Letters for the Week of January 7, 2015

Readers sound off on Yosemite's location name scandal, Oakland housing, and rising rents

“Hijacking Yosemite,” Eco Watch, 12/24

Delaware North Responds

In order to become the concessioner in Yosemite National Park in 1993, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. (DNC Yosemite) was required by the National Park Service (NPS) to buy the stock of the previous concessioner, Yosemite Park & Curry Co. (the Curry Company) at a price that was established in advance by the NPS. With this stock purchase, because DNC Yosemite then owned the entirety of the Curry Company, it also became the owner of all the assets, both tangible and intangible, of the Curry Company, and responsible for all of the liabilities of the Curry Company, which the Curry Company had accumulated since its inception in 1899.

The assets purchased included many significant structures, such as The Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, and Curry Village, all of which had been built by the Curry Company with its own capital; operating assets such as the furniture, fixtures, buses, business systems, and other equipment used in the concession operation, all of which were purchased by the Curry Company with its own capital; and intangible assets such as the various registered place names operated under the concession contract, mailing lists, employee data, and policies and procedures, which were also accumulated over the years by the Curry Company. The liabilities that DNC Yosemite became responsible for included all of the operational liabilities associated with the concession operation and unlimited responsibility for the environmental cleanup required for contaminated sites, both numerous known sites that existed at the time and any unknown sites that might be discovered during the contract term.

As part of the concession contract for Yosemite that DNC Yosemite was awarded in connection with its acquisition of the Curry Company (1993 contract), DNC Yosemite waived many rights that existed for concessioners at the time relating to possessory interest (ownership of real property assets, such as The Ahwahnee) and a preferential right of contract renewal. For example, as part of the 1993 contract, DNC Yosemite relinquished title to real property assets owned by the Curry Company, which transferred to DNC Yosemite in the acquisition (The Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, and Curry Village, etc.) and gave them to the American people over the life of the contract by returning ownership to the NPS. The elimination of these concession rights has now become a part of public law for national park contracts.

The 1993 contract did not provide for similar treatment for non-real property assets such as fixtures, equipment, and intellectual property, and the 1993 contract calls for the current concessioner to be compensated for those assets at values identified in the contract. It is important to note that compensation is to be paid by a successor concessioner, not the American people. What DNC Yosemite is working through with the NPS now is a process to determine the appropriate valuation for those assets under the terms of the 1993 contract.

The NPS has long given recognition to the existence of intellectual property rights in concession contracts, independent of the physical asset associated with a concession operation. Examples include the names “The Ansel Adams Gallery” in Yosemite, “Verkamp’s,” a shop featuring Native-American made products previously operated in the Grand Canyon, and the logo for the Red Bus Tours in Glacier National Park, which the previous concessioner refused to sell to the successor. This resulted in the development of a new logo by the successor. The difference between the 1993 contract and contracts at Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park is that DNC Yosemite does not have a choice in the matter. At the expiration of the 1993 contract, if a new concessioner is chosen, DNC Yosemite is required to leave all the assets used in the business (furniture, fixtures, equipment and intellectual property) behind, and the successor concessioner — not the NPS or the American people — is required to buy them from DNC Yosemite at various values, as defined in the 1993 contract. That successor concessioner would then have the rights to use those assets in the next contract, with ownership rights in accordance with the terms of the new contract and other laws.

DNC Yosemite is proud of the service and stewardship it has provided in Yosemite National Park through its responsible management over the past twenty-plus years, which has contributed to the value of the assets that are used in its operations. DNC Yosemite is looking forward to the possibility of being awarded the next contract to provide visitor services in Yosemite National Park. In the meantime, DNC Yosemite will continue to work with the NPS to create a clear understanding of its obligations and rights under its 1993 contract.

Jim Stellmack, director of marketing,
Delaware North at Yosemite

Delaware North Is Going to Lose

A company hired to manage an already-existing business with an already-existing name is a mere servant that does not develop its own trademark rights in the name of that business — much like those who distribute and sell a product have no right to lay claim to the trademark rights in the name of the product. Moreover, federal trademark registrations only establish a presumption of ownership in what’s registered — they are not dispositive on the question. The park service will prevail and our federal government will keep the rights to use those historic names.

Dan Ballard, Carmichael

It’s a Kidnapping

Ridiculous and insulting. I would think that as historical landmarks that are an integral component of our national parks, these sites’ naming rights should belong to the people, not some corporate pirate trying to kidnap our national treasures.

Jon Bock, Oakhurst

The Names Don’t Belong to Delaware North

How can a business trademark a name that has been in existence for many decades before that business operated that concession? Especially if the business doesn’t own the buildings and does not have the right to operate that concession in the future? Those establishments had been operated long, long before 1993 without incident.

Karl Baba, Wawona

This Is Absurd

The only trademark Delaware North owns is the Half Dome logo of the old Curry Company, which I believe the MCA corporation sold to Delaware North for $2 million, after it won the contract. That’s probably where it learned this trick.

Kirk Shearer, San Jose

It Could Be Worse

Be grateful that Delaware North has not yet tried to trademark the actual sites — e.g., Yosemite Falls — as the Pebble Beach Corporation did with the famous “Lone Cypress.” The corporation acquired the legal right to the image of that little tree. Every tourist who stopped for a photo was supposed to pay a fee, and the image could not be used on any sign, painting, stationery – you name it. Local artists immediately collaborated on a large exhibit of images of the cypress. My favorite was the tree constructed of dollar bills.

Barbara Mountrey, Carmel

“Oakland Readies for Housing Boom,” Year in Review, 12/24

Foreign Investors Are the Problem

My wife (an Oakland public schools teacher), and I (musician) have been looking for a home to purchase for several months. The problem is not so much wealthy tech professionals who also want to move here, but foreign investors who are overbidding and paying cash for homes. I don’t see any way to dissuade wealthy people from wanting to move to Oakland, because you know, it’s the f’ing greatest. But can’t we at least do something to keep the foreign investors from flipping houses and making everything worse?

Scott Alexander, Oakland

What About All Those Fees?

Every year the city of Oakland collects a fee of $30 per rental unit for its Rent Adjustment Program. Rental income is also taxed at $13.95 per $1,000 or 0.01395 percent. How is this money spent? How much of these taxes go toward affordable housing subsidies? How much toward propping up a bureaucracy? Who is responsible and accountable? Many two-to-four unit rental properties are owned by individuals, not corporations. These taxes add to operating cost, money that could be used to make property improvements.

Jeffrey Lim, Oakland

The Study Is a Waste of Money

“But that effort is just getting off the ground, with the city earlier this month approving a $1.1 million study on impact fees with the goal of approving the recommendations of that research in early 2016.” So, a year, and $1.1 million in consultant’s fees, later, we still don’t have a commitment for a decision on impact fees. Why not build some accountability into this splurge, first? And second, why hire someone for $1 million when you can hire a good data analyst for $100,000 who will do what you say? Third, haven’t impact fee studies already been performed for other California cities that might be instructive? Fourth, has anyone reviewed the existing literature to see if such a study could be scaled back or eliminated?

Deborah Lagutaris, Oakland

“Score It Even,” Year in Review, 12/24

Kill Switches Have a Downside

You do realize that the kill switch enables law enforcement to turn off everyone’s smart phones to the detriment of free speech. This has already happened to livestreams of protests. It can also happen when citizens are attempting to livestream incidents of police brutality.

Lauren Steiner, Los Angeles

“Downtown, Up and Coming,” Year in Review, 12/24

The Galleries Will Have to Adapt

Adapt or perish — it’s a story as old as time. The galleries are there because the rent is cheap, because policies and bad planning created an economic desert in downtown Oakland. Oakland used to be a tourist destination with destination hotels and restaurants. Until the very early Seventies, downtown Oakland was the third largest retail sales district in the State of California. If these galleries don’t plan for rising rents they contribute to creating, then they will die — their cheap rent advantage wasted. Be happy our downtown is starting to recover and pay for the services that so many depend on.

Matt Chambers, Oakland

“West Oakland Councilmember Involved in House-Flipping Scheme,” Feature, 12/17

House Flipping Is a Tax on the Rich

As a District Three resident, I have to say this story is one big “meh.” It focuses too much on what Richard Reese has been doing and no amount of reporting on what Lynette Gibson McElhaney’s nonprofit is doing. From her nonprofit’s website, they have 28 properties they manage (again, not mentioned in the article).

Her nonprofit made a loan to a private investor, and that loan was paid back with additional fees and interest. Did any of this money go to purchasing rentals for lower-income tenants? What was done with the money made from the two flipped properties went to the nonprofit? The author was only able to confirm salaries up to 2012 (homes were sold in 2013).

Lastly, how is the nonprofit supposed to get funding to continue to rent to low-income residents? If money invested by the nonprofit into these properties generates funding to provide affordable housing to lower income residents, then this is not much different from levying a tax on all new wealthy Oakland homeowners and using that money to pay for affordable housing.

Clarence Johnson, Oakland

Gibson McElhaney’s Nonprofit Is Doomed

However this turns out, their reputations are shot. Who’s going to donate to a nonprofit that makes profits using shady characters on enterprises that go against its stated mission? What a mess.

Chris Gilbert, Berkeley

The Unpaid Taxes Are a Bigger Issue

The biggest question this article raises is why Councilmember Gibson McElhaney has not paid her taxes. The article isn’t entirely clear about how much she still owes, but it sounds like it is more than $100,000. I expect my elected representatives to exhibit responsibility in their personal and professional lives. I also expect them to follow the law and set a positive example.

Do we really want our city’s budget controlled by an individual who doesn’t pay his/her garbage bills (never mind the other local, state, and federal taxes over an eight-year period)? I certainly do not. (I also wish I had heard about these delinquent taxes before voting for Gibson McElhaney when she ran for city council.)

Dan Tischler, Oakland

“The Fight for Safer Surgeries,” News, 12/17

I Can Vouch for Dr. Proctor

I completed my general surgery residency at Highland Hospital in the mid 2000s. I was part of the trauma team caring for the most critically injured patients. I’ve worked closely with Dr. Roger Proctor during my five years of residency and he stands out in my memory for his calm under pressure, technical skill, and most of all, collegial and thoughtful interactions with residents. I always felt more relaxed as the trauma chief resident when Dr. Proctor was on-call. I can corroborate the fact that he is almost without peer when it comes to advocating for patient safety. I am shocked and saddened that Highland would let someone of that caliber go.

Emery L. Chen, MD, FACS, Valencia

The Anesthesiologists Deserve Our Thanks

Having experienced direct care from these exceptionally skilled, best of the best, experts in anesthesiology, I am shocked and outraged to read they have been vilified by the very system (people) our public expects will be responsive to them! Terminating contracts and creating a culture of whistle-silencing are dangerous practices that affect everyone in Alameda County. We are talking about real people — both patients and physicians — whose lives matter. Disregarding their needs will not promote the outcome we all want: optimal health. I personally thank these ethical and concerned anesthesiologists for providing care and advocacy for the most vulnerable people.

Linda Cranmer, Berkeley

“News Media Ignores Black Protests,” News, 12/17

What Can We Do Next?

Protesters are in the news, and have the public’s attention. How about some productive suggestions on what’s next? Sit downs with members of city government to discuss the issues? Citizen boards from different neighborhoods working together? What can be done on both sides to implement positive change?

Carolyn Burd, Oakland

“Why You Should Support the Protests,” Raising the Bar, 12/17

Police Are an Occupying Army

Thanks for this thoughtful and well-written piece. I’m not far from regarding the heavily militarized and increasingly well integrated “police” as being an occupying army these days, asking, as many have, “who is it they are so well postured to go to war against?”

Indeed, who do they serve and protect? With about half the population being thrown mostly out into the economic cold, the answer to this question might seem obvious. Which I will state: not us, usually. (If you haven’t read it, you might take a look at this piece from Salon: “One Nation Under Swat: How America’s Police Became an Occupying Force.”

Largely standing by while this process of “changing everything” moved quickly into our society, we now confront a monster that isn’t much interested in what we think about it. They might at this stage not even be much interested in what we do about it. It is possible to confront their authority and the authority of those directing them in the streets, but that is a conflict they are well enough going to win usually, especially in terms of violent confrontation. No news with that. Of course, they can escalate the street violence at will, as you observe. There’s no such thing as playing fair in this.

This aspect of the larger class war is, in the corporate media, mostly colorized as being mostly disruptive, though they do genuflect now and again toward noticing that the United States remains a very racist society. No mention of class war at all. That’s as forbidden as using the word “fascist,” as forbidden as saying “working class” instead of “middle class” usually is. Changing the way people talk about such things is one thing the internet is good for… No mention of people generally being driven to extremes by The New Economy, the one that treats a too sizable proportion of them as being disposable. Not just ghetto disposable. “Third World” disposable. How many new prisons will be built to contain all of those millions of people newly criminalized or simply intolerably marginalized once they really step on the gas of the machine they’ve constructed? Alex Jones sounding stuff I suppose, this kind of thing. Conspiranoid nonsense, we’re always being told. Or something like that. And in some constructions, that’s mostly just what it is. However, take a look at all those fascist cops!

Terry Baker, Norman, Oklahoma

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

Our Leaders Are Incompetent

I am very disappointed by the weak response by our city leaders to criminals masquerading as legitimate protesters who have done enormous damage to private property costing small business owners thousands of dollars. Downtown Oakland is littered with shattered glass from broken windows. This is a scandal! All of this could have been avoided had strong, mature leadership existed in Oakland.

I have my doubts about how things will get better once Libby Schaaf becomes mayor, and I wonder if our new city council will be much improvement over the dysfunctional, enabling fools who have allowed our town to disintegrate as belligerent brats have pretty much had their way in town making a mockery of our police department and informing the public that savagery and criminality are tolerated hereabouts. Pathetic weaklings — long on truly juvenile pronouncements about “First Amendment Rights” and short on strong-willed, courageous defense of taxpayers’ property, safety, and well-being — dominate at City Hall. This town is led by the most appalling charlatans, neophytes, and nonentities ever assembled. And the hateful, destructive, selfish swine proliferate in Oakland because they are given carte blanche to do so. Experience matters and competence, sound judgment, and strong ethics are the foundation of effective leadership. Cowards who propagate hate-filled demagoguery about our police department damage the foundation of our civilization. I believe Oakland is led by ignorant, simple-minded fools who embody the most odious aspects of our society. Taxpayers are truly ill-served by this cabal of fools and the evidence confirming this opinion is everywhere. It is impossible to overstate the severity of the adverse effects of incompetent, ideological leadership. This town needs world-class administration and we get juvenile propaganda.

Jonathan C. Breault, Oakland

“Everyday Izakaya,” Dining Review, 12/17

Swan’s Market Rocks

I wholeheartedly agree. I love Swan’s Market, especially with the addition of AS B-Dama.

Jim Trenkle, Oakland

“Cal Refuses to Pay Berkeley Minimum Wage,” News, 12/03

Do the Right Thing, Cal

It is not news that UC is a different jurisdiction from the City of Berkeley. Examples abound, often having to do with the UC police force. That said, it would be nice if the university would stop wrapping itself in the gown for this occasion.

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

Let’s Urge Congress to Address Climate Change

As the new Congress sets its agenda, let’s urge them to put aside their partisan bickering and enact a solution to climate change. Both Republicans and Democrats must work together to implement a solution to this crisis. According to a highly respected independent study done by Regional Economic Model Inc., a steadily increasing fee on carbon-dioxide (CO2) content of fossil fuels with the fee returned equally to all households will shield families from higher energy costs and actually create jobs and add to GDP [Gross Domestic Product] while at the same time lowering CO2 emissions by 52 percent after twenty years.

I’m afraid we are looking at two years of the Republicans doing everything they can to gut the new EPA regulations on carbon and blackmail President Barack Obama into passing the ruinous Keystone Pipeline. The only way that’s not going to happen is if we insist that real solutions like a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program are passed and soon. We don’t have two more years to waste, or worse, move backward on addressing global climate change.

Elyce Klein, Berkeley

It’s Time for More Humane Eggs

We all recoil when we see a news story of someone abusing a dog or cat. But the sad truth is that most animal abuse happens behind closed doors. That is certainly the truth in the egg industry, which crams millions of birds in tiny cages inside filthy, windowless sheds. California took a strong stand for these animals several years ago when we passed two laws that will make it illegal (starting on January 1, 2015) to sell eggs from hens kept in restrictive metal cages. But showing just how little concern they have for animal welfare or their customers, many in the egg industry have chosen to sue California repeatedly instead of making the necessary reforms. Now it’s time for the top grocery chains to respect the wishes of their customers and ensure that their suppliers meet the demand for more humane eggs.

Katie Cantrell, Oakland

An Ode to the Express

If I didn’t have your pages stacked at my bedside I would be very depressed

What I read in your print

Gives me a hint

How to navigate the world I find to be a big mess

I love you all, but to Free Will Astrologer Rob Brezsny

I bow, and silly as it may be, get down on my knees

If everyone followed his priceless advice

We, each in our own way, could make the world joyful and nice

So, please, keep on trucking, Express

Long life to you, much success!

Maija Williams, Oakland

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