Letters for the week of March 6-13, 2007

Readers comment on Save Berkeley Iceland and John Russo’s fight over Oakland’s Oak to Ninth referendum.

“Puck Nonfiction,” Water Cooler, 2/21

Iceland will live on
Perhaps Mr. Simons might not believe in miracles. Perhaps he does not believe in dreams, or hope, or angels either. To that, I say: You might not believe, but the hundreds upon thousands of people who love Iceland do.

While the article “Wanted: Miracle on Ice” only focused on the yellow walls or beaten chairs, it missed something that cannot be seen, heard, or touched. It missed the tinkling of the bells of the Midnight Express. Yet something was in that ballet room as radiant as the disco ball above the rink: enthusiasm.

In the few short weeks that Save Berkeley Iceland was in existence, I think we’ve come a long way, and over the next weeks, I believe we’ll trek the long march to completion. Forming a nonprofit organization usually takes months; we’ve done it in less than one month. And the city folks who forced us to close in the first place, their idea of “mild encouragement” would be the phrase: “Where do we write the check to?” With a business plan featuring a warm-water pool, locker rooms, changing facilities, a possible restaurant, and of course our beloved ice sheet, Iceland will live past March 31 and continue to prosper for another century at least.

We’re all just average people; the founder of our group occasionally has to do work to pay his bills. I occasionally have to go to class and figure out how much energy a top quark requires. Little Jimmy goes to school to learn about fractions. Berkeley Iceland was founded by a group of Berkeley citizens who could dream; whoever shares their passion and fire can dream as well! Dream of a beautiful new sheet of ice for tomorrow!
Alan Feng, Berkeley

History’s missing
Death Spirals. What a lovely lead to set up the snarky little piece by Eric Simons about the looming demise of the longstanding and beloved community resource, Iceland. While no one expects the Express to be a Pollyanna, the negative, insulting tone throughout the article did little more than mask the fact that Mr. Simons didn’t do his basic journalistic homework nor much in the way of research before writing his article. If he had he might have mentioned in an offhand manner that Iceland has been a community center of healthy fun and activity for 66 years. He may have let drop that the once-grand old rink is one of the largest sheets of ice in the western United States built in a style not seen anymore in this age of large cookie-cutter, boxy rinks. He might have mentioned the hundreds of people who show up every weekend for public skating — a great date night, btw — or the hundreds of kids playing ice hockey or learning the fine art of figure skating. He could have mentioned Peggy Fleming, Kristi Yamaguchi, or Brian Boitano, but he didn’t, and anyway I’m getting weary of writing his story for him.

In any case he didn’t have to denigrate the efforts of dedicated, intelligent people putting in incredible efforts to try and save their home away from home with the lightly veiled postmodern slur “group of parents” in an attempt to portray them as a flock of PTA moms trying to save their soccer field.

An in-depth cover article detailing the long history and the vibrant role Iceland has played in the community for several generations would have served to educate the Express‘ readers about Iceland’s plight in a better fashion. That may have required a real reporter and perhaps an editor. Either one of the two would have gotten the date right about the Miracle on Ice as well. The US hockey team beat the Soviets in 1980.
Bill Thompson, Berkeley Bulldogs hockey dad, Canyon

“Russo Versus the People,” Full Disclosure, 2/21

Disservice to readers
Robert Gammon’s article criticizing Oakland City Attorney John Russo for his representation of the city in the litigation over the Oak to Ninth Referendum is ill-informed and does a disservice to your readers and to the progressive community.

The undisputed facts (admitted even in Gammon’s article) are that:

1) State law requires that signature gatherers attach to the petition a TRUE AND ACCURATE copy of the resolution being challenged. Although Gammon grumbles about “the state’s archaic election code,” this requirement is meant to guarantee that people asked to sign a petition have an accurate copy of the challenged law available to them. By the way, this “archaic” statute (Election Code section 9238), although derived from earlier versions, was enacted in 1994.

2) The petition circulated by the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee was NOT a true and accurate copy of the resolution passed by the city council. In fact, there were significant differences between the version passed and the version circulated. PLUS the version circulated lacked the maps appended to the resolution. Gammon claims that the “city clerk’s office had instructed the group to do so.” If true, this reflects poorly on the competence of the city clerk’s office. However, state law governs even if a local city clerk provides erroneous advice.

3) State law (yes, that same “archaic election code’) imposes a duty on the city clerk to reject defective petitions.

4) By law, the city attorney represents the city in lawsuits. This includes the lawsuit filed by the Ninth to Oak Referendum Committee.

In sum, the committee circulated an illegal and defective petition, the defective petition was rejected by the city clerk, and the city attorney is adhering to state law by representing his client.

Gammon’s true complaint, which only emerges later in his article, is that the Oak to Ninth project is a bad financial deal for the city and will hamper public access to the waterfront. I happen to agree with Gammon’s position on this issue, which is why I oppose the development and why I signed the petition opposing it. Gammon’s understandable frustration should be directed to the city council majority which approved the project, the city clerk’s office for its (allegedly) erroneous advice, or even to the committee, which failed to inform itself of the requirements of the law before undertaking the enormous task of gathering 25,000 signatures.

John Russo should be commended for doing his job by representing his client regardless of the unpopularity of the cause. Full disclosure: I have been a friend of John’s for many years and was his law partner for a time. Oakland is fortunate to have a politician (John does not shun the title) who is a true progressive and a man of perfect integrity.
David L. Roth, Oakland

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