Letters for the Week of July 4, 2012

Readers sound off on the OPD, Drakes Bay Oyster Company, and public-employee pensions.

Damning Report of OPD,” News, 6/20

Stop the Cynicism

In this article, [former legal adviser to Jean Quan] Dan Siegel commented that it was disingenuous to have the inspector general reporting to [City Administrator] Deanna Santana. His cynical remark I found overly negative. I have no doubt that if the inspector general’s office is moved into the city administrator’s office, there will be many corrective meetings between Ms. Santana’s lips and the OPD butts; she just needs a chance to do what she does best. Shame on you, Dan, for your lack of confidence in Oakland’s (very) remarkable government.

James J. Fenton, Oakland

Feinstein’s Folly,” Feature, 6/13

A Deal’s a Deal

Thank you for shedding some light on the wilderness part of this issue, which has been diverted by Drakes Bay Oyster Company and Feinstein to a supposed debate about “good” science. Many of us who live in west Marin support wilderness for Drakes Estero and are sick of the oyster farm and Feinstein’s endless, fabricated smear campaign against the park service. We want to see the oyster operation pack up and go, as its management agreed to do when they bought the remaining lease seven years ago. A deal is a deal. This is an important estuary and wilderness area, and commercial operations that spread invasive species (none of their oysters are native) are incompatible. The public overwhelmingly wants the operation gone and full protection for the estuary.

Jeff Miller, Inverness

Shucks for You, Salazar

I think Robert Gammon’s article is excellent, and it confirms my belief that Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar should honor the enabling legislation and terminate the Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s lease.

Point Reyes may have been a cultural landscape for 150 years (actually, it’s been one for thousands of years, not forgetting the Miwoks and their likely predecessors) but it’s always been a natural landscape — and the California public is running low on those, what with state parks closing and the cultural landscape’s relentless expansion. What’s more, it is a natural landscape that is essential to one of the planet’s main megafaunas — the Pacific coast marine mammals. I doubt there would be elephant seals breeding on Drakes Bay now if the seashore hadn’t been established as a way to restore some of the wildlife that has been destroyed in so many other places. Point Reyes would be covered with second homes, monster homes, bedroom tracts, marinas, malls, etc. — a process that was already underway when David Brower, Phil Burton, Edgar Wayburn, and many others managed to win one of life’s all-too-uncommon victories over money.

Drakes Bay was a major sea otter habitat when Western civilization arrived — it’s where the Yankee fur hunting ships anchored. I’d like to see sea otters in Drakes Bay again. The river otter was “extinct” on the seashore twenty years ago — now it’s back, so why not the sea otter? But I don’t think the oyster farm’s continuation would contribute to that — maybe the contrary, since I suppose sea otters like oysters, although they might not be too enthusiastic about the Drakes Bay ones, which are fatty and rather tasteless in my experience. Plenty of oyster farms in legally designated cultural landscapes produce better ones.

Anyway, it’s up to Secretary Salazar now. His address, by the way, is 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240 or [email protected].

David Rains Wallace, Berkeley

An Oyster Farmer Weighs in

I am an oyster farmer on Morro Bay. I used to live in Bodega Bay, and I got to visit beautiful Drakes Estero a few times back when the Johnsons ran the farm. I have a natural sympathy for other oyster growers here in California, and Drakes Estero is the best oyster-growing bay in California, so I have been alarmed at the predicament that the Lunnys are in. I know what a beautiful place the estero is. Reading your thorough article I learned a lot about the controversy and I had several thoughts.

First, the dispute seems to center on whether or not the original agreement between the Johnsons and the park service was to allow renewal of the oyster lease when it expires or not. You seem to believe that it was clear to all at the outset that the lease would not be renewed, while the Lunnys say no, the agreement did not preclude lease renewal. In attempting to settle this dispute, I think that retired Congressmen Pete McCloskey’s testimony is especially weighty since he co-authored the Pt. Reyes wilderness act. And he states clearly that it was not the intent of the law to kick the oyster grower out in 2012.

Second, how important is it, really, to have this estero be a wilderness area with no shellfish cultivation? The shellfish cultivation leases from the Department of Fish and Game only give the grower the right to plant, tend, and harvest the shellfish. They do not preclude the public from kayaking over the oysters, exploring, and enjoying the estero. You just can’t take or harm the oysters. If you have legitimate environmental concerns, such as plastic oyster-growing debris on the beach, or actual threats to the seal population, then the oyster grower has to, by law and by their lease agreements, address these concerns. I think the Lunnys will be proactive on these problems. Otherwise, we know that oyster cultivation is generally environmentally benign and good for water quality. I hope the Lunnys can continue growing shellfish on the estero and that the public can continue to enjoy the estero as well, with its rich diversity of birds, fish and invertebrates that coexist alongside the oysters.

George Trevelyan, Cayucos

Dear Dianne

Your article kicked me to send an email to Dianne Feinstein, which read roughly as follows:

Thanks to the cover story of EBX June 13-19, I have learned of your folly. How on earth can you be defending an oyster farm that is already operating illegally at the expense of preserving the natural environment?

Think of the greater good for the greatest number, in the long term. Your behind-doors, under-the-table maneuvering is a disgrace to you and to the Democratic Party. You sound like a Republican — shape up and fly right.

Concerned California constituent,

Marcia Flannery, Oakland

Conservation Over Common Sense

Feinstein is a hero, standing up to the environmentalist fanaticism that has polarized and plagued the west Marin community over this one issue. Many would-be and former supporters of local environment groups, such as the EAC (Environmental Action Committee of West Marin) and the local chapter of the Sierra Club, have been totally turned off and disgusted by their rather rigid and one-dimensional approach to the Drakes Estero Controversy. When the idea of Pt. Reyes National Seashore was being sold to the residents of Marin County in the 1960s, the continued operation of the last oyster farm in the state of California was never in question.

I look forward to a return to common-sense environmentalism that is inclusive of many points of view and builds consensus within the community, rather than years of stalemate.

Peter Martinelli, Bolinas

American Indian Public Charter School’s Test Scores May Be Inflated,” News, 6/13

Too Good to Be True

Great article, Ellen.

Alas, AIPCS’ selective admissions/retention methods are not anomalous, but rather appear to be part of the very fabric of the very well-publicized movement to privatize public education via charters school and vouchers.

In New Orleans (and across the nation), we see the same story: One school, given $1 million by Oprah on live TV, was later sued for discriminating against special-needs students (who might drag down scores). This same school — with “amazing scores” — also lost 40 percent of its students by graduation.

Essentially, administrators kept the best students, and dropped those likely to make the school look anything less than a “miracle.”

I hope more reporters will take your lead and start to scrutinize these “miracle schools,” to see if the great success is truly a result of excellent instruction, or cooking the books.

Adam Bessie, Pleasant Hill

Pensions Aren’t the Only Problem,” Seven Days, 6/13

Blame the Politicians, Not the Unions

Valid point that compensation and retirement benefits are not the only cause of the state’s fiscal problems. But that is not relevant to California cities and most counties here, which don’t have the power to give away much corporate welfare or create tax loopholes.

California state employees often earn far less than the same employee would get from a local city or county. Both state and local government employees usually earn more than comparable federal employees. The deal was always that public employees got great benefits, plus much better working conditions, and could retire years earlier than those in private sector jobs.

Sometime during the last decade, especially in California’s bigger cities, the deal changed to where municipal employees also got wages as good or better than they could in the private sector. In effect, the municipal unions overreached and are now facing a serious backlash. Can’t blame the unions for asking for it all when it was our elected officials who made the unions’ wishes come true. But neither can we afford to pay the Muni employees what our officials promised unless we are willing to devote most of our city and county operating budgets to paying retirement costs and laying off young Muni employees instead of cutting wage rates/increasing retirement contributions. There literally won’t be any money left to argue about spending on, say, more cops versus more anti-violence programs.

Democratic Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose understands the numbers and why the costs of current employees have to be reduced. Governor Cuomo of New York does, too. But in Oakland, you’re called a Walkerite racing to the bottom if you suggest the same.

Len Raphael, Oakland

It’s the Recession, Stupid

A recent article expressed concern for California public employees and their unions. Robert Gammon describes both real and unreal threats to public employees without differentiating between them. As usual, the issues are pensions and benefits. Rather than demystifying why public employees are under attack, he simply goes along with the Republican, Democratic, and corporate agenda, which suggests that public employees themselves, their pensions, and their benefits, are another symptom of a bloated government. He suggests that private-sector workers are angry because they no longer enjoy similar benefits. He fails, however, to mention that at one time they did and, in fact, until recently, most private sector workers’ wages and benefits far exceeded what the public sector was receiving. He neglects to mention that the first attack on organized labor was on the private-sector workers who lost their jobs due to outsourcing offshore. Union-busting, along with reductions in wages, benefits, and exchanging defined benefit pension plans for a 401k-defined contribution plan or no pension plan at all further harmed those fortunate enough to still have jobs. All these changes were to the detriment of the working class and a benefit to corporations and Wall Street. He goes on to discuss the anger among the voting population generally about public sector workers’ pensions. Again he fails to mention that voters have been confused for several years by the media’s blaming state and local government budget problems on public employee pension plans. He conveniently forgot to mention that the current financial crisis underlying the budget problems was caused by deregulation of the banking industry and the subsequent bank bailout. Why no demand for jailing the individuals responsible for our economic crisis? Why no demand for nationalizing banks?

What Mr. Gammon did get right is that the pay and benefit packages for non-union high-level public sector officials are excessive. The fact is that the media focuses on these extreme examples as though they are typical of all public workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. People believe the media’s lies and lose sight of who is actually responsible for the current depression: Wall Street and the banks.

Mr. Gammon points out that corporations are sliding through tax loopholes and state giveaways but fails to mention the relationship between Republicans, Democrats, and the corporations. Who finances these politicians? Yes, at times the unions donate huge amounts of money to particular candidates or ballot initiatives, but they generally get little back for their investments.

In his summary, Mr. Gammon joins with most labor bureaucrats in suggesting that it is in the interest of union members to support Governor Jerry Brown’s continued attack on public employee pensions. He believes that if the unions support Brown’s so-called Millionaire’s Tax, they will be able to push the governor to stop corporate giveaways and close tax loopholes. Once Brown gets what he wants he will ignore his promises to the unions, as he has done many times in the past.

Considering the results of the Wisconsin recall vote, Obama’s broken promises to organized labor, and Brown’s attack on public workers’ pension plans, the unions should be thinking about using their members’ dues to advance the cause of solidarity and union-building. Unions should not support any ballot measure that harms their members, in particular, and the working class in general.

It seems clear that no matter how workers vote, things are only going to get worse. Unions can no longer afford to buy politicians — the price is too high. The union presidents may act and talk like big shots, but it’s all bluster and no substance. They no longer have a seat at the table. They are barely tolerated. Today the power of the unions is within the rank-and-file and the youth who have yet to be organized. This is where working people’s political energies and money should be directed.

Charles Smith, Richmond

Corrections

In our June 27 music story, “Getting Up-close and Uncomfortable with Deafheaven,” we misspelled guitarist Kerry McCoy’s last name.

In our June 27 music pick, Leftöver Crack, we gave an incorrect address for the Oakland Metro Operahouse. It’s located at 630 3rd St., Oakland. 

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