Letters for the Week of May 9, 2012

Readers sound off on recycling, Fair Trade USA, and West Berkeley's live-work communities.

“Recycling’s Dirty Little Secret,” Feature, 4/25

Cookies for Compost Bins?

I’m writing to appreciate the visibility raised by the article re: no compost bins at multi-family homes, aka the apartment buildings where I’ve lived. My partner and I put our food scraps into three big yogurt containers we keep in the freezer. When the containers are full, one of us takes them over to Whole Foods and plops our frozen food waste into the outside eating area bins. This has been going on for almost two years. Whole Foods doesn’t seem to care, but, I mean, I take my compost to Whole Foods.

Sure, we investigated getting bins for our building, and the process was expensive and annoying and nobody on the waste-getting seemed particularly eager or able to support getting a building on board. Okay, I hear the barriers raised in the article, and, at the same time, excuse me while I roll my eyes far enough back in my head that I don’t even have to roll them: A) Building people are not inherently too opaque to get into composting just because they’re building people. (Also, what planet do people live on where landlords would take initiative on this? I have never lived on that planet, ever.) B) This is the Bay Area: There are probably several (gazillion) green dork entrepreneurial creative types who could pop out stink- and rodent-proof cheapo bin prototype systems for us bigger building folks if somebody gave them some cookies and framed it as a fun challenge.

I would straight up make those cookies.

Emily Cohen, Oakland

“The Battle Over Live-Work Communities,” Eco Watch, 4/25

Unfair and Inaccurate

For all its support of the local culinary and retail economy, one might expect the East Bay Express to understand the value of retaining affordable habitat for working artists and good jobs in manufacturing and industry for working people — lynchpins of the 99 Percent. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

In this article by co-editor Robert Gammon, when measured against the Express‘ ongoing support of Occupy goals, the article’s editorial perspective is not only mystifying in the abstract but destructive of the on-the-ground societal equity the paper purports to champion.

In this latest installment of his ongoing campaign in support of a developer’s plans to install incompatible residents into West Berkeley’s industrial and artistic employment and productions zones, Mr. Gammon continues a pattern of critical factual omission, unchallenged assertions, and mischaracterization of issues and WEBAIC positions that diminish the article’s informative value and the Express‘ reputation for fair and accurate reporting.

The Larger Context: Equity & Sustainability:  In the effort to create a sustainable way for human beings to live in harmony with the Earth’s natural systems and combat climate change, WEBAIC has always supported the creation of more housing in cities. In the urgent push for this policy, some proponents have unfortunately failed to take a thoughtful, comprehensive view and seek housing anywhere without concern for consequences. WEBAIC supports appropriate densification of housing along transit corridors and residential neighborhoods, but putting housing in industrial zones is destructive of good jobs for working people, important local economic activity, and environmental sustainability.

With almost 7,000 family-wage jobs (the major source of jobs for the most disadvantaged workers — those without a college degree) in over 300 industrial companies in West Berkeley, the siting of housing in the industrial zones is not only unnecessary but destructive of regional equity, environmental sustainability, and a thriving local economy responsible for our bread, beer, bikes, and too many important goods and services to possibly name here.

The Development: Doug Herst is seeking to turn his Peerless factory site into a mixed-use development. The site straddles West Berkeley’s Mixed Use Light Industrial Zone (that doesn’t allow residential housing) and Mixed Use Residential Zone (that does). WEBAIC applauds Mr. Herst’s intention to bring jobs and housing to Berkeley.  We do not applaud his intention to bust Berkeley’s zoning boundaries by putting residences into Berkeley’s largest industrial zone, an area created to be free from incompatible residences in order to assure a modest amount of land in the city reserved for sustainably making, recycling, distributing, and repairing the goods we use as a society.  Mr. Herst presently owns property on his development site zoned for housing, yet persists in attempting to set the destructive precedent of opening up the modest 4 percent of Berkeley’s land base reserved for industry and arts production to residents. WEBAIC applauds Mr. Herst’s stated intention to host industry and artist studios, but placing traditional residences in industrial zones has been consistently shown, from SOMA to SOHO, to inflate property values and create conflicts leading to displacement of the very uses and jobs Mr. Herst claims to support.

Express Article Statements and WEBAIC Responses: Clarification of two core misstatements in Mr. Gammon’s article: WEBAIC has never opposed or “blocked” green-tech expansion in West Berkeley — the opposite is true.

WEBAIC has never “blocked” housing on Master Use Permit development sites. In fact, we have supported the creation of hundreds of residential units on these sites on land where housing is presently allowed.

Express: “Despite the protestations of some local residents and businesses, the council opened portions of West Berkeley to companies involved in research and development — a move that recognized that the economy is shifting toward green-collar jobs.”

WEBAIC Response: WEBAIC was key to creating the policies and compromises allowing hundreds of thousands of existing square feet of space (and millions of build able square feet) to be utilized for R&D. There is no requirement this space accommodate R&D, or that R&D be green tech — the mayor has stated it will likely be biotech. WEBAIC is the West Berkeley organization with the most numerous companies and jobs in green-collar fields. The City of Berkeley Green Collar Jobs Study concluded that preserving affordable, industrially zoned land, free from incompatible uses such as housing, was the most important requirement for green-collar jobs.

Express: “Now the council is weighing a proposal to create live-work communities on two parcels in West Berkeley so that green-tech workers can live right next to their jobs.”

WEBAIC Response: A) Only one developer has stated an intention to build housing on a development site, not two. B) There is no requirement that businesses on these sites be green-tech.  There is no requirement that proposed housing be set aside for on-site workers, green-tech or no. The planned units are 300 to 600 square feet, a questionable size to attract workers, let alone those with families and children. With thousands of housing units within walking and biking distance of Bayer in West Berkeley now, only a very small percentage of Bayer’s 1,200 employees live in Berkeley, let alone West Berkeley, with the city’s most affordable housing stock. C) The two sites discussed both already contain residentially zoned property permitting housing. The developers are seeking to bust the prohibition on housing in industrial zones to open these relatively cheap lands to highly profitable residential development.

Express:  “The plan would also help the city meet the goals of its landmark Climate Change Action Plan, which aims to get commuters out of their cars.”

WEBAIC Response:  In contradiction to Mr. Gammon’s assertion, the Environmental Impact Report for these projects states that the developments will increase greenhouse-gas emissions and “conflict with the Clean Air Plan and criteria pollutants reduction measures” created by BAAQMD, MTC, and ABAG. The Goods Movement Report by Hausrath Economics for the MTC states that the displacement of industrial businesses and their employees by housing is “contrary to region’s Smart Growth Vision/FOCUS program and will result in more truck miles traveled and greater emissions of pollutants, including VOCs, CO, NOx, SO2, PM2.5, and PM10.”

Express: “the commission decided to allow the ‘intermingling’ of housing with green tech on the two sites.”

WEBAIC Response: The Berkeley Planning Commission voted to allow housing to potentially “intermingle” with not only green tech, but all industrial uses allowed in the Mixed Use Light Industrial zone, a recipe for incompatibility and displacement of good jobs and industry.

Express: “Some of the same groups that opposed green-tech R&D in West Berkeley are now trying to block the construction of dense housing on two large sites in the area.”

WEBAIC Response:  A) Continuously repeating the assertion that WEBAIC opposed green tech R&D in West Berkeley” does not turn fiction into truth. WEBAIC has never opposed green tech R&D, has green tech R&D companies in its membership, and has green-lighted millions of square feet for its use.  B) WEBAIC has never opposed the creation of “dense housing on two large sites in the area.” The developments in question can build hundreds of units on their property now in appropriately zoned areas. WEBAIC staff Rick Auerbach told Mr. Gammon WEBAIC was open to appropriately sited densification of housing on residentially zoned property on development sites, a critical fact not reported.

Express: “Moreover, without the housing, green-tech workers will be forced to live elsewhere and commute to West Berkeley, worsening area traffic and parking problems, and increasing greenhouse-gas emissions. … the number of available sites for housing on San Pablo appears to be limited.”  

WEBAIC Response:  No one will be “forced to live elsewhere.” Housing can be built on site now, just not on the industrially zoned sections. Beyond any specific site, West Berkeley’s industrial zones are surrounded by numerous opportunities for a large amount of housing creation along San Pablo Avenue, University Avenue, Fourth Street, the Mixed Use Residential zone, and the core Residential-1A zone, all within one to four blocks of the industrial zones.  San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley is two miles long, built as mostly one story where four to five stories are allowed, has many potential housing sites, and at least four new housing developments already permitted. Berkeley’s recent Planning Director Dan Marks said it clearly last year in his 2011 “Response to City Council Questions”: “The adjacent residential and commercial districts provide more than enough space for new housing within walking/biking distance of the three industrial zoning districts.”

Express: “Currently, city zoning laws allow Herst to build housing on his site — but only on certain sections of it. Herst says he needs the flexibility to build housing on other portions of his site, too, in order to integrate peoples’ lives with their work.”

WEBAIC Response: People living a half a block or a block from their work in no way impedes the integration of peoples’ lives with their work.

Express: “You can’t throw all the housing the city is going to need onto San Pablo.”

WEBAIC Response: With the vast majority of Berkeley land zoned residential and commercial, both allowing housing, and “all the housing the city is going to need” doesn’t have to be on San Pablo, and certainly doesn’t need to be on the small 4 percent of land comprising the industrial production and employment zones.

Rick Auerbach and West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies

Robert Gammon Responds

Mr. Auerbach and WEBAIC can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that “people living a half a block or a block from their work in no way impedes the integration of peoples’ lives with their work,” while also arguing that if people live next door to their work, instead of a “half a block or a block,” it will be “destructive of good jobs for working people” and force companies to flee the area. Really? A half-block is meaningless on the one hand, but on the other it will lead to the destruction of West Berkeley?

In reality, Mr. Herst’s development calls for an expansion of industrial/warehouse uses beyond what is currently in place on his property. As such, there won’t be any net job losses. In addition, his proposal envisions a true live-work environment, in which people live next to — or even above or below — their workspaces. For that, he needs more flexibility from the city, as the story stated.

You also factually misstate the public record. You claim that “WEBAIC has never opposed green tech R&D” in West Berkeley. That’s plainly false. I was in attendance at a March 2010 Berkeley Planning Commission meeting in which you loudly argued against the expansion of R&D in West Berkeley beyond a handful of sites. You made the same argument against R&D then as you’re making against housing now — that it would displace traditional blue-collar industrial and warehouse jobs.

But now you’ve seemed to have changed your mind, and claim that your organization is a big supporter of green-tech R&D. Great, glad to hear it. Will you be saying the same thing about housing for green-tech workers in two years?

You also now suddenly claim that you’re open to dense housing on Herst’s site. But when I interviewed you last month, you specifically said that your organization opposed Herst’s proposal to build 75-foot-tall buildings for housing that would create the density he envisions on his property. So which Auerbach are you — the one I interviewed last month, the one from two years ago, or the one who authored the above letter?

You also repeatedly misrepresent the purported effects of allowing housing to be “intermingled” with green-tech and other commercial uses on two sites in West Berkeley. There is no proof that intermingling on the two sites is going to suddenly cause other companies on other properties to flee the area. Housing, as you point out, is already allowed on those sites (but only in specific areas of them). As such, there could be housing on those properties today — as you note — and yet you contend that this type of housing won’t cause businesses to flee West Berkeley. In other words, you’re essentially saying that housing on some parts of those properties is fine, but if put on other parts, it will destroy the fabric of the area. That’s just hyperbole, and I’m surprised you can keep making this argument with a straight face.

In reality, your true concern, as you admitted in our interview, is that if the Berkeley City Council allows “intermingling” of housing and commercial uses on the two sites, and allows 75-foot-tall buildings for housing on the two properties, then the council will later allow this to happen throughout West Berkeley — a domino effect, if you will. It’s your real fear, and I reported it as such in the story’s second paragraph.

“Will Your Coffee Still Be Fair Trade?” News, 4/28

Fair Trade USA’s Mistake

It is so refreshing to see some media putting out a discussion on this unfortunate new initiative by the Fair Trade USA office to dilute the meaning and application of Fair Trade.

An estimated 70 percent of the world’s total coffee production is cultivated by 10 million small-scale farmers, cultivating less than 10 hectares of land in 80 coffee-producing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The vast majority of them lack access to clean water, basic education, decent housing, and, all too often, adequate food on the table. Add to the mix that most coffee-producing countries have economic policies that favor and incentivize large-scale production and traders — thus leaving small-scale farmers to struggle for market share on a very uneven playing field, left “to compete” without access to adequate credit, inputs, or technology.

Those contradictions and inequalities were precisely what fair trade had been attempting to address — using trade as a vehicle to promote sustainable development in farmer communities.

Prior to my work with CoopCoffees, I spent ten years living in Central America and Mexico and working with small-scale-farmer organizations. During that time I learned about the countless obstacles these small-scale farmers face and the critical importance of their becoming united in well-organized and economically viable cooperatives.

“Changing the world one cup at a time” is a catchy phrase, but we should remind ourselves that purchasing coffee at “fair prices” is only the first step down a very long road. The transformative work has only just begun in farmer communities — and the possibility for that work to continue depends on our collective capacity to support locally based farmer organizations. An individual farmer cannot tackle all the economic and political forces working against him.

If someone tells you that he believes paying a few pennies more per pound to individual farmers — or, worse yet, trickled down through the local plantation owner — will have an impact on farmer community development, I say he is either naive or simply leading you on.

Today more than ever we need engaged consumers to open their eyes, ask questions, and dig deeper into the products they purchase — if they want to have any assurance that they are getting what they think is fair trade!

Monika Firl, Producer Relations Manager, Cooperative Coffees

Fair Trade USA Is Wrong

In my humble opinion, it is clearly wrong what Paul Rice and the board of Fair Trade USA are doing.

As one of the pioneers in Fair Trade in North America, we put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to develop the fair-trade market. However, anything we did was pretty minor compared to what was done by small-scale producers of coffee and other products who literally gave their lives to bring hope to their families and communities.

If Paul Rice feels he now wants to do fair trade differently, he should have the integrity and the courage to call it something different. He should not steal the intellectual property of defenseless small producers for whom fair trade is the only real hope for a better future.

If, indeed, it were one of Mr. Rice’s corporate clients that he was stealing from, he would be dragged before the courts in a hurry.

What he is doing is wrong because “fair trade” is not his to do with as he pleases. It rightfully belongs to small producers who have developed a worldwide market for their quality and socially and environmentally responsible products. For Fair Trade USA to unilaterally take the fair-trade concept and change it for its own purposes is wrong and should not be supported in any way.

Jeff Moore, co-founder

Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op

Fair Trade USA Responds

Richard, thank you very much for your questions and concerns. To answer your question about premiums — yes, all of the premiums are managed, voted on, and used by the workers themselves. This is a requirement of the fair-trade standards. A large portion of fair-trade tea, bananas, and flowers already comes from large farms or estates. Fair trade has been very successful on these farms, and has made a tremendous difference in the lives of farmworkers who do not own land and cannot form or join a cooperative.

On existing farms, as well as in our first coffee pilot, the workers vote on and elect a Fair Trade committee. That committee manages the premium fund. We currently have one farm certified under our new Draft Farm Workers Standard, a large, 100-percent organic farm in Brazil called Fazenda Nossa Senhora de Fatima. The 110 workers there have democratically decided to use their first premiums to bring eye and dental care to the workers and their families. Some of the older workers received their very first pair of eyeglasses a few weeks ago, and can see clearly for the first time in their lives.

If you have any additional questions about the standards, how they were developed, and how premium distribution works, I highly encourage you to read the standards on our website: FairTradeUSA.org/certification/standards. Our new standards are open for public comment, and we welcome and appreciate any feedback you may have.

Jenna Larson, Fair Trade USA

“Ranked-Choice Voting Repeal Blocked,” Seven Days, 4/25

A Complex Question

It’s important to realize that we’re not talking about any particular voting method being “bad” in an absolute sense, but rather, better or worse, relative to other available systems.

Instant Runoff Voting is generally thought to be the worst of the commonly proposed alternative voting systems. You can see this as expressed via Bayesian Regret calculations here: ScoreVoting.net/bayregsfig.html.

Apart from that measure of performance (ability to satisfy the preferences of the average voter), IRV also has a number of practical liabilities, such as making it impossible to have precinct subtotals resulting in a requirement for centralized counting. As to whether it is better than the Top-Two Runoff system that it replaced, that is a very complex question to answer.

A lot of people genuinely believe that the traditional delayed runoff helps voters to make more informed decisions. By contrast, it was clear in the last San Francisco mayoral race that many voters did not have a particularly full understanding of the candidates’ experience and positions, because there were more than ten viable candidates. On the other side, there are those who believe runoffs allow too much influence from special interests. Both sides of this argument have good points. The fact that there’s legitimate debate seems to bolster the argument that former San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos is making, that voters deserve a chance to re-evaluate and decide for themselves whether to keep using IRV.

While they may have initially supported IRV by a good margin, the reality is that IRV was promoted on the basis of numerous misleading and even false claims:

Proponents claimed IRV would incent voters to cast sincere rankings. Utterly false: Electology.org/irv-plurality.

Proponents claimed IRV would eliminate the spoiler effect. Also false: Electology.org/spoiler.

IRV was called “as easy as 1-2-3,” but the vast majority of voters don’t understand it. We use it here in San Francisco, and plenty of smart software engineers I’ve worked with couldn’t even explain it. Proof here: Electology.org/approval-score-sf#TOC-Intuitive-understanding.

In general, FairVote and other groups who promoted IRV have a long history of making these sorts of outrageous claims, and also feeding them to groups like the League of Women Voters, who then become unwitting participants in the act of disseminating false information. You can see an egregious example of that here: Electology.org/san-leandro-inamdar.

Now that there’s greater awareness of these realities, a second evaluation of IRV could lead to a very different result. Again, this is simply about giving voters the opportunity to have their say, now that they’ve used the system.

Clay Shentrup, San Francisco

The Center for Election Science


Our May 2 news story, “OPD Takes More Steps Backward,” erroneously stated that the Oakland City Council had rejected a new $250,000 contract for Frazier Group LLC. The city administrator withdrew the contract before the council voted on it. 


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