Letters for the Week of May 23, 2012

Readers sound off on Bus Rapid Transit, Matt Stewart, and Occupy.

“BRT Is not a Done Deal,” News, 5/9

What Happened to Curbside BRT?

There is only one Bus Rapid Transit system in the US that takes away the center two traffic lanes out of a four-lane corridor and uses them for buses only. The most common form of BRT, particularly when there are only four lanes, is curbside BRT, which uses the right-side lane for buses. The rapid buses stop at bulb-outs and local service is retained with stops at existing curbs. This gives faster, more reliable service without displacing parking and without forcing riders to wait for buses in the middle of traffic. In fact, the bulb-outs are a twofer; they are not only bus stops, they are mini-parks at no construction costs or maintenance for the city. Curbside BRT is superior for bus riders (particularly those with mobility problems), for businesses, for pedestrians, for bicyclists, and even for cars. So it seems like what Joe Mufasa is looking for. For more info check out my blog: ACTransitWatch.Wordpress.com

Joyce Roy, Oakland

Environmentalism Isn’t Always Easy

I was very encouraged when I first read about the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal that was to whisk commuters from downtown Berkeley to downtown San Leandro along corridors on which BART does not go. It is now very discouraging and infuriating that even supposedly environmentally progressive places like Oakland and Berkeley are either rejecting or greatly reducing a public transit program that would get many people out of cars. Berkeley started this by selfishly rejecting BRT because some parking spaces along Telegraph Avenue would be lost. Now people in Oakland are complaining that the East Oakland section would increase the speed of bus traffic and might cause traffic delays in front of a temple. I’m especially outraged by the selfish attitude of the people in Berkeley who are responsible for eliminating that portion of the route. This is certainly not the Berkeley in which I lived from 1983 to 1988, and makes me apprehensive about the Berkeley to which I’ll soon be returning.

If we are ever going to stop destroying the Earth by, among other things, using fossil fuels, we cannot let what in comparison are petty complaints stop things like BRT. Modern humans can come up with all sorts of excuses why we don’t want to give up our destructive unnatural lifestyles. But there are only two choices: live more simply and naturally — which in this case means eventually getting private motor vehicles out of urban areas, for starters — or continue to have Gulf of Mexico- and Exxon Valdez-type oil spills and burn up the planet with human-caused climate change.

Because everyone in this society was born into a world of cars, they seem as natural as the sky. But the facts are that cars didn’t even exist a little over 100 years ago, and fewer than 10 percent of the people on this planet drive. We need to consider the health of the earth in everything we do in modern life. Driving is the one thing that almost everyone in this society does that is very harmful to our planet and could easily be eliminated. If we have to make some relatively small sacrifices in order to get people out of cars, they would be well worth it. The only other choice is to continue the massive harm that we are doing by driving. Real environmentalism is about priorities. If you don’t prioritize the environment, how can you call yourself an environmentalist?

Jeff Hoffman, Oakland

Listen to the Community

I strongly feel that AC Transit should modify the BRT proposal to accommodate the needs of each community addressed in this article. AC Transit is a wonderful public transportation system in the East Bay; however, I would encourage the agency to be more culturally sensitive to the populations that rely on its services. The planning should continue until the officials find a great way to improve the welfare of all communities that will be impacted. Convenience, equity, health impact, efficiency, and attractiveness are important factors to consider.

Joe Lee, Oakland

It’s About Cars, Not Convenience

BRT not a done deal? Sure, that’s true. It’s a big project and affects many groups of people. It requires careful planning and getting groups together to deal with the difficulties.

I get very weary of people who claim that AC Transit is ignoring objections and mindlessly pushing a pet project without much regard for the public interest. I was especially annoyed by the minister who blustered about complaining to the feds if his issues were not dealt with.

If anything, AC Transit has spent too much time stroking each and every interest group. I’m afraid that BRT will be studied and compromised until it becomes unworkable.

If BRT service is not faster and more reliable than current bus service, it will not attract enough new riders to justify its cost. BRT is not a gift to people like me, who will ride buses anyway. BRT is not a gift to the disabled, who can use Paratransit if riding buses is too onerous.

BRT is a gift to people who clog our streets with their cars.

The prime purpose of BRT is to get a substantial number of cars off the roads by motivating the drivers of those cars to become transit riders. If this does not happen, there’s simply no point to building BRT. There’s no need for it because the present buses, especially the rapid lines, are the best that can be done.

I have scant sympathy for BRT opposition based on loss of on-street parking spaces, or on not wanting to give the BRT a bus-only lane. If BRT is really going to succeed in weaning drivers from their car habit, then implementing the BRT definitely should make car driving less convenient and more onerous.

All the other issues I see raised — for example, center versus curbside routes, traffic speed, allocation of bus stops and lane access for emergency vehicles, etc. — can be dealt with by negotiation and careful planning, but they are secondary to making sure BRT motivates enough car drivers to become bus riders.

Steve Geller, Berkeley

“Coaches Question How Matt Stewart Got Hired,” News, 5/9

The Community Is Complicit

No doubt some investigative reporter is trying to find out how Matt Stewart was hired in spite of his lack of qualifications (and reasons for his disqualification), so that similarly egregious mistakes are prevented in the future. But blame should not be the aim. Instead, informing the community as to what it can do in this kind of situation — other than getting the attention of news media! — would seem to be important for ensuring that competent personnel are hired when a district administration pursues a “stonewall” policy. Cheers for the Express, but West County residents shouldn’t have to always depend on its watchful eye.

Ruby MacDonald, El Cerrito

Where’s District Leadership?

I am concerned that the West Contra Costa Unified School District leadership has not come out with any statement condemning the behavior of any employee that engaged in or did not report such emails. WCCUSD has spent a large amount of money on consultants to speak on cultural inclusion, racism and sexism. They are very quick to punish students for their behaviors, yet they hide behind “personnel confidentiality,” which allows for the perpetuation of racism, sexism, and other deplorable behavior. The district should form a committee to research, review, and make recommendations on the plight of students of color and staff insensitivity.

Scottie Smith, Richmond

“Police Chief Deserves a Mixed Review,” Seven Days, 5/9

An Empty “Improvement”

Robert Gammon gives unwarranted praise to Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan for his new tactics of snatch squads, which target select individuals in a demonstration for quick arrest. Gammon, once again repeating the skewed version of reality promoted by OPD, claims that those “pinpointed … appear to be bent on vandalism and violence,” and he is satisfied that this tactic offers a “glimmer of hope” and “an improvement” over previous methods of quashing and dispersing demonstrations by kettling hundreds, along with the copious (sometimes indiscriminate, sometimes targeted) deployment of tear gas and flash-bang grenades. What seems clear is that the latter don’t frighten most protesters after one or two exposures, marking their serious failure as crowd-control techniques (for which they are not intended in the first place) — so now OPD brass have decided that a different manner of sowing fear, chaos, and confusion among nonviolent protesters is in order.

What I witnessed on May Day was squads of six to eight officers picking out individuals from their list of Occupiers to watch — which includes not just the dozen activists with dubious stay-away orders. I also witnessed the snatching of those who were especially vocal in their condemnation of the new tactic as it was being used; in being surrounded and protected by up to a dozen of their colleagues, the arresting police can be as brutal as they like. For the most part, though, I saw the snatch squads going after those protesters who were carrying shields to protect themselves and their friends from the routine and punitive use of chemical and other supposedly less-than-lethal weapons. Many times those with shields were targeted just to get the shields away from them, in order to make protesters more vulnerable to attack; no arrest followed those bullying forays into the crowd to grab these dangerous hooligans.

Who were the protesters arrested for allegedly being intent on vandalism? I’m not the only one who suspects they were specifically selected from OPD’s Occupy protester playbook, those with previous arrests on trumped-up (and obviously political) charges that will never stick. People who defy arbitrary and brutal treatment, who resist the cavalier deployment of chemical weapons, who dare to stand up to the consistently out-of-control bullying by the police are being targeted for special (punitive) treatment in the streets. And it doesn’t matter to the arresting officers if their charges are absurd; the important thing for them is to suppress any manifestation of resistance in that moment. OPD’s message all along is that any defiance or refusal to accept their brutality will continue to be met with their first resort: violence.

The primary purpose of the snatch squads is to attack nonviolent protesters pre-emptively, to intimidate everyone nearby, and, like other arrests stemming from Occupy, to take certain people off the street for weeks (if not months), as they are forced into the harassing maze of the criminal justice system. This new tactic for OPD is not a means of arresting people who are allegedly engaging in illegal activity, and is certainly not meant to be a method of crowd control. How Gammon can believe this is “an improvement” over the kettling and gassing of non-violent protesters only makes sense in a climate that tolerates, and encourages, rampant and systemic police corruption and brutality, which is not just a problem in Oakland — see the recent too-big-to-ignore scandals with gang culture inside the LA County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s long-running antics in Phoenix. Readers of the Express might remember that such routine police abuses are the very things that are helping to drive OPD into federal receivership.

Lawrence Jarach, Berkeley

“The Sporting Life,” Summer Guide, 5/9

Don’t Forget Four Square

What about Four Square of the East Bay? They meet every week on Thursday nights, year round, in the Rockridge BART station parking lot and play four square (the kids’ playground game). It’s been happening for years now. It’s super-friendly, totally free, and a whole lot of fun. Perfect for after the bar or after BARTing back to your car. Find them on Facebook.

Sam Mende-Wong, Oakland

Editors’ Note

The Express won nine awards, three of which were first place, in the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club’s Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards, the winners of which were announced at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City on Saturday, May 19.

The paper won first place among non-daily papers for general excellence, which covers all aspects of the paper’s design and content. Elsewhere in the non-dailies division, co-editor Robert Gammon took top honors for news columns for Full Disclosure, and freelancer Kibby Kleiman won first in the sports story category for “The Road Less Traveled,” his feature-length profile of Oakland bicyclist Beth Newell. Art Director Brian Kelly took home second place for page design for his cover art associated with the September 21 feature, “How Peet’s Starbucked Itself.” That story, written by staff writer/web editor Ellen Cushing and concerning shifting corporate culture at the beloved East Bay coffee chain, also won second place among feature stories of a serious nature. “Hate Man,” a profile of the titular Berkeley fixture written by co-editor Kathleen Richards and freelancer Sandeep Abraham, won another second-place award on the other side of that coin, for feature story of a light nature. “Kind of Blue,” music editor Rachel Swan’s cover story on the state of jazz in the East Bay, also won a second-place plaque, for non-daily entertainment stories. Finally, “Culture Spy” won third in the feature columns division, and Cushing’s “Trashed” won third in the news story division.

Because the East Bay Press Club has ceased holding awards dinners, the Peninsula Press Club contest has come to be the Bay Area’s primary journalism competition, covering papers from eleven counties in the East, South, and North Bay, as well as San Francisco proper. This year, the San Jose Mercury News won the most awards, with 26; among non-daily newspapers, Palo Alto Weekly took home the most plaques, ten, followed by the Express with nine. According to the press club, this year’s awards were selected from 440 entries, and were judged by press clubs in Bakersfield, Cleveland, Florida, Milwaukee, San Diego, and New Orleans.

Call for Reader Submissions

Do you have a pet? Do you have a funny/sad/poignant/heroic story about said pet? Of course you do! And we want to hear all about it. Send your story (no more than 500 words) and optional photo, along with your name and city of residence, to [email protected], or Ellen Cushing, East Bay Express, 620 3rd St., Oakland, CA 94607. We may publish your story in our Pets issue, coming out June 6. Stories must be received by May 31.


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