Letters for the Week of May 22, 2013

Readers sound off on debt, developers, and disabled parking.

“Debtor’s Purgatory,” Feature, 5/8

Help Is Out There

This article about the attempts of unrepresented debtors to get legal justice highlights the tragic futility of individual responses to systemic abuses. Strike Debt Bay Area is beginning to organize people to respond collectively to all forms of debt — including medical, student, mortgage, and credit card debt as well as auto, pay day, and other loans. We are breaking down the shame, fear, and isolation associated with debt and developing ways to support each other to negotiate fairer financial arrangements. We are also interested in combating the use of debt against public agencies which face exorbitant interest rates from financiers — money which is ultimately paid by all taxpayers.

We have held two Bay Area Debtors’ Assemblies so far this year. The Debtors’ Assembly is a chance to talk with other people, sharing personal experiences and developing ideas for collective action in response to debt. The assembly also includes an introduction to the Strike Debt movement and a presentation about putting personal and municipal debt into the context of modern capitalism. We welcome anyone affected by debt or concerned about the impact of debt to contact us at [email protected]. For more information go to Strike-Debt-Bay-Area.Tumblr.com

Another resource is the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, which is available online at StrikeDebt.org. This publication from New York Strike Debt provides suggestions for individuals to contest debt along with analysis of the economic system promoting debt.

Strike Debt nationally has also created a people’s bailout, the Rolling Jubilee, which raises money to buy debt from debt collectors and then abolishes the debt. $20 in debt can be purchased for about $1. Rolling Jubilee has raised enough money to buy over $11,800,000 in debt. They recently bought over $1 million in emergency room debt in Kentucky and Louisiana and notified the debtors that they no longer owe any money. A West Coast debt purchase may happen soon. For more information, see RollingJubilee.org

Margaret Rossoff, Oakland

“CEQA Reform Bill Is Too Modest,” Seven Days, 5/8

Give Us a Break

Oh, give us a break! Reading the articles on CEQA by Robert Gammon, you would think that developers existed solely to save the planet from global warming, but were constantly foiled by those selfish obstructionists — environmentalists and residents of pleasant neighborhoods.

Some of Gammon’s remarks in the second article sound like extracts from a Monty Python script:

“The bill [SB 731] would prohibit opponents of a housing or mixed-use housing project near a major transit line from suing over its ‘aesthetic impacts’ . . .”

“SB 731 also would place restrictions on lawsuits that concern noise, traffic, and parking issues involving housing or mixed-use housing developments near major transit hubs . . . Currently, CEQA lets anti-growth activists sue to block a smart-growth project if they think it will create ‘too much traffic’ in their neighborhood or won’t provide ‘enough parking.'”

Those naughty neighbors! Putting the beauty, peace and quiet, and unpolluted air of their neighborhoods ahead of the profits of the developers! Outrageous.

Residents of a city have the right to try to preserve their neighborhoods. Period. Incidentally, it is interesting to learn that developers and their cheerleaders generally live in neighborhoods that have exactly the characteristics — charming houses, quiet streets, ample parking — that they are so determined to destroy in parts of the city where they don’t live.

The term “smart growth” occurs repeatedly in Gammon’s articles. For readers who don’t already know it, let me state clearly that this is almost always a euphemism for building whatever developers want to build.

It seems that people are not that eager to inhabit the ugly boxes that developers claim will save the planet. For example, I have never passed the Berkeley apartment complex, Library Gardens, without seeing For Rent signs. Recently a sign-twirler has been seen downtown advertising the vacancies in this project. Vacancy signs are ubiquitous in other newly built structures. Hmmm. Why would a city allow developers to continue putting up buildings when the ones they already have built are not full?

Long after the developers have taken their money and gone, at least some of the more intelligent and civic-minded residents of Berkeley will be asking themselves, “What has happened to the city? Why is it no longer the place we wanted to live in?” But by then, it will be too late.

I cannot close without wondering aloud why the publisher of a once-outstanding alternative newspaper, namely, the East Bay Express, has decided to hand over the editorship to one of the running dogs of the developer class.

Peter Schorer, Berkeley

“Do Disabled Motorists Need Free Parking?,” News, 5/1

A Win-Win

Last Friday at lunch, on 20th Street between San Pablo and Telegraph: 8 placards out of 24 cars parked, or about 3 times what you would expect. Today at lunch on Harrison between 18th and 19th: eleven of the eighteen cars, or six times the norm.
Enforcement on these two blocks could have potentially earned the city up to $28,000! Why isn’t enforcement a top priority? It’s a win-win: a cash cow for the city, and it makes the city more accessible to the truly disabled.

Matt Chambers, Oakland

Raise the Fines

The solution to the placard problem is not to charge disabled people, but rather to check whether the placard is legitimate and whether the driver has the proper documentation in the vehicle. Make the fines high for using the placards illegally. When a privilege is abused there are consequences. Those consequences should follow from the enforcement of the law, not punishing the disabled. I have trouble walking. I would rather be able to walk. The ability to park where I need to without having to worry about meters and time is invaluable to me.

Debra Lagutaris, Oakland

Do the Math

Aside from the problem of people illegally using placards, even the SF Municipal Transit Agency has been mute about this elephant in the room. It’s a classic case of well-intended public policy with drastic unintended negative consequences.

The devastating impact of legitimate placard use has led cities to extend metered hours, expand zones, and introduce alternate parking fee systems. But two recent UCLA studies point out the limits of such actions – one with a title that says it all: “The Price Doesn’t Matter if You Don’t Have to Pay: Legal Exemption as an Obstacle to Market-Priced Parking.”

I was surprised by the stated cost estimate, though. I’m curious how the Oakland officials calculated the $150,000 number – it’s way low. Try this math: meters are $2 an hour, times 8 hours, times a conservative 250 work days – that alone adds up to $4,000 for just one spot. Surely Oakland can’t believe that fewer than 38 spaces are going for free! And that does not include revenue from tickets for parking longer than two hours. Of course, real data would be very helpful, but city and parking agencies are reluctant to provide that information.

Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley


Our May 15 music story “Waltzing Matilda” erroneously stated that Skyler Kilborn plays an iPad. The instrument is actually a Kitara.


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