Letters for the Week of August 29, 2012

Readers sound off on the OPD, Art Murmur, and Missouri Lounge.

How Much Garbage Does It Take to Treat a Patient?,” Feature, 8/15

Here’s Hoping

Twenty-two years ago, the facilities director at the San Jose Medical Center asked me, as a consultant, to set up a sterile field and sort “red bag waste” against the then-new Title 22 regulations on exactly what was infectious. We discovered that about 85 percent of what was in the red bags (at 22 cents per pound versus trash at about 5-6 cents per pound picked up) meant they were killing themselves with costs; the director assigned a staff person to watch operating room, emergency room, and all other sites for errant use of red bags and paid for his salary immediately. Anybody overusing red bags today is just stupid.

Alameda County banned the incineration of municipal solid waste in the county in 1990; shipping the stuff out of county to autoclave-and-bury or to burn is a subterfuge and not the answer. As author Kathleen Richards notes, plastics are made from high-value raw materials and deserve a better end than roasting-to-sterilize or incineration.

Let’s hope somebody cares.

Arthur R. Boone

Center for Recycling Research, Berkeley

The Future of First Fridays,” News, 8/15

A Problem that Doesn’t Exist

Ellen Cushing’s article in the Express about traffic issues surrounding the Art Murmur tries to paint a picture of a problem that simply does not exist. There are no “victims” here. Pickpocketing is a lame excuse for challenging Art Murmur. No food poisoning has been reported, and if firecrackers bother you, don’t visit West Oakland on July 4th like I did.

The streets of Uptown are never more safe than they are during Art Murmur and they certainly are way safer than on any given weekday. In seven years of Murmur, no one has gotten hurt, when on any given First Friday there are between 5,000 and 10,000 people enjoying the area, many spilling out into the streets and all of them walking up and down and crossing the streets during the event. I hear event organizers, candidates for city council, and city staff raising the idea that “someone is going to get hurt,” and someone may get hurt, sure — but it won’t happen because the streets are dangerous during Art Murmur. There is a story here, it’s just not traffic safety. It’s an issue of how we make Art Murmur even better.

Controlling traffic is not the way to make people safely enjoy the streets. It’s the way to allow more people to better enjoy a kick-ass street party. Closing the streets to traffic will essentially bring an evening Sunday Streets to Oakland every month, and a Sunday Streets party that is way more fun than one on a Sunday morning. And it will bring even more people to Downtown Oakland. We should turn Art Murmur into a monthly evening-time Sunday Streets by closing off the streets to traffic in the Uptown. The bigger the area of street closures, the better the Art Murmur!

The real story that I want to see written has to do making with Telegraph a better street every day. In the last few years Telegraph has had many collisions involving cars with pedestrians and bicyclists, yet the city has not shut the street down to traffic to address this issue (which it shouldn’t), and the city still has done nothing to improve Telegraph on a daily basis for people walking and bicycling (which it absolutely should). When Art Murmur grows, bringing thousands of people to Telegraph and there are no collisions, it’s a safety-in-numbers thing. It’s also a phenomenon of when streets are for people, they become much safer, and when streets are for cars, they are way more dangerous.

How to do it? Telegraph Avenue needs a diet — a road diet. It is way too wide for the traffic it carries and, regardless, there are much better and safer uses of this street than pretending that Uptown is a better neighborhood when lots of cars roll up and down its streets. It is not. It is a better street when we give it wider sidewalks, bike lanes, better transit stops, and, most importantly, more space for Art Murmur patrons to hang out and enjoy the street. A road diet converts streets poorly designed for cars into streets better designed for people, which provides more space for artists and vendors, more space for food trucks, more space for bike parking, more space for residents to enjoy their neighborhood — more space for people. And space for more people to come to downtown Oakland and say, “This city rocks!” Art Murmur highlights a timely opportunity the City of Oakland has to reenvision a street like Telegraph and make it a world-class neighborhood boulevard that is safe and a wonderful place to be — not just on First Fridays, but every Friday and every day for everyone.

Dave Campbell, Oakland

Get an Organizer

I have been involved somewhat in this ongoing discussion as I organize large events like the Temescal Street Fair and Rockridge Out and About. The fact that a two-month-old was killed in LA at a similar event makes me more worried than ever that something really bad could happen here. Folks cook and serve food out of their coolers and on homemade grills — which is a recipe for food poisoning waiting to happen, in addition to being unfair to the maybe 25 trucks and pop-ups that pay their fees to the Alameda County health department and to the City of Oakland for a business license. There is also a lot of underage drinking, which is worrying.

Art Murmur could solve its money issues with a combination of fairs and festival money placed in this year’s budget by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan; money from both the Uptown and Lake Merritt and the Koreatown-Northgate community business districts; and the money offered on a short-term basis by the city administrator’s office. The money and responsibility could go a long way if a professional events coordinator were hired and Telegraph was closed. Otherwise, I don’t see a responsible and sustainable way forward. That’s why Rock Paper Scissors Collective and the Art Murmur group of galleries have stepped aside from sponsoring the event. It’s not a lot of fun to always be the ones sweeping up the glass and making sure the street is clean enough on Saturday morning. I also see that person as responsible for raising some money from folks like Pandora, a sympathetic developer or two (?), or other appropriate folks, for the long-term health of the event. I realize that the atmosphere of artistic freedom is what makes Murmur so unique. I think the right organizer who is tuned in to the needs of artists, merchants, and the city could create the bridge and keep the success of Murmur from backfiring.

Karen Hester, Oakland

Danger Is Everywhere

People die in car-related accidents every day. I don’t see how this can be blamed on a gathering of people. If we care about two-month-olds needlessly dying, let’s stop the drone attacks in the Middle East.

So, more money and organization can stop someone from losing control of their car? Okay, so we need festival organizers to valet park every car within a mile of any public gathering so it doesn’t go out of control. If a festival organizer loses control, the parking will have to happen at another location and the people bused in. If the bus driver loses control people will be airlifted in. If the helicopter pilot loses control …. Okay, this is getting too risky. Babies should not be allowed out of the house because they might get hit by a car. It’s not recommended for anyone to leave the house because they might get hit by a car. Art should only be enjoyed at home because walking to see it is too dangerous.

Gabriel Lautaro, Berkeley

Ultra-Safe Bike Parking Gains Popularity,” News, 8/15

Not Quite Empty

“That’s because the lockers offer a total of only forty individual spaces — twelve of which happened to be vacant — and they serve a somewhat rarified clientele.”

Must have been an off-day. I regularly see nearly all forty lockers at the MacArthur BART station occupied on weekday mornings. The good news is that BART is about to start construction on a new facility in the plaza that will accommodate a lot more secure bike parking.

Robert Prinz, Oakland

A Diversification of Solutions

How much do security guards cost per shift? Or just fencing off a portion of the bike area and having a valet rather than a security guard? I tip when at a free valet. I don’t think the only solution to the problem is hundreds of private lockers — they take up too much space for their variable usage. The bike areas have cameras anyway; why can’t I check in on my bike by looking at a streaming video — is there an app for that? — say with a “Holy shit, someone is stealing my bike” button that notifies the station’s security? Or a notification you can send to everyone that is registered in that station: “Gentleman with a carjack, two front wheels, a seat post, and shopping cart ….” All I’m getting at is $3,000 per unit plus upkeep and revenue may be alternatively spent on a diversification of solutions.

Whitney Lawrence, Oakland

State of Disrepair,” Last Call, 8/8

State of Omission

We accept and appreciate the even-handed review of the Missouri Lounge in Ellen Cushing’s article, but we’re surprised in an article of this length and depth that there was absolutely no mention of one of the best parts of Missouri Lounge: the music. We have some of the most respected and diverse DJs in the Bay Area every single night from 10 p.m.-2 a.m., and also outside some Saturdays and Sundays from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. They include such Bay Area favorites as Joe Quixx, DJ Headnodic, Kool Kyle, Odd Nosdam, Jel, and DJ No Friends. We also have the longest-running open mic (sixteen years) in the East Bay every Wednesday night from 7 p.m.-10 p.m., hosted by the legendary Paul Pot.

Seems like an odd omission but perhaps Ms. Cushing couldn’t hear the jams from the bathroom.

Thanks for the kind words.

Missouri Lounge management

The High Costs of Outsourcing Police,” Feature, 8/8


The accounting of allegedly lost revenue is half-baked. How many police and police retirees of other cities live in Oakland? If a good number do, the $200 million figure is only one side of the ledger. If not many do, that tells you something about Oakland as a place for middle-class families to live.

The other reality missing from the article is this: Police have to deal with bad people. Really bad people. Operators of lovey-dovey social programs should not project their mentality onto officers.

Charlie Pine, Oakland

More Cops Is the Answer

Most of us want the cops to be more simpatico/sensitive to/tolerant/aware/knowledgeable of the wide range of people and situations here. But it’s not anywhere as clear as you make it out to be that residence or even place of upbringing will achieve those goals.

Even assuming that Oakland residence has the desired effect, how far do we go? Are we to require cops to reside in the zip code of the beat to which we’re going to assign them? The demographic differences between, say, Montclair and Peralta and 14th streets is greater than the difference between Tracy and that part of West Oakland.

I agree with the criticism of your assumptions about why cops don’t live here. There are serious flaws in your economic analysis also. Regardless of why most cops don’t live here and don’t retire here, most Oakland residents, who are not cops, spend most of their money outside of Oakland except for groceries, restaurants, gasoline, medical care, and of course, rent/house payments. That’s the infamous retail sales tax drain here.

So concluding that the money spent on uniformed police compensation is money “lost” to Oakland is grossly overstating the economic effect of police residence on a city of 400,000 residents and many businesses, because even if they lived here, those cops wouldn’t be spending much of their income here anyway.

The cops I’ve asked about why they live in San Leandro, Hayward, San Ramon, etc. rarely mention death threats. No, they give the exact same reason I’ve heard for almost forty years from young families who move out of Oakland when their kids reach school age, especially when they have more than one kid: Other than a few exceptions — the hills elementary schools, a few hills middle schools, Chinatown elementary schools, a few charter schools, Montera Middle School, Oakland Technical High School, and Skyline High School — the public schools are mediocre to bad compared to the ‘burbs and adjacent cities.

Cops tend to have families with more than one kid. They can’t afford to live in a decent Oakland neighborhood and pay for private school for multiple kids. That takes more than the excessive wages we do pay them.

The solution is not trying to force or even “incentivize” cops to live here. We need to lower the compensation for new cops so we can afford to increase the number of cops from the official 600 or so to about the 1,100 level that activists like Charlie Pine have advocated for for many years. Do that by implementing a two-tier compensation system so we can afford to hire and keep the young cops we’ll be paying to go through the scheduled two academies, instead of laying them off before they start like we did last time.

As we reach that 1,100 staffing level, the OPD will be able to do true community beat policing where the cops are assigned mostly to the same beats for several years. The community gets to know the assigned cops and the cops get to know the residents. That means fewer mistakes by cops who have no idea who the bad guys are, and more trust by the good gals and guys.

Under the absurdly low staffing we have now, we have maybe 500 cops available to staff all shifts, and probably fewer than 250 on duty at any given time for a city of 400,000 residents and 56 square miles of land. Cops are rushed from one corner of the city to another responding to emergencies. They have no chance to get to know residents or for residents to get to know them.

We can achieve most of what we want by increasing the affordable number of cops. Yes, we have to properly manage them and have civilians monitor them. But that’s a whole other topic.

As to recruiting locally: Residence is not important, but growing up here should increase street-sense and awareness, depending on the person. To put it bluntly, we have to lower our hiring standards. We have to consider what we want from our cops. If we expect them all to be combination paralegals/family-conflict mediators/paramedics/Olympic athletes/bouncers/able to write reports with at least two-year college degrees, then, yes, we will have to compete with white-collar high-paying jobs that pay $85,000 or $95,000 from the start. In no small part because of the generally mediocre Oakland schools, we won’t find many locals who both meet those selection specs and want to be Oakland cops.

We should consider hiring some cops that fit that job description, but most of them from the pool of candidates who would simply make good beat officers in the old-fashioned, pre-lawsuit way. No college would be a place to start. Have a paraprofessional transcribe the reports.

If the Oakland police union won’t go along with those changes, the city council has to put the repeal of binding arbitration on the ballot and break its cowardly promise to the union not to do so.

Len Raphael

Candidate for Oakland City Council District 1

It’s a Cycle

The authors of this article imply that the hostile relationship between some elements of the Oakland community and the Oakland Police Department is partly rooted in the police force’s lack of familiarity with high-crime neighborhoods. To the contrary, I would suggest that the distrust of police officers is a direct byproduct of their familiarity with these neighborhoods: Anybody who frequently witnesses the results of the unspeakable acts of violence that occur in Oakland’s worst neighborhoods (such as the death of a child hit by a stray bullet, which happened recently) is bound to develop a rational fear of some of the people in that neighborhood.

Eric Tremont, Albany

On How Life Is,” Lectures & Lit, 8/8

The Trouble with “Tranny”

Alison, while I appreciate Kate Bornstein seemingly has no problem with the term “tranny,” many transwomen and some transmen do find it to be a highly offensive, stigmatizing term. Really, it has no place in a serious review, nor is it a term that non-trans persons should throw around either to show “solidarity” or hipness. If you really want to view yourself as being a trans ally who respects your trans readers, I suggest leaving “tranny” as an inter-community term that trans women and gender-variant drag queens can use on a person-to-person basis.

Gina Kleinzeller, San Francisco

Dianne Feinstein Targets Tule Elk,” Eco Watch, 8/8

Worth Emphasizing

I think it is worth emphasizing that cows or no cows, the elk herd will ultimately outgrow the range at Point Reyes. It’s also worth noting that the ranches at Point Reyes were there before the park, are part of the heritage of the area, and supply high-quality dairy products for much of Northern California.

Dave Wade, Felton

Tule Elk Are the Tip of the Iceberg

Great article by Robert Gammon on the attack on elk by ranchers at Point Reyes. However, as much as Dianne Feinstein is to blame for aiding the ranchers, ranching in the western US is a huge and longstanding problem, and the Point Reyes elk issue is, unfortunately, but a tiny example.

Only a few of us hard-core conservationists know this, but ranching has done more ecological damage to the western US than any other industry. The worst of the damage, in a nutshell, is that what used to be our western grasslands has been turned into deserts. For the most part, there were no large grazing ungulates in the west before the arrival of Europeans and their domestic cattle and sheep. Elk and deer are browsers, meaning that they primarily eat leaves and higher-growing vegetation. They are also nowhere near as heavy as cattle, which means that cattle cause major harm from unnatural soil compaction (this is also caused by cattle staying in one place instead of constantly moving around as any natural ungulate would). Bison were mostly present east of the Rocky Mountains, with only a few tiny herds making it west of there. The introduction of non-native cattle and sheep have wreaked major havoc on the ecosystems of the west by grazing on grasses that did not evolve to be able to survive that grazing. (I don’t want to get too technical here, but the native grasses in the west have horizontal roots, and when grazed by large animals like cattle and sheep, those roots are completely pulled out. The grasses in the eastern US have vertical roots and can handle grazing because the roots remain under the ground after an animal eats the grass, which is the main reason bison were able to graze those grasses for millennia without doing any ecological harm.)

Other harms caused by the grazing industry include fencing (which inhibits movement of wildlife and people, and ruins views), poisoning of creeks and streams by cattle excretions to the point where it is now unsafe to drink from any natural waterway, killing of native plants that cattle don’t like and animals that ranchers deem competitors or threats to their cattle or sheep (the latter of which is just about every large species, including elk; ranchers are now the main reason that wolves are still being shot and they are obstructing the attempts at reintroducing wolves into western states, including here in California), soil compaction from cattle mentioned above, erosion of the banks of streams and creeks from cattle hanging out there (in nature, prey animals would not hang around waterways for fear of predators — they get their water and leave immediately, but ranchers kill all the predators where their cattle graze, even on our public lands), just to name a few harms off the top of my head. Two excellent books on these issues are Sacred Cows at the Public Trough by Denzel and Nancy Ferguson and Welfare Ranching by George Wuerthner.

Additionally, as Gammon notes, ranchers using public lands graze their animals at a steep discount compared to those leasing private lands. This has long been an issue that we have tried to address in Congress, but to no avail. The ranching industry is heavily supported by Congress due mainly to the “heroic cowboy” image, which of course couldn’t be further from the truth. Dianne Feinstein is merely acting as the vast majority, if not all, of her colleagues act on this issue: Defend the ranchers at all costs, including the cost to the natural environment and native species.

Anyone who cares about this issue should start by boycotting beef and telling both the ranchers and their congressional representatives why he or she is doing so. Demand that all cattle grazing be removed from our public lands and those lands restored to their native, natural condition, including reintroduction of predators like wolves. I realize that Americans love their steaks and hamburgers, but the ecological price of those foods is far too high, including the great harms caused to native species like elk. Giving up beef is one of the best things people could do for the ecosystems and species of the west, including the tule elk of Point Reyes.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

Why We Elected You

Ms. Feinstein, if Point Reyes is to be a true national park above and below water, then the oyster farms (which I love) and, definitely, the dairy cattle ranches need to go! Killing native species such as tule elk in a federally protected area makes no sense. Haven’t we decimated their range enough? Get your head out of the orifice of your special interest groups and take the moral high ground; that’s why I elected you!

Randy Monroe, Concord

If You Liked Citizens United, You’ll Love Prop 32,” Opinion, 8/8

A One-Two Punch

John Logan got it right. Prop 32 is the second of the one-two punch to emasculate labor unions’ political power and to further empower anonymous big money Super PACs that were made possible by the disgusting Citizens United decision of the Bush appointee-dominated Supreme Court.

Unions do not apply political pressure anonymously or indirectly. They support candidates and causes with direct contributions. If unable to do this, they are essentially banned from the political process now dominated by the conservative Super PACs.

Vote no on Prop 32.

Don Link

Candidate for Oakland City Council District 1

OPD: Worst In the State,” Seven Days, 8/8

So-Called Left-Wing Media

So the Express advocates a federal government takeover of policing in Oakland. Would that be the US military, which polices the world with drones and bombs and torture no matter whether Republicans or Democrats are in office? Lots of other police departments and cities are hard up, and we hear about one outrageous “rogue” racist cop incident after another. Will those departments be taken over also?

Pretty soon we might have just one federal police force for the country. Like a KGB or a gestapo. Homeland Security is already giving police departments military tanks.

Your article points out that the problems could stem from cops not living in Oakland and not having a stake in the city. But where would a federal police force come from? Are you not defeating your own argument? Is it really so impossible to get to the bottom of this corruption on a local level? Somebody has to be responsible. Or is this the corporate solution that is wanted by the rich and powerful?

I used to wonder how fascism could take over a country. It takes an uncritical public and a compliant media — and that goes for so-called “left-wing media,” too.

Vivian Warkentin, Berkeley


The caption in our 8/22 Culture Spy, “The Hidden World of Design,” incorrectly stated that Roman Mars raised $170,000 in 24 hours; he actually raised $42,000 in one day.

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