Letters for the week of November 25-December 1

Readers sound off on affordable housing in Oakland, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus' departure, and Grand Fare's closure

“Family Friendly Getaways,” Holiday Guide, 11/25

Here’s Another Idea

Good choices. Also try camping at Hendy Woods State Park in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino. It’s not too far away, and you have the entire Mendocino Coast to explore. There’s also much wine tasting, most of which is still free. Good restaurants, too.

Kurt Schoeneman, Boonville

“Oakland Eyes Affordable Housing Plan in Secret,” News, 11/25

A Lack of Political Will

Your article points out accurately that previous policy makers in Oakland have consistently delayed and avoided an inclusionary housing ordinance. However, the one nuance to the story is that the Blue Ribbon Commission members were selected by both mayors [Jerry] Brown and [Ron] Dellums. Instead of secret meetings of invited guests only, that commission, composed of members selected by the council, held public meetings in every district in the city. In fact, there were seventeen public meetings over a four-month period to solicit comments from the community.

For the most part, the same players listed in this article were a part of that process. Jeff Levin was one of the city staff members facilitating the process and Linda Hausrath prepared the background economic analysis for the recommendations forwarded to the city council.

After the recommendations were presented in the fall of 2008, the city council did nothing. It is ironic that [ex-Councilmember] Jane Brunner would suggest in the article that the only two reasons why nothing happened was fear of discouraging development and campaign contributions. The fact is that the economic analysis of the housing market in 2008 revealed that the only neighborhoods where property values would reasonably support inclusionary fees were primarily in her district. Temescal and Rockridge were the places where, in theory, affordable housing fees would not discourage new projects. Can you imagine Brunner leading a public discussion about affordable housing being built in two of Oakland’s special white neighborhoods? Brunner did not have the will or courage to make that happen. As a result, nothing happened.

I don’t know what is going on currently in the planning department, but every time we should be hearing from the planning director about public process and policy, it seems like there are more secret meetings and Mike Ghielmetti [president of Signature Development Group] is speaking.

With the increase in citywide property values in the current housing bubble, there is no question that the time to adopt an inclusionary ordinance is now. More delays or a failure to act is not because of the lack of information. It would once again be fear and the lack of political will.

Isn’t it amazing that many cities throughout the state have addressed this issue years ago, and Oakland still somehow can’t seem to get anything done?

Gary Patton, former deputy director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Oakland, Hayward

“Goodbye, Mr. Magnus,” News, 11/25

Please Promote from Within

Awesome story about an awesome chief. Fascinating analysis that the mass departure of (incompetent) department heads during a financial crisis actually enabled a positive transformation.

I’ll miss Chief Chris Magnus more than I can say. As a fifteen-year Richmond resident, I can attest to how dramatically things changed from an often adversarial relationship with the police to an outstanding one. I hope the new chief is promoted from within so we get someone who reflects Magnus’ values.

Janis Mara, Richmond

“Market on Hold,” What The Fork, 11/25

Too Bad

It was such a great location, and the outdoor space was so special, but the kinks in the service and offerings [at Grand Fare Market] were to be expected for such an ambitious and needed facility. Oh, well.

Lydia Nayo, Oakland

Good Idea, Poor Execution

As an architect, and a retail specialist, I was disappointed but not surprised to hear of this closure. Grand Fare had absolutely no organizational logic or flow. It was completely unclear where the customer should order, what they should order, or where they should pay. Hot entrees, cold salads, cold cuts, cheese, bread, wine — choices and prices were not displayed or adequately listed on the menu. The staffing levels were off the chart (one evening I observed thirteen staffers waiting on four customers) and the hours (seven days week until 8 a.m.–10 p.m.) were unrealistically ambitious. The staffers were completely untrained and did not appear to understand their roles — for example, no one in the deli area knew how to use the meat slicer. I waited in line at the cashier for ten minutes once while the “bartender” stood by the second register and looked indifferent.

I had hoped that Grand Fare would be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood and a great resource for busy professionals who need a quick fix for dinner, more like The Pasta Shop in Rockridge. I urge the owners to carefully study the way The Pasta Shop displays their prepared foods and organizes the ordering, preparing, and cashier process — a successful process refined after many years of trial and error. It would be wonderful to see the restaurant return after some thoughtful analysis and reorganization — the customer base is definitely there.

Jessica Seaton, San Rafael

“Letters to the Future,” Feature, 11/18

Ten Reasons to Act on Climate Change

To reinforce the cogent statements regarding possible futures, here are ten reasons we all should be very concerned about climate change:

1. Science academies worldwide, 97 percent of climate scientists, and 99.9 percent of peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals argue that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity.

2. Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade, and all of the sixteen warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have occurred since 1998. 2014 was the warmest year recorded and 2015 is on track to exceed it by a mile.

3. Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections.

4. There has been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. There seem to be stories about this almost daily on TV news.

5. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events (heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and mudslides when heavy rains occur) recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”

6. Many climates experts believe that we are close to a tipping point when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur.

7. While climate scientists believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world reached 400 ppm in 2014, and the amount is increasing by 2–3 ppm per year.

8. While climate scientists hope that temperature increases can be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), largely because that is the best that can be hoped for with current trends and momentum, the world is now on track for an average increase of 4–5 degrees Celsius, which would produce a world with almost unimaginably negative climate events.

9. The Pentagon and other military groups believe that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refugees fleeing from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.

10. The conservative group ConservAmerica (ConservAmerica.org), formerly known as “Republicans for Environmental Protection,” is very concerned about climate change threats. They are working to end the denial about climate threats and the urgency of working to avert them on the part of the vast majority of Republicans, but so far with very limited success.

Richard Schwartz, New York City

“Oakland’s Sweeping Plan for Parking,” News, 10/28

It’s Not for Oakland

Parking plans of the sort suggested here have long been used in European central downtown areas for the purposes of streamlining access to parking and thus access to shopping and other urban activities. These plans can help improve the quality of the street environment by reducing noise and other pollution which results from “search traffic” (drivers repeatedly circling looking for close-by parking).

Improvements like these can make a big difference in area economic vitality but such plans cannot be viewed as revenue enhancers. In fact, such plans are invariably costly for the cities that implement them properly.

There are real and critical barriers to successful implementation of such plans in the United States, and especially in Oakland. Costs include pervasive high-quality signage to direct traffic to nearby off-street parking so that search traffic is effectively discouraged. Off-street parking, whether in lots or garages, is not free, and garages aren’t cheap to construct.

All aspects of the local area environment must be properly coordinated in a plan: Sidewalks and streets must be pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. Public transit must be easily available.

What is most likely to happen in Oakland is that a half-baked plan will be approved by the council, which will then be inadequately funded. The net result will be that a mayor can talk about how progressive Oakland is, but life on the street won’t change a bit.

Hobart Johnson, Oakland

“Racial Profiling via Nextdoor.com,” Feature, 10/7

It’s About Class Shaming

Neighborhood message boards are being used for destructive purposes besides racial profiling, and neighbor bashing is becoming more prevalent as the downtown districts in Oakland continue to grow. “Class shaming” is the term for the anti-social behavior instigated by people who perceive themselves to be more (monetarily) “relevant” because they live in neighborhoods downtown that are now expensive. Usually these people are transplants and believe they run the “new” neighborhood.

My wife and I grew up in Oakland. When we first moved to Old Town Square (Old City) we experienced class shaming. We were approached by an odd young neighbor in the building who informed us they were a “longtime resident” and wanted to “warn us” about which neighbors we should avoid and why. The neighbor told us a slew of horrible lies about people we barely knew to turn us against them (neighbor is a child abuser, drug addict, cheating alcoholic, crazy liar, etc.) and seemed agitated that new people were moving in. We decided it was better to keep to ourselves, and the neighbor retaliated by slandering us to the neighbors so we would look like liars.

We later learned from another neighbor who was a psychiatrist, who had also had problems with this person, that the neighbor had mental illness and used message boards to hurt neighbors’ reputations. He explained that people who class shame others feel unworthy and will attack anyone, regardless of their race, because they degrade peoples’ characters and scrutinize their material wealth as a measure of their “worth” instead. They use catchphrases like “betterment of the neighborhood,” “family friendly,” or “people like them” to socially include or exclude people and divide the community. They join every neighborhood group available so they have more access to spread lies and to create sub-groups.

This neighbor enlisted other neighbors with her lies and told them to attack our family, our businesses, and anything they could based on the information she was giving them. But our children suffered the most. How do you explain to a child why adults are being bullies? Moreover, how can these people live with themselves? Our neighbors went to great lengths, even to the point of nearly breaking the law, to try and make us move. Those neighbors who harassed us are now under investigation for related issues, but the neighborhood has noticeably suffered. Attacking your neighbors only tears communities apart, it doesn’t make them stronger. And it makes shamers look stupid. Put that message on your board.

John Tam, Oakland

Berkeley Nextdoor Is for Racists

I recently resigned my Berkeley Nextdoor registration because the site “leads” are conservative and racist, and they censor comments simply because they disagree with the comments.

Recently, I read a post on Nextdoor about a homeless friend of mine. This guy is very well known in downtown Berkeley and, for real, gets along well with the Berkeley Police Department. He does the landscaping for police headquarters!! But the censors allowed someone to accuse this sweet, harmless but apparently mentally ill person of being a heroin addict (he is not a heroin addict), accused him of violence (he is as gentle as a lamb and actually fears being assaulted himself), and of being a thief who “steals” garbage. Substitute the n-word for homeless and you will see how grossly unacceptable it is to write about a recognizable human being and accuse that person of being a heroin addict, violent, and a criminal. But on Nextdoor, they let that comment stay up and they censored people who defended their homeless friend. It is not okay to grossly malign a homeless person, as if they don’t count as a human or as a citizen with civil rights.

Nextdoor chooses strange community “leads” who have total power to censor opinions, and they seem to censor them when they simply disagree with an opinion.

I wish the Express would do a story about the racist “suspicions” that are steadily posted on Nextdoor. If you go by Nextdoor in Berkeley, all crime is done by Black people.

Another time I got censored — some Nextdoor regular was frequently posting about what he believes, with no legal proof, is a gang of stolen bike thieves or an open stolen bike market. He sees a few Black males in Civic Center Park and bingo, he characterizes it as an open stolen bike market. So I wrote to point out, since I am a law school grad (but not licensed in California), that the guy had no evidentiary foundation for accusing a few guys hanging out with bikes as criminals — and I got censored/erased.

As far as I can tell, conservatism, bigotry, and racism are the baseline for Berkeley Nextdoor.

Tree Fitzpatrick, Berkeley

Miscellaneous Letter

Lighten Up

Geez, you guys are becoming as bad as the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle in that if it isn’t bad news about Oakland, it isn’t news about Oakland. What with crime, terrorism, rising rents, police brutality, evil Kaiser, coal, etc., etc., I don’t want to bury my head in the sand but just once in while, [I want to find] one of your advertisers, movies, restaurants, and bars without wading through doom and gloom. Really, there are good things in Oakland, after all.

Clive Scullion, Oakland


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