“Feinstein’s Folly,” Feature, 6/13
A Cultural Landscape, Not a Sanctuary
Many thanks for your article regarding the controversy over the oyster farm at Drake’s Estero. While Robert Gammon raises a number of valid points — particularly the dangerous precedent that could be set by the extension of the oyster farm lease — there are other issues that he ignores.
First, a little history: The Point Reyes peninsula has been settled for over 150 years and the land use during the majority of that time has been either cattle-raising or dairy-farming, principally the latter. The landscape of the peninsula was substantially modified during this time. Cattle have grazed the rolling landscape — and, more importantly, polluted the waters of the estero — for decades. As a boy visiting Point Reyes on numerous occasions in the early 1950s, I had a chance to see how messy cattle operations could be.
To me, it is hard to justify the idea that any portion of Point Reyes — whether the land or the estero — can be called “wilderness” within the generally accepted definition of the term. This is not to say that the landscape is not scenic — it is very scenic — but it is not wilderness. In addition, when the National Park Service took over the peninsula in the mid-Sixties, the site was designated a National Recreation Area, not a National Park. I am not familiar with the 1975 legislation that Gammon mentions but, based on the character of the land, the definition must be more semantic than actual.
To my eye, as a park planner and student of landscape, Point Reyes seems to be more of a cultural landscape — that is, a landscape that has been shaped by nature but substantially modified by humans in a consistent manner over a long period of time. Cultural landscapes are just as worthwhile of preservation as natural ones, but perhaps not as well understood. Within the framework of a cultural landscape, the oyster farm seems entirely appropriate. It is an operation that uses a portion of the landscape to create food and represents a certain way of life tied directly to the landscape from which it springs. Many Americans have been taught to value wilderness but not always to value cultural landscapes. As a lifelong member of the Sierra Club, I know the value of true wilderness and treasure those that we have where they are appropriate. But Point Reyes is not one of those places.
One other point: Within the orbit of the National Park Service and Point Reyes, the oyster farm has a unique constituency. Many of the people and families that visit the oyster farm come from non-European cultures such as those from Asia or Latin America. Of course they come to the oyster farm to purchase and eat oysters, but at the same time they are introduced to the larger and wilder landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula.
To my mind, the oyster farm is a “gateway” park facility; it brings people to the park who would otherwise not visit the park. It introduces them to the larger landscape and the values inherent in its preservation. The National Park Service pays a lot of lip service to the idea of serving different population groups and constituencies but its basic mission is still landscape preservation as defined by the Northern European culture of Germany, England, and Scandinavia.
The oyster farm is an excellent opportunity to preserve a “gateway facility” that will introduce people from other places and cultures to “America’s Best Idea.”
Reed Dillingham, Berkeley
A Reactionary in Sheep’s Clothing
I have never understood Dianne Feinstein’s relationship with Northern California’s liberals and progressives. When I moved here from Los Angeles thirty years ago, I had never heard of her. However, since I have lived here I haven’t found her to be very progressive, either as mayor of San Francisco or as senator; her tenure has been that of a right-of-center Republican.
The right-wing stranglehold on the Supreme Court and Bush’s wars all come with her cooperation. Why progressives still vote for her is a mystery to me. She is only slightly less odious than that miscreant Joe Lieberman, in my opinion.
Vernon S. Burton, San Leandro
As a veteran investigative reporter and editor, my heart goes out to anyone assigned or assigning an article about Drake’s Bay Oyster Company.
Having watched the controversy closely for four or more years, and examined most of the relevant documents, I know how incredibly complex and nuanced this story is. And having assisted more than a few professional colleagues investigating the conflict, I can see how easy it would be for an inexperienced reporter or editor to get swept into a position by one side or the other, both sides being represented by forceful, articulate, and persuasive adversaries. This, unfortunately, appears to be what happened to the Express.
There was, however, a safe way out for Robert Gammon and his editor. Focus on the science, ignore the shouting and screaming from either side of the issue and forget the fact that the National Park Service and its supporters originally presented its case based on science, and when that science proved to be wanting, said that science was an irrelevant “red herring” that should not be a factor in deciding policy in this matter.
Science is and must be a factor in any environmental decision, and if one follows the science in this case and relies only on qualified, independent scientists familiar with the data, the truth about harm to wildlife and fauna will become self-evident. But to quote contentious partisans putting each other down is not only petty and meaningless, it is sloppy AM-talk-radio journalism, which means not journalism at all. The Express should know better.
Mark Dowie, Willow Point, Calif.
The Other White Meat
As much as you don’t like Feinstein, you have to admit that those oysters taste delicious — much better than barbecued harbor seals.
Paul Glusman, Berkeley
I, too, have disagreed with Senator Feinstein on many issues. But about the oysters at Drake’s Estero, she’s got it right, and you’ve got it all wrong.
You say that it doesn’t matter that the National Park Service lied when it claimed that Lunny’s oyster farm causes environmental detriment, because the NPS can terminate the farm’s lease and declare the estero a wilderness anyway. There is no serious disagreement that the NPS did lie, as you admit. And it does matter that they lied. To give up a locally cherished resource for the idea of wilderness — in an area that has been full of cattle ranches for a century and a half — needs a pretty good reason. There just isn’t one.
The oyster farm has been in the estero for more than sixty years. It’s a family-owned small business, and a treasured source of local, sustainable, and delicious food. (Try those oysters; they are unquestionably the best in the area.) Even Oaklanders are catching up with Marin on the importance and the delight of locally raised and environmentally friendly food. Too bad you’re not catching up with them.
Kathleen Kahn, Berkeley
A Public Service
Thank you, and author Robert Gammon, for this feature. Untangling such a controversy is so difficult, few attempt it. Piecing together from inconsistent chunks of evidence and testimony, this solid synthesis is a public service.
Congratulations and thanks.
Victoria Hanson, Tomales
“Comfort Food, Afghan Style,” Restaurant Review, 6/13
More Food Porn, Please
Love the location of Kamdesh. Wish they would open up the view of the restaurant so that passersby can see it and be drawn into its delicious grub.
Personally, I love the eggplant and mint sauce. Oakland needs more food porn, and Kamdesh should lead this video revo-foodtion!
Dave Campbell, Oakland
“The Myth of Green Power” and “A Failed Experiment,” Letters, 6/13
In Defense of Green Energy
It was extremely upsetting to read two letters to the editor opposing less harmful sources of electricity. This is exactly the type of crap that many of us moved to the Bay Area to get away from. Perhaps Patrick Carroll and Steve Tabor should move to Kansas, where the people will be more at home with their anti-environmental way of thinking.
First and foremost, causing less environmental and ecological harm by getting power from solar panels instead of coal or nukes is far more important than how much money doing that costs.
Once again, as is unfortunately normal in this society, people prioritize money to the detriment of the environment. This attitude must change if Americans are going to stop causing so much environmental harm by their massive consumption. Even if you don’t care about the Earth or other species, we cannot live without them and clean air, land, and water.
Second, you published two falsehoods by Steve Tabor. First, Mr. Tabor claimed that “[s]olar and wind are meager sources of electricity ….” This is completely false. An average house in Berkeley can get all its electricity from solar panels on its roof. While not as foggy as the west side of San Francisco, Berkeley gets more fog than average. If Berkeley gets enough sunlight to power a house with rooftop solar panels, most other areas, which get even more sunlight, can certainly be powered by rooftop solar. We also need to begin reducing our electricity consumption, but I’ll leave that issue for another time.
The second falsehood claimed by Mr. Tabor is that “[n]either solar nor wind is actually ‘renewable’; you have to build the panels and wind turbines in plants dependent on fossil fuels.” Again, this is false. Aside from the fact that those plants could be powered by solar and wind themselves, Mr. Tabor misses a giant point: electricity generated from wind or solar does not require people to constantly extract coal or uranium, two very environmentally harmful activities. Once the panels or wind generators are in place, their fuel sources are the sun and wind. Coal- and nuclear-powered electricity require a constant source of fuel.
I realize that we live in a society that worships money and gives little if any priority to the environment. Unfortunately, this is even true of the left.
But I certainly hope that you and other progressive news sources will respond to people who try to convince others that instead of switching to cleaner sources of energy, we should continue to destroy the Earth by mining coal and uranium, to name just two of the environmental harms these sources cause.
Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley
“The Hangover,” Last Call, 6/13
Right on! I wish I lived in Alameda instead of Morgan Hill sometimes! They’re always having too much fun up there. It’s a hole-in-the-wall that you don’t want to miss. And I do.
Chris Killingsworth, Morgan Hill
“Pensions Aren’t the Only Problem,” Seven Days, 6/13
Solution or Stopgap?
1. “Public employee pensions” come in different formats. CalSTRS participants, for example, contribute 8.5 percent of their pay to the plan, and their employer (the community college district) contributes another 8.5 percent, with the states only contributing 2 percent. This is instead of participating in Social Security, where participants and employers contribute 6.2 percent of their pay, each. Public employees do pay for their pension benefits.
2. If a government were to switch to a 401k-like plan for all new employees, what funds would the pre-existing employees be paid from? The whole idea of the plan as it is now is that current members’ contributions pay for retired members’ benefits. Government was under obligation to put away pre-existing members’ contributions but it did not. Switching new members to a 401k-like system will kill the source of cash for all already-earned benefits for pre-existing members (that are guaranteed by the state Constitution) and will put the government in a big deep hole effective immediately, for a long time. How is this a solution?
Maria Ku, Oakland
“The Combustible Element in Emilie,” Theater Review, 6/13
I’ve never written one of these letters before but feel compelled after reading your review of Emilie at Berkeley City Club. I know all reviews are merely opinion but I couldn’t disagree more with yours. I feel that this is a very fine and moving production, and it was given extremely short shrift by your narrow review. You are so smug in your dismissal of this play that I almost felt as though we saw two completely different shows. The night I was there the place was crackling with energy, the audience engaged and laughing loudly. At play’s end many were in tears. Could it be you were totally unmoved by this work?
Richard Sorenstein, Berkeley
“High Times Medical Cannabis Cup Comes to Richmond,” Legalization Nation, 6/13
The Straight-Face Test
I fully believe that marijuana has legitimate medicinal value. However, this position is not well served by a “Cannabis Cup” competition complete with parties and musical acts. Simply tacking the word “Medical” onto “Cannabis Cup” does not really pass the straight-face test. The Cannabis Cup is obviously more akin to a beer or wine competition aimed at connoisseurs of their respective favorite intoxicants. Have you ever seen a competition and festival celebrating the most primo ACE inhibitor for controlling high blood pressure?
Carrie Wipplinger, Oakland
“Do Your Research,” Letters, 6/13
Two to Tango
A note in defense of Rachel Swan, who reviewed my CD, El Norteamericano que Canta Tango and got what traditional tango-cancion is all about. She is at least familiar with the King of the Tango, Carlos Gardel, and the genre. Sadly, there is a huge gulf between tango singers and tango dancers in the Bay Area that I find hard to breach.
My first appearance at a milonga in the US will be in Minneapolis, July 3 as my offers to sing free in the Bay area have gone ignored, as have my full-page review in El Clarin, Argentina’s most-read daily; invitations to appear this fall at Julia Doynel’s milongas, appearance on Radio Nacional Argentina in 2010; and at least two more radio shows in Buenos Aires coming up. Frankly, I expected more support in the Bay Area.
I would hope that others in the Bay Area will give me and other singers a chance, for it’s not just a dance, but a treasure trove of melancholic, bittersweet songs. Rachel’s article [“Do You Speak Tango,” Music, 5/30] is welcomed. It has given the Bay Area tango community, through its letters and comments, a chance to promote both dance and song. Tango is having a worldwide resurgence. The rebirth is now and not just tango. All arts are exploding in Argentina.
John Iverson, Berkeley
“Paris on My Mind,” Restaurant Review, 6/6
Heart and Soul
Hmm, haven’t had the eggs at Café Clem, only at La Note, where they are perfectly scrambled. But I do love the ambience at Café Clem, and I didn’t leave over a crumb of the grilled cheese on my plate. And Dorothee has put her heart and soul into Café Clem; there is a lot to be said for that.
Susan Sholin, Albany
I have eaten breakfast at Café Clem several times and I could not disagree more about the eggs. I think they taste wonderful and so does my picky-eating twelve-year-old son. The presentation with the salmon curled up to look like a flower is charming and delicious. I recommend the breakfast to all my friends.
I agree that La Note’s breakfasts are stellar, but the quaintness and the egg dishes of Café Clem makes up for not being able to order the famous pancakes.
Kathleen M. Crandall, Berkeley
Snow White and the Huntsman, Movie Review, 6/6
Just suffered through this turkey and couldn’t agree more with this review. I wasn’t the only one in the audience to find herself laughing at scenes not intended to be funny. There was no spark between Snow White and either of her suitors, not to mention Snow’s charge to the castle looked like bad Monty Python or something from Medieval Times. Waste of a perfectly good two hours.
Renee Masters, Buffalo
“Renting: It’s Not for the Dogs,” The Pets Issue, 6/6
The Allergies Argument
A good story. Sad about rent levels in this economy.
I do sympathize with people trying to rent with pets. And living with a pet can be very comforting. On the other hand, as a renter, I find the restrictions very beneficial. I am deathly allergic to cats. To give perspective of how bad it is, just think of one of the worst colds you have ever had, and that is how I end up when exposed to any place cats have lived — particularly any place with carpeting: instant respiratory distress for several days. It is hard for people without animal allergies to comprehend. I have had friends who don’t get it and shoo their cat away, which is pointless. The dander and hair cats leave behind stays for many, many years. Dogs, no problem. Understood that my case is a bit extreme, but there are many people with this type of allergic condition.
So when I am looking for a place to live as I have been recently, I find it very helpful to look specifically for places posting “no pets allowed.” The hard part is, when searching Craigslist for example, you can search on allows dogs or allows cats, but can’t search on “no pets allowed.”
Just a perspective on the article.
Tom Benkert, El Cerrito
“Texas Pity Twister,” Movie Review, 5/16
“Texas Pity Twister”? Brilliant, Mr. Vance. Great to see one survivor still standing from the Express‘ glory days (whenever those happened to be).
Jack Mingo, Alameda
Our June 20 news story, “Damning Report of OPD,” contained an error regarding the year in which the current OPD crowd-control policy was implemented. The correct year was 2004, not 2003.
In our June 20 Culture Spy, “He’s a Legend,” we got wrong the location where the movie My Breakfast with Blassie was filmed; it was the (unfortunately named) Sambo’s, not Denny’s.
In our June 20 cover story, “Turning Pot Into Medicine,” we incorrectly stated that the first tincture Jason David gave his son Jayden was lower in CBD potency than the second one he gave him. We meant to say it was higher in CBD.