Letters for the Week of January 14, 2015

Readers sound off on the year's best films, Oakland City Council and Spare the Air Days.

“The Best Movies of 2014,” Feature, 12/31

You Missed Some Great Films

No mention of The Theory of Everything or Life Itself? That’s just a shocker! Isn’t a movie critic supposed to serve all moviegoers? Maybe this one should see Life Itself — it’s very inspiring and thoughtful.

Ruby MacDonald, El Cerrito

“Council May Dampen New Year,” Seven Days, 12/31

Kaplan Is Just As Bad

Over the years, I’ve read most, if not all, of the articles the Express has written on Rebecca Kaplan. Her record as a lazy, ethically challenged, risk-averse do-nothing is well documented and legendary. I’ve also read the articles on Lynette Gibson McElhaney. There, too, the coverage has been accurate, clear, and concise. What I don’t get is why the Express continues to deny its clear and cogent bias, in this instance, against Gibson McElhaney, while seemingly doing the opposite with regard to Kaplan. In the end, the protests of the Express against this premise ring as hollow and obsequious as the protest of Gibson McElhaney. Birds of a feather.

Jeffrey D. Cash, Oakland

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

The DFW’s Efforts Were Heroic

While the story included many important points, it overlooked the heroic efforts of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to save more than 600 of these “lost” fish in recent weeks. Although trapping fish in drainage canals and trucking them back to the Sacramento River is not a sustainable long-term solution, DFW should be given kudos for its intensive efforts to save these salmon.

The 100-year-old Yolo Bypass canal system was built in a past era, one in which salmon biology was largely unknown, and these native fish did not enjoy protection under state and federal laws. State and federal agencies now have a legal obligation to protect these fish, and straightforward and cost-effective improvements are available to prevent this problem in the first place. An updated water system could meet the needs of both people and fish and, ultimately, save the state millions of dollars. These are goals that all Californians should support — and ones that the California Department of Water Resources and Federal Bureau of Reclamation should pursue in due haste to avoid repeating this tragedy again next year.

Jacob Katz, Central California program manager, California Trout, Davis

“OPD Improves Handling of Protests,” Seven Days, 12/17

Berkeley PD Should Be Tolerant

I am appalled at the behavior of the Berkeley police during the demonstrations against police killings of unarmed black people. When I moved to Berkeley in 1983, the police would block traffic for us when we marched in demonstrations, and police attacking peaceful demonstrators was unheard of. Those Berkeley police were not without their issues, but compared to other police departments, Berkeley residents could be relatively proud of their police. 

Now local civil rights attorney Jim Chanin reports to Robert Gammon that the Berkeley police were “the worst” in dealing with the demonstrations.  Instead of being proud of our city and its police, I am now ashamed.

The City of Berkeley and its police handled the demonstrations badly from the very beginning. Calling in backup from other jurisdictions and arming police with riot gear were both totally uncalled for and led to the police abuse of demonstrators by beating them with clubs and firing tear gas and so-called less-than-lethal ammunition at them. This behavior is outrageous anywhere, but especially here in Berkeley, and would never have happened in the Berkeley that I moved to thirty years ago. The fact that a very small fraction of the crowd, some of whom were no doubt agents provocateurs, broke windows and committed other crimes does not excuse these transgressions on the part of city officials or the police.

Berkeley is not as progressive as it was in the 1980s. Nevertheless, this is still Berkeley and we will not tolerate police abuse. Apparently, at the next city council meeting, enough of us were willing to demand that the city address this abuse, but then immediately before the hearing, the city canceled it. This was nothing but cowardice on the part of Mayor Tom Bates, who knew that he would be called out for allowing this police abuse to take place.

Berkeley police should be the most tolerant cops regarding demonstrations — not the least. If serious police misconduct and abuse occurs again, hopefully there are enough of us in Berkeley to remove a mayor and anyone else in elected office who not only allow this type of behavior, but in fact set it in motion by calling in unwanted cops from other jurisdictions and illegitimately and unnecessarily arming cops with riot gear against peaceful demonstrators.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

Miscellaneous Letters

We All Need to Breathe

Every day so far in 2015 the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued an alert for unsafe air quality in the Bay Area and requested that we “Spare the Air.” As I walked to the bank, my little local health food store, and BART these last few days, I’ve been really appalled to see how many people sit in their cars, motors running, typing away on their cell phone. Cars are not our own personal phone booths. Turn the car off.

Or Sunday, two men stood in a yard talking to each other with two cars in front of the house that were both empty and running. They run on gas that burns into carbon monoxide — a  deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

And the ubiquitous leaf blowers — those most wasteful inventions that burn gas simply to move leaves from one place to another — add to the deadly mix. On days when our air is unsafe to breathe, why are people unnecessarily burning more gas, poisoning the air? What happened to raking leaves? Our lifestyle is not sustainable. We have to find ways of talking about this. Unsafe levels of air pollution are not something that we can live with. We all need to breathe.

Jodi Selene, El Cerrito

A Letter to the Berkeley Ed Board

This is in regards to your proposal under consideration to eliminate the Berkeley Adult School from its home at 1701 San Pablo Avenue, to close down its morning and afternoon classes and services, and to retain only it’s evening program at another, yet to be named location. This all to accommodate a future bulge of elementary students (about 260 of them) in the lower grades.

I’ve taught adult English as a second language (ESL) there for 32 years. Since the initial set of state budget cuts in 2008, when we lost many valuable classes, we have been threatened again and again with extinction. Finally, after six years of constant struggles, we are again about to face extinction or a major reduction, just when the state might be able to fund us independently from the school district.

I get frustrated when the average Berkeley resident thinks that we offer leisure-time classes. There may be a handful of those left, but the bulk of our program is made up of essential services for some of the neediest of Berkeley residents. Please refer to our brochure of classes and services. Our students have nowhere else to turn to learn to speak English, get new job skills after being laid off, get a high school diploma, or prepare for community college. We are one of very few adult schools in the area left standing after the budget cuts of the last few years.

Governor Jerry Brown may have the fantasy that every new immigrant and laid-off entry- level worker can go to community college and get a degree, but, in reality, this is far from the best course for many of our students. Yes, many of our better-supported students do transfer to community colleges, but the older working adults with children and grandchildren cannot fit college into their lives. The need to learn functional English as fast as they can brings them to Berkeley Adult School (BAS). Taking academic style courses at the community college in reading, composition, grammar, etc. is not the fastest, most cost-effective way.

We at Adult School use a practice-rich and functional approach to language acquisition. It’s quick and it’s practical, and it gets the job done. Many ESL students don’t have time to study textbooks, do daily homework, and prepare for midterms or finals, to say nothing of writing papers. They are usually working or looking for work, while taking care of their children and grandchildren. They need a place like BAS, with its flexible morning, afternoon, and evening course offerings in which they can learn on the fly. Community colleges have rigid class schedules and course requirements.

Moving and shrinking our school is an equal opportunity issue, not a “kids versus adult education” one. Is educating kids more important? Of course it is, but no one in BUSD is talking about taking educational opportunities away from children — just where the extra classrooms should be located.
Is it not a cynical proposal to say that the district wants to move the Adult School Program to make room for a new elementary school when they also say they only have the space to relocate the evening portion of the adult school, and that the day program will just have to be closed down? In other words, the intention is to eliminate not just the site, but, in fact, almost two thirds of the program.

If the proposal is really just to move us, how can we believe you have thought long and carefully about how and where we can be moved, to a place close to bus and BART lines, with adequate free parking, when the time line for making this decision is so rushed? Stakeholders haven’t had a chance to meet, discuss problems realistically, and find a creative solution to meet the district’s space needs without destroying a 130-year-old institution that has served the most disadvantaged sector of our city, giving them the chance to be taxpaying workers in Berkeley’s small businesses and retail stores.

How could Berkeley’s economy survive without these low wage earners? They are the parents and grandparents of the children in your schools. How can children succeed at school if their parents can’t speak English to their children’s teachers, or help them with homework? How can a single mother help her child if she doesn’t have a place (with multiple class time offerings and free, easy parking) to study for a GED diploma while she’s working and caring for her family?

Please, please don’t make this decision in haste without all the facts and productive solutions available to you, and please consider the delicate balance of the lives of 7,000 students that would be disrupted.

Leslie Lang, Berkeley

Republicans Did Not “Win”

In the aftermath of Election 2014, every media, program, and pundit have analyzed and re-analyzed the mass predicted Republican gains in the House, Senate, and state governments. Much has been made of the effects of huge “dark money” infusions into campaigns; the humongous and probably illegal Citizens United millions spent for GOP and Tea Party candidates; the numerous states that established new rules to limit minority and Democratic voters; the many Democratic candidates who divorced their campaigns from President Barack Obama; six Congressional Democratic resignations before the election; labor and progressive disillusion with Obama policies; at $3.7 billion, the most expensive election in the nation’s history — all of which are true, but none of which are the cause of the sweeping Democratic defeat.        

My observation is straightforward: Not enough votes were cast for Democrats to win.  

Two historical facts: Mid-term (non-presidential) elections are always low-turnout elections, and low-turnout elections always benefit Republicans. Republicans tend to be mostly homeowners, higher income, politically conservative, and are consistent voters who value maintaining the status quo.   

Despite the tendency of new voters to register as “non-affiliated,” Democrats retain a 47 percent to 42 percent registration majority over Republicans. Democrats did not vote en masse for Republicans, and Republicans did not expand their typical turnout, nor did the number of votes cast for Republicans significantly increase.

With overall election turnout of about 36 percent (just over one in three registered voters), 2014 set a new record, well below the current low of 38 percent turnout in 1942, when millions were away at war and absentee balloting was unknown.  

In this election, blacks voted 90 percent for Democrats, but less than 33 percent of registered black voters turned out. Because of betrayals on immigration promises, Latino votes for Democrats dropped from 70 percent to 60 percent and, for Republicans, increased from 30 percent to 40 percent. Owing to the absence of even lip-service on tuition costs and being overburdened by huge college debt, students and recent graduates — a huge component of the 2012 Democratic victory — simply remained in their dorms.    

Republicans did not “win” the 2014 election. Republicans did not put forward anything resembling a program, nor projected any solutions to the social or economic problems facing the country, nor did the party present a vision of what the nation should become or be moving toward under a Republican administration. Typically, Republicans do not demand progressive change of their candidates, but generally vote as a-matter-of-course to keep change from happening. 

Conversely, Democrats typically desire multitudes of progressive social and economic changes, and accordingly demand assurance and motivation from candidates and the administration in power that their expectations will be fulfilled or, at least dealt with. Given the experience and timidity of the present Democratic administration to take assertive action or to strongly vocalize needed or desired changes, Democratic voters were neither convinced nor motivated to make the effort to endorse the present administration. Democratic voters did not desire nor wish for the Republican Party to ascend to power, but feeling unmotivated, Democrats concluded that the present administration could continue in power but that it did not deserve the extra effort it would take to give their additional individual support.  

This is not rocket science. Over a year ago, simply by acknowledging historic voting patterns of Democrats and Republicans, the infallible political forecaster Nate Silver predicted with almost 100 percent accuracy the outcome of the 2014 mid-term election. Bottom line: The majority of Democrats, perhaps with the very best of reasons, simply did not vote.

James Vann, Oakland

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