Letters for the week of August 28-September 3, 2002

The first little pig responds, asthma troubles many readers, Slim Shady reigns supreme, and Israel updates apartheid.

While they’re wasting time, the rest of us are trying to build brick houses
Since the Big Bad Wolf is anxiously huffing and puffing and seems so full of hot air (Letters, Aug. 14) this Little Pig feels inclined to engage in a bit of record-straightening himself. First of all, hay is what we feed livestock, not what we make buildings out of. Straw is the inedible stalk of rice or wheat and is an agricultural waste product, which California farmers either burn or send to landfills, neither of which offers a very savory solution. A much better idea is to use it as a building product. Thanks to our pigheadedness, we have developed a straw-bale wall system that can be used to construct a five-story, mixed use, sixty percent residential (fourteen affordable units), transit-oriented, smart growth, urban-infill building.

Which brings me to my second point: If the ever-so-poetic Benvenue neighbor — whose pen name is apparently Name Withheld — would care to read the zoning ordinance, his or her keen canine eyesight would discover that indeed, the R-4 district allows five-story (up to six-story) buildings and institutional use, hence the four other five-story buildings on the block and the 94-year-old American Baptist Seminary of the West, a neighborhood-anchoring institution that appears to be such an imposition on this “residential” block. These facts were not lost on the Zoning Adjustments Board that approved the American Baptist Seminary of the West project in June, nor the Design Review Committee that gave the project a positive recommendation in April.

Let’s face it, though, the real Big Bad Wolf is the Hayward Fault, and when he decides to huff and puff, there will be an estimated 300,000 homeless people in the East Bay. The American Baptist Seminary of the West was days away from seismically retrofitting its apartment building at 2500 Benvenue to withstand a credible Hayward event (additional units had to be added to offset the high cost of the extensive retrofit). Unfortunately, certain members of the Benvenue neighborhood chose to appeal the decision to approve the project, and have effectively delayed the creation of much-needed earthquake-resistant housing; with all glibness and overwrought literary cleverness aside, this is no joke.
Aran Kaufer, Integrated Structures, Inc., Berkeley

Straight Outta Oaktown
Thanks for your informative and startling story (“Waiting to Inhale,” Aug. 7). Our 26-month-old son has been hospitalized five times in the past thirteen months and we feel we are doing just about everything in our power to control it, including being very aggressive with steroids and all the other awful meds that are required to keep him alive. While we suspected that there were probably some environmental factors involved, we had no idea that California, and Alameda County specifically, had such high rates of asthma. We would be interested in knowing the reference for the geographical data. We would seriously consider moving if we thought it would help (we live in 94611).
Tracy Fortini, Oakland

Editor’s Note:
Although our data came from several sources, the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention Initiative maintains a Web site (www.rampasthma.org) that posts regional statistics and countywide hospitalization rates. Although hospitalization rates are generally quite high in the East Bay, rates are relatively low in 94611.

Now featured in homework everywhere
I am a pediatrician at St. Luke’s Hospital in SF, and I teach medical students regularly. I have been sending e-mails with links to your story to my students past and present — the material is crisp, timely, and very relevant. Thank you for an excellent piece of writing.
Michael Treece, Emeryville

For more information, buy my book
Congratulations on a real tour de force! The piece covers an extraordinary amount of ground in a balanced, sympathetic way.

Jeffrey C. May, author, My House Is Killing Me! The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma

It’s a music thing
First off, I would like to say that I agree totally that it’s bullshit that rock stations play Eminem (Planet Clair, Aug. 7). I’m sure it’s because he is white. I live in Seattle, the grunge capital of the world, and the biggest rock radio station has been playing Eminem since day one. But I would also like to say that if you’re worried about racism in the world, you shouldn’t refer to hip-hop as a “black-thing.” I have nothing against black people, but when a black person looks at me, they say, “You’re white, you can’t listen to hip-hop, what you know about that? Eminem?” When in all reality it’s not a “black thing,” nor do you have to have a bad childhood, or live in the ghetto. It’s whatever the person enjoys.
Justin Pelham, Kirkland, WA

The New Apartheid
Without necessarily taking a position in favor of divestment from Israel (“To Divest or Not? Click Here,” Aug. 14), I want to point out that the following statements by Daniel Weinberg are nonsense: “Apartheid South Africa benefited from racist laws; those practices are illegal under Israeli law. There’s a twenty percent Arab minority in Israel proper, which means there is no separation like apartheid.”

Eighty percent of the Arabs living under Israeli rule do not live in Israel proper. They have few rights and they have no representation in the Israeli government that effectively rules over them. Israeli law restricts where they can live, work, and travel. Arabs who live in Israel proper have fewer rights than Jewish citizens and they are largely segregated from the Jewish population. Indeed, the Sharon government has proposed to authorize residential segregation in Israel proper by enacting a law providing for Jews-only towns. As for benefiting from racist laws, Israel has appropriated land and water from Arabs living outside of Israel proper for the purpose of building Jewish settlements. These settlements are strictly segregated from the Arab population.

The apartheid analogy holds as long as Israel lays claim to ownership and control of the occupied territories and the right to use the territories for the selective economic benefit of its Jewish citizens.
Robert Denham, Berkeley

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