Letters for the Week of January 8

Readers sound off on a waterfront ballpark in Oakland, progressives in Richmond, and Oakland's housing resurgence.

“The Year in Weed,” Year in Review, 12/25

Cannabis Prohibition Isn’t Sane

While this year has been monumental, 2014 may see the end of cannabis (marijuana) prohibition. The wall has so many holes in it it’s difficult to see it stand another year.

Cannabis prohibition is one of America’s worst policy failures in history, responsible for increased hard-drug addiction rates, contempt for drug laws, eroded constitutional rights, escalated prison populations, corrupt politicians, racial discrimination, the prohibition of American farmers from growing hemp, and trillions of dollars in costs — the list is growing faster than the plant itself. It is difficult to understand why anyone would want to force the black market to continue regulating what God created. A sane argument to continue cannabis prohibition doesn’t exist.

Stan White, Dillon, Colorado

“A Waterfront Ballpark Makes Sense,” Seven Days, 12/25

Waterfront Stadium Harms the Environment

I totally disagree with Robert Gammon’s advocacy of a ballpark and basketball stadium at Howard Terminal instead of at their current locations. It is just plain wrong that Howard Terminal is “readily accessible” by anything except driving. It is, in fact, only accessible by car for the vast majority of fans.

Howard Terminal is about a mile from the nearest BART station. The vast majority of fans will not walk that far instead of driving, and buses are totally inadequate to carry all the people who get off BART to go to the games. A ballpark and/or stadium at Howard Terminal instead of their current location would mean a lot more driving, along with all the harms associated with the consumption and burning of oil, which I don’t think I need to list here. Very few people come to A’s games from the West Bay, and even if they did, ferries can only carry a few people and are polluting in their own right. Amtrak trains do not run anywhere near often enough to carry significant numbers of people to ballgames, so that option is also a false one. The only way to have large numbers of fans continue to use public transit to come to games is to rebuild the ballpark and stadium at their current location, which is at the Coliseum BART station.

Mr. Gammon’s prioritization of money over the environment on this issue is rather disturbing. Keeping people out of cars is far more important than whether some businesses in downtown Oakland benefit from putting a sports complex there, because the environment is more important than money. And while there is a slight chance that a downtown ballpark and basketball stadium might be a financial boon to businesses in the area, it is far more likely that people will just drive to Howard Terminal, watch games, and drive home, as Howard Terminal is not walking distance from downtown for the vast majority of people. I agree that having small, independently owned businesses at the ballpark and stadium would be far preferable to having chain retail establishments owned by large corporations. However, the overall effect of buying food and other things from large corporations would be less harmful than that of the increased driving that would be caused by moving the sports complex to a location like Howard Terminal that is not served by BART. Remember, buying gasoline is also patronizing large corporations, in fact, some of the largest on the planet.

Let’s keep the A’s and Warriors in Oakland, but let’s keep them right where they are, near a BART station. Moving them to Howard Terminal would be bad for the environment, bad for fans forced into cars to get to games, and bad for everyone who would suffer from greatly increased traffic before and after games. The slight chance that some small, independently-owned businesses might benefit from a move to Howard Terminal is not even close to being worth the environmental harms that such a move would cause.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

“The Nonprofit Shift,” Year in Review, 12/25

Cost of Nonprofits

The benefits of having nonprofit, state of California, and federal offices move to Oakland should be balanced against the cost to the city of providing municipal services to those organizations.

Nonprofits and government organizations are exempt from most local taxes such as real property tax (if they own their own office), equipment property tax, and business taxes. Of course, they are also exempt from state income tax. A large piece of the property tax would have gone to Oakland Unified School District and the city. All of the business tax would have gone to the city’s general fund. Nonprofits do pay sales tax and payroll tax. A fraction of sales tax does go to the city. None of the payroll tax does.

While there are definite benefits to Oakland having otherwise empty buildings occupied by nonprofits, there are also costs. The benefits might be diffused over a much wider area than the city, but many of the costs are localized.

Len Raphael, Oakland

“Big Money Trumps Environment,” Year in Review, 12/25

Mostly Wins

Reading your list, the list is mostly wins. I believe that we must manage all our energy sources and fracking is one of those. Petroleum, like it or not, is here to stay for a long time. Similarly, water is a resource that serves all Californians and needs to be managed for all 38 million of us. It should be done in an environmentally wise manner, which, I believe, the environmental impact report seems to show. I’ll trust Phil Isenberg on this one, not the Sierra Club. As I said in the 1980s when the peripheral canal initiative was defeated, after all California is one state when it comes to managing our resources.

Ed Gerber, Oakland

“The Housing Resurgence,” Year in Review, 12/25

Offsite Affordable Housing

One of the carrots that Signature Properties used to overcome community opposition to their proposal for its Oak-to-Ninth project was the promise of affordable housing on site.

Now re-named the Brooklyn Basin project, my understanding is that most of those four hundred units of affordable housing will instead be built offsite — that is, in less expensive and less desirable locations.

Ken Katz, Oakland

Revitalize All Neighborhoods

There are many, many opportunities to build new housing in Oakland without compromising the waterfront. Major corridors passed over in previous housing cycles are begging for transit-friendly housing development that will revitalize the neighborhoods.

Although Jerry Brown never figured it out, there are other neighborhoods in the city than the Jack London district and downtown. If the city would adhere to the existing General Plan policies and stop reacting to normal housing market fluctuations, the long-term transit -friendly vision for the whole city could be realized. Oakland’s image and economic stability will never be improved until all the neighborhoods share in economic revitalization.

Gary Patton, Hayward

“The New Progressive Leader,” Year in Review, 12/25

Good Use of Eminent Domain

Reading what Gayle McLaughlin is doing in Richmond makes me proud to be a Green. The New York Times wanted to build its new headquarters at a particular 8th Avenue site. The owners were unwilling to sell. So New York City used eminent domain to acquire the site for the Times. How amazingly refreshing it is to see a proposal to use eminent domain power for something other than furthering the One Percent in its endless greed.

Julia Willebrand, New York, New York

Eminent Domain for Citizens

Eminent domain is theft, pure and simple. That said, it’s a treat to see it being used for the citizens instead of developer welfare.

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

Progressives Alienated from Working Class

I am a forty-year resident of Richmond, a retired blue-collar wastewater treatment plant operator, a former union member, a delegate to the Alameda Labor Council, and a community activist. I was a member of the inner circle of the Richmond Progressive Alliance until my resignation in August of 2010. I totally disagree with the tone and conclusions of this article.

The history of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) as an effective political force in Richmond began in November 2004 when Mayor McLaughlin won a seat on the city council and, in my opinion, ended the night of May 11, 2010 when the Richmond City Council voted unanimously, with the support of the RPA, to accept a deal to resolve the court battle over Measure T, a tax on Chevron, the residents’ paramount grassroots victory over Chevron in 2006. This historic victory over Chevron was compromised by a city council that did little or nothing to promote Measure T yet accepted a lopsided settlement under the leadership of three council members, Tom Butt, Jim Rogers and RPA member Jeff Ritterman, all of whom live in the wealthy, Point Richmond neighborhood. 

By the time of this backroom deal with Chevron, the RPA’s inner circle had become mostly white, well-educated members of Richmond’s middle class. Under this leadership, the RPA then devoted its energies throughout 2011 and 2012 to push two regressive taxes onto the backs of Richmond’s working class. The voters defeated both measures. The RPA takes the defensive position that these election defeats were the result of outside moneyed influences, that the voters were manipulated. This lack of respect and disregard of the voters’ clear feedback reflects an unconscious class bias which now permeates the RPA. This change from a working-class to a liberal, middle-class perspective is one result of the very gentrification that the politics of the RPA is encouraging. The working-class people in Richmond understand this and have become increasingly alienated by the RPA and its condescending attitude of “we know what is best for you.”

The most recent example of this attitude is reflected in the current RPA agenda to push the city’s partnership with Mortgage Resolution Partners in an untested scheme to rescue homeowners by using the city’s eminent domain powers to seize and forcibly renegotiate underwater home loans. The RPA wants people to believe they are helping the poor but in fact this program, by its very terms, is limited to helping homeowners who are not in default. This program is designed to create a profit and, therefore, the loans being targeted are only those with a realistic potential to maintain profitability. The people most in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure will not benefit from this program despite all the rhetoric coming from the RPA. However, this eminent domain scheme has already had significant negative impacts on the city’s financial health and has the potential to do even more damage. The city has had difficulty refinancing its bonds because the credit industry is wary of its asserted power to seize loans in the public interest and because they anticipate years of litigation costs. As a result the city was recently only able to finance a bond issue by paying a premium interest rate costing $30,000 a year over a fifteen-year term for a total cost of $450,000. And this is only one bond issue. There will be more and, therefore, more cost to a city always struggling financially. The RPA cannot even implement this eminent domain program because they do not have a city council “super-majority” required by law to exercise eminent domain powers. Richmond will be paying a significant cost for years to come and all that has been accomplished is political grandstanding. Although the mayor and RPA speak as if they represent the sentiments of the Richmond community, there has never been a vote for or against this program and there are plenty of indicators that the residents do not welcome it.

If Mayor McLaughlin and the RPA really wanted to empower Richmond residents, their first political action would have been to promote district elections. District elections would reduce the impact of corporate money on the electoral process and make elected officials more accountable to their constituents. It would streamline the electoral process and prevent the domination of city politics by residents of the wealthier neighborhoods such as Point Richmond. Although the struggle for district elections in Richmond goes back to 1912, and was most recently pursued in 1991, the RPA hasn’t even paid this issue lip service. 

While it is true that under the leadership of Mayor McLaughlin, with the support of the RPA, the city of Richmond has garnered national attention, the RPA has lost contact with the very community that empowered them in the first place. It is a disservice to all the citizens of Richmond for the media to present as objective reporting such a partisan picture of the RPA’s approach and accomplishments, and I hope that this letter will help restore a more balanced portrait of its real impact on our city. I predict that more electoral defeats in the 2014 elections will demonstrate the RPA’s increasing alienation from the community.

Charles T. Smith, Richmond

Clarification Regarding Richmond Progressive Alliance

I just want to clarify that Charles [T. Smith] did not resign from the RPA, he was asked to leave due to his repeated insults to fellow members who disagreed with him.

Unfortunately he chose then to oppose good programs like the municipal IDs for Richmond residents needing an ID, and other progressive measures. 

Juan Reardon, co-founder and member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, Richmond

“An Urban Farm Collaborative Grows in Albany,”
News, 12/18

Dominance by Occupy

I’ve lived near the Gill Tract on Cornell Avenue for more than twenty years. I’m part of the local community and have been involved in the evolution of this property from the dilapidated World War II-era student housing that was torn down to the planning commission’s final approval of Sprouts Market. 

This is not about urban agriculture being taken away from community farmers. The vast majority of folks at the last meeting representing Occupy the Farm only want the land from UC Berkeley for their needs. They came with no knowledge or participation in the previous years of community planning — only with demands, protests, and insults.

Even this article seems to portray this as a fifteen-year struggle. That’s total BS. It’s an invented debate by the Occupy folks to push their message with support by the media in the last year or so. The vast majority of Albanians want this site to be developed for our community, to support the tax base, and provide much-needed senior housing, and this does not mean we’re against urban farming. 

Yes, a collaboration between UC Berkeley and local folks for a shared urban agricultural space is great, and the Albany community is for that, but this means shared management and participation between UC Berkeley, the City of Albany, Albany residents, the Albany Village grad students, and the Occupy the Farm folks — not dominance and control by Occupy the Farm. 

All this rhetoric about small farmers being pushed off their land, evil UC Berkeley, the USDA creating toxic GMOs is all fabrication not related to this project. Learn the facts, participate in local government instead of disrupting it. Meet and talk with UC Berkeley and College of Natural Resources folks and collaborate with them for the future use of the land. 

Maybe the Occupy folks can learn something about what real community democracy really means and how everyone can be part of it.

Steven Donaldson, Berkeley

“The Future of the Food Movement,” What the Fork, 12/4

Need for Field-Testing

To listen to Michael Pollan and Kathleen Merrigan, you’d think the only problem facing the American organic industry was a lack of political lobbying. This ignores the serious credibility problem faced in the organic sector by the fact that there is no field-testing to ensure prohibited substances like synthetic herbicides are not being used.

After ten years and a couple hundred billion dollars in revenues for the American organic sector, the current Deputy Administrator of the USDA’s National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, finally plans to begin end-product testing…on 5 percent of applicants. As James Cooper recently put it in his review of my book, Is it Organic? on Examiner.com, this means “you could expect a spot inspection about once every 20 years.” What’s more, end-product testing is like testing Olympic athletes after they go home and won’t do a thing to guarantee that organic farmers–the lion’s share of whom who are certified under the USDA are in foreign countries–are following the rules.

If you want to check to see if an athlete is using anabolic steroids, you test during the games when such a banned substance will be coursing through an athlete’s veins. It’s the same with herbicides. The longer you wait, the less detectable they become. Roundup, for example, the most commonly used herbicide in the world, is only detectable for 28 days. As such it will never show up in an end-product test.

McEvoy should require field-testing on all the organic farms certified under the USDA’s NOP, and Pollan and Merrigan should be championing this idea. Otherwise, consumers have no way of knowing whether the certified-organic food they pay a premium for is genuine, never mind that it happens to be GMO-free.

The good news is that field-testing will cost less than one-tenth what the current system of record-keeping and record-checking costs. So what are we waiting for?

Mischa Popoff, former USDA contract organic inspector, Greenville, Texas


Traffic Circle Causing Accidents

Within three weeks in October of 2013, five pedestrians were struck by cars in the intersection of California and Allston in Berkeley — a two-way stop around an irregularly shaped traffic circle. All accidents necessitated ambulances. A sixth, earlier accident claimed the lives of a young UC Berkeley graduate and her infant son in May 2012. The traffic circle is overgrown, difficult to see, and treacherous to drive around due to Allston’s incline and the irregular angle of the intersection. Analyses of the fatal accident showed that the traffic circle was a major contributor.

Residents of this neighborhood have been requesting a four-way stop and removal of the traffic circle for several years. Our request was recently turned down because the City of Berkeley Transportation Division (CBTD) decided that the intersection does not meet criteria for a four-way stop. However, the data the CBTD collected and presented to the Berkeley residents are deeply flawed. The most obvious mistake is that the CBTD collected traffic counts during the week between UC Berkeley’s regular academic semester and summer school — significantly fewer cars and pedestrians pass through the intersection this week compared to the average week.

Some residents believe that these mistakes are actually blatant misrepresentations of the data so that the Berkeley Police Department (located at 2100 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, between Addison and Allston) can use Allston as a throughway without the hindrance of stopping at California.

I urge the CBTD to re-evaluate their data before more lives are lost and other conspiracy theories form.

Meenakshi Subbaraman, Berkeley


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