Letters for the Week of February 29, 2012

Readers sound off on redevelopment, Occupy Oakland, and foie gras.

“Death of a Retail Plan,” Feature, 2/15

Not Dead Yet

I was troubled to see your cover story with a tombstone proclaiming the City of Oakland’s retail ambitions for Broadway “dead.” The article lures the reader in with an attention-grabbing headline and photo, but about ten paragraphs into the story confesses that the process is still alive and kicking. The City of Oakland is, in fact, doing something we should all applaud: molding the plan into something that may actually work, given the many constraints, which existed before but have only intensified with the loss of redevelopment. Let’s give credit where it’s due.

Without a doubt, the loss of redevelopment dealt a major blow to Oakland. But if there is a silver lining, it’s that the city has wisely shifted to a plan most members of the community find more attuned to reality, and also closer to what local residents have been requesting all along.

Greenbelt Alliance, along with the Better Broadway Coalition, released our vision for the Broadway-Valdez Plan last year. We want a walkable, bike-friendly neighborhood with a variety of new retail, tree-lined streets and plazas, and homes affordable to the full range of local workers. We want high-quality jobs for Oakland’s capable workforce. In short, we’ve been encouraging the city to use the plan to build on what’s already working nearby: Art Murmur, the Fox Theater, and the flourishing restaurant and entertainment scene. We believe that the city’s renaissance won’t come from imitating Emeryville, as the story seemed to suggest, but from creating a district that is authentically Oaktown.

We have been working with the Better Broadway Coalition — a group of nine environmental, labor, housing, social justice, and local resident organizations — to pursue this vision. It enjoys support from several Oakland decision-makers and a wide swath of the community. Fortunately, the City of Oakland now agrees with us that we need a plan that is both ambitious and achievable. The recently released draft plan concept looks pretty good. With a bit more fine-tuning, this plan can actually lead to real revitalization on the ground, change that builds on our strengths rather than hinders recent progress.

Don’t write Oakland’s epitaph quite yet. Oakland’s revival, including retail and more, remains within reach if the city makes a smart plan for the future of Broadway, its “Main Street.” That means we must resist the temptation to dwell on what’s “dead,” and focus instead on what’s alive that we can nurture and grow.

Marla Wilson

Sustainable Development Associate,

Greenbelt Alliance

Redevelopment Is a Red Herring

“Without redevelopment, the city’s plan for a major shopping district … may be history.” Perhaps, but the same would most likely be true even with redevelopment. What this misty-eyed tribute to seeking retail El Dorado conveniently failed to mention was that, beginning in the mid-1960s, the city spent more than thirty years — yes, a full third of a century — pursuing various plans similar to this one (first at City Center, then at the same “Uptown” location that is now fodder for The New York Times‘ “to-do” list). That Oakland “failed to use redevelopment funds to build one or more major retail destinations in the city before redevelopment was eliminated” certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Rather, retail has failed because neither developers nor potential anchors would commit to such schemes — or at least not without hefty subsidies that obliterated any gains from increased tax revenues. With potential anchors having since been eliminated through consolidation, and with Oakland’s image as an under-served but overly-dangerous place now augmented with a reputation as being frequently “occupied” by various malcontents — something the Express just can’t seem to say enough good things about — the outlook is even bleaker, and no amount of access to bus routes or (even more laughably) bike lanes will change that.

Craig Sundstrom, Oakland

Oakland Isn’t Emeryville

Redevelopment as it existed in 2011 is dead. It’s gone. It’s time to move on.

California’s Redevelopment Agencies were good for creating projects like Bay Street, and Bay Street was good for Emeryville. But why should Oakland compete with Bay Street and build a better Bay Street? Emeryville’s small population enjoys a high tax base, but our more diverse population needs more than national chains and parking garages.

It’s time to start designing redevelopment’s replacement from the ample tools we still have. Broadway is still going to get its bike lanes in the next few years without redevelopment money. Neighborhoods all over the country, including Oakland, use Business Improvement Districts and Community Benefit Districts to tax themselves to pay for their own neighborhood services and transit. There’s no reason that programs like the Tenant Improvement Programs can only ever be funded by redevelopment. We can use our existing zoning and other regulatory tools to ensure that future development in Broadway-Valdez will be walkable, have affordable housing, and look and feel like a desirable place to be. Pop-up retail in Old Oakland is turning out to be more successful than anyone imagined. Art Murmur infused a large area with activity and economic value. There are several ways to assemble land and incentivize developers to redevelop large areas.

Three of the top ten city planning schools in the US are in California. It wouldn’t hurt anything but our pride to look for new inspiration. If we all wanted to live next to Bay Street, we would live in Emeryville.

Ruth Miller, Oakland

“Think You Know Izakaya?,” Restaurant Review, 2/15

A Foie-Pas

I’m shocked that a new restaurant would open with foie gras on the menu, considering that in several months it will be illegal in the entire state of California — and I’m shocked that an Express food writer would so casually describe it as one of the items served. How does a restaurant open in as progressive a town as Berkeley and not realize that they would be alienating many potential customers by serving animal cruelty?

Anne Martin, Berkeley

“Change Is Messy,” Raising the Bar, 2/15

In Defense of Occupy

This is a great counter to the propaganda of those calling Occupy violent and insinuating there is “trouble” in the movement. Thank you, Jay! Occupy is totally peaceful and attempts to provide to the 99 Percent the social services that the city refuses to. A tiny fraction — who knows how many are police provocateurs — have acted out their frustration on property while the police beat, bomb, and break human bodies. The police attack with the meanness and cruelty of the 1 Percent’s selfish capitalism, which enforces scarcity and deprivation. Occupy has brought this issue — the imminent threat of violence that capitalism requires to get people to submit to its inhuman and unconstitutional rules — to the forefront and should be applauded for this instead of criticized. This is peaceful protest, just as in the Sixties and Seventies, and it has been met with the same violent assault by the powers that be that plagued that movement. Why do so many want to forget this, and the entire history of police/thug violence against labor, and claim that media lie that calls Occupy violent?

Sandy Sanders, Oakland


Occupy Oakland deserves nobody’s support because it is incapable of renouncing violence as a protest tactic. I’m sorry, Mr. Youngdahl, but you ought to read your history before filing such claptrap. Also, your editors should be ashamed for consistently neglecting to take seriously the failures of this movement.

Occupy Oakland’s failure in this regard not only indicates an utter lack of functional and moral leadership on the part of the movement (which means it will never go anywhere tactically) but it also indicates a disregard for human life and dignity. Moreover, without renouncing violence, the movement is flying in the face of the past hundred years of effective progressive political action: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, etc. etc. etc. — they’ve all been effective in one way or another and they all renounced violence.

David Fore, Oakland

“Café Intermezzo, Raleigh’s to Re-Open … In Tents,” What the Fork, 2/15

In-Tents Excitement

Yes to the tents for Cafe Intermezzo, Raleigh’s, and Gabriella’s. Both Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh’s were beloved cornerstones of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. As a UC Berkeley student, I can safely say that the tent and beer garden idea will be popular with my fellow classmates — especially since we’ll be able to enjoy scrumptious salads and pub food again! I hope that the re-opening happens in the beginning of May before the semester ends, because we miss the restaurants and they would probably see much more business then, as there are fewer students in Berkeley in the summer.

Amy Hu, Berkeley

“A New Way to Punish Police?,” News, 2/15

Fantastic News

This is fantastic news that should hopefully take the wind out of the sails of the contingent of protesters who feel they need to resort to vandalism.

Vince Rubino, Seoul, South Korea

“Worst Slow Jams,” Music, 2/8

Happy Accidents

I accidentally had sex while listening to Zappa’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich. It was kind of awesome, but only because it was accidental.

David Kerin, Oakland

“It’s Time for the Black Bloc to Go Away,”
Seven Days, 2/1

An Activist Against the Black Bloc

Very well said — the Black Bloc is fighting against everything that I hope to achieve by being an activist for a more just, more peaceful and beautiful world. I understand it’s frustrating. I hate that things move too slowly. But I also hate violence as a means to change the world. I’ve been at rallies and actions in San Francisco, Oakland, and Miami and seen the amazing tenacity and creativity of the peace movement … and then seen anarchists destroy the very things that we want to achieve: collaboration, peaceful alternatives, conversation and support.

I’m not suggesting that the peace movement continue to quietly rally on a Saturday afternoon when no one’s world is inconvenienced. I’m not that naive. I believe we must actively shut down the dangerous, corporate-controlled, profit-hungry machine that is running this country and the world. But I don’t believe we will sustainably shut down violence with gratuitous violence. We must make changes by offering viable alternatives. Let the Black Bloc go off on their own and throw and break things among themselves. And then the people working hard for peace and social justice can get on with the work of creating change. 

Jodi Selene, Berkeley


Why is 90 percent approval undemocratic? Isn’t it excruciatingly democratic?

And euphemisms aren’t automatically “Orwellian.”

Regardless of your opinions about Occupy Oakland, this is a brain-dead, worthless article.

Kane Lynch, Oakland

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

(Lower) Crime and (Unjust) Punishment

As nearly every resident of Richmond knows, crime has been on a downward trend ever since Chief Magnus came to Richmond. I now know the officers who patrol the streets in my neighborhood because they stop their car, get out, and talk to us. They come to neighborhood meetings and give us tips on what we can do to be safer. We not only have the main phone number for the department, but also the numbers of every officer who is on our “beat.” From what I’ve seen, officer morale seems higher — I see fewer scowls and more smiles. I’ve gotten to know our chief a little bit, and from what I’ve seen, there is no drop of racism in this man. I am sorry the city has to pay so much money to fight such trumped-up charges.

Ellen Seskin, Richmond


In our February 22 Insider’s Guide report on Oakland’s Temescal district, “A Transformation Continues,” we erroneously stated that Sacred Wheel cheese shop sells wine. It does not.

In the same issue’s report on Hayward and San Leandro, “Cities of Hidden Treasures,” we failed to mention that Drake’s Barrel House also features its regular beers and specialties in addition to its barrel-aged stouts. Also, we got its hours wrong: They are Wednesday and Thursday, 3-8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon-8 p.m., and Sunday 1-6 p.m.

Elsewhere in Insider’s Guide, we misspelled Rachel Konte’s surname in our report on downtown Oakland, “Local Love,” and James Syhabout’s in our dining piece, “Dare to Define It.” In our shopping guide, “The Politics of Shopping,” we listed the wrong URL for the boutique Show & Tell. It’s ShowandTellOakland.com.

In our February 22 news story, “Cop Identified in Scott Olsen Incident,” we misidentified the type of shotgun used by Oakland police on October 25, according to Al Jazeera. It was a Remington Model 870.

In our February 22 Culture Spy, “The Perfect Job,” we got wrong the year that Benjamin Smythe met the homeless man that inspired him to carry his sign. It was 2000, not 2005. He began holding his sign in 2005, not 2009. Also, he started his website and uploaded videos to YouTube a year and a half before he quit his job.

In our February 22 theater review, “Molière in Modern Medicine,” we erroneously stated that the Shotgun Players staged a production of The Miser in 2004. In fact, that was Berkeley Rep, and it was for the company’s 2005-2006 season. 

And finally, our February 22 movie review, “Antique Modernism, Anyone?” incorrectly stated that The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower was filmed in real time. It was not.


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