Letters for the Week of July 31

Readers sound off on BART financing, Berkeley's minimum wage increase, and more.

“BART’s Big Gift to Wealthy Corporations,”
News, 7/17

BART Responds

Darwin BondGraham’s piece, “BART’s Big Gift to Wealthy Corporation,” correctly refers to the potential benefit that the SF Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District can realize if it leverages the real estate land value around its stations that have resulted from proximity to public transit. It is true that BART adds value to land around its system and that we have not captured that value to date through the development of “benefit assessment districts.”

But the author criticizes BART for not taking action to tap into this value. There is a reason for that. BART hasn’t had the legal authority to do so.

BondGraham’s article refers to the Mills Act (Cal. Public Util. Code Section 99000 et seq.) as the authority for BART to impose special assessments on real property. But the Mills Act was passed by the California legislature in 1968, before the passage by California voters of state Proposition 218, which introduced several new requirements and restrictions related to the imposition of assessments on real property. As a result, the Mills Act includes some requirements for the imposition of assessments that conflict with Proposition 218. Accordingly, BART determined that it cannot rely on the Mills Act as authority to impose special assessments on real property, because the Act does not permit compliance with Proposition 218.  

Because of this, BART is currently seeking new state legislation to allow the creation of special assessments in compliance with Proposition 218. BART is sponsoring legislation (SB 142, DeSauliner) that would not only allow BART to establish benefit assessment districts — and therefore possibly reap the value of properties around BART stations — but would also authorize all California public transit systems to establish such assessments. In addition, BART is also sponsoring a bill (SB 628, Beall) that would expedite local development of Infrastructure Finance Districts (IFDs) that would help finance important transit infrastructure projects with the assistance of tax increment finance.

Public transit continues to increase the value of the property in communities it serves, and BART is working to make the possibility of benefitting from that increased value a reality.

Grace Crunican

BART General Manager

Preposterous Pandering

Oh please. This is beyond preposterous. Twenty-three percent is not a “modest raise.” The 8 percent that management is offering is both reasonable and more than most people are getting in real life.

The expansions should have happened decades ago, especially to the areas in the eastern parts of the counties, which have been paying taxes for service they haven’t been getting for almost half a century. It is entirely proper for BART to dedicate funds to making it happen at last.

The Express is starting to border on self-parody with its predictable attempts to divert attention from the intolerable behavior of those to whom it panders with this hand-waving.

The union is claiming this is about “safety,” but has not put forth one substantive public document making this case — which leaves the taxpayers and riders with the distinct impression that this is all about greed. There’s certainly nothing from the union about what the taxpayers and riders will get in return for all this.

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

“Proposed Minimum Wage Hike Sparks Conflict,” News, 7/17

We Need a Fair Base Wage for All

In the midst of the debate over the proposed minimum wage increase in Berkeley, July 24 marks the fourth year that has passed since the federal minimum wage increased in 2009 to $7.25 per hour. The statewide minimum wage has stagnated at $8.00 per hour since 2008.  

Today, millions of Americans find themselves struggling in poverty even while working a full-time job. The largest low-wage employer in the country, accounting for 39 percent of all workers earning at or below the minimum wage, is the restaurant industry. Restaurants are a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry and one of the fastest-growing sectors in today’s economy, yet workers are not seeing the benefits. In fact, seven of the ten lowest-paying jobs and the two absolute lowest-paying jobs in the country are restaurant jobs.

In Alameda County, food prep workers earn a median wage of $9.19/hour and waiters/waitresses earn a median wage of $9/hour, meaning that the people who put food on tables of restaurant-goers struggle to feed themselves and their families. The benefits of a minimum wage increase to these low-wage workers are clear, yet in Berkeley now, many restaurant owners are advocating strongly to exclude tipped workers from the proposed minimum wage increase.  

At the federal level, the tipped minimum wage is currently $2.13 an hour, which the National Restaurant Association has been successful in keeping in place since 1991. As the state with the largest restaurant industry in the nation, California has had no distinction between the tipped minimum wage and regular minimum wage for a quarter century. California is a stellar example of how we can pay equal wages to both tipped and non-tipped workers, while growing a robust and thriving restaurant industry. Berkeley, as a beacon of progressive values, should not be the first city in the state to set a regressive precedent by subsidizing the low wages that restaurants want to pay their tipped workers. Instead, Berkeley should join the regional momentum and its neighbors, San Jose and San Francisco, whose minimum wage is $10/hour and $10.55/hour respectively, in setting a fair base wage for all workers.

A common myth is that increasing the minimum wage would destroy the restaurant industry. On the contrary, a study from UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Employment and Education found that the minimum wage increase in San Francisco did not create a detectable employment loss among restaurants. Other credible studies show that raising the minimum wage for tipped workers would improve productivity and decrease turnover rates, generating sustainable benefits to businesses.  

Local restaurateurs also acknowledge these benefits. On MomsRising.org, Nico Sanchez, owner of Platano in Berkeley, writes, “Paying a living wage helps my business because the workers feel respected and don’t quit on me, leaving me scrambling for new workers. Also, when morale is high among my wait staff this is reflected in the satisfaction and generosity of the customers.” After the minimum wage increased in San Jose in 2012, in an interview with local news channel KPIX, Nick Taptelis, owner of Philz Coffee, noted that, “Team members are actually happier, working harder, and actually giving better customer service, and from that the store actually got busier.”

Another common myth is that an increase in the minimum wage would drive food prices up astronomically. According to a recent report from the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years based on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 would only increase the cost of food by at most 10 cents per day per American household.  

Moreover, a higher minimum wage would have an immediate impact on the livelihoods of restaurant workers. Kelly, a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of the Bay (ROC the Bay) and a Berkeley resident, laments that “the ability of my partner and I to keep the Internet, pay a phone bill on time, or buy food for ourselves and our pets relies on what tips I bring home. Tips cannot act in lieu of a fair minimum wage.” Natasha, another ROC member, explains the downside of relying on fluctuating tips: “It is hard to secure a good relationship with a financial institution when your employment is not secure and direct deposits amount to only a few dollars an hour.”

A higher minimum wage both in Berkeley and nationally would go a long way toward ensuring that all workers — from large restaurant corporations to small mom-and-pop shops — would have a secure base wage to feed their families, as they feed us daily. It has been four years since the last federal minimum wage increase, and five years since the last statewide minimum wage increase. It is now time to lift the floor for all low-wage workers.

Van Nguyen

Co-Coordinator of the Restaurant
Opportunities Center of the Bay

Minimum Wage Increase Is Long Overdue

Four years ago, we saw the federal minimum wage rise to a meager $7.25 an hour. The state minimum wage has been stuck at $8.00 for five years. For a full-time worker, this amounts to just $16,640, far below the national poverty level for a family of four ($23, 550), much less a living wage in the Bay Area.

Over the past three years, our Raise the Wage movement has talked with thousands of Bay Area voters about this issue. When asked if they support an increase in their city’s minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, overwhelmingly people say “yes!” On street corners and at grocery stores, there’s excitement and support. In community college classrooms, it’s not unusual for us to sign up every single student as a supporter, with many volunteering their time, labor, and personal resources to the cause. Last November in San Jose, fully 60 percent of voters in this politically moderate city said “yes” to an increase to $10 for all workers — despite being bombarded with hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars predicting doom and catastrophe if the measure passed.

Why such overwhelming support? Because average voters have a basic sense of fairness. They understand that people who work hard and play by the rules should make a decent living. They understand that the challenges of small and local businesses cannot be solved by squeezing our most vulnerable workers to do more with less. They understand that when you give a raise to a low-wage worker, most of that money goes right back into the local economy.

If you listen to the naysayers, you would believe that poverty is simply an impossible problem to address. But if you talk to the 40,000 working people in San Jose who now have $4,000 a year more to spend supporting their families, you’ll hear a different story. You’ll hear about having more money to put food on the table, to pay their rent, and to put gas in their cars so they can get to work and school.

We have already proven that we do not have to wait for some distant and watered-down solution from Sacramento or Washington. We can lead the way right here in the Bay Area to provide a high-road model to economic development and anti-poverty measures.

Last April, the Berkeley City Council took an important first step when Mayor Tom Bates introduced a resolution directing the city manager to draft an ordinance that would 1) set Berkeley’s minimum wage at $10.55 an hour, and 2) build in an automatic cost-of-living increase pegged to the region’s consumer price index. This was a bold measure that matched the progressive values of this city. Mayor Bates’ measure passed with a unanimous vote of the city council. Now, the city’s citizen Labor Commission is studying the issue, receiving public comment, and preparing its recommendation for council action. A vote could come as soon as this fall.

Last week, one hundred community members, low-wage workers, and friends rallied in downtown Berkeley and marched to the Labor Commission meeting to encourage the Berkeley City Council to continue on its high-road path in raising the minimum wage. Please join our efforts. You can contact us at RaisetheWageEB.org.

Nicky Gonzalez Yuen

Founder, Raise the Wage East Bay;
chair of the political science department at
De Anza College; steering committee member for the San Jose Minimum Wage Campaign; elected trustee of the Peralta Community College District

“No Accountability,” Seven Days, 7/10

Drop in the Bucket

Restore public confidence in local government by censuring Desley Brooks?


Censuring Brooks is a mere drop in the deep bucket of actions required in Oakland’s City Hall to build some public confidence. How about councilmembers and the mayor actually telling the truth, just occasionally, about Oakland’s multitude of serious problems?

Mike Ferro, Oakland

Blame Voters

Can’t blame the city council for the failure of the Alameda County DA to back up her own grand jury.

You can blame the Oakland voters who consistently robo-vote for whomever the power brokers put up for district attorney. And the voters here, unlike those of other Alameda County cities, don’t bother to even send complaints to the county.

The DA’s office seems to consider Oakland to be too ghetto to waste its limited resources on.

Leonard Raphael, Oakland

“BART’s Lead Negotiator Has a History of Illegal Behavior,” News, 7/10

Why Hire a Mercenary?

Surrounding [Thomas] Hock at the bargaining table is a bunch of attorneys that are on BART’s payroll, as well as support staff. I think the question needs to be asked is if BART has all these “labor relations” folks on staff, why do they need to go outside and hire this mercenary at the public’s expense?

Another question that needs to be asked is whether Hock is acting as BART’s attorney or a consultant? In many instances, these corporate mercenaries act as consultants so they can avoid any ethics violations put forward by the state bar association.

Donny Johnson, Oakland

“Not So Simple,” Letters, 6/26

Absurd Position

Thanks for publishing the June 26 letter from Norman La Force (Sierra Club East Bay Public Lands chair), endorsing the clear-cutting of eucalyptus trees from our hills. Okay, so it’s Sierra Club versus trees.

Here’s the dilemma for the club’s Bay Area members (I’ve been one for twenty years): Support the club’s great national work from its birthplace, and your dues subsidize a local chapter that regularly takes absurd positions on behalf of “the Sierra Club.”

The club rules say that upon renewal, we can assign ourselves to a chapter elsewhere. I’m thinking Sierrans in some place like Texas could use my dues to fight real, sensible battles?

Marcia Lau, Berkeley

“Is First Fridays Good for Art Galleries?” News, 6/26

Where’s the Copy Editor?

Is good grammar still important?

John Betterton, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

Bay Area Rapid Transit Strike
Prevention Poem #2

Punishing the innocent, who believe in humanity,

who have structured their lives around transit they trust,

is an act of cruelty, selfish and mean,

however vehement your hungering lust.

You might gain more, but you make so much more,

than the employees you represent,

so if you’re not making pay during strike,

you’re not the one whom to hell will be sent,

so pretend you’re a modern day Robin Hood,

justified to strong-arm from the rich,

What if your own heart followed example,

and decided to stop, because of a glitch?

W. Joseph Stegner, Jr., San Leandro


Our July 24 news story, “City Officials Under Fire,” erroneously stated that deputy city attorney Rocio Fierro had advised Anne Campbell Washington to kick Don Anders out of the meeting about OPD’s troubled radio system. According to Campbell Washington, Fierro did not advise her on the matter.

Our July 24 cover story, “False Witness,” inaccurately stated that the California Innocence Project helped exonerate Johnny Williams and Ronald Ross. It was actually the Northern California Innocence Project — which, it should be noted, is not a branch of the California Innocence Project but its own independent entity — that helped exonerate the men. In addition, it was a nine-year-old girl, not a six-year-old girl, who made the false ID that helped convict Williams.


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