Letters for the Week of March 7, 2012

Readers sound off on Occupy Oakland, Desley Brooks, and Rob Bonta.

“Cop Identified in Scott Olsen Incident,” News, 2/22

OPD Out of Control

Wow. How is it possible for a man to kill three human beings in the course of three years, cost the city at least half a million dollars in wrongful death settlements, and be rewarded with a plum assignment?

Is there any accountability at OPD?

John Seal, Oakland

The Police Are the Problem

We had all kinds of trouble before the Riders case. Since then we’ve seen Raiders’ games, anti-war protests, and the Oscar Grant protests bungled (at the most generous) and yet, now we try to blame the problems on Occupy?

Don Macleay, Oakland

“Oakland Has a New Sheriff,” Seven Days, 2/22

Do Your Job

As a native Oaklander and a devout reader of the Express, I have, on occasion, questioned the objectivity of your articles. But I’ve never been compelled to write to the editor until now.

Your article on Vice Mayor Desley Brooks and her launching the Digital Arts and Culinary Academy is extremely jaded and subjective. While I do not purport to know the nuances that surrounded the acquisition of the property and subsequent development of the academy — and neither should you — your article provides the reader with the impression that Brooks is simply a rogue councilmember building a state-of-the-art center for inner city youths without any checks and balances or city oversight. This assumption is totally preposterous and is quite ill-conceived. The article purports that the academy was the vice mayor’s “pet project,” and that it was built in secret for the advancement of Vice Mayor Brooks’ personal agenda. If you were doing your job and reporting the story rather than providing innuendos and inferences, you would recognize that characterizing the academy as such intentionally skews the facts. In reality, the academy and its inception neither were anything but private. I have seen flyers all over town advertising the academy and witnessed the instructors at numerous events recruiting students — not to mention just last week while watching KTOP (the city’s public-access television station), I saw an advertisement for the Digital Arts and Culinary Academy. Wow, if Brooks was attempting to be secretive about the academy, she sure wasn’t doing a good job. All that was missing was a billboard.

Further, the fact that Brooks’ colleagues on the city council have somehow come down with a case of selective amnesia as to the existence of DACA is absolutely comical. A good reporter would have done his homework, and could have easily surmised that while some would like to blame and point the finger in hindsight at the vice mayor, let’s be real, she could not have accomplished the opening of this academy without the assistance of city staff and other key stakeholders. Truly, you give Vice Mayor Brooks way too much credit. It is absolutely asinine to infer, insinuate, and/or allude to the vice mayor “doing it her way.” If you call working within the parameters of the city and under the appropriate checks and balances as “doing it her way,” then I would suppose that each of her colleagues are equally guilty, as this is the way things get done at City Hall.

Finally, while I was disappointed in the lack of objective reporting provided in the article, I was even more incensed by your attempt to stoke the fire between Vice Mayor Brooks and our new city administrator, Deanna Santana. Again, statements such as “there is a new sheriff in town” aren’t newsworthy, and in fact are purely subjective on the part of the writer. I’m sure that Santana is doing her job in providing a thorough investigation, and rest assured, Vice Mayor Brooks will have her opportunity to respond to any questions that the city administrator or anyone else has surrounding the building and oversight of the Academy. To bait two strong, smart, women of color against each other is reminiscent of a time that many of us would like to forget, but apparently, some still get a kick out of starting a cat fight.

If I may make a suggestion to you as the editor of the paper and the writer of the article, it would be this: Please remember your job is to report and let the reader decide. Since there has not been a thorough investigation, you really are not in a position to report anything. Hence I am left wondering what your real motive behind writing such a subjective article was. Upon the completion of the investigation, please be as vigilant on reporting the facts that will come out as the process moves along the appropriate channels as you were rushing to write this article. In other words, do your job — people appreciate a good newsman or woman when they are reporting a story and not making one up.

Lisa Reed, Oakland

“Pay to Play,” Music, 2/22

Music Isn’t Free

Three hundred fifty dollars a year for a business to play recorded music 24/7 is peanuts for the value they get.

Although it’s not hard to understand where owners are coming from, considering most venues today expect live bands to play for free while they sell $8 beers and $4 lattes, BMI and ASCAP are about the only music organizations left that are actually assisting independent recording artists in getting paid. As a recording artist who has been producing independently for over thirty years, I believe that there needs to be a way for everyone to win, and expecting artists to endlessly give away their work for “promotion” isn’t reasonable.

Max Eveleth, Alameda

“The Greek Connection,” News, 2/22

Occupy CalPERS

Great article about CalPERS and its investments in Greece. For years I’ve been hearing about how Greece owes so much money, along with Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, etc. The mainstream media is quick to tell us about all these irresponsible deadbeats and how much they owe, but we are never told who lent them the money. Now we know.

For every irresponsible debtor, there is an equally irresponsible creditor. Why would anyone be so stupid as to lend money to Greece, which obviously can’t pay it back? The stupid creditor is even more responsible for this untenable situation than the debtor. In the case of German banks, they are so rolling in cash that they lend money without bothering to think, but CalPERS has no excuse. The fund’s managers did the same thing back in the dot-com boom and they lost their shirt then, too. They never learn.

One important reason why an institution will lend money stupidly and expect to get away with it is the assumption that governments will put austerity measures on ordinary people to force them to pay back their bad bets. Another reason is their expectation that the people they are serving, California State employees, will continue to approve of what they’re doing. Public employees have to take control of their retirement system and demand that retirees’ money be invested in California, not in some deadbeat country on the other side of the world or some criminal corporation like Enron or Bank of America. It’s not too late to turn things around. Occupy CalPERS!

Steve Tabor, Oakland

Selective Ignorance

Isn’t CalPERS’ hands-off approach to the companies in which pension funds are invested similar to Apple and other manufacturers’ hands-off approach to the companies that produce their products, e.g. FoxConn, et al?

Chris Gilbert, Oakland

“Where Kosher Meets Fast Food,” Restaurant Review, 2/22

Picky, Picky

I was pleased to see a feature review of Amba, the Middle-eastern vegetarian restaurant in Montclair. Jesse Hirsch certainly did his research by not only interviewing the owner, Jonathan Wornick, but also reading blogs to learn more about Wornick’s ambitious expansion plans.

Amba not only has great food (my fave is the sabich sandwich) but it has inviting decor and a diverse menu to please the palates of young and old.  So why does Hirsch criticize Amba for serving pizza and fries? What is the point of praising the price of the falafel ($8.50) and bashing the cost for other items priced at $10 or $8?

Then Hirsch reveals Amba’s plans to add meat to the all-vegetarian menu. OMG! Meat? If Hirsch worries that the same knife that slices chicken will be used to chop eggplant, he could alleviate his anxiety by asking Wornick.

Next, Hirsch seems to go on a rant about the future of Amba. According to the review, Wornick plans two Amba offshoots this year. Hirsch equates this to P.F. Chang’s or Chipotle and questions Amba’s future integrity. Come on! How about waiting for this future event and reporting on it then, rather than jumping to a conclusion about what he calls a “whitewashed, non-kosher franchise in a food court in Stockton?”

Amba offers healthy fast food, served by a local indie restaurant with fun decor and friendly staff. We need more Ambas, and whether it is through their own expansion or stimulating competition for more healthy fast food, they are providing not only a service to their community but to the well-being of future generations.

Stu Sweetow, Oakland

“Death of a Retail Plan,” Feature, 2/15

Redevelopment Is Far From Dead

While the loss of redevelopment creates challenges for Oakland, let’s not give up on the city’s economic future just yet. With First Fridays drawing buzz, The New York Times anointing Oakland a top-five global destination, and the League of American Bicyclists declaring us the fifth best city for bicycle commuters, there’s much to celebrate. The City of Oakland — working with the community — has been moving towards a more holistic, bottom-up approach, including other elements of a healthy neighborhood (residential development, open space, street improvements). As the merchants interviewed in the article note, this organic approach is showing some results.

Far from being “dead,” the Broadway-Valdez planning process was revived in 2010, when the city made a stronger effort to bring in a wide range of stakeholders, including housing and environmental groups, labor, and local residents. We came together in the Better Broadway Coalition, recognizing that commercial revitalization is best achieved in an inclusive and vibrant community, including affordable housing opportunities, transit and bicycle/pedestrian facilities, quality jobs, and retail accessible to local residents. While Oakland needs more retail, our best hope is not to copy the suburbs, but to build on our urban assets by creating a unique district where all Oaklanders can live, work, and get around easily, patronizing local businesses as they do so.

East Bay Housing Organizations has worked with the Better Broadway Coalition and the city to help infuse this more complete vision into the Broadway-Valdez Plan — one where businesses get foot traffic from residents of new and rehabbed housing affordable to seniors, Alta Bates nurses, or Grocery Outlet cashiers. We’ve seen it happen before just a few blocks away, as the Uptown and Fox Courts developments, which include market-rate and affordable housing, revitalized their neighborhood. We believe this future is still possible — and necessary — though as Eric Angstadt notes, it will take a new level of creativity, as the elimination of redevelopment has decimated funding for lower-income housing.

The planners, developers, architects, and advocates in our coalition are fully dedicated to the potential of Broadway Valdez and Oakland. The post-redevelopment road ahead is undoubtedly difficult, but if the city continues on its course of aiming for a mixed-use, mixed-income sustainable neighborhood, we can build a better Broadway Valdez.

Gloria Bruce

Deputy Director of East Bay Housing Organizations

Board member, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland

“Change Is Messy,” Raising the Bar, 2/15

Where’s Mayor Quan?

Nationally, Occupy Wall Street has generally persisted with demands for economic equality (that is the essence of the 99 Percent exaggeration) and an end to the profit-driven ravages of corporations.
The current de facto leadership of Occupy Oakland has largely abandoned those demands. For them it is all about [“Fuck the Police” actions].
Mayor Quan decades ago abandoned the genuine liberal program, which had some appeal to working people and the unemployed. Her liberalism is nothing more than self-centered identity politics.

Charles Pine, Oakland

“Oakland’s Toxic Wall Street Deal,” News, 2/15

Bad Deal, Important Lesson

I think it is safe to assume that, unless we elect only MBAs to public office, most local politicians are not going to understand complex financing instruments and obligations like the credit swaps. But in this case, informed and research-oriented policy staff, and/or in-house or outside legal and bond counsel should have been able to discuss the pros and cons (no pun intended) of the deals, and then policymakers armed with input from the taxpayers and citizen groups could have and would have made measured decisions to enter into these agreements. And, furthermore, before signing on the dotted line, the exemptions, cancellations, and ongoing costs of these deals needed to be vetted for the policymakers so when they enacted the deals they were informed of what the options and outcomes could cost the city and the taxpayer, and ultimately do to the city’s financial standing.

All cities and local agencies need to be less dependent upon the bond sellers and their representatives and have greater access to critical financial analysis. I don’t know if we can fund a methodology to share across the state, the county or similar, but in hindsight, the Oakland City Council would have been well served to have entertained a professional services contract not to exceed $14,999 and hired an independent outside expert to have reviewed and commented on the deal with Goldman Sachs before we were obligated by the contract terms.

Fifteen thousand dollars would seem to have been an excellent “hedge” (pun here is intended) against the potential $46 million cost of the Goldman Sachs deal. I do not recall how long this took originally to go from the finance staff to the City Council Committee to enactment, and what role Goldman played in those efforts prior to receiving the ultimate contract, but let us hope we have learned from our past actions. Patience is a virtue and it may have kept the taxpayers and the City of Oakland from having to face this potential obligation of millions of dollars when we do not have the funds. One can only hope that with new city administration and renewed focus by citizen groups, unions, and councilmembers, Oakland will not make similar process mistakes in the future.

Ken Benson, Oakland

“Council Was Right to Reject Occupy Crackdown,” Seven Days, 2/15

OPD Is the Aggressor

This is not a chicken-or-egg argument. The OPD is the aggressor. Police have been historically violent toward protesters (exemplified in the recent history of the Occupy movement) and the people should not be blamed for defending themselves. It is not up for debate.

Jonathan Pistorino, Oakland

Time to Move On

Since many of the people who have been with Occupy Oakland from the start do not want to disavow the “diversity of tactics” that have alienated the organization from most of Oakland, and the group’s decision-making structure makes it next to impossible to override the strongly held views of a minority, the sensible thing is for everyone outside the radical core to leave Occupy Oakland and start something new. As the title of one recent letter to the editor of the Express said, “Occupy is for occupying.” For the rest with better things to do, it’s time to move on.

Steve Meyers, Berkeley

“The Year’s Most Competitive Race,” News, 2/8

Ambition — or Abandonment?

Does Vice Mayor Rob Bonta think it’s important to finish the job he recently stepped up to? He at least owes it to the residents of Alameda to finish one term of the job. I think of all the resources, people power, and legwork that went into his election. I wonder how his campaign volunteers feel about this new post he wants.

Patricia Rocha-Fernandez, Oakland


In our February 29 art preview, “Post Illusionism,” we mistakenly cited W.H. Auden as the author of the line “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” It was actually written by W.B. Yeats in the poem “The Second Coming.” 


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