Letters for the Week of February 18, 2015

Readers sound off on OPD's traffic stop data, privacy and the best way to curb driving.

“OPD Still Appears to be Targeting Blacks,” News, 2/4

There’s No Evidence

The statistics on racial profiling in the article make irrelevant comparisons. What counts is this: How does the percentage of people stopped who are black compare with the percentage of perpetrators of street crimes who are black? If they are roughly the same, there is no evidence of racial profiling. The subject is street crime. Police on patrol do not make stops for “crime in the suites” — white collar crime. If investigators of fraud, bribery, and financial misdealing mostly go after white perpetrators, can the latter complain that they are victims of racial profiling?

Charlie Pine, Oakland

Whites Get Away With Crimes

There are a variety of questions that can be asked and crunched out of the numbers. Sure, you could ask who commits the most street crime, but in reality you could never answer that question. Why? Because lots of crimes on the street go unreported. Lots of people who commit “street crimes” will never once in their life get stopped by a cop, let alone arrested.

What I am interested in is that of the 16 percent of black folk arrested for these stops, what the distribution of offenses for which people are arrested is. Why? Because if black people are getting arrested for things like drugs, alcohol, or any other thing that we know lots of white people do, too, then I would propose that this may be an example of why our justice system has an overrepresentation of black people. Anecdotally, all of my white friends smoke pot, grow pot, many (not all) take E sometimes, as well as ‘shrooms, acid, speed, and coke. They all have been drunk in public and most have driven under the influence at least once in their young and silly days. None of my white friends have ever been arrested for any reason (except civil disobedience, which I won’t count because we were let go and never had to go to court for it).

But imagine if white people got stopped or pulled over at the same rate as black people — and dealt with being searched as often as it has happened to me in my life, although I don’t do shit but disobedience. Chances are some of them would have gotten caught with contraband at some point in time. Now presuming that cops didn’t think to themselves, “Look, you look like a nice guy, with a cool job, with a future — so, I’m taking your shit and letting you off with a warning,” (as I have heard about and have witnessed happen for them on occasion) but, instead, the cops actually arrested them for it — if this shit happened — my question is, would we still have the stark racial disparities for arrests or “street crime?”

We cannot presume from the information that is available that black people commit more “street crime” than other folks. All we can say is that we are arrested for it more often than others. The real question is, do these disproportionate stops lead to police making far greater opportunity to find black people with contraband or doing something wrong — and decrease the chances of finding one of my white friends doing something illegal?

Joe Jackson, Oakland

“Oakland Poised to Lead the Way in Protecting
Privacy,” Opinion, 2/4

We Need These Policies Now

The OPD, CHP, DEA, NSA, etc. are all going to use electronic surveillance whether we want them or not, but without the laws on the books to curb their abuses we will be outgunned whenever we try to rein them in. Without the proposed laws, we won’t even know what the abuses are.

The Oakland City Council did a 180-degree turn when it went from almost unanimous enthusiastic support of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC) to stopping further development outside the Port of Oakland. Much of that was due to the united front against the DAC by a broad group of residents. But a chunk was from the realization by the council that the DAC was going to be a very costly, never-ending, custom software project. Sometime in the not-so-distant future, urban surveillance systems like the DAC will become almost canned software/hardware systems for much lower cost. The temptation at that point for a tech cure to crime will be irresistible to elected officials. We need laws on the books and adequately funded checks and balances in place now.

Len Raphael, Oakland

These Policies Ensure Transparency

The only good DAC is a dead DAC. But these policies will help keep another DAC-like entity or Stingray-like device from being used against the residents of Oakland without a full and open public airing, unlike how the DAC came to be.

JP Massar, Berkeley

“The Governor Has No Clothes,” Seven Days, 2/4

Shut Down Diablo Canyon!

Jerry Brown needs to lead the way in shutting California’s last, aging, unsafe nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, which sits near thirteen earthquake faults in a tsunami zone. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chief safety inspector at Diablo, Michael Peck, recommended closing the plant in 2013 until it can be made safe. So why isn’t the California Public Utilities Commission immediately calling for the plant to be closed? Young Governor Brown promised to prevent Diablo from being licensed, so what happened? That scary nuke is our Fukushima waiting to happen. Governor Brown, do the right thing and protect the citizens of California. Shut Diablo now!

Cynthia Papermaster, Berkeley

“BART Should Drop $70,000 Fine Against Protestors,” Seven Days, 1/28

They Should Pay the Price

If they are really dedicated to the cause, they will pay the price, like Martin Luther King, Jr. did. We can’t reward protesters for disrupting society outside public speech forums. We can’t reward non-speech that is really just penalizing average citizens who have nothing to do with the issue being protested.

Gary Baker, San Leandro

The $70,000 Fine Is Fair

Sitting in an all-white restaurant or walking instead of taking a bus were acts of protest, but no one else was prevented from eating or riding the bus. That is the difference. Chaining oneself to a BART train means no one else, whether supporters or detractors, can ride the train. That includes minorities. A $70,000 fine is fair and as someone else said: We elect people to enforce the law whether we agree with their politics or not.

Leslie Ann Jones, Oakland

Protests Shouldn’t Impede Others

Their right to protest should not impede the rights of others. This stopped people from getting to their jobs, airports, and other business. They knew this was a civil disobedience and had consequences and they must pay for it. Letting them go free just encourages this kind of action.

Marlyn Wallenten Kauk, Richmond

The Point of a Protest Is to Inconvenience People

If we lived in a world where no one was inconvenienced when others engaged in political activity, then we would still be living in a 19th century cesspool where children toiled in mines, workers made pennies an hour, and non-whites were completely segregated from whites.

John C. Osborn, Oakland

“West Oakland Councilmember Involved in Another Questionable Real Estate Deal,” News, 1/21

Gibson McElhaney Needs to Provide Answers

In my thirty years of living in West Oakland, I have seen too many nonprofit organizations take millions of dollars in public funds from the City of Oakland and do little or nothing that was promised in return. It comes as no surprise that instead of the city councilmembers demanding more clear answers from Lynette Gibson McElhaney regarding her nonprofit’s activities, they appointed her council president, and carry on as usual.

If her organization is receiving federal and state funding and grants, it seems like she should open her financial records to the public in order to clear up any questions about improprieties.

Why should someone who doesn’t pay her taxes for years be representing the people of West Oakland? Especially someone who draws an annual salary between $150,000 and $200,000 from a nonprofit that is not financially sound.

Kent Crowley, Oakland

“A New Era for Charter Schools?” News, 1/21

Thanks for Setting the Record Straight

Thank you for publishing this excellent analysis. Our community needs to bear witness to Fremont High School teachers’ and administrators’ and students’ hard work being disrupted by the school district board of directors. 

Fremont High teachers are not working to rule: We are working weekends and evenings because our parents and our students have a short amount of time to become college-, career-, and community-ready. Though we support our brothers and sisters in our elementary and middle schools, Fremont teachers have voted to continue to work our usual long hours. As Sam Levin quoted one of our seniors, we are “making miracles happen” — for example, a Fremont High senior recently signed, full ride, to UC Davis, and students’ steady improvement in strong reading has been evidenced by rising academic scores.

This is in spite of the district’s failure to rebuild our seventy-year-old infrastructure, to bring our undersized football/soccer fields into compliance, or to have our auditorium brought at least to the standard of every other high school in the district. Oakland property owners granted us these basics by Measure J parcel tax in 2012. Thank you for Sam Levin’s accuracy, clear writing, fair analysis, and for a moment to set the record straight.

Patricia Arabia, Oakland

“It’s Time to Raise the State Gas Tax,” Seven Days, 1/21

We Need to Make Driving Very Expensive

I agree that the gasoline taxes, both state and federal, should be raised. The primary reason to do so is to strongly discourage people from driving for environmental reasons and to pay for the environmental damage done by it, to the extent that the latter is possible (unfortunately, money doesn’t help oiled birds or dolphins, or stop global warming/climate change, for example).

However, the price level of gasoline needed to pay for driving’s externalities like environmental harms is estimated to be $10 to $20 per gallon. Raising gasoline taxes enough to increase the price of gasoline to that level would, therefore, be a long-term goal that would take several years. Coupled with the tax increases would need to be a massive investment in building and expanding public transit and turning large portions of motor vehicle roads into bike paths. The massive expansion of public transit should be a public works project similar in size and scope to the projects upon which the US embarked during the Great Depression and World War II, and done with just as much urgency. In other words, get it done, whatever it takes.

This is the only way that we’re going to get enough people to stop driving to actually make a substantial difference for the environment. Small gasoline tax increases that merely pay for maintaining roads that drivers use will not be enough to convince people to stop driving and do not help the environment; only making driving very expensive will do that.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

“A Walk in the Park,” Theater Review, 1/21

It’s Not Homophobic

I did not find the comment about the same-sex couple homophobic at all. As a gay male, I was actually surprised the line was written and found it funny. I thought it was ahead of its time. Also, let us not forget the “It’s Pat” sketch on SNL. Not to mention all the other “crazy” people that were mentioned that live in the same apartment building. I found the play, while sitcom-y, reminded me of my spouse and me — I am also married to a Paul. And the line, “Even when I didn’t like you … I still loved you” made me tear up. … Okay, I am a crier! Good review.

Dana Anderson, Lafayette

“Shell-Shocked,” Feature, 1/14

It’s Not the Size of the Boat that Matters

First, I would like to give our background. We have been in commercial fishing for many years. In the 1990s, we lived in the Bay Area and fished out of Half Moon Bay. In the 2000s, we moved to Humboldt County. We travel up and down the coast — having fished all of California, Oregon, Southern Washington, and the Bering Sea, Alaska. We have always been treated fairly and with friendship in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. The same cannot be said for District 10. For the most part, we have experienced open hostility, theft, and vandalism. We have had crab stolen, pots stolen, pots destroyed, bait freezers vandalized, tires slashed, break lines cut, and sugar put in a fuel tank. We have even been accused of fishing out of season when our boat had already returned to Humboldt Bay.

“Shell-Shocked” is a completely biased and unsubstantiated article. The main argument that “Bay Area residents could enjoy Dungeness crab for half the year, if it weren’t for big businesses…” is simplistic. The main reason for the big drop-off in catch going into February is because that is when the crab start mating (“clutching”). Many boats stop fishing at this time because it does not pay. Numbers of crab pick up in the spring but are still much smaller than the winter numbers. Most boats have moved on to other fisheries.

The article admits that most of the small boat owners are over 65. What it doesn’t say is that many of these fishermen are retired — many from other industries with pensions — and are using crab fishing to supplement their retirement income. Many of those who have always fished have downsized from larger operations. In their day, they fished up and down the coast, but now that they don’t want to work that much, they want to keep other fishermen from making a living. And the reason the “next generation of fishermen” is disappearing is because it is dangerous, difficult work that takes a very particular type. Many who do want to make it their life’s work are run out of the business by retirees who don’t want to allow them to make enough to sustain their business and support a family — buy a home and send their kids to college.

Now, equating a boat over 30 feet to “big business” is completely false. The vast majority of all boats in the fishery are owner-run businesses — people just trying to support their families and make a decent living. Just because your boat is bigger does not mean you are making vast amounts of money. Larger boats have extremely high overhead — insurance of more than $25,000 and crew shares of $200,000 per year are normal. Plus their increased maintenance and repair costs. At the end of the year, the bottom line can be quite small. Larger boat owners can struggle just as much or more than smaller boat owners.

The writer, Luke Tsai, thinks all crab caught in the Bay Area (District 10) should stay in the Bay Area. Should all goods manufactured in the Bay Area stay in the Bay Area? Should all food raised in the Bay Area or the Central Valley stay in those area? Not if you want a viable industry. Dungeness crab is enjoyed all over the world — as it should be. It is a great product, and fishermen should get a good price for it. They should be getting top dollar. A “prime” steak cost more per pound than the crab fishermen risked their lives to bring you. Mr. Tsai should be ashamed to complain about spending $8 to $10 per pound.

If they want larger boats out of the fishery then why don’t they buy them out? When the ground fish fleet was reduced, the boats were bought out. They want to force larger boat owners out of the Dungeness crab fishery with no compensation. And small boat fishermen haven’t just influenced policy they have run it. Most larger boat owners cannot afford to take the time off to cozy up with politicians or attend endless committee meetings and hearings. 

The new pot limits that were put in place were entirely the work of smaller boat owners. They were asked to do something about the latent permits before taking the step of pot limits but they would not listen. They were told that pot limits would not solve their issues but probably make them worse — forcing larger boats to crab longer, harder and travel more.

If you want to “redistribute” income, you have to look at the income and wealth of the owners — not the size of the boat. To further limit pots would only run more family boat owners out of the business. Then “Big Business” will be in a position to swoop in to change regulations and buy up boats and permits. We will see family commercial fishing businesses go the way of the family farm.

Deenie Davis, Arcata

“Salmon Stuck in Dead End Waters,” Eco Watch, 12/31

We Need to Hold
DFW Accountable

The Department of Fish and Wildlife should be given nothing! They are a regulatory agency that has the power to protect our fisheries, yet incompetence prevails. Don’t buy the hype, people. Let’s hold the agencies we fund accountable. DFW has known about these issues for decades!

Matt Manuel, Butte City

Miscellaneous Letters

Laython Landis
Should Resign

The Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus of Alameda County is calling on Oro Loma Sanitary District Director Laython Landis to resign for “knowingly and willingly” making offensive racist and sexist comments and then failing to comprehend and accept the seriousness of his conduct.

Mr. Landis was censured by all of his fellow board members for his comments and behavior in December, and in January, the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee called for his resignation. The Black Lives Matter protests have called attention to the need to seek solutions to the institutional racism that has existed for centuries in this country. It is up to all of those elected to serve our communities to take a leadership role in addressing this critical issue, beginning with how they treat people and communities whom they perceive to be different from themselves.

Asian and Pacific Americans have long experienced racist and ethnic discrimination and despite having played critical roles in the building of the State of California since the 1870s, we remain perceived as foreigners. 
The Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus was formed ten years ago to ensure equal political and institutional participation of Asian and Pacific Americans in the democratic process. We know far too well how racist and sexist speech translates into actions and then policies. We believe that leaders who fail to acknowledge the destructive nature of racist and sexist comments have no place on the dais.

Lena Tam, president, Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus of Alameda County, Oakland

Protect Off-Leash Dog Areas!

I just love the idea of a Pets Issue, but was disappointed that there was no mention of our wonderful off-leash dog areas in the East Bay. We have the world’s first dog park, Ohlone in Berkeley, and Point Isabelle, is perhaps the world’s best off leash area.

However, all is not belly rubs and biscuits in the doggie world. An organization called SPRAWLDEF [Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund] has influenced the powers that be to reconsider allowing off-leash dogs at places like Cesar Chavez park in Berkeley and the Albany bulb/beach. Details are easily found using social media and I urge all dog lovers to step up and become active to protect our off-leash areas around our wonderful bay!

Tom Nigman, co-founder Ohlone Dog Park, Oakland

Let’s Keep Fracking Out of Alameda County!

The news brings us report after report on dry conditions in the Sierra and the impact on every household and business in California. If an abundance of storms doesn’t materialize soon, Californians will have to double down on water conservation this summer.

As we’re bailing out the bathtub, going mellow with the yellow, and watching our plants shrivel, we should pause and ask: In this growing crisis, how sensible is it to allow a heavy industrial user that pollutes every one of the millions of gallons it sucks up, further stressing our water supply?
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is considering a change in zoning to make it much harder to frack within county limits. County residents have the opportunity to weigh in and say “no” to the practice of injecting water, sand, and toxic chemicals into the ground to free up fossil fuel deposits.

At an average of 140,000 gallons of precious water per well, fracking is an expensive use of an increasingly scarce resource. Alameda County residents who say no to fracking at home also send a message to Sacramento: Going to extremes to extract oil is a no win — not in the current water crisis and not in the emerging climate crisis.

Our neighbors have already engaged in massive people-powered campaigns to close the door on fracking: In November, voters in both San Benito and Mendocino counties approved fracking bans. Mendocino and San Benito didn’t want to end up like other California counties with entrenched fracking operations, growing by 125 to 175 wells each month over the past decade. Conservatively estimated, that’s an additional 17.5 to 24.5 million gallons of water taken out of circulation each month.

Even worse, the fresh water used in fracking operations becomes wastewater, creating huge storage and disposal issues. Just last July, the California State Water Resources Board found that the oil industry had injected nearly 3 billion gallons of wastewater into drinking water and farm irrigation aquifers in the Central Valley. Nearby wells may also have been contaminated with toxic chemicals, including arsenic and thallium. 
California should follow the lead of New York State and ban fracking statewide. A ban at the state level would relieve each county of the burden to act separately. But until that happens, it’s up to all of us to press for a ban where we live.

Rebecca Franke, member of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Don’t Frack California Committee, Berkeley

Why Oakland?

Friends around the country often ask me why Oakland is in the news whenever violent and destructive protests occur. Why is it that events thousands of miles away precipitate violence and out-of-control mayhem in Oakland and oftentimes nowhere else? People are literally dumbfounded at this seemingly odd predilection afflicting the local yokels in town, and wonder out loud if these citizens understand how ridiculous this appears from a more dispassionate and arguably more rational vantage point. 

I respond by telling them that this happens because it is allowed to, and, in fact, many adults in town revel in this absurdity. Most of the politicians owe their “careers” to this exercise in self-promotion. The condition of arrested development is widespread in Oakland and is particularly virulent in the political class whose consistently desultory response to savage, vile, and moronic destruction of property and private enterprise is legendary hereabouts.

The truth is: Veritable children run Oakland and the perspective they carry is quite at odds with that of responsible and productive adults whose life experiences and worldview are decidedly less charitable toward the perpetual protest crowd who have found a hospitable host in Oakland and decided to make this their home. Oakland as a consequence is forever stuck in abeyance, not quite fully engulfed in the mire of abject self destruction yet nowhere near the productive, aspirational excellence that is in evident in every municipality in the greater Bay Area absent Oakland.

Self-promotion is the currency of “leadership” in Oakland and competence, intelligence, and above all else, maturity, are in short supply. Therefore we are stuck in the vortex of self-destruction and perpetual egocentric propaganda.

Jonathan C. Breault, Oakland

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