Letters for the Week of October 17, 2012

Readers sound off on Measure S, Trattoria La Siciliana, and the Oakland Zoo.


Our October 10 news story “Disturbing New Evidence About OPD” mistakenly stated that private investigator Jan Gilbrecht had been hired by civil rights attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin.

Our October 10 election story “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” erroneously stated the amount of the so-called “trigger cuts” that would take place should Proposition 30 fail. It’s $6 billion, not $4.8 billion. Also, the current state tax rate for high-income earners is 9.3 percent, not 11.5 percent.


“Unfounded Fears,” Election 2012, 10/3

S Is About Removal, Not Rehabilitation

Rachel Swan strolls the avenues with John Caner, the gangly CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, and a prime mover behind Measure S. Candidly, he tells her that when sidewalk sitting is outlawed, he “foresees a system in which ambassadors would quietly shoo homeless people away from the city’s main commercial districts, making them cleaner and more pedestrian-friendly, while creating an uptick in foot traffic to bolster local businesses.”

The veil slips for a moment and the truth is revealed. Measure S is about sweeping homeless people off the street. It’s about preemptive criminalization. Some homeless people may do bad things, so let’s criminalize something they do that’s innocuous. It’s not about getting them services. It’s about getting them out of here.

Osha Neumann, chair, No on S Campaign


Do the Issue Justice

I was deeply upset by Rachel Swan’s piece on Measure S, in particular by her closing:

“Even if Measure S isn’t a fix-all, it can certainly make street life downtown a little less convenient for Cody. If voters pass the ordinance this November, he’ll have to find a new bedroom.”

Rarely is animus toward Berkeley’s homeless people so unabashed that we have journalists saying, “Three cheers for someone suffering from mental illness being inconvenienced and forcibly relocated!” and referring to a man’s belongings as “detritus.”

With tensions running so high around this law and those it targets, it is not surprising that journalists would get swept up in the fury, too; however, this fraught emotional climate requires more than ever that the public be educated about what S will and will not accomplish in a way that’s balanced and factual. As the East Bay’s “alternative” long-form news source, the Express is uniquely positioned to deliver that. Here’s to hoping that, with a month to go until the election, you can run another story and do this issue justice.

Joey Shemuel, Berkeley

Standing Up for Sitting Down

Your article on Berkeley Measure S is misleading and startlingly one-sided, and we believe does voters a real disservice. Instead of educating voters about the facts, your report relies largely on impressionistic generalizations and flawed stereotypes about Berkeley and homeless people — and in large part simply echoes the campaign rhetoric of the proponents of Measure S without critical evaluation.

The well-documented facts your report chose to ignore (all of which we shared with your reporter) include these:

• According to the Berkeley city manager, the business corridors targeted by Measure S, Telegraph and Downtown, experienced the lowest levels of business decline during the height of the recession, from 2008-2010.
• Your article states that ambassadors will be the first line of enforcement for Measure S, when, in fact, there is no such provision in the measure — none whatsoever. Nor are ambassadors trained for this work: Ambassadors clean sidewalks and give visitors directions.

• Measure S repeats San Francisco’s sit-lie law, which has failed to improve business, public safety, or homeless services, according to an independent study commissioned by the city controller; you dismiss that study with a wave of the hand, yet the majority of Haight Street merchants reported that San Francisco’s law had not improved the street. While dismissing this independent analysis, the article cites one merchant who in fact served as the public face of the campaign for sit-lie in San Francisco. His store was the pro-sit-lie campaign’s kick-off site.

• Berkeley suffers a serious shortage of shelter beds, just 135 spots for more than 600 homeless people. The situation is worse for homeless youth: Only 35 beds, all of which are full from when the youth shelter opens in November until its closure in April.

Particularly startling was the article’s degree of bias and one-sidedness: we counted (and re-counted) a full 26 paragraphs relating pro-Measure S arguments, in-depth and with language that ranged from neutral to supportive; a mere 5 paragraphs gave the No on S side, often including dismissive language that provided no informative value.
Also consider this: Eight pro-S sources were quoted directly, just one for No on S (two others were briefly paraphrased).
No article is perfectly balanced, and we understand it’s not the mission of the Express to provide a neutral 50-50 report. But this article is radically one-sided, quoting Berkeley real estate and business district officials at great length while not doing the basic journalism of getting our response — or verifying the accuracy of pro-S claims.

For instance, your article opines, incorrectly and without corroboration: “As for opponents of Measure S, they generally make two main arguments against it: that it would violate the civil rights of homeless people, criminalize them, and put them in jail; and that the measure would simply move people around and ultimately be ineffective. Although the two positions are contradictory ….”

First, it is in no way contradictory to state that Measure S will infringe on homeless people’s civil liberties while also doing nothing more than move them around. More importantly, however, this is an erroneous generalization of our main arguments. While we (and others, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild) do stress the serious civil liberties issue, we have repeatedly emphasized that Measure S is a waste of taxpayer money and police resources — one that will divert police time and resources away from more serious crimes; and we have consistently argued that Berkeley needs real solutions to homelessness, such as expanding shelter and drop-in space and hours, and providing more transitional housing and job opportunities, instead of criminalizing poor people.

Equally troubling is the anti-homeless attitude of the piece, which offensively repeats an antiquated Reagan-era mantra about homeless people making “lifestyle choices.” How would your reporter know what “choices” people are making as they live a lean and mean existence without shelter, on the streets, with minimal food?
Your report refers to a “small horde” of No on S supporters holding a campaign kickoff rally — a derisive reference with no basis in fact; your reporter didn’t bother to quote anyone present, not even Councilmember Max Anderson, who has spoken eloquently about how Measure S scapegoats homeless people for a much larger business downturn problem that stems from Emeryville mall businesses and a lack of downtown anchor stores in Berkeley. But no: Instead of letting readers hear this and make up their own minds, your reporter chose to paint with dismissive generalizations. Also ignored is the fact that No on S has garnered widespread support across Berkeley, including merchants, faith leaders, four of five Berkeley Democratic clubs, and a broad array of social service advocacy groups that work directly with homeless and poor people.

We invite your readers to get the facts about Measure S. Please visit our site at NoonSBerkeley.com to learn more. Measure S is simply the wrong way for Berkeley to solve very serious problems of business struggles and homelessness. Instead of scapegoating homeless people for the recession, let’s build real solutions that unite rather than divide our city.

Christopher Cook, communications director,
and Bob Offer-Westort, coordinator, Berkeley Standing Up for the Right to Sit Down/No on S

The Kids Aren’t All Right

If the goal of Berkeley related to Measure S is to get people off the street and into services, and the main problem is homeless youth, then there needs to be some place for homeless youth in Berkeley to go during the day — to get off the street. But there is not. Berkeley has no drop-in center for homeless youth. So if a youth is homeless, he or she has no place to go. What “services” are they going to be directed to via Measure S? Youth use the public library as the de facto drop-in center right now. We are creating a situation where they will just be shuffled from block to block, and endlessly ticketed. Berkeley needs to create a center for homeless youth that includes drop-in services and shelter. Measure S is a cruel waste of taxpayer dollars on a strategy that is not going to work!

Sally Hindman

Director, Youth Spirit Artworks, Berkeley


One-Sided and Stereotype-Laden

In this story, Rachel Swan uses snide descriptors (“spitting distance” from BART, “mounds of detritus,” “a horde of activists”), implies homeless people’s inhumanity (“Ambassadors would quietly shoo homeless people away from the city’s main commercial districts”), obfuscates the issue of skyrocketing rents (“Owners and managers of commercial property … have a hard time renting … because the scene … has had a real chilling effect”), diverts attention from damaged individuals (“A mere glance at the empty windows and gutted buildings shows that the area is suffering”), creates ad hominem arguments (“after all, homeless people won’t be moving to other areas of the city if they’re in jail”), rationalizes the disappearing of homeless people (“[Berkeley is] now home to a more affluent student population with greater discretionary income), et cetera.

Some of the organizations that oppose Measure S: Alameda County Peace and Freedom Party, ACLU of Northern California, ASUC Senate, Berkeley Citizens Action, Berkeley Society of Friends, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, Cal Democrats, City of Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, Community Defense, Inc., Disabled People Outside Project, East Bay Community Law Center, East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, East Bay Young Democrats, Food Not Bombs, Gray Panthers of the East Bay, Green Party of Alameda County, Homeless Action Center, International Indian Treaty Council, John George Democratic Club, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, National Lawyers Guild, Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), and Youth Spirit Artworks.

Measure S will not help homeless people. Measure S will not help Berkeley’s small businesses. Measure S will waste tax money that could be spent on services and job opportunities, and on revitalizing Berkeley’s commercial district. No on Measure S!

Beverly Slapin, Berkeley


Sidewalks Are for Everyone

Once a week, I pick a spot on the Telegraph sidewalk where I won’t be in anyone’s way, and I sit to meditate. I think we all could benefit from spending time on our sidewalks like this. Out in the public commons, we can build the kind of community where people help one another. We can break the grip of modern-day isolation.

But Measure S would make it illegal for us to sit on the sidewalk in Berkeley’s commercial areas. As for me, my mother always knew I’d end up an outlaw. But it’s homeless people who would bear the brunt of sit/lie jail time.

I suggest that we use our resources to help, not hurt each other. A semester of jail costs more than a semester at Cal! Meanwhile, Berkeley desperately needs a shelter that’s open during the day.

I also suggest that we get out on the sidewalk and get to know each other. Let’s be the kind of community that’s there for each other. Let’s vote no on Measure S.

Root Barrett, Berkeley


S Is for Shameful

I find it quite amazing that an article about the homeless in Berkeley could appear in a weekly paper that I had considered to be open-minded and liberal! Does Rachel Swan think that the homeless are there because they enjoy being on the street? Does she think that it is fun to have people walk by and not look at you and obviously not care whether you are dead or alive; not to know where your next meal comes from; and, for most of these people, to have no connection with family or friends? Is she ignorant of the fact that, years ago, when we had a governmental agency that gave a minimum amount of money to eligible people to rent a room and by food, I hardly ever saw a homeless person on the street? I fault our government for overlooking these people and think that it is up to us to fight for their right to have this minimum amount of assistance given to them again. It is shameful that these conditions can exist in a democratic, rich country such as ours.

Ilse Hadda, Berkeley

“Red Sauce, by Way of Sicily,” Restaurant Review, 10/3

The Brooklyn in Berkeley

Gerry and Angelo are my brothers from another momma in Brooklyn. Each time I come here, I’m jettisoned back home. Brooklyn Italian-American food is an essential staple of a loving upbringing, and I grew up eating this kind of food, since everyone in New York has an opportunity to eat culturally authentic cuisines. I love the red sauce seafood dish you mention [risotto alla marinara] — it tastes like Christmas Eve in Brooklyn. I come when I’m homesick and it takes me there.

Carol Wyatt, Oakland

“Questions Swirl Around Zoo Tax Measure,” Election 2012, 10/3

It’s Your Park, Too

Measure A1 stands out as an imperative to make your vote count. The zoo’s recent glossy mailer claims this parcel tax provides for improvements to current infrastructure and “humane animal care.”

What the mailer omits is the fact that Measure A1 is also about building and expanding into unspoiled Knowland Park.

Plans have been made for a theme park featuring California mountain lions, grizzly bears, wolves, and other animals (FYI, fauna would disappear due to habitat loss). Also included is construction of a visitor center, offices, and a restaurant built on the ridge overlooking a splendid view of the bay. This project is outside of current zoo boundaries and would be placed in what is now known as Knowland Park. This public park is a biologically diverse park that actually provides essential habitat for an incredible number of living wild animals. They have the same rights to be cared for as the zoo’s caged exotic animals.

Oakland Zoo campaign signs say, “it’s your zoo.” More important, however: It’s your park, and it offers free access, a gorgeous view, peace, quiet, an open landscape, plants, bugs, birds, reptiles, and small and large animals. Your no vote will send a message to zoo executives: Leave Knowland Park for us all. Vote no on Measure A1.

Carol Castro, San Leandro

So Ironic

The zoo claims that it has a conservation ethic but to put an expansion over what little is left of a rare maritime chaparral vegetation area — with its dependent insects, animals, and fungi and other life that we don’t even know about, and over native grasslands, of which we have only 1 percent left of the original in California, is so ironic. The zoo has had choices about where to put its expansion and would not consider them. Zoo management have a wonderful opportunity to exhibit the original native California and showcase what precious little is left; instead, they are set to let the bulldozers in. I have read the measure and it clearly says the Measure A1 funds can go into expansion farther into Knowland Park. What they say now will not matter five to ten years from now.

Delia Taylor, Oakland

“Daddy Date Night,” Movies, 10/3

Wrong With the Wind

I loved your review of The Oranges and you’ve convinced me to see it. I dug your reference to Gone With the Wind, but I feel compelled to point out one minor thing. Scarlett and Melanie aren’t cousins. Scarlett marries Charles, Melanie’s sister. Thus they are sisters-in-law. Melanie is often referred to as “Cousin Melanie,” because she is a cousin of Ashley and India Wilkes, Scarlett’s neighbors and, in the case of the former, the object of her unrequited affections. Otherwise the piece is an excellent and tight film review. Thank you for it, and for the Express. I enjoy it every week.

Meg Elison, Fremont

“Wind for One,” Eco Watch, 9/26

Allow the Turbine

A very unbiased report on the wind turbine controversy in San Leandro. Halus Power Systems did visit me while I was mayor and, to be honest, I did not see any reason to not support what it is doing and attempting to do in creating green energy. I supported Halus’ move to San Leandro, and in all deference to my friends in Heron Bay, the wind turbine will not cause any undue environmental problems for the area. I would hope the residents would allow Halus to install this one turbine.

Tony Santos, former San Leandro mayor

Grow Up

Why would anyone bother to build a wind turbine if he or she didn’t derive some economic benefit? How will we make economic progress without profit? Oh, I get it. We in the Bay Area aren’t sure capitalism is a good idea. We are going to find another way. Barter, perhaps? Social justice will prevail. Grow up!

Kurt Schoeneman, Boonville

Editor’s Note

The deadline for election-related letters is Friday, October 26.


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