Letters for the Week of February 1, 2012

Readers sound off on the Jean Quan recall, Plum and Make Westing's prices, and 924 Gilman.

“The Incompetent Recall,” Full Disclosure, 1/18

The Duplicitous Recall

It would be refreshing (and I suppose also shocking) if the champions of the recall would acknowledge their real agendas. This isn’t about any particular mishandling of any particular issue by Quan. This is about a desire to see a more conservative, pro-development city government.

Felix Thomson, Oakland


“Eating and Drinking Well,” Food Review, 1/18

But What About the Prices?

I just don’t understand why all these places are so expensive. You know that nobody who makes less than $80,000 a year could possibly afford to frequent these places on any kind of a regular basis. In other countries, local places like this accommodate a large swath of the population, while here we create places where one snack and a couple of drinks costs fifty bucks every time you go in.

It’s sad.

Jason Carey, Oakland


“Engineers Help Protect Refugees from Rape,” News. 1/18

Inspiring and Important

Your article was fascinating.  I felt that this story illustrates one of the greatest challenges in development work: how to utilize what development workers create and effectively implement a system within the environment of those in need.  I’m reading Half the Sky right now, and this story was so reminiscent of the haunting stories in that book.

Really, it was so inspiring. Thank you.

Mollie Hudson, Berkeley


“Gay Cop Accused of Discrimination,” News, 1/11

Public Servants Aren’t Perfect

I find at least two false dilemmas in this article that, because they are often overlooked amidst the politically-correct horror regarding accusations of sexual/racial discrimination at the hand of a public servant, never enlighten us to the greater truths of such accusations.

The first is the defensive implication that because Chief Magnus is gay, he is less likely to be even capable of racial insensitivity or workplace discrimination. If sexual orientation has nothing to do with anything except our own sexuality — if it does not present any warranties one way or the other regarding a person’s character — then it has no exculpatory value whatsoever. But if it does, then sexual orientation is just another political status that has something to do with everything (as does our sexuality). The fact that politics permeate all human activity should render any political stance moot in the defense of character. But because we hardly ever heed this morsel of critical thought, scoundrels do prowl both sides of the political aisle.

The second false dilemma is the perception that professional competence ipso facto places one well beyond reproach regarding matters of moral character — because, after all,  lawyers and policemen are more law-abiding, spiritual leaders are less venal, and physicians are healthier than the most civil, holy, or healthiest of laymen. If this perception were to prevail, professional prestige would void a professional’s accountability to uphold his or her own self-governing values. Professionals indeed are, and should be, subject to and held accountable to public opinion, and certain professions have maintained their prestige throughout the years because professionals do hold themselves accountable in matters of moral character. When they do not is when the public steps in.

There is an idea that often appears to be completely alien to otherwise able men whose values seem to be defined by having grown up in racially homogenous settings: Even if “being a good sport” is one of the most cherished of American values, it is no license to insult someone, even if in a benign attempt to determine whether or not they are a good sport (and thus a good American.) If it were, then anyone whose physical appearance or behavior were deemed different than that of the majority would wear a target on his or her back that the majority never has to wear — and anyone who bears such an exclusive burden of proof is relegated to second-class citizenship. That one would determine whether or not they have offended another by taking it upon themselves to define the boundaries of the other’s dignity is itself perhaps the most common source of all offensiveness. As for the mere folly of telling a joke “to the wrong crowd”: the crowd is embarrassed the least for they are already in on the joke. We are all well-equipped to save ourselves from the indelicacies of litigation when we consider our two eyes, two ears, and one mouth.

Even if Chief Magnus wins this case, the plaintiffs bring into focus the valuable concession that the greatest men who do the greatest good may indeed be flawed in ways that, despite being anathema to their very act of serving the greater good, completely escapes their self-awareness. My opinion that Chief Magnus bears no legal liability for being an insensitive jerk does not mean I condone his flaws in light of his public service, nor do I devalue his service in light of such flaws. Nor do I demand that all public servants be held to a higher standard than I, for such expectations often result in the flimsiest of political veneers. His plight as a defendant is merely a reminder to us all that even in our own heroic pursuit of righteousness we get nowhere when we allow our feet to turn into clay.

G Lawrence Han, Berkeley


Absurd and Politically Biased

Am I the only one that noticed the absurd and politically biased premise for Chief Magnus’ innocence? Just because someone is a member of a “protected group,” or a “lefty” or a “progressive,” they can’t be racist? Of course, anyone can be biased — not just middle-aged conservative men.

I think the worst abusers of the “racist” term are those who throw around the accusation for their own publicity and financial gain.

I have been happy to see recent statistics that show, for example, that most people of color surveyed say they have never been the victim of “racism.” Seems the more common victims nowadays are those accused.

Gary Baker, San Leandro


“Twenty-Five Years of 924 Gilman,” Music, 1/11

Here’s to Another 25

I have to say, reading Dan Abbott’s recollection of an “art” gig at the Gilman was absolutely the funniest thing I’ve seen in weeks. Tears of hilarity were running down my cheeks. Great collection of stories. I was one of those parents dropping off kids at the place, and I applaud the community of volunteers that ran the only cool evening venue for those under 21. Berkeley rules.

Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley 

“The Local Arts Conservatory,” Education and Careers, 1/11

Get Involved

The excitement of a vibrant, full-blown arts community is certainly in evidence as you take your first steps down an Oakland School of the Arts hallway. And we’re acutely aware of the heartbreak of arts programs disappearing from other public schools, particularly schools full of under-resourced student populations. Our WriterCoach Connection program serves four Oakland high schools with a trained community-volunteer writer coach for every student in a grade level — every tenth grader at Media Academy, Mandela High School, and Architecture Academy on the Fremont Federation of Schools campus in the Fruitvale, and, for the first time this year I’m delighted to say, Oakland School for the Arts. One-on-one attention from writer coaches, all year long, has generated remarkable increases in writing achievement at the Fremont Federation schools, and we look forward to more of same as we work with every ninth grader starting this spring at OSA, where the administration and parent community have worked hard to raise funding for the program to make sure that the school’s high academic standards remain on a par with those in the arts.

Even in the face of the loss of arts funding, we can work to set high academic standards and generate increased academic achievement at all public schools with dedicated and consistent involvement from members of our communities. And when you take a closer look, you might be surprised at the sophistication of the curriculum at schools like Media, Mandela, and Architecture. We shouldn’t be surprised at the supreme dedication and skill of so many of the teachers and administrators in these schools, and at what we can help them achieve for all students with focused community support.

We are training community volunteers as writer coaches right now for all four of these Oakland schools. You don’t need to be a writer, editor, or teacher to do this. The training is free, and after two three-hour training sessions, you can be sitting next to a student at OSA, Media, Mandela, or Architecture, guiding him or her to more effective writing and critical thinking skills. It’s something tangible you can do to raise achievement on the academic side, to help offset the disappearance of arts programs that has put so much pressure on admission to OSA, where the competition to get in the door has become understandably intense.

For more information or to register for writer-coach training, go to WriterCoachConnection.org. Our coaches call it the volunteer opportunity of a lifetime.

Robert Menzimer

Executive Director, Community Alliance for Learning


“Brown’s Plan Threatens Climate Change Goals,” Eco Watch, 1/11

Taxes Are the Answer

Another “victory” for the tax-haters. Our governor and legislators need to build voters’ confidence in their ability to spend state money wisely, and the rest of us need to convince ourselves that tax increases are good for the state, our environment, our cities, and our schools.

Will Leben, Emeryville


“Coach Collins,” Feature, 1/4

Don’t Cut Coach Carter Down

It is obvious that the writer of this article did not research the life of former Richmond High basketball coach Ken Carter. I have known Carter since 1989, ten years before the famous lockout. In 1989, Coach Carter was operating a sporting goods store near Richmond High and regularly donating jerseys and equipment to the teams in the Richmond community. Additionally, he hired and mentored high school students to work in his store, teaching them about business and showing them silk-screening. He also donated equipment and T-shirts to teachers for their classrooms. I know because I was one of the teachers he has assisted through the years with supplies.

It is ludicrous to bash someone who has contributed to his community for years to elevate another individual.

For anyone who has followed Coach Carter, they know he has opened a school in Texas, at his own expense, to help at-risk students. Does it matter where he helps the youth of America? Anyone who has ever met Coach Carter can attest to the fact that he is uplifting and positive. Obviously, this is what the news media discovered about him and what propelled him into the limelight.

Carla Hilton, San Pablo


“Coliseum City Unveiled,” Seven Days, 12/14

A Commitment to Excellence — and to Oakland

Great idea. I am a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan. Any other city does not work for me. I am not a LA Raiders, Irwindale Raiders, or anything else fan. At this point, if [General Manager] Reggie McKenzie does not turn this thing around and the city build a new stadium I am finally just gonna have to give up on the Raiders — like they did to the Bills, Broncos, Lions, and Chargers this year.

Get it together Oakland and the Raiders. The Oakland Raiders is the greatest franchise in sports!

Michael Klein, Atlanta



In Defense of Richmond

This is just an open letter to the ignorant of the Bay Area. For the third time recently, I have heard my city/neighborhood referred to as “the ghetto,” in a strictly demeaning and derogatory manner.

The first time, it was when I was reading a Yelp review from an Albany resident who was venturing for the first time to the “Target in the ghetto of Richmond.” The most recent time, it was from a protesting Cal student lamenting tuition hikes because it might force them to have to look for housing in the “Richmond Ghetto.”

I live in a working-class neighborhood whose residents include blue-collar families with children, degreed professionals, artists and musicians, police and fire personnel, small business owners, retirees and immigrants, homeowners and home renters — people of all colors and walks of life. Pretty much one of the most diverse neighborhoods I have ever run across, including those of Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco.

My city is full of little gems that the rest of the Bay Area hasn’t been fortunate enough to have discovered. Maybe if they’d get their noses out of the air and come down to earth they might find that Richmond isn’t as scary as they imagine and there are some really cool people, places and things here.

How horrific it would be should these snotty elitists ever have to lower themselves to visit, much less live, in such a place.

Debbie Rheuark, Richmond


Focus on Oakland, Not Occupy

As members of the Oakland Greens organization — an affiliate of the Green Party of Alameda County — we express our revulsion and horror at the language of a recent Oakland City Council resolution directing the City of Oakland to prevent the Occupy Oakland movement from attempting to organize future peaceful actions at the Port of Oakland.

The resolution in question, brought before the council on December 20, 2011, would have directed the mayor and city administrator “to use whatever lawful tools [they] have” available to prevent Occupy Oakland members from exercising their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech at the Port of Oakland.

This resolution’s language is tantamount to a thinly-veiled threat to use police force —i.e., violence — against peaceful Occupy Oakland movement protesters.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at the meeting that evening. The resolution —sponsored by Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Libby Schaaf — was defeated, albeit temporarily, on a procedural motion by a four-to-four vote.

The Oakland Greens strongly commend Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Nancy Nadel, Jane Brunner and Pat Kernighan for voting against this insidious and inappropriate resolution. To her credit, Mayor Jean Quan elected not to cast a vote on De La Fuente’s resolution. (Because the motion needed six votes to be considered by the City Council that evening, the resolution was remanded (returned) back to the Council’s Rules and Legislation sub-committee.)

Councilmember De La Fuente has publicly stated that he intends to move the resolution out of the rules committee again at a future date and return it before the city council for a simple majority vote.

The unfortunate irony of Councilmember De La Fuente’s apparent blind obsession with the Occupy Oakland movement over the last three months is that he is squandering his precious city council time and energy on the relatively benign Occupy movement while neglecting the very serious issues and concerns of his own district, Fruitvale: violent crime, social peace, and neighborhood economic development.

The fixation and energy expended on Occupy Oakland by certain Oakland city councilmembers should instead be re-directed to more important public policy priorities given that Oakland’s homicide rate jumped ten percent during 2011— the first time in five years that there was an increase in the homicide toll.

Parallel to this, the Oakland’s citywide violent crime rate increased by 6 percent in 2011, including in Oakland’s Fruitvale and East Oakland neighborhoods, which are represented by Councilmember De la Fuente.

Given this situation, the Oakland Greens demand to know what Councilmembers De La Fuente and Shaaf’s priorities are. Addressing violent crime and establishing social peace on the streets of Oakland — not Occupy Oakland — should be the city council’s highest priority at the moment.

Don Macleay, former Green Party candidate for mayor of Oakland (2010) and Chris Kavanagh, former elected Green Party Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner (2002-2008)


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