Letters for the week of February 8-14, 2006

Richmond gives merit a try, Oakland is awash in vacancies, Fruitvale needs smart development, and Berkeley supports its Screenagers.

“Burning Richmond’s Race Card,”
City of Warts, 12/7/05

Hope, but few illusions
Thank you for saying what needs to be said about Richmond. City government here has long existed solely to employ the city’s unemployable and their do-nothing cronies. It gives me some hope that you see a door opening to competence regardless of color in city affairs and city employment. I think most of us are still waiting to see whether the city can recover from its self-inflicted plague of violence, ignorance, and poverty. Richmond is a beautiful place to live and we have wonderful people here who deserve far better than they have received from the city’s entrenched acceptance of second-rate services paid for with top-of-the-line taxes. My family chooses to live, work, and do business in Richmond. We have hope, but few illusions.

Joan Wraxall, Richmond

“Let the Bulldozing Commence,”

City of Warts, 1/11/06

Vacancies abound
Chris Thompson had a nice run of good points in the recent City of Warts article, but he struck out when he suggested demolishing the Kaiser Convention Center. What a beautiful, historic building. Sure, it’s underused (so is most of downtown Oakland, what can you do?), and who doesn’t want more affordable housing? But there is plenty of housing near the lake, and any open space does a lot to ease the density. I’m sure that many landlords with units in East Lake and Grand Lake would agree: Vacancies abound.

Christine Yap, Oakland

“Ghost Town,” Feature, 1/4/06

Corporation 1, entrepreneur 0
Since the Express was purchased by New Times, it has become a far better publication. Exemplary are wonderful pieces such as Chris Thompson’s exposé of Yusef Bey and his Black Muslim organization and Justin Berton’s scalding satirical reportage of pro-Palestinian propagandists protesting uncomprehending employees at a local tractor dealership. Because those pieces were not PC, they would have never appeared in the Express‘ previous incarnation.

Recently, Berkeley Daily Planet editor Becky O’Malley denigrated the Express, terming it “cowboy libertarian” and castigating its ownership by — perish the thought — a corporation. This inane criticism comes as little surprise, as O’Malley’s stewardship has turned a much-needed Berkeley publication into simple-minded ideological excreta. While Berkeley desperately needed a newspaper that provided honest coverage reflective of its diverse populace, O’Malley has transformed the BDP into a print edition of KPFA. The paper’s bias reflects that of O’Malley’s one-dimensional leftist partisan stances. Correspondingly, it’s no accident that the BDP should host regular contributions from the likes of Conn Hallinan, former editor of the Communist Party’s People’s Weekly World, who writes as if he doesn’t realize that The Party Is Over, and commentary concerning the Middle East by Henry Norr, fired by the San Francisco Chronicle for his membership in such unsavory organizations as the International Solidarity Movement (notorious for hiding a terrorist leader and two soon-to-be suicide bombers).

Indeed, much-needed coverage of local events by the BDP is as identifiably biased as items in the ridiculous Bay Guardian. One just need look at the headline and the reader pretty much knows the slant of the reportage. All too frequently, O’Malley’s interest in international news, adequately covered by other publications, takes priority over examinations of important local stories. A weekly cursory glance at the BDP reveals, for example, that O’Malley’s obsession with demonizing Israel takes precedence over reportage of major civic events.

If good and balanced reporting is appreciated by Berkeley readership other than the PC Amen Crowd, our citizenry will invariably choose the corporately owned East Bay Express over the foolish ideological follies of the Daily Planet. If you wish to know what I mean, just pick up a copy of the BDP and see if you can stop your left knee from jerking.
Dan Spitzer, Kensington

We’re not giving up
The Unity Council and Fruitvale Development Corporation are pioneers in the area of transit-oriented development. We are working in uncharted territory, and are learning as we implement the first-ever transit village in the Bay Area. When we undertook the revitalization of this key section of the Fruitvale neighborhood we knew it would not happen overnight. We pride ourselves in staying focused on the mission, which is to support the creation of a sustainable and thriving neighborhood for the families and businesses residing in Fruitvale.

It is regrettable that a few of the Fruitvale Village merchants feel they were misled or their expectations have yet to be realized. We are committed to doing everything we can to fully lease the remaining retail and commercial space by year-end. We are currently in negotiations with three possible tenants, which if successful will bring us much closer to achieving this goal.

One lesson we’ve learned is that we should have built more housing units in the first phase of Fruitvale. With the completion of the next phase and four hundred residential units, we expect a necessary infusion of additional patrons for the businesses. We know the solutions will take time, as they do with any new retail/commercial development. I am confident all the pieces of the Fruitvale vision will come together. We look forward to improving the retail situation sooner rather than later.

The Unity Council, which is so much more than the Transit Village, remains committed to supporting the economic, spiritual, cultural, and physical growth of Fruitvale. I know its future as a vibrant, multiethnic community will become stronger and more successful every year.
Gilda Gonzales, CEO, Unity Council & FDC, Oakland

Raider deal no. 2
It is not surprising that the Fruitvale Village is so dead. To thrive, a transit node development needs many nearby residents walking through with money in their pockets. Fruitvale had the opportunity for those potential customers when a respected San Francisco developer wanted to convert the nearby vacant Montgomery Ward building into 520 residential units. But [City Council President Ignacio] De La Fuente had a vendetta against “preservationists” and put a stop to that. He was determined that “that building is coming down” and recruited the school district to propose an elementary school on its site, which is located on the most dangerous arterial in the county. As it was being demolished, one school board member proudly proclaimed it was Raider deal number 2! The cost to the district was $55 million, and most elementary schools only cost $15 million. The Unity Council was in favor of the housing, but they had to keep quiet because they knew it was dangerous to come between a man and his vendetta.

Joyce Roy, Oakland

Bumps in the road
I feel compelled to write and say “Congratulations” on an outstanding and thought-provoking article. It is the best-researched and most comprehensive article I have ever read in the general press about community development. You illuminate some serious problems inherent in transit-oriented projects. Cash-strapped local agencies want to front-load the retail, are often ignorant of or ignore how people spend their retail dollars in the real world, and try too hard to appease well-meaning — but misdirected — local political interests.

Transit-oriented development promises to balance our need to accommodate population growth with our desire to maintain the quality of life in the Bay Area. There will be a few bumps in the road as developers and community planners learn to grapple with the unique challenges posed by this emerging form of development. Your article sheds light on some of those challenges. It should be required reading for stakeholders involved in similar projects. I plan to forward it to many of my friends in the business.
Peter Hellmann, Paramount Homes, Clayton

“Teenage Auteurism,” This Week, 1/18

Smells like screen spirit
I would like to start out by thanking you for publicizing our event in the East Bay Express, as Screenagers is underfunded and vulnerable to termination after this year. I, along with the other Screenagers curators and PFA staff, was concerned with the way in which you portrayed Screenagers as if we had meetings solely to watch stupid skateboard and action movies “that are obviously the product of kids futzing around with a camera for the first time.” This is in fact false.

I find it hard to blame you personally for this and other details you used to describe Screenagers, since you never came to ask the curators what exactly we did here, how hard we worked, and why we valued interning with Screenagers. (We are making a documentary, though, to educate people on what we actually do here. I’d recommend you watching it when we’re finished so you can know the real story on what Screenagers is, if you’d be okay watching low-budget work done by fledgling directors.)

We have been meeting on a weekly basis (sometimes more than once a week) for at least an hour each meeting since this September. All of the curators have put an immense amount of effort into Screenagers that you failed to include, such as contacting schools for submissions before school, at lunch, and after school so as to reach a school representative instead of just a voice machine; taking hours off of multiple school-night evenings to attend a variety of film festivals so as to be familiar with types/details of the film festival we’d soon have to curate, and turning these thoughts into typed papers to be reviewed; logging and reviewing numerous films after school, during winter vacation, and on weekends, that in fact were not all skateboard, sci-fi, music videos with rinky-dinky effects and were NOT made solely by amateur directors that had just touched the camera for the first time. Although we did receive a small amount of these types of movies, we had no influence over which films were submitted. However, we gave each director and their films an equal chance and reviewed all the submissions, discussing each one and how it would or would not work in the context of our film festival.

For most of us sprouting filmmakers and curators, Screenagers is an important event that contributes to giving a voice to youth artists around the Bay Area, which is something that not all youth have the opportunity to experience. You can understand how we may have been hurt by your article.

Again, thanks so much for your time. We’d also love to invite you to our screening this weekend so you can see all the films that will be screened and really see some of the GREAT talent that our youth has.
Rico Chenyek and my peer Screenagers curators, Berkeley

“God Save the Queen,” Film, 1/11

All hail the queen
I was appalled by the negative comments made by this “so called” writer. I won’t repeat all the unflattering things he said about the Queen [Latifah], but one was “one might hope that the movie in question is Hostel, so that she could be beaten a few times and then dismembered, ideally by someone who sat through The Cookout, Taxi, Bringing Down the House, or Beauty Shop.”

What is his problem? Why would he suggest beating someone? He should be locked up. I have always enjoyed reading your paper, but you need to terminate this writer who does not have a heart or good eyesight. Her movies are excellent.
Rachel McGee, San Leandro

In our January 18 article about anti-aging research (“Live, Fast, Die Old”), we misstated the age of calorie restrictor Tristan Bettencourt. He is 48, not 38.

Close 2 tha Edge (“Meezy the Magnificent,” 11/9/05) misidentified a cofounder of the group Timex Social Club. It should have been Marcus Thompson, not Marcus Roberts, the jazz musician.

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