Letters for the Week of August 28

Readers sound off on California's state parks, stop-and-frisk, and boot camp coding schools.

“Bushwhacking through California Parks,”
Eco Watch, 8/14

Challenges Facing the Parks

As a lifelong resident and former California state park ranger, supervisor, and superintendent who dedicated over 32 years of my life to the protection, preservation, and interpretation of our state’s most treasured parks, beaches, historic monuments, and the public safety of visitors, I truly hope the newly appointed Parks Forward Commission appointed by California Resources Secretary John Laird earlier this month focuses on the real challenges facing California state parks and isn’t distracted by the untruths, innuendos, and opinions of a few park insiders and their friends.  

As the Parks Forward Commission will soon learn, the real elephant in the room facing newly appointed Director Jackson may actually be a herd of angry elephants and not just one. To those familiar with California state parks, these beasts have been around for some time.  They include the never-ending decline in general fund support for all programs not tied to education; the increased burden of legislatively mandated regulations with no funding to pay for them; increased park visitation; a rapidly changing demographic of parks users and future state taxpayers; aging park buildings and park infrastructure (water, sewer, electrical systems, roads, and trails); and a shrinking and overworked staff to greet visitors, collect fees, lead hikes, lifeguard beaches and lakes, clean restrooms, make repairs, operate complex water and sewer systems, and patrol parks. 

While I would be the first to admit that I do not have all the answers for addressing the many daunting challenges that Director Jackson, his managers, and his employees face everyday, placing blame on the backs of the dedicated, loyal, passionate, and hard-working employees, including district superintendents and program managers who have risen from the ranks as park rangers, is shameful. To set the record straight, it was a high-level appointed exempt employee and former deputy director for administration that violated state controls in 2012 by approving leave-credit cash-outs for him and a few of his friends. Also, the $54 million (later reduced to $20 million) “hidden” from the director, the state controller, the Department of Finance, the legislature, the governor, park supporters, and taxpayers was locked up in records kept by high-ranking administration officials and not district superintendents responsible for managing local park operations.   

And while it is true that California state parks has a history of promoting former park rangers and lifeguards into positions of leadership, recent attempts to bring diversity into these ranks have included the promotion of resource ecologists (a former district superintendent, now acting deputy director for operations), museum managers (a former district superintendent, now chief of archaeology history and museums), and former park and recreation specialists (now district superintendents), to name a few.  Can California state parks do better in recruiting and promoting young, energetic, creative and passionate new park managers with diverse backgrounds?  Absolutely! 

Lastly, a request to your readers and all park visitors. While I cannot deny that some parks appear less clean, worn out, and have less staff these days, please know that the majority of park employees, camp hosts, and other volunteers wake up every day committed to doing their absolute best to ensure that your visit is safe, enjoyable, and filled with great memories shared with family and friends. If you feel the way I do, which is that California state parks belong to all of us, think about doing your part to make them better. For the last eighteen years, my family and I have hosted a family and friends reunion at our local state beach. During our stay, our group dedicates a portion of one day picking up litter, clearing trails, and sweeping sidewalks. It’s a fun way to get everyone involved, and it helps to teach our kids that state parks are theirs, too!  

The days of big government and pay-as-you-go fees and services are numbered. Future generations of Californians deserve more than the warmed-over ideas of unfettered advertising at beaches and parks, commercialization, and excessive user fees. If the members of the Parks Forward Commission are truly committed to protecting and preserving our state’s greatest treasures, then they must look beyond the horizon for new solutions. Our kids deserve nothing less. 

In 1983, American historian, environmentalist, and writer Wallace Stegner wrote, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”  I would bet generations of Californians believe the same is true about our California state parks.

Richard A. Rojas Sr., Goleta

“Homophobic Group Disrupts Council Meetings,” News, 8/14

Manufactured City Council Problems

Thank you for the excellent story on the manufactured problems in the city council by the so-called “Men & Women of Valor” hate group. I would like to add a few facts. Mark Wassberg has long been known for his hate speech in council chambers, but that did not deter Councilmember Nat Bates from actively supporting Wassberg’s 2012 campaign for city council in the form of donating a couple of shirts and ties (according to Richmond Confidential, October 15, 2012), so Wassberg would look better on the stump. Evidently, Bates is averse to Wassberg expressing his message of hate and extremism while being poorly dressed. Mr. Bates also made a campaign video with Wassberg. Bates did formally endorse other candidates for the job, but I find it disgusting that Bates is clearly rewarding Wassberg’s council chamber antics.

I also find it disingenuous that Chevron is saying that it does not endorse homophobia, while it has time and time again donated to candidates across the nation that have taken extremist positions opposing civil rights for the gay community, and civil rights in general, including supporting candidates behind voter-suppression efforts. Chevron contributed heavily to Nat Bates’ re-election campaign, covering the city in billboards with his photo. Chevron talks about the “dysfunctional” Richmond City Council, but it is talking about the problems encouraged by its favorite city council member, Nat Bates.

Fortunately, the Richmond City Council is not really dysfunctional at all, despite the antics of a few, and has accomplished much in making Richmond a better city.  

Jim Harris, Richmond

“Oakland Was Right on Stop-and-Frisk,”
Seven Days, 8/14 

Oakland Flunked By Hiring Bratton

Oakland got the stop-and-frisk part right of the quiz correct, but flunked the entire exam by hiring Bratton at $250,000 in the first place. Besides forbidding Bratton to push for stop and frisk, they also forbade him from talking to residents to determine what crime reduction strategies would work best here.  That was supposedly one of his most valuable competencies. 

All we got for our $250,000 was an extremely highly paid consultant to tell us how to implement the data analysis methods of CompStat.   Hiring Bratton for that nuts-and-bolts task was like hiring Bill Gates to show you how to use Windows.

Hiring Bratton did serve the very useful function of making our mayor and council look good to the residents howling in pain from the crime here.

Leonard Raphael, Oakland

“Parachuting Into Coding,” Education & Careers, 8/14 

A Thinking Man’s Game

The best programmers are largely self-taught; aside from theory and formalized standards, it remains, like most scientific pursuits, the domain of self-driven/actualized people.

It is possible to become a world-class Web 3.0 developer without spending any money on training. One only needs a computer, internet access, and a slightly above-average IQ to be successful. Seriously, Udacity, EdX, MIT OpenCourseWare, and Codecademy all offer world-class training for free. 

I have actually found the Udacity/San Jose State University partnership to be excellent, especially when compared to online offerings from other state universities and junior colleges. However, the free offerings from Udacity are more well developed/comprehensive.  

Also, like most of the traditional internet, most standards-based open languages have a ridiculous amount of tutorials, training, etc. As an IT professional who has worked with quite a few software developers, I can tell you that large parts of their days are composed of looking up documentation and learning new things. 

It is a thinking man’s game, and not a skilled trade; it is a lifestyle subscription, similar to monkhood or the philosophers of antiquity. 

It seems that what these training programs are really about is creating factory coders: people who can plug in to whatever a cloned, VC-backed startup requires.

Seriously, how many idiot-proof rehashes of basic services do we really need? Instagrey picture, anyone?

What is really needed is a class in how to solve real-world problems; unfortunately, this remains out of reach as the VC money has basically ruined innovation in the valley.

Ronald Corbett MacBaker, Oakland

“Playing Congas with Willie Nelson,” Music, 8/14

Nine Inch Nails Owned the Night

I’m not entirely sure you saw the same show as the rest of us, regarding your review of Outside Lands. I doubt you were actually there, because the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (a fun group, but best fit for a smaller venue) suffered a horrible onstage mix, repeated mic clipping (that microphone in the mouth gag did not serve the band well) and generally did not even come close to the level of kick-assery as served up by Nine Inch Nails.

I mean, seriously? You write: “It was a tough act to follow, and while Nine Inch Nails did win points for its industrial light show, it did not come close to mustering the same kind of excitement — even while playing hits like ‘Closer’ and ‘Head Like a Hole.'”

I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. All around me I saw people losing their minds, superlatives abounded. My friend, who has never even seen them before and isn’t even really a fan per se, said it was the best show she has ever seen. You are correct that the visuals were great, too, but the adjective industrial is just laughable in context. I don’t know what is “industrial” about seven LED panels being moved about the stage. Nine Inch Nails owned the night. It was a masterful set, superbly executed from the musicianship down to the stage design.

You win points for at least mentioning them. The tone of this letter would be a lot more severe if you chose to ignore a band that’s been melting face for over twenty years in favor of Phoenix.

And I’m pretty sure Jurassic 5 kicked butt too. ;/

David Kirk, Oakland


In our August 21 food review, “Southern Hospitality,” the caption for the photo was incorrect; it was not the shrimp and grits but the rabbit Brunswick stew.


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