Letters for the Week of July 29, 2015

Readers sound off on water rights, housing, and the eucalyptus debate.

“A Solution for California’s Water Woes,” Feature, 7/15

Water Flows Toward Money

In this deeply muddled article, Will Parrish asks us to believe that “adjudication” is the solution to the massive over-allocation of water in California. He appears to believe that an adjudication would not over-allocate water and he holds up the Klamath River Basin as an example of a place where adjudication “contributed to saving fish and the environment on the Klamath River in Southern Oregon.”

The idea the fish and the environment have been saved on the Klamath would be news to those of us who live here. While we have dodged the bullet of another massive adult fish kill so far, each year many of the young salmon descending the Klamath succumb to fish diseases that are exacerbated by poor water quality and low flows. This year up to 100 percent of the young salmon are diseased and only 8 percent even make it to the estuary, much less the ocean. Does that look like a fishery that has been “saved” Mr. Parrish?

Moreover, the Scott River (a Klamath tributary) has been “fully adjudicated” since 1980 but that has not stopped the progressive dewatering of the river and the extirpation of its salmon runs from what, prior to dewatering, was the best salmon habitat in the basin.

The truth is that the State of California has all the tools necessary to properly manage its surface water. For example, Fish & Game Code 5937 gives the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) the power to force any and all owners of dams and diversions to allow enough water to stay in the stream to keep any and all fish habitat below the dam or diversion “in good condition.” But the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 1991, the “highest levels” in Sacramento order DFW’s wardens not to enforce that law.

There is no magic bullet that will bring supply and demand for water into balance in California; that will require political will. Only if the people demand good water management will that happen. Otherwise, as has been the case in California for far too long, water will continue to flow toward money.

Felice Pace, Klamath

“Oakland Doesn’t Have Real Rent Control,” Letters, 7/15

Housing Affordability Is a Top Priority

Housing affordability is one of our most serious challenges in Oakland. The recent letter from Mr. James Vann, a tireless advocate for tenants, appropriately calls attention to this problem, specifically noting some deficiencies in Oakland’s rent law. Our rent control isn’t as robust as in other cities, such as Berkeley and Santa Monica; however, I should point out to your readers that last year we did put (a) a limit on rent increases based on capital improvements, and (b) an overall cap on rent increases regardless of justification. And while I pushed for even stronger limitations, I supported these limits to protect tenants from what might otherwise be huge rent increases.

I would like to take this opportunity to point out the value of the new Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO), which I successfully sponsored last year. The TPO has strong protections against harassment that can be enforced by residents or by our city attorney in the courts. In fact, very recently, our city attorney achieved success in court to place the deplorable Empyrean Hotel under receivership based in part on the TPO. The courts must be the key enforcement option in order to give the new law teeth and deterrence power. Why? Because court remedies, including treble monetary damages, are far stronger than the remedies that could be made available under any in-house administrative program.

I also should point out that the TPO entitles a tenant prevailing in court to attorney’s fees, which creates a significant incentive for lawyers to take on tenants’ valid cases. And a tenant claiming damages of $10,000 or less can file in small claims court — a relatively simple process without any need for a lawyer.

Nevertheless, I would like to see an additional remedy for aggrieved tenants that can be available administratively. Having multiple options for enforcement only makes sense.

Addressing housing affordability remains one of my top priorities and I look forward to working with Mr. Vann and others to achieve the stronger protections, safety, and fairness that Oakland’s renters need and deserve.

Dan Kalb, Oakland city councilmember, District One

“Oakland’s Trash Program Promotes Waste,” News, 7/15

Umm, How About Reading?

The city council doesn’t bother reading the items it approves — isn’t this a concern?

Erika Knutson, Oakland

City Hall Screwed Up

Under the new garbage setup, three trucks (one for each type of bin) pound the streets where previously it was two (one for compost, one for the other two). Of course, schedules are more varied. I hear that in some neighborhoods, the California Waste Solutions truck even comes on a different day.

The contract is a mess because City Hall was determined to favor California Waste. Local business? Yes, they donate generously to local politicians like then-mayor Jean Quan, but their plan was to lease trucks from the other national, out-of-town oligopolist, Republic Services. When Waste Management played hardball (what did you expect?) and had the law on its side, City Hall arranged a “compromise” at the expense of Oakland residents and businesses.

Charlie Pine, Oakland

“Enough with the Environmentally Regressive Policies,” Seven Days, 7/15

Incompetence Reigns

The article states, “In the case of Oakland, part of the problem apparently can be chalked up to incompetence.” That’s the name of the game in Oakland with regard to so many civic issues. The degree of incompetence, and the overall toleration of it, is beyond comprehension.

Hobart Johnson, Oakland

“Hug a Greek Today,” Raising the Bar, 7/15

Greece Is Being Treated Like Detroit

Thanks for this great analysis. Just like Detroit, Greece is being forced to sell off its national assets, such as its ports, in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” This is part of the experiment to see how far the anti-democratic forces of hyper-capitalism can take this austerity experiment to enrich themselves.

Lisa Lindsley, Gardiner, New York

“Breakfast of Champions,” Food, 7/15

Expectations Have Been Met

Fabulous review. I am a local and am very happy with Sequoia Diner. There was much buzz about this place in the neighborhood before they opened up and I wondered if they could meet expectations. They definitely have. The home fries are unsurpassed.

Mike Lumish, Oakland

Superhighways in the Sky,” Feature, 6/24

Planes Are Too Low

Out here in Oakland off Park Boulevard between Lake Merritt and Highway 580, every time the sky is overcast or it is raining or the ceiling is low, aircraft of all sizes fly very low — about two to three thousand feet — on approach to San Francisco International Airport. Through the clouds, I have seen Boeing 747s and other “heavies” flying right over me, my building and/or my neighborhood, which is rather densely populated.

Taller buildings in the neighborhoods and the two towers of the federal building in downtown Oakland now sport new marker lights, most likely imposed by FAA regulations. During heavy traffic, when flights arrive from Europe in the afternoon and from Asia later in the day, aircraft are following each other within minutes. All these flights are inbound to SFO lining up with one of the two runways for landing. I must say it is rather disturbing in the evening and dangerous. Any of these planes could hit a rooftop with their landing gears out. I cannot imagine the destruction and the deaths it would bring. Did I mention I live in the penthouse?!?

J.J. Lasne, Oakland

“Tree Removal Plan Still Sparking Debate,” Eco Watch, 6/24

All the Eucalyptus Should Be Cut Down

Eucalyptus trees are fine in Australia, but they are blight on the landscape of California. It is too bad that misguided folks derailed the removal of this invasive non-native from the East Bay hills. We would be safer, more bio-diverse, and aesthetically better off without them. It is great to see how oak, madrone, and bay trees have flourished in some locations where eucalyptus has been removed in Tilden Park.

That said, tree removal needs to be followed up with planting of natives to prevent other non-native species, such as broom and thistle, from moving into the vacuum created by removing trees.

Dan Seamans, Berkeley

You Missed Some Facts

Reporter Sophie Ho does an admirable job trying to cover both sides of a big, contentious issue. But it’s important for readers and residents to know much information was omitted:

1. The scale of the “vegetation management” is massive. Approximately 450,000 trees cut down is the biggest San Francisco Bay Area deforestation in one hundred years.

2. The hills will not be safer in a fire because, defying logic, all the trees cut down won’t be removed from the hillsides. Chopped into logs and wood chips, they will be left on the ground to burn in a future fire. Crown fire risk may be diminished, but swapped for increasing ground fuels (dead wood on the ground).

3. Fire science has established that trees of all species, including eucalyptus are fire-resistant because all species of trees contain large amounts of water. (Ever try to burn a green log in your fireplace?) Eucalyptus, like all tree species, is less flammable than dry grasses and shrubs.

4. A professional firefighter wrote a detailed, blistering critique of the deforestation plan. He served on the 1991 mayor’s task force to determine the actual causes of the 1991 fire. Contrary to common belief, eucalyptus trees were not the cause and burned no more readily than “native” oak and bay trees.

5. There will be no replanting of any kind. With the forest canopy destroyed, the truly “invasive” plants like poison oak, thistle, and broom will grow, then dry out in hot, direct summer/autumn sun — and become a fire hazard.

6. Eucalyptus are not more “flammable” than “native” bay laurels, which also contain volatile oils in their leaves (hold a bay leaf over a lit stove and see). And bay trees grow closer to the ground than blue gums, so they ignite more readily in grass fires. But the big “eucalyptus are flammable” lie is repeated because fear advances the actual agenda.

7. Species eradication, not fire danger mitigation is driving the destruction of Monterey pines, acacia, and eucalyptus trees, even if this means hundreds of thousands of trees.

8. The plan ignores climate science and carbon sequestration — millions of pounds of carbon is sequestered in 450,000 trees. No mention is made of deforestation’s effect on the local Bay Area climate. Common sense alone tells us that cutting down more than 2,000 acres of forest canopy will allow direct sun to heat the land.

9. The 1992 FEMA report, in its many recommendations, stated: “Do not target particular species such as Blue Gum Eucalyptus or Monterey Pine for eradication or exemption from tree regulation policies, but require regular maintenance to reduce fire hazard.”

Our urban forests are precious resources that mitigate fire danger, not increase it, especially in our era of climate change and local drought. All trees, regardless of species, are needed now more than ever. In fact, drought-adapted eucalyptus may be one of the few species that can survive and help us by doing all the valuable services trees have always provided us humans.

Jack Gescheidt, San Geronimo

“Turning Water into Wine,” Feature, 5/27

Good Investigative Reporting

Great article, Will Parrish! As the land use and planning battles continue to ensue within California counties, it is critical that you raise attention to the problem of industry scale and density of vineyards across sensitive habitat. With population projections looking to see built development scale out across the Central Valley and coasts, it will be another factor for residents to consider: densifying or sprawling built community environments or maintaining vineyards, farmscapes, and cattle ranching lands. The problems are complex when you look at costs of living and wages/income disparity with a deeper green understanding of our environment’s carrying capacity. We are moving forward where resource grabs (i.e. land, water, etc.) are building exclusive zip codes and fostering greater inequalities all within how we operate in society. Furthermore, our state has a range of regulatory frameworks with some contradicting others. It will be interesting to see how water policy advances and enforcement ensues to preserve the “environment” all the while maintaining business growth. Keep up the good investigative writing!

Tim Galarneau, Santa Cruz

Miscellaneous Letters

Protests Do More Harm than Good

Thank you for publishing the letters “I Call Bullshit” and “You’re Wrong About Schaaf” (see Letters, 6/10).

It is very troubling that people are regularly breaking the windows of shops and looting businesses, and sometimes beating up the merchants or the people that work there, all done under the banner of “It’s a protest.” It is wrong, it is unhelpful, it damages Oakland, and it makes it more difficult for businesses to survive and to continue to hire workers.

It was a shame that for many years Sears was regularly targeted for destruction. Every protest resulted in breaking the windows at Sears. Maybe that was a factor in Sears leaving Oakland. Sears was a good store. It employed people who lived in Oakland. I shopped there.

Likewise, it was a shame that the car dealers along Broadway were attacked earlier this year. I have a thirteen-year-old Infiniti sedan and I like to take it to the Infiniti dealer for repairs. They have the parts (they don’t have to order them) and they know how to work on Infinitis. Oakland is now on our third Infiniti dealer in about seven years. The last two filed for bankruptcy. It is not an easy business; the profit margins are thin.

A lot of businesses are self-insured or have high premiums. So when most of their windows are smashed, they have to pay for it. Some of these businesses may never recover. Blight is not good for Oakland.

Again, I appreciate you publishing those two letters. A lot of people feel that way. I was born in Oakland and I care about Oakland. I would like to see Oakland do well and be able to support more jobs.

Kevin Francis Barrett, Oakland

Down with the Fence

McLaughlin Eastshore State Park at the Berkeley Marina is not a true park, and Silvia McLaughlin, for whom the park is named, said so herself in the meeting I attended with her: “We did not work so hard to save the land from development so that it would be fenced off to the public.”

She disapproved of the fence, but her disapproval was ignored by the advisory committee that met on how the land was to be managed. The committee closed the area to the public in the name of “Habitation Restoration.”

The land, which is a huge area almost the size of the UC Berkeley campus, was originally underwater, so there was no habitat to be restored. Like its neighbor, Chavez Park, it became a landfill and a dump until the early Seventies, when a wilderness grew and thrived there, and a multitude of nature lovers enjoyed its wildlife for three decades before the land was clear-cut about ten years ago.

Students from UC would visit there to study its ecosystem, which included a great variety of wildflowers and plants and everyone enjoyed its abundance of rabbits and voles and non-poisonous snakes and lizards that the owls and hawks would feed upon, and of course there were flocks and flocks of red-winged blackbirds and finches, and yes, migratory birds as well, who would visit during the rainy season.

The land belonged to Santa Fe Railroad at first, but it was handed over to the public in a process that was influenced by the Citizens for Eastshore State Parks, which was at first headed by Silvia McLaughlin until some members gained control of the group and used their influence and their connections with East Bay Regional Parks to shut out the public and have it clear-cut for their own agenda, indifferent to the general public who opposed this move.

Their stated reason for the fence, which was to keep dogs and the homeless out of the park, was invalid, since it was proven by Berkeley city management of the adjacent Chavez Park that leash laws and curfews have been successful in keeping dogs to a restricted area and prohibiting homeless encampments.

They did allow a single fenced-in path at the edge of the land, but it has been rarely used in the past ten years since it was erected.

McLaughlin State Park is public land that should be as open to the public as Chavez Park. Its clear-cut and closure is an insult to its name.

Pete Najarian, Berkeley


The Express won four awards, including two first-place honors, in the recent Association of Alternative Newsmedia Awards for excellence in journalism. The national contest included entries from 71 alt-weeklies throughout the United States and Canada.

Senior writer Sam Levin and Arts and Culture editor Sarah Burke each won two awards. Levin won a first-place honor in the long-form news category for “When the Mind Splits” (10/29/14), an in-depth look at the controversy surrounding dissociative identity disorder, which affects millions of people.

Burke won first place in LGBT-gender equality coverage for “Moral Combat” (10/15/14), which examined the vicious harassment campaign against women in the videogame industry. Burke also won a third-place award for arts criticism.

Levin also won a second-place award in the environmental reporting category for his stories “Zoo Gone Wild” (9/3/14) and “What’s Poisoning the Bees?” (6/3/14). “Zoo Gone Wild” examined plans by the Oakland Zoo to destroy endangered species habitat in the East Bay hills in order to build an exhibit in honor of endangered species. And “What’s Poisoning the Bees?” investigated the toxic pesticides that are killing the nation’s pollinators.

The Express‘ awards all came in the circulation under 45,000 division. No other Bay Area alt-weeklies won awards in this year’s contest.


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