. Three backyards of ten around my assigned parking, trash pick-up, and common area have pit bulls, and the owners have extended family. Two dog-owners with such allies in this section harass me. A nice-looking young pair seen beating their dogs have a year-old son, threaten passersby, and let dogs out at night where neighbors must exit thirty yards from the dimly lit lot. A small, seventy-ish gay Atchison Village neighbor, too afraid to tell Richmond police or Atchison Village, moved after being threatened. The Richmond Police Department and Animal Control take “anonymous” calls, but assuming I’d called, the lady took revenge — her word — wrecking plants in our common area, and someone in her home threw rocks at mine. It’s illegal, but Richmond police and Animal Control call it “too little evidence, so tell Atchison Village board.” Three years of Atchison Village boards ignored all requests for a hearing; Atchison Village Office said to call the Richmond Police Department or Animal Control! My guests, elderly partner, pets, and I have no protection from a non-member, but an ex- Atchison Village president befriended her. A board member answered; an off-the-record voicemail, minus her name: Go to the supervisors’ meeting on dogs; it’s your personal issue. It’s really an issue to Atchison Village, our city, and county, if vulnerable, disabled, poor people can’t move from a paid-for home where we’re in danger of preventable dog-attacks “waiting to happen” — or even of higher dues or taxes after Atchison Village’s next dog-attack, or in Contra Costa County. A newsletter reported one fatal Atchison Village pit-bull attack of “only” to pets — so far. One member reports dogs follow her. Dogs are let loose to “train” or as strays. People who misuse animals often go farther, if not stopped. Our neighbors’ dogs yelp in pain, and the owner “carelessly” left loose a wire gate so the dogs nearly attacked a guest and me, who were barely able to push the gate while dogs bit at us. The lady at last wordlessly relocked it. Our restraining order was denied. Atchison Village staff, visitors, passersby, and 450 members are in danger they don’t know of, as are people at nearby public bus stops. I feel at risk telling you! Yet 25 percent of Americans and Contra Costa County live in other HOAs that ignore the Constitution and barely honor members’ rights due by contract. Too few residents anywhere can prevent dog threat or attack, so Contra Costa County, word the neutering law to let Animal Control and police manage threats, constrain owners, and keep dogs treated right, as well as neuter them. Abused attack dogs are like guns left “loaded” where they can “go off.” Keeping either might be a “right,” but a conditional one. As living things, dogs need conditions that socialize them well. They can get loose. So even if it’s controversial, boldly create, pass, and use the law as attack-and-threat-preventive. It can improve dogs and help pay for itself if it: 1) funds help for owners to replace dogs, if they want, no questions asked, with $25 home-door alarms, similar to how mothers may give up babies they can’t keep; 2) makes owners take low-cost classes and pass tests, be licensed, and keep dog-attack insurance; 3) funds low-cost clinics, neutering events, apprentice veterinarians, and neutering vans; 4) raises Animal Control dog-care standards; gives agents power to remove any dog to prevent abuse, attack, threat, and/or neglect; lets parties requesting observation pay for it; 5) asks researchers to reduce demand for test-subject dogs, not repeat tests (nor on people of coerced consent), and instead, test products of public interest, such as herbs that improve life for dogs and all; 6) defines by law each home of two or more big dogs as breeders who must be so licensed by law; 7) limits breeders’ numbers of pups born, sold, and given away; and makes them neuter 90 percent; 8) funds agents to find, fine, and confine [jail] illegal breeders like drug-makers and dealers — sometimes, the same people.Sadly often, people “reassure” me by saying: The dogs will turn on that pair or their baby. Prevent that! Anyway, abused animals too often hurt people who don’t hurt them. Law must protect society; make this one make owners prove they can handle the privilege of keeping such dogs, not use dogs of lethal force as cheap security, to threaten people, or to create public danger. Otherwise, Contra Costa County has great risk from increasing numbers and bad conditions of such dogs, which can and do get loose. The law must be of genuine help, as suggested, to make all dogs, regardless of genitals, of no public threat, but to protect us all from “security” dogs that ruin security, and people too dangerous to keep such dogs because they make them too dangerous for everyone — even them. Thank you!

Megan C. Timberlake

Atchison Village Mutual Homes


Threat to Art

The US House of Representatives is on track to cut $43 million from the National Endowment for the Arts’ budget of $167.5 million. That’s a 26 percent cut — the deepest in sixteen years!

Not only do the arts mean jobs, but for cities like Oakland and San Francisco, the arts have been a fundamental part of supporting youth. Through artistic expression, the lives of youth in our community have literally been saved.

I have worked as a teaching artist, through local theaters and in public schools. As an actor, I have worked with adult actors, for whom artistic work was the saving grace of their life. This is true of artists of all colors. One of the things that I am proud of living in Oakland (where there is so much to bemoan) is the way we unite around art as a community, expressing our vibrant and multicultural life force.

Federal funding for the arts leverages private funding. The NEA requires at least a one-to-one match of federal funds from all grant recipients, a match far exceeded by most grantees. On average, each NEA grant leverages at least $7 from other state, local, and private sources. Private support cannot match the leveraging role of government cultural funding.

Susan-Jane Harrison, Oakland

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