Letters for the Week of April 28, 2015

Readers sound off on water conservation, unsafe housing in Oakland, and Roundup.

“Get Creative About Conserving Water,” Sustainable Living, 4/15

What About Business Park Lawns?

I enjoyed your article on water conservation. My husband and I have practiced pretty stringent water conservation for years: We re-did our whole yard with low-water plants and use graywater for outdoor watering, and we limit showers, etc. But one massive waste of water really bothers me, even more than the misuse of water by farmers who plant crops where they shouldn’t be planted: water used for business landscaping. I work in South San Francisco, near many business parks, and many of them have huge, lush green lawns. These aren’t used as parks or for employee recreation — they’re just pretty. I see sprinklers on every morning around Genentech, the Embassy Suites Hotel, etc. A few of the businesses or property managers around here are replanting with drought-tolerant plants, but not many. Farmers, even those who planted their crops in the wrong areas, can at least provide food — what does all this landscaping provide besides eye-candy? 

I’d love to see the Express do an exposé on businesses with huge lawns that don’t use graywater. (I wonder what the landscaping around Sacramento government buildings looks like?)

Michele Mantynen, El Cerrito

Come On, City Officials

I was very impressed by this edition of the Express, especially the well-researched and very practical articles about water conservation, which is clearly a major issue. This morning I took a shower standing in a large plastic bucket; later I tipped the water into a big barrel in the back yard for use on our veggie patch. I read your publication over breakfast and went for a walk. Imagine my surprise when, a couple of blocks from where I live, I came across a whole array of hoses and spray nozzles spreading water over roadside verges and spaces between houses. There were rainbows. There were dimpling pools on sidewalks. There was even a heron, scanning the soaked grass for tidbits. I assume that this was authorized by the City of Alameda. This deluge took place over at the west end of the city in Alameda Point. Clearly, if we’re going to get serious about saving water, our local officials must be seen to be leading the way.

Emmanuel Williams, Alameda

“Takeout Minus the Waste,” Sustainable Living, 4/15

Standard Fare, Here I Come

This was the second best news I heard all week! (The first was Hillary Clinton echoing Robert Reich’s talking points on her “listening tour”). PS: I’m booking a reservation at Standard Fare pronto!

Laura Morland, Berkeley

“The Hazards of Unsafe Housing in Oakland,” News, 4/15

Urbina Is Doing More Harm than Good

Many of us residents at 1919 Market Street feel that Will Urbina has made a difficult situation worse. None of us are in the financial situation (with the exception of Mr Urbina) to make complaints that could jeopardize our living arrangements, even as substandard as they are. We knew what we were getting into when we moved in; that many complaints would go unanswered, that it was potentially unsafe, but this is the reality facing many artists, musicians, and makers living in the Bay Area today. Because of credit issues, employment status, and other personal and financial reasons, many residents here cannot get accepted to live in more “traditional” housing situations. We would all like to live in a place where the roof doesn’t leak, where there’s heat, or where you can feel safe, but slinging lattes at minimum wage or being a contract driver for every rideshare out there isn’t going to get you in that door. It will get you into this one. Mr. Urbina’s actions are more than likely going to result in the wholesale displacement of every resident in this building. We have no place to go.

Michael Haltner, Oakland

“The Case For Banning Roundup,” Opinion, 4/15

Ritterman Nailed It

A Huge Double Kudos to our own Richmond Jeff Ritterman for the best article on glyphosate and its dangers that I have ever seen, and I read a lot of this stuff. Every reader should clip this and share it widely. Thank you, Jeff! 

Jeffrey Dickemann, Richmond

Monsanto Should Drink Its Own Medicine

Last December, the USDA reported that our food was safe from pesticide residue. More than half the food tested contained toxins, but were within “tolerance levels” set forth by the EPA. But the report also admitted that, like in past analyses, the USDA did not test for glyphosate — the world’s most widely used herbicide — citing cost restraints.

Not only do our run regulators fail to even test for the glyphosate toxin, but last year Monsanto requested and received EPA approval for increased tolerance levels for glyphosate. This was due to the fact that the average American was already poisoned with more glyphosate than the previous EPA established tolerance level. Oh, and by the way, Americans and Canadians have ten times more glyphosate in their urine than Europeans, who have (mostly) banned Roundup-ready GMOs.

Also, a recent California study showed that breast-feeding mothers who lived within a mile of Roundup sprayed crops had 600 to 1,100 times the tolerance levels for glyphosate in their breast milk and had three times the occurrence of children with autism.

Roundup — a great product. Have a glass on me Monsanto.

Peter Kleiss, New York City

We Need to Study Roundup’s Effects on the Human Gut

I would like to say that the real danger of glyphosate is the effect on the human gut microbiome, the friendly microbes that are a part of our human organism. My prime concern about glyphosate being in so much of our food is that the effect on the human gut microbiome has not been studied. You would think that for a chemical that is in the daily food of most people on the planet, this would have been studied, but it has not. This is a serious failing.

Glyphosate kills plants by blocking their EPSP synthase in the shikimic acid pathway. Monsanto says that because humans don’t have the EPSP synthase, this effect does not occur in humans, but this is a serious weasel-type lie because the microbes in the human gut microbiome — 100 trillion of them — are indeed affected in this way. Their EPSP synthase molecules get stalled by glyphosate even in very low doses, so this is a serious effect that occurs at levels we see in our food every day. I, for one, want to know the profound health effects that possibly occur as a result. Too subtle to set off alarms, but probably profound in systemic ways.

To test for this hypothesis, we need serious and good science done by independent entities, in multiple studies of varied design, testing the actual outcome of humans ingesting glyphosate versus those who do not, and studying the relevant dynamics of the gut microbiome. It’s not so hard, and I wonder why it hasn’t been done yet.

It’s hard to claim that a chemical is safe, or that it has no effect on the human body, when this very basic pathway to potential disruption has not been studied adequately.

I personally look to the world with a rational mindset, which includes seeing patterns on many levels, from sociological to psychological to biological, and I see many crazy claims out there, but I also see real reasons for concern on many levels. As for quantities that we ingest, it’s in the tens of micrograms daily from all I can tell. As you may know, micrograms of some substances are seriously potent to our bodies when they act in a highly amplified way, especially through competitive inhibition.

If the effect of glyphosate on a plant through acting on the plant’s somatic cells is any indication, then glyphosate is a strong competitive inhibitor on EPSP synthase against the normal shikimic acid pathway, and seems to have a very low dissociation constant, because the plants die on receiving rather low doses of glyphosate, which is a “feature” that people use to promote how effective glyphosate is and how little needs to be sprayed.

Note that I am not claiming that it is going on, for I am an empiricist and would like to see something before believing it. However, this effect seems very likely to me given the basic science around it and the results from other adjacent areas of study, which by a sort of interpolation point to this likelihood. And it is very surprising to me that the relevant studies have not been done. It seems a failing in due diligence for a chemical that will be ingested by billions of people. This leads me to a sociological interpretation of the conflict between the profit motive and public responsibility. We see the same dynamic repeatedly throughout history.

Sage Radachowsky, Boston, Massachusetts

“Note to Readers,” Letters, 4/15

Good Move on Capitalizing Black

Thank you so much! It means a lot

Monika Brooks, Oakland

“Defending Afrika Town,” What the Fork, 4/8

Afrika Town and Qilombo Have Improved Things

Keeping an empty lot and occasionally tossing out the garbage on it for years was not a sound strategy against repeat blight. Afrika Town and Qilombo members remove vandalism and garbage daily, and have created something that serves the neighborhood. They routinely feed the residents.

Prior to that, the lot was an eyesore for years. People called us routinely for several years to paint a mural and clean up that lot. But we waited until there was a solid institution with neighborhood support in place before contributing the mural. Qilombo and Afrika Town are community-based organizations that have the neighborhood’s best interest at heart. Prior to the speculation and gentrification hype, the owner did the minimal, if anything to keep up the lot.

Now that Oakland is popular, the landowner wants to get paid. It’s a normal capitalist sentiment. But it’s far from altruistic.

Desi Mundo, Oakland

Afrika Town Is Gentrification

Are not the members of Qilombo engaging in gentrification by converting a “dilapidated, needle-strewn lot” into a community garden? This article seems to be a bit hypocritical to me. The owner appears prepared to sell the lot if Qilombo wishes to buy it. If Qilombo does not have sufficient funds and it’s considered important to the city to gentrify this land, then perhaps Oakland City Council could buy it using the tax money we pay, and the city could gift the land to Qilombo.

Alphie Noakes, Oakland

“Taking Comedy Seriously,” Culture Spy, 3/25

They Deserve a Larger Stage

These females are producing an important piece of work. Comedy is a fantastic avenue to bring attention to social issues — as so many male comics (the better ones) have done. When George Carlin and Richard Pryor tackled tough subjects for their audiences, they were equally shunned and applauded, but they were noticed. Their routines are legendary now and revered.

These females should be given the same attention. They are cutting-edge wonderful and deserve to be on larger stages (dare I say a regular spot on Comedy Central?)

But comedy clubs won’t book more than one female comic on the same bill or allow them to be hired more than one time a month — or year. The club owners claim that they won’t fill the seats like male comics do. It’s the same old-boy’s mentality that keeps the culture as small-minded.

The culture-at-large will not heal without allowing brave material to shake things up. It’s kinda that simple.

Thank you for writing this piece, Sam Levin! Good on you for taking notice as well as getting it.

Joey Brite, Oakland

“Robert Gammon Responds,” Letters, 4/1

Gammon Didn’t Go Far Enough

While it was good that Robert Gammon responded in the April 1 letters to the editor section to Almond Board of California CEO Richard Waycott’s baloney, his response did not go far enough, and he did not respond at all to the ridiculous comments of letter writers Ed Gerber and Dan Errotabere, who cry crocodile tears for the poor farmers without giving any consideration to the ecosystems and species that farmers are harming with their expropriation of water from other watersheds and ecosystems. Agribusiness — and even a lot of just plain agriculture — in  the San Joaquin Valley is extremely environmentally harmful, and sucking watersheds dry is only one of many problems that it causes. But this argument is about water, so I will confine my comments to that issue.

In order to understand a problem, one must get to the root of it.  In this case, the San Joaquin Valley was mainly a seasonal marshland with some desert, the latter mostly on the west side. Our society drained the marshes and expropriated water from other watersheds and ecosystems in order to grow crops. This expropriation of water is and was harmful per se, because it robs the species (including humans) in the habitats from which the water was taken. So in order to fully comprehend this issue, we must start with the knowledge that growing food in the San Joaquin Valley was harmful to begin with regarding water.

Today, unregulated farmers are allowed to grow water-intensive crops, such as almonds, in the western portion of the valley, which is a desert, and are allowed to export most of the food that they grow. All of this comes at great cost to the environment because the water used to grow these crops is water stolen from other watersheds that the people and other species living in those watersheds don’t have. If California is to ever get serious about addressing its water issues, all three of these practices must be stopped.

After lying about the fact that agriculture uses 80 percent of the water in California, Mr. Waycott complains that farmers have had to sacrifice some water allotments. The problem with this complaint is that this is water that doesn’t ecologically belong to the farmer in the first place, it belongs to the people and other species who live in the ecosystems and watersheds where the water exists. Then Mr. Waycott complains that farmers are losing money because of the cutbacks in water allocations to them. Not only are farmers not entitled to this water (at least morally and ethically), but if Mr. Waycott thinks that money is more important than water, I’d love to see him drink money.  All three letter writers complain that we are demonizing farmers. No, we are demonizing environmentally harmful practices, such as taking massive amounts of water out of certain watersheds in order to financially benefit farmers and water districts.

Mr. Gerber makes the false claim that we will all suffer if farm practices are properly regulated in order to greatly reduce the gluttonous overuse of water that farmers currently practice. This is simply not true, as most food grown in the San Joaquin Valley is exported. For example, most almonds are exported, and California grows about half of the food consumed in the United States. California’s water and environment should not be sacrificed in order to export crops.

Finally, Mr. Errotabere complains that in our legitimate attacks on growing his water-intensive almonds, we don’t know why farmers choose to grow certain crops.  He first says that he does not “just wake up one day and select the crop that is going to make me the most money.” Then in direct contradiction to that statement, Mr. Errotabere states that the money he makes from his almonds provides jobs (a common employer code word for money) and that his almonds provide him with a good “financial return.” Mr. Errotabere’s statements show that this is all, or at least mostly, about money for farmers.

If you take something that you should not, such as water from other watersheds and ecosystems, it is not a legitimate complaint to say that you are sacrificing if you are forced to take less of it. The vast majority of us in California are guilty of stealing water, because gross overpopulation has created a situation where we cannot live on the ground or surface water in our own watersheds. But for San Joaquin Valley farmers, especially large farmers, it is really disgusting and totally illegitimate to complain about their water allocations being lowered. Farmers in California should be prohibited from growing water-intensive crops, from growing anything in the desert portion of the valley, and from selling crops outside of California (and maybe our bordering states). Once that prohibition is in place, farmers might have legitimate complaints about their water allocations, but even then only because we all need to eat.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

“Ask Mr. Dad,” Kid You Not, 3/26

A Big Help

I have found that helping my kids through the third grade can be beneficial, but as of the fourth grade, the child needs to learn to be an active independent learner. Sometimes my son has sports practice early in the day and there is a limited time for homework. In those times, I will help him get the work done so that he does not stay up too late. My observation is that for fifth grade and beyond, independent learning and studying is of primary importance, and that teachers recognize a student who is independent versus one who is spoon-fed by the parents. This great article has helped me overcome my desire to over-help as the helicopter parent. It has moved me in the direction of independence and not dependence. Thanks.

Jerry Udinsky, Berkeley

Miscellaneous Letters

The Minimum Wage Should be Fair to Workers and Small Business

Does the city council want to drive small, independent businesses out of Emeryville? That could be an unintended consequence if the council votes to go forward with its proposal to raise the minimum wage in Emeryville to $14.40 an hour — which would be the highest in the country and second highest (next to Australia) in the world!

We all know the minimum wage is going up across America. This is inevitable and long past due. My husband and I own The Broken Rack, a pool hall with restaurant and bar located in Emeryville. Like many other small business owners, we support raising the minimum wage. After all, in a small business the people who work for you are people you know. We simply want to see the minimum wage increased in a thoughtful, fair way that allows businesses like ours to make the adjustments needed to stay afloat and puts us on a level playing field with other small businesses in neighboring communities. The proposal before the Emeryville City Council does neither.

Make no mistake about it, in the restaurant industry at least, increases in the minimum wage must be paid for by the consumer in the form of higher prices. In an industry of notoriously low-profit margins, the increase can’t be simply absorbed. Some of us will try to rework staffing models — reducing the amount of work available and service levels — but all of us will have to raise prices. And it’s an economic truism that when prices go up, demand goes down. When prices rise across the board and over time, consumers adjust. If prices are raised too abruptly, the result can be decreased revenue in combination with rising costs — a recipe for going out of business.

Oakland merchants have been vocal regarding their concern over the impact on their businesses of that city’s recent 36 percent increase (from $9.00 to $12.25) in its minimum wage. But at least Measure FF in Oakland was the topic of many months of public discussion and a general vote. In San Francisco, the electorate voted to raise the minimum wage from $9 in stages, reaching $15 in 2018. The Emeryville council proposes to raise this city’s minimum wage by 60 percent all at once, with virtually no advance warning or public discussion, let alone public vote.

And it would burden Emeryville small businesses with a minimum wage 18 percent higher than their counterparts in Oakland. There is a real possibility that the combination of the magnitude of the increase and the disparity with neighboring Oakland will drive some of our small businesses out of business, putting low-wage earners out of work. Is it likely under these conditions that Emeryville will attract other small, independent businesses to replace those that are lost?

My husband and I would welcome a regional minimum wage of $12.25. It would help us to do something we would like to do anyway — raise the wages of our lowest-paid employees — without putting us at a competitive disadvantage with similar establishments. We believe the resulting price increases would be in a range that the public would support. It seems to us that the reasonable and responsible course for Emeryville to take is to align itself with the Oakland model.

The council is fast-tracking this with plans to take action on the proposal in May and have the new minimum wage in place on July 1. We hope that Emeryville residents will join with us and other small business owners in calling on the Emeryville City Council to reflect on the impact this ordinance will have on local small business and take a more balanced approach by enacting a $12.25 minimum wage — fair to Emeryville workers and fair to Emeryville small business.

Marilyn Boucher, Emeryville


Our April 22 news story, “Any Means Necessary,” misspelled Charles Weigl’s last name and incorrectly stated that Jose Palafox is a current member of AK Press, rather than a former member and current resident of the 23rd street building in Oakland that was damaged by a recent fire.


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