Letters for the Week of August 19, 2015

Readers sound off on the housing crisis, racial profiling on BART, and police funerals.

“A Green Solution to Oakland’s Housing Crisis,” Feature, 8/5

Let the City Be the City

For the past sixty years, America has been hugely subsidizing an automobile lifestyle. These subsidies come in many forms, at federal, state, and local levels. We build roads and freeways with tax dollars (not nearly covered by the gas tax), we reimburse commuters who drive to work and have to pay for parking, we use our military power to keep the price of fuel incredibly cheap. There are good historical explanations for these policies.

But times are changing. Do residents really need to dread the “impacts” of their neighborhoods becoming more dense? I wonder how it felt to be a resident of West Oakland in the early 1960s, watching your neighborhood being sliced up (or demolished entirely) by freeways. Talk about impact!

This article is not arguing for an instant transformation to a “bicycle nirvana.” It’s just saying, let market forces prevail. If there is a demand for condos without garages (and there is a demand), then why not let developers meet that demand? No one is telling you that you have to live in one. Why do we need outdated laws that essentially mandate that urban areas be built to resemble suburbs?

Let the suburbs be suburbs. Let the city be a city. Let the developers be free to meet the demand.

Owen Solberg, Oakland

Less Parking Hurts the Poor

More transit fantasy from the selfish “urbanist” wing. Why care if apartment or condo developers dig underground for parking spaces — the cost is embedded in the rents or prices that consumers can choose to pay. Forcing Oakland residents to adapt to elimination of parking spaces discriminates against the middle class and poor who have to drive to work, pick up and deliver their children, go to cheapest store for groceries, etc.

Forcing workers out of their car also severely limits employment options for better paying and more interesting jobs, especially for middle class.

Scott Law, Oakland

I’d Love to Get Rid of My Car

If I could live next to MacArthur BART station, I would sell my dying Camry in a heartbeat!

Matt Chambers, Oakland

You’d Have to Ban Cars

To effectively discourage private vehicle use by residents of newly constructed buildings in areas that are currently lower density residential lacking public garages, you have to do more than cut building parking spaces and encourage transportation alternatives. There needs to be enforceable and recordable contracts/easements that don’t allow residents of the new buildings to own or lease vehicles. That might actually lower or at least slow the rise of rents/prices in at least some parts of Oakland. In other parts, the demand is so high and fueled by high tech wages, I doubt it would do much.

Len Raphael, Oakland

“BART Riders Racially Profile Via Smartphone App,” News, 8/05

The True Villains Go Unpunished

I passed the Montgomery Street station, and reported that I saw corporate managers stealing the wages of workers, immigration officials harassing innocent civilians, and a criminal justice system playing its siren song of mass incarceration so loud it hurt my ears and killed my neighbors.
The BART cops never came.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, Oakland

The BART App Is Revealing

It’s really telling that when so many people come into contact with someone who appears to be homeless, their first thought is, “They should be arrested,” rather than, “They deserve help.”

Nicole Vermeer, Oakland

You’re Reaching Unsupported Conclusions

I want to be up front that I consider myself very attuned to issues of racial disparities. I work in public health to reduce health disparities among disadvantaged populations (often Black and Latino), have been involved in Black Lives Matter, etc. — I don’t want anyone to think that what I’m about to say comes from a place of invalidating that racial disparities exist.

But dear lord, this is absolutely abysmal journalism. You base your findings of racial bias on a data set where you only have race specified for 198 out of 763 alerts, but then go on to say that the alerts are disproportionate relative to BART’s ridership. You do realize that you are missing data on 75 percent of the alerts? You don’t actually know what the racial composition of your entire data set is.

Your conclusion also could be biased. For example, there’s a well-documented sociological phenomenon in which race is only described in an account when the person is non-white. The average person telling a story about a white person will often omit that the person is white, whereas if the person is of a non-white race, then that detail is much more often cited. Your 198 accounts may be self-selecting for situations where the person is more likely to be black, whereas the other 565 may be biased to situations where the person is white, because of this phenomenon.

Do I think it’s possible that an app could magnify our own well-documented social biases? Absolutely. But you’re drawing conclusions here that aren’t supported and reporting them as fact. There has to be a higher standard than this for your journalism.

Mingus Ball, Berkeley

Why Do We Have to Call the Cops?

It would be nice if instead we had an app to call for people who need assistance: food, medical help, psychiatric care, a home, a shower. Why is the only way to seek assistance to call the cops who seem much more likely to make someone’s life worse than make it better?

Mark Fritzel, Oakland

Stop Designing Racist Tools

People of color are widely more marginalized than others in this racist society, and African Americans are even more mistreated. In turn, this phenomenon forces those who have endured discrimination to respond with indifference at times to their surroundings. The solution isn’t public policing or protection of transit users from perceived threats. After all, didn’t the so-called offenders pay their fare, too? They deserve to ride in comfort, too. Stop racist policing and designing more tools of discrimination, educate yourself, and be an American who cares for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all.

Ranil Abeysekera, Berkeley

People Need to Stop Living in Fear

Under the pretense of reducing crime, hip city dwellers are eager to remove evidence of a failed social system. It’s easier to sleep at night when you don’t see homeless people. When you start calling the cops on people just because they make you uncomfortable, you’re actively participating in sweeping poor people under the rug.

What happened to talking to people? Get the courage to ask someone to keep it down if they’re loud. Stop living in fear.

Ismael Ahmad, Oakland

This Big Brother at Its Worst

This is essentially a dragnet authorized by a public transit agency using its riders, lacking law enforcement discipline, as informants while building a database on the public going about their daily affairs. The examples given in the article illustrate the danger of swooping citizens into official scrutiny without probable cause.

Further, this sets up the public to be paranoid of each other and increases the feeling that one is being watched by Big Brother more and more. Is this really the kind of world we wish to live in? Solutions to moral problems are helped, perhaps, by punishing, but more important is improving our social behavior in how we treat each other and our environment on a daily basis. What is needed is a bottom-up approach rather than an oppressive top-down one that can too easily be misaligned against our freedom.

In a country that so claims to value the importance of the individual, we should know better. Democracy is not just voting for representatives that are unlikely to be better than those who vote for them. Idiots are voted in by idiots.

Democracy should be a constant lifestyle involving every part of our living. We need to learn how to discipline ourselves within ourselves and then in our society in small through large groups — not in a guilt-driven sorry state, but out of the freedom of enjoying life, liberty, and equality under the law, and, more importantly, without the law.

Conrad Greenstone, Berkeley

This Isn’t Going to End Well

I’ve seen this happen twice and each time the person that called lied because they’re afraid of Black people, brown people, and homeless people. If you’re so afraid of people who don’t look like you, stay home or stay in your car!

Secondly, when BART police show up and kill someone (again), it will be BART with blood on its hands.

Theresa Ho, Oakland

“Cops Are Not ‘Warriors,'” Seven Days, 8/5

What About the Funeral Costs?

I think the article is correct. “Warriors” and other aspects of modern police do create a sense of a war zone, etc., as the article describes. Nice insight. I never thought of that.

Express, can you find out how expensive this funeral was for taxpayers? The article missed that: the outrageous expense of the funeral using our taxpayer money.

Okay, okay, have an awesome funeral, but Oracle Arena? Did the arena donate that time? What about all the employees working the arena? Who paid them? Our taxpayer money!? What about all those taxpayer-funded police cars driving to the funeral sucking up taxpayer-funded fuel? Overtime for officers doing traffic control? Lost productivity for stopping freeways? Etc.

Have a big funeral but not an idiotically expensive one — which police were able to pull off because: 1. It wasn’t their money (it was ours), and 2. Politicians are too afraid to offend the police union.

That’s the thing about all this police and armed forces over-the-top spending of our taxpayer money. Another example is the California prison guards union pushing three-strikes laws so they could make more overtime and pull in $100,000 to $200,000 a year. And aside from the obvious the evil of police brutality, related settlements alone should get bad cops permanently fired, not fake-fired where the arbitrator reinstates them repeatedly. Oakland paid $74 million in settlements from 1990 to 2014; Chicago paid $521 million in just ten years — 2004–2014. Bad cops are evil and expensive.

Aside from a hedge fund, what type of company would retain a front-line employee who cost his or her organization several million dollars for bad behavior? I can’t think of any except police departments, hedge funds, brokerage firms, and banks (oh, and the Oakland Raiders).

John Gordon, Oakland

It’s Pushback Against the Outrage Over Police Killings

The disproportionality is tremendous. When a Caltrans worker dies or any other public servant is killed on the job, you don’t see anyone using the Oracle Arena for the funeral. In fact, when cops kill citizens because of a cigarette, a tail light, or lane change ticket, the first thing that happens is that the police department leaks things about the victim — he or she had an arrest record or had marijuana in their system — all in an attempt to vilify the victim who died (many times for doing nothing) from actions by the people who are sworn to protect them.

This is absolutely part of a national pushback by law enforcement to paint themselves as victims. Look at what is happening in some major East Coast cities. Cops are purposely pulling back from doing their jobs in order to drive crime numbers up. They hope to illustrate that the demands by the public that they be professionals and obey the law themselves is an obstacle to police work. That is ridiculous. Whenever there is a video recording of police acting way beyond what is necessary or legal, you can bet there will be an old white (usually) police retired cop or police union representative on television trying to convince you that you did not see what you saw on the tape. Even after nearly a year of almost weekly tape evidence from all over the country that police behavior is out of control, they still don’t get it!

Gary Patton, Hayward

Labor Needs to Rethink Its Ties to Police Unions

The article is correct in its main points. We need to separate the issues of the often-unnecessary dangers many workers face on the job (and why there is so little attention given to Workers Memorial day every April) from the issue of what the police do in society (mainly protect the state and political economic/racial status quo from disruption by the rest of us). This is why the UAW grad union at UC is petitioning within the labor movement to remove affiliation from police unions nationally.

Joe Berry, Berkeley

The Problem Is Worse than You State

The Washington Post’s tally understates the problem. According to the Counted (The Guardian’s list of those dead at the hands of police by all means, not just gunshots), this year’s victim count is now 683. By the end of the year, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100 US residents will have been killed by police.

While the widespread availability of guns is a huge part of the problem, and certainly a contributory factor to the massive number of killings by American police, the legal protections afforded officers exacerbate things. Laws such as the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act make it extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute the out-of-control “cowboys with badges” marauding our streets.

John Seal, Oakland

They’re Not Warriors, They’re Servants

It is upsetting to see police referred to as “warriors.” It feeds into and reinforces the whole militarization of the police vibe that pits police against opponents (citizens). I don’t even like the “sheepdog” analogy. I prefer “public servant,” since I am the public and they are my servants. If there is to be a hierarchy type of relationship, it is the servant who obeys the public.

The “warrior” concept derived from the all-volunteer military when the draft was ended. Before that we were “citizen-soldiers.”

Al Sargis, Oakland

“Bullies” Is a More Accurate Term

Thanks for your column. I couldn’t agree more. When I was a trucker, I constantly told people that my job was more dangerous than that of a cop every time people would defend cops by saying how dangerous their job is. But the level of danger isn’t the big issue here.

People worship cops for two reasons: First, cops are, as the punk band MDC once said, the army of the rich. So rich people love cops because they know that cops protect them and their property. Second, average people who like cops do so because they’re scared (the American coward syndrome that Michael Moore pointed out in one of his movies) and think that cops protect them. Because of this worship, cops are treated like kings when they die. I also find this totally outrageous, but it makes sense when one considers the worship of cops by the rich and many, if not the majority, of everyone else.

Cops are far from being warriors. Warriors fight with other warriors with substantially equal arms. Cops are armed to the teeth and have far more and far superior arms compared to those they confront. “Bullies” would be a much more accurate term for what cops do.

Regardless of the fact that cops’ jobs are somewhat dangerous, they signed up for this work, are very well-armed to deal with danger, and are also very well paid for what they do (in fact, except for cops in Berkeley, who have to have at least four-year college degrees, they’re overpaid).

A major problem in dealing with this situation is that politicians don’t dare say anything bad about cops in public. Even progressive politicians, when talking about cops killing unarmed Black people, always feel they have to say something like “most cops are good” (which is patently untrue). In fact, California has a police officers bill of rights, giving cops more and greater rights than the rest of us! As long as the rich and large numbers of everyone else worship cops, these ridiculously large funerals will only get bigger.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

“Signal Loss,” Music, 8/05

Ex’pression Isn’t All Bad

There are a lot of people still working hard to retain the good parts of Ex’pression. It’s a shame the author didn’t mention that.

I guess negativity is just more interesting.

Laura Talon, Oakland

“The Last Days of Latino Old Oakland,” What the Fork, 7/29

Goodbye, Oakland

Oakland is no more. Fruitvale, San Antonio, and Eastlake are the next immigrant neighborhoods to fall.

Andy Nelsen, Oakland

It’s Sad

I remember eating at La Borinqueña when I used to go to Laney College and brought my friends there. My mom remembers when they lived close to it in the projects in the early Fifties. I have brought my own family here several times to eat and we are all sad that it is closing. It is has been a part of our family for years!

Mary Catheryne Torrez-Watson, Bremerton, Washington

“Will Oakland Protect and Expand Affordable Housing?” News, 7/29

Cities Make It Too Difficult to Build Housing

Oakland does not create anything. The private sector creates housing. The misguided policies of the do-gooders destroy the efforts of the private sector to create housing. Both San Francisco and Oakland have seen enormous increases in rents largely because both cities make it very difficult and expensive for the private sector to create new housing. Rent laws discourage the private sector from creating new housing units. Only an increase in supply of housing units will create “affordable” housing. Authors, like the one of this article, create nothing, build nothing, contribute nothing but hot air. Such authors contribute to the lack of new construction, fewer units, and increased rent.

Jerry Udinsky, Oakland

“For the Kids,” Opinion, 7/29

It’s Too Late

The writer should really do some more reading on climate change. Hint: it’s already happened and whatever we can do positively now will have little effect on the problems our children and grandchildren will face, unfortunately.

The problem is also not local or statewide. It really has to do with industrial society as a whole and the fundamental nature of an automobile-dependent consumer society.

And there are not any real technical fixes, either — electric cars or solar panels won’t do it.

The real solutions lie in cultural, political, and behavioral change. We refuse to use bicycles or walk and insist on doing everything in a car. We’ve refused to do any land-use planning so that most working folks don’t live near where they work and so must commute — mostly in cars. We’ve refused to invest sufficiently in public transit; in fact, we’ve been disinvesting for half a century.

An interesting take on where we are at now is Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction.

Read it and weep.

Hobart Johnson, Oakland

“Forced Into the Arms of the Rich,” Raising the Bar, 7/29

It’s the Unions’ Fault

This article is as bloated as the Greek public sector. It’s funny that Mr. Youngdahl would cite that country as an example of the evils of collective bargaining reform, without mentioning that Greek public employees make significantly more than their private sector counterparts or the fact that the Greek retirement age is five years earlier than that of the German taxpayer who is bailing out Greek pensioner.

But what’s most striking is Youngdahl’s logic — that if you cannot force union members to pay their “fair share” dues, unions will be forced to cozy up with wealthy donors. I’m not sure if Mr. Youngdahl realizes how this logic is such an indictment of the public sector unions themselves.

If you can convince wealthy donors to part with their money to support unions, why can’t the union convince all its union members to pay their “fair share” union dues when it is benefiting the union member themselves? Youngdahl writes, “The leaked papers showed that labor advocates were forced to work on strategies to convince the wealthy of the benefits of unionism.” In other words, in order to get money from donors (or anyone for that matter), once must convince these donors of the benefit.

As Mr. Youngdahl correctly points out, behind every negotiation, both parties must operate under the principle of mutual benefit. Public sector unions, rather, operate under the principle of reaping the most amount of benefit for the least amount of sacrifice. The public sector union leaders maintained their grip on union members by only focusing on what is owed to the unions, ignoring outright any sacrifices the unions must make to the public. This narrow view on one’s own self-interest has been ingrained into the public sector employees mind by its leadership, and is the reason you cannot trust the union members to pay their “fair share.” It is the unions’ own undoing.

Clarence C. Johnson, Oakland

“As Californian as Scotch Eggs and Tasso Ham,” Dining Review, 7/29

Why Feature Meat-Centered Restaurants in a Drought?

Considering that California is still in a drought, it would be lovely if the Express did its part by not featuring meat-centered restaurants. It’s as if the Express exists in a space bubble, separate from Earth. The reality is: We are all in this together. People still eat meat and they still drive cars and that’s pretty much why we’re in the mess that we’re in now.

People also smoke cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean that you glorify it, just because people are doing it. I know you’re trying to be fair and balanced in your reporting, and that’s honorable, but the reality is that if the journalists have their heads in the sand, we’re all screwed. Just sayin’…

Segue Fischlin, Oakland

“Immigrants Are Not to Blame,” Opinion, 7/22

We Need to be More Like Europe

The rather obvious solution is to regulate these necessary economic conditions: A North American Economic Union, similar to the European Union, would alleviate much of the irregularity of illegal immigration. As Mexico creeps towards first-world status, this makes more and more sense.

Freedom of work and movement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico would do wonders for national security.

In essence, it’s better, cheaper, and more efficient to regulate, than to enforce.

Concha Gomez, Alameda

“Direct Displacement,” News, 7/08

We Don’t Need More Luxury Housing

We need affordable housing that is affordable to minimum wage and fixed income folks, not more of these “luxury” (overpriced) places destroying our local cities.

JJ Noire, Berkeley

“Financing the Destruction of American Lives,” Raising the Bar, 6/17

Nice Job!

Thank you for connecting all these dots. Kudos to the pension participants who refuse to play along while their investments in guns undermine the society in which they will, or are, hoping to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

Lisa Lindsley, Gardiner, New York

Miscellaneous Letters

Government Is the Problem

The fact that Oakland has far too many citizens who are paid the minimum wage and a housing market that is undoubtedly one of the most expensive in the United States would seem to be incongruous and hard to reconcile. But it is easily explained and understood when one considers how our local economy has been mismanaged into a distorted, hopelessly dysfunctional mess.  

This is a town where, for various absurd reasons, building new housing to meet the demand is practically impossible, and as a result, the existing housing stock, no matter the location or condition, is by natural consequence of supply and demand elevated in value to degrees that exclude all but the most financially sound folks from participation. This naturally engenders serious emotional reactions from ordinary citizens who expect to be able to afford to live in their town.

The intelligent response to this public policy concern would be to facilitate the construction of much more housing to alleviate the serious scarcity of market-rate housing. The foolish response is to inject local politicians into the economy, because their expertise is nonexistent and their knee-jerk, de-facto response to all things is to assign government controls and guidelines into the world of private enterprise. All this does is make things worse as government controls distort the economy and create perverse disincentives to invest.

Notwithstanding the ingrained beliefs of local politicians, government interference in free markets only exacerbates problems and stratifies the economy, further relegating more citizens to a lower standard of living while accelerating the distance between the well-to-do and the rest of society, as basic elements of normal life become increasingly expensive due to artificial shortage.  

If Oakland were run by citizens who understand economics, the town would thrive. By virtue of its geography, location, and climate, Oakland should be a world-class city. It is run by people who are stunningly naive and simplistic, and the town continues to underperform and deny its citizens basic services and perpetuates a local economy that is dysfunctional and inequitable.

Jonathan C. Breault, Oakland


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