Letters for the Week of October 31, 2012

Readers sound off on the Oakland Zoo, sex trafficking, Richmond's soda tax, and more.

Oakland Zoo Operators Violate Election Laws,” Election 2012, 10/24

The Blind Voter

If I vote for a new tax, I need to be confident it’s really needed — all these different taxes really do add up for individuals like me, and for small businesses. If the zoo has reported year-end “surplus funds” in recent years, to the tune of millions of dollars, and it is not required to open its books to show us how it is spending money it already gets from the City of Oakland and other public sources, how can I tell if it really needs the money for “humane animal care”? I feel blind on this one. All I know is I’ve gotten my third full-color, glossy campaign mailer from the zoo, and there are so many full-color, double-sided lion signs everywhere, and all that is not cheap. I can’t help but conclude the zoo has more money in its wallet than it’s leading me to believe.

Karen Asbelle, Oakland


As a longtime resident of Oakland’s “flatlands,” I am disgusted with the zoo’s board of directors. They say they have to tax residents in order to give the animals proper care — in other words they can’t afford it now — but they can spend $800,000 on this campaign.

And they have already gotten commitments for tens of millions for their expansion. Why didn’t they raise the money for animal care instead? As for the tax: Somebody explain to me why it’s fair that a homeowner should pay the same tax as the owner of a multi-unit apartment or why a small business should pay the same as a multimillion-dollar corporation.

John Reimann, Oakland

Follow the Money — If You Can

Congratulations on your journalistic courage in recommending a “no” vote on A1. Among the many reasons for opposing this measure is the fact that it’s almost impossible to follow the money. Should A1 pass, funds will be spent by the zoo operator, the East Bay Zoological Society, any way it sees fit, since the provisions of the measure are riddled with loopholes and the society does not have to abide by open government protections for the public.

Special tax districts such as BART, EBMUD, the East Bay Regional Park District, etc. must have publicly elected boards of directors and abide by the Brown Act and the California Public Records acts. As a private nonprofit corporation, the society has a privately selected board, and does not have to abide by either of the aforementioned open government acts that allow the public to “follow the money.”

And those interested in following the money spent in the campaign won’t have an easy time of it. The colored mailer that the Express mentions appeared without a disclaimer which is the way that the public can track campaign expenditures through the Fair Political Practices Commission. Without a disclaimer, there’s no way of knowing how much an “informational” mailer with strong campaign overtones costs or, more importantly, who is paying for it.

On Thursday night at a Piedmont League of Women Voters forum in response to a question of how much the society was spending on its campaign, Zoo Director Joel Parrott responded “One million dollars.” Beyond the obvious contradiction of asking the public to pay for “needed repairs” to its animal enclosures while bankrolling a mega-spending campaign is the more obvious question of who is funding this campaign. Huge chunks of money are being dropped into it without the public being able to “pierce the veil,” as the Fair Political Practices Commission likes to say.

The question remains that if Measure A1 can generate $110 million plus of public money to fund any zoo expansion project (and all legal analysis shows it can be), what special interests might benefit from those development projects? And, are those special interests tied to the campaign funding? The only way of finding out is to follow the money — something that, in this case, is exceedingly hard to do.

Laura Baker, Berkeley

A1’s Accountability Problem

I was very indecisive about A1. Although it does allow for expansion, interviews say that the expansion is already funded and the zoo plans to go ahead with it regardless.

Although it is a private organization, it includes accountability measures and a sunset clause if money is misused. At the end of the day I was left with two significant issues that can’t be contested: One is that it disproportionately taxes businesses over individuals, apparently to make its cost more palatable. The other is that it requires the zoo to process exemptions from low-income elderly people, and it has no legal obligations with regard to correct management of private financial information.

If this was a uniform tax and a publicly managed zoo, the situation would be different.

I am also concerned that they are entertaining such an expensive expansion if they truly need additional funding to care for their existing exhibits.

Derrick Coetzee, Berkeley

Oversight Is Overdue

The zoo and East Bay Zoological Society have long resisted detailed fiscal oversight, and even though open books and periodic financial reports are mandated by the management contract the society has with the City of Oakland, the city does not enforce it, and the zoo does not volunteer the information. Such strict oversight is long overdue.

Thomas DeBoni, Fort Myers, Florida

A1 Is About Expansion

A “conservation-minded zoo” would never propose a huge, destructive expansion into a wildland habitat of rare and threatened animals and plants. The key message of conservation-minded societies is that habitat loss and destruction is the number-one threat to animals worldwide. Why should we not care about our own California rare animals and plants? The zoo had other options for expansion that could have preserved much more of the park. Instead, it got greedy and proposed to double the size of the current zoo by carving a huge rectangle into the wildlands, instead of keeping the expansion as close as possible to the current zoo footprint.

If you think the A1 ballot has nothing to do with the expansion, think again. First, if the zoo can’t afford to take care of the animals and buildings it has now, why is it expanding? How can it afford that? Second, the zoo already receives millions of dollars of support from taxpayers, and it won’t open its books (!). It needs to funnel current funds into its expansion efforts, so it wants us to pay for “care of animals and children’s programs.” Read the fine print at the very end of the measure, where it says that the zoo’s operators can change or delete what they say they are going to do and substitute it for something that they deem furthers the zoo’s “mission.” The real question is, what can’t they use the money for?

Beth Wurzburg, Oakland

Talk Is Cheap

No one doubts that the good works done at the Oakland Zoo are performed by dedicated staff and volunteers. What is at issue is that this parcel tax is written in such a way that makes it all too easy to use the money for purposes other than animal care and educational programs within the current configuration of the zoo. If the zoo leadership really wanted Measure A1 to be as limited in scope as they say, they should have written it that way. But they didn’t. 

I have been a neighbor of the zoo for 26 years, enjoy visiting the zoo, and appreciate the way they take care of the animals there. I don’t like taking a position against the East Bay Zoological Society. But it should not abuse the public trust with this untrustworthy tax that could very well be used to build its expansion, no matter what it says now during the campaign. Its planned California exhibit will destroy a huge swath of a unique and precious wildland resource. We should expect that an organization that teaches environmental conservation would always try to practice what it preaches. Unfortunately, it’s easier to talk about responsible conservation than it is to demonstrate it.

Barbara Kluger, Oakland

The Richmond Soda War,” Election 2012, 10/24

N Is Not What It Seems

In John Geluardi’s one-sided account of the Richmond Measure N campaign and zeal to make the case for the so-called “soda tax,” he misrepresented our campaign’s arguments against the measure, and our position on assertions that soda is somehow especially, particularly, or uniquely responsible for the obesity crisis in this country.

To address the second matter first, Councilman Jeff Ritterman, the Measure N sponsor, and the handful of advocacy groups whose water he is carrying in Richmond are unfairly demonizing the soft-drink industry in search of new revenue sources and are making emotional appeals disconnected from the facts, which are these:

Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been and continues to be in decline in the United States while incidents of obesity have been on the rise.

Calories from soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages account for just 7 percent of the total caloric intake of the average American.

And total calories consumed are just one contributor to weight gain along with level of physical activity, genetic predisposition, and others.

So, to the contrary, there is no agreement on Ritterman’s justification for Measure N.

Regarding the tax itself, the case against it is this: Measure N is a new business license tax. Under Measure N, businesses in Richmond would be required to pay a fee of a penny per ounce on their inventories or sales of any and all beverages containing any amount of any type of added sugar, including fruit juice concentrate, without exception.

The Measure N definition of sugar-sweetened beverage covers literally hundreds of products — most of them not soda, including flavored milks, many juices, sports drinks, sweetened teas and coffees, and numerous custom concoctions served at local restaurants, as well as certain nutritional supplements and even infant formulas containing added sugar.

Both sides agree that businesses would attempt to pass along to consumers the cost of the tax and of complying with it in the form of higher prices. Indeed, that is the whole point. Those price increases would be applied either to the hundreds of products covered by the measure or, more generally, across entire inventories.

The obviously regressive consequence of this — in higher grocery bills for families (whether they drink soda or not), and lost revenue for local stores and restaurants when consumers go elsewhere to shop and dine — are chief reasons why so many voters, businesses, community leaders and civic organizations oppose Measure N.

Another reason is the fact that the $3 million in estimated annual city tax revenue would be placed in the city’s general fund without restriction on its use, other than it is spent for a lawful municipal purpose. Mr. Geluardi falsely writes that state law prevented the authors of N from earmarking the funds for anti-obesity efforts. Councilman Ritterman chose not to write it that way, because he didn’t think he could get the two-thirds approval of voters that the California constitution requires of taxes imposed for particular uses or to fund particular programs.

In closing, regarding the campaign spending on the No side on which Mr. Geluardi fixates, the money is being used primarily to educate voters about what Measure N really says and its predictable consequences — as well as to clear up Councilman Ritterman’s misleading rhetoric and misportrayals that occasionally appear in articles such as Mr. Geluardi’s.

Chuck Finnie

Spokesman, Community Coalition Against the Beverage Tax, No on Measure N

John Geluardi Responds

It is important to highlight that Mr. Finnie is a public relations consultant being handsomely rewarded by the American Beverage Association, which represents the interests of giant corporations such as Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo to spin the facts against Measure N. However, in Mr. Finnie’s self-interested enthusiasm, he takes his argument off to a hazy wonderland of unattributed claims and baseless assertions.

To begin with, Mr. Finnie’s assertion that my article is one-sided suggests he did not carefully read it. In fact, Mr. Finnie is quoted in the article, as is Richmond Councilman Nat Bates, who is perhaps the city’s strongest opponent of Measure N. Furthermore, the ABA’s arguments that the measure would hurt the poor and the organization’s doubt about how the city would spend the revenue are put forward and attributed.

Mr. Finnie’s assertion that the soft-drink industry is being unfairly demonized is interesting only in that he carefully avoids challenging the overwhelming amount of science that shows sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and some cancers. Instead he offers the unattributed, vague, and oversimplified response that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is on the decline while obesity is rising and that such drinks are only 7 percent of the average American’s caloric intake. In fact, over the past thirty years Americans have increased their consumption by 278 calories per day and the largest dietary change in that period is an enormous increase in soda consumption, according to a 2009 study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

That study and others are so compelling that medical organizations like the American Diabetes Association, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the American Heart Association have urged the Surgeon General of the United States to spur a national effort to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Interestingly, Mr. Finnie chose not to comment on the moral implications of the carbonated drink industry aggressively targeting ads ($474 million in 2006) to society’s most vulnerable consumers, young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen who now represent the largest percentage of sugary-drink consumers.

Mr. Finnie further implies Richmond’s store and restaurant owners would inappropriately comply with the soda tax by spreading the penny-per-once license fee to other items in their stores, thereby raising costs to all Richmond consumers. The implication is cynical and unfounded.

Mr. Finnie’s claim that I “falsely” wrote that state law prevented the authors of Measure N from specifically earmarking funds for anti-obesity programs because of the California constitution is a crafty example of spin in that it appears to challenge what I wrote while at the same time validating it.

Finally, Mr. Finnie’s assertion that the ABA is spending millions of dollars to alert Richmond voters about the “predictable consequences” of the measure is a portrayal stretched so thin it’s transparent. Mr. Finnie and the ABA are not champions of the public good nor do they have an interest in the health and well being of Richmond residents. They are narrowly focused on their profit margins and very little else.

It’s the Poverty, Stupid

When Richmond residents stood up to Chevron several years ago they made national news. Richmond voters taxed Chevron and stopped the company from processing heavy crude without adequate environmental protections. Today, Richmond is again making national news with a proposed regressive tax on sugar drinks. On the surface, considering the obesity rate among economically challenged residents, this may look like an attempt to help people develop healthier lifestyles by slowing down their consumption of sugar drinks. Under closer inspection, however, it reveals a callous middle-class bias against the poor.

The tax was authored and promoted by Richmond Councilman Jeff Ritterman, the former head of the Richmond Kaiser Cardiology Department. It is Dr. Ritterman’s current position that sugar drinks are responsible for the high rate of obesity in Richmond’s minority community, and, therefore, it is in the community’s interest to discourage the consumption of such drinks by adding a hefty city tax on them. Interestingly enough, in a 2008 National Geographic special, “Stress: Portrait of a Killer,” Dr. Ritterman expressed a broader view, stating that the daily stress of being poor is what leads to health problems. The relationship between obesity and stress was one of the primary points in the documentary. So what could change in four years that would lead Dr. Ritterman to change his emphasis and focus exclusively on the issue of sugar drinks? I would suggest that he is leading his middle-class constituency to take the reactionary position of blaming the victims and he is doing so for political reasons.

Where the poorest members of Richmond live there are no supermarkets but only liquor stores and quick-stops. This has been the case for years. Richmond has a very high rate of unemployment, particularly among its minority population. Richmond has a high rate of drive-by shootings and homicides. Its schools are not known for their high academic performance and they have been cash-strapped for years. These are many of the daily stressors under which the poorest members of Richmond must live. As a result of these and other stressors they suffer from serious stress-related health problems. The abuse of sugar drinks is a symptom, not the cause, of these health issues, which affect a large portion of Richmond’s residents. There is a proven correlation between poverty and serious health problems, including obesity. You don’t need to be a scientist or a doctor to Google “what states have the highest rates of obesity?” and then Google “which are the poorest states in the US?” to see that the results indicate the very same states. Clearly, the relationship between serious health problems and rates of poverty is glaring. Health issues are class issues.

So then, why would these obvious social facts lead “progressives” to support a regressive sugar tax in the first place? The answer is that capitalism teaches us to attribute our economic problems to our own inadequacies rather than to the economic system itself. Rather than fight capitalism we blame the most oppressed members of our society. We blame them for the consequences of being poor as if it were their fault. This is the reactionary response to our problems, which creates the cynicism that leads well-intentioned people to support regressive taxes.

This is precisely the same strategy that is currently being used by the media to blame public workers’ pensions and benefits for the failure of state and local governments to balance their budgets. The attacks on public workers’ benefits are merely distractions so that citizens forget the impacts of nonstop wars and the largest theft of public funds in the history of the world that we, the taxpayers, are paying for.

This strategy is so effective that even the most liberal citizens are falling for it. People who are still comfortable understand that their economic situation is changing fast. They are getting caught up in the downward economic spiral. When they are told that the increased cost of their health insurance is due to other people’s unhealthy lifestyles, they quickly support a regressive sugar drinks tax. They support increasing the health insurance rates for obese people or smokers — or just denying them health care altogether. The same attitude is being applied to public workers who have paid into their retirement plans but are now under attack for having a retirement plan at all. Politicians and the media clamor for the reduction of their benefits while advocating for them to work longer before retirement. Voters who have fewer benefits or none at all are now supporting these shortsighted attacks. They don’t understand the causes of their own current economic situation. The easy answer for them is to attack their neighbor. We need to stop these mean-spirited, divisive, reactionary attacks on our friends and neighbors, and focus instead on the real problem: work to defeat capitalism before it crushes all of us. Progressives should never support regressive taxes.

Charles Smith, Richmond

Larry Reid Touts Police, Again,” Election 2012, 10/24

Walking for Walton

Going door-to-door for Sheryl [Walton], I have never had such an easy time getting a yes. Seems most folks have never seen this council member in the district, and unless they vote for Sheryl, they never will.

Pamela Drake, Oakland

A Wake-Up Call

I hope this article proves to be a wake-up call to the voters in District 7. Public safety should be about more than partisan finger-pointing and the same old platitudes being offered to the victims of crime. If we want a change, then we should vote for a change.

Allene Warren, Oakland

School Closures Drives Races,” Election 2012, 10/17

School Closures Are Not Common Sense

Having analyzed Oakland Unified School District’s finances for over two years as a member of the OUSD Audit Committee, I’m very disappointed by this one-sided reporting from Mr. Gammon. The article assumes — without any analysis or actual numbers — that school closures are common sense and paints those who oppose them as misguided, idealistic neophytes. Had Mr. Gammon done his homework like Katy Murphy of the Oakland Tribune, he would know that closing Lazear Elementary and reopening it as a charter actually cost the district millions of dollars. (According to a fiscal analysis by district staff, approving the charter “would cost OUSD $1.4 million,” “Oakland School Closure Savings Estimate is Missing Something,” 8/3). We need experienced, thoughtful school board members who will analyze the fiscal and educational rationale behind each decision, instead of accepting without question the wisdom of Superintendent Tony Smith’s recommendations, as Mr. Gammon appears to do.

Daniel Morris Hutchinson, Oakland

Redefining Sex Work,” Election 2012, 10/17

Leave Us Alone

I entered the profession at the age of 49, after three years of unemployment, hundreds of résumés sent out, and dozens of interviews. I don’t know what took me so long — this is the best job I have ever had! I don’t consider myself an “escort” or “prostitute.” I consider myself to be an independent businesswoman, and I act appropriately. I do research into what is desired by my target market, and track my income to see how it’s affected by the weather, time of year/month/day, etc. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and use my education more in this profession than any other I have had since graduating.

What right do the proponents of Prop 35 have to interfere with my employment and income? What right do they have to interfere with any activity enjoyed by consenting adults?

The men who chose to engage with underage children are sick. The people who coerce underage girls and boys into the business are sick. Target them — leave the rest of us alone.

“Kathi Kuddles,” San Pablo

Deeply Distressed

I am deeply distressed by your newspaper’s most recent article concerning prostitution. If your newspaper believes in the worth of the individual — every individual — how could you print an article promoting prostitution as merely a “lifestyle,” one seemingly legitimate choice among many?

This letter is not written from the perspective of a mere spectator.

I have lost friends of friends to murder in that world you attempt to present as liberating, as independence for women. Why not write about the realities of murder, rape, assault, and addiction? Why not write about the high percentage of sexual abuse survivors among the prostitutes?

During the first American Depression, my father, a young physician at the time, treated pregnant addicts and their chemically compromised babies. Some of these young women were prostitutes, possibly younger than “Jolene.”

Surely all children, all persons, deserve a less dangerous future. My religious beliefs as well as life experiences mandate my objection to your article as a promotion of moral unworthiness.

How horrible that our society has now descended to commodification of all it can eat, including “Jolene”?

Kari Ann Owen, Hercules

Prop 35 Punishes Everyone

This was an interesting article, but its final conclusion, that Prop 35 pits the interests of sex workers against those of victims of sex trafficking, is wrong. That is what the anti-trafficking organizations, which are generally against consensual sex work, want the public to think.

Sex workers’ rights organizations have come out against Prop 35 because it is not actually going to help young people who are being sexually exploited. It will, in fact, lead to further traumatizing of victims because of its reliance on arrests and the involvement of ICE. Anti-trafficking organizations and police agencies that work on the ground to find victims have come out against Prop 35 for this reason (among several other reasons).

Sex workers’ rights activists are also against Prop 35 because what it will do is put more poor women, men, and transgender people in prison. Sex worker organizations are not the only ones that have come to this conclusion after reading the text of Prop 35. The California Coalition of Women Prisoners and Legal Action for Women, two groups that fight for the rights of women in prison, are also convinced that this proposition will result in more poor women, women of color, and transgender women being put in prison, and on the already watered-down sex offender rolls.

If you would like to read more in-depth analysis of the text of Prop 35, please check out AgainsttheCASEAct.com

Yes, there are people being exploited, sexually and otherwise, and they should be getting help. But Prop 35 is not the way to do it. We already have laws against rape, statutory rape, assault, kidnapping — and trafficking!

Shannon Williams, Berkeley

Big Oil Targets Little Richmond, Again” Election 2012, 10/17

Shedding Light

The Contra Costa Times endorsed Gary Bell because he “went through the fiscal crisis of nearly a decade ago and should be well-grounded to attack the next difficult challenge,” rather than endorsing the progressive candidates working closely with Mayor McLaughlin, the mayor who led the city as it “climbed up from the bottom of the hole.” (The Times doesn’t even credit McLaughlin.)

Thanks for shedding some light on the real work the Richmond Progressive Alliance has done and offering some facts on Gary Bell that Chevron won’t be printing on glossy flyers.

Overall, I find this to be a well-balanced piece, and am pleased to see the Express covering this news!

Jessica Langlois, Berkeley


As a Richmond resident for 25 years, I congratulate John Geluardi for his article.

Rarely do articles about Richmond politics get such a frank and detailed examination. I have recommended it to all my friends, but think it should get greater circulation. Any chance that it could be submitted to the Contra Costa Times as an op-ed? In its coverage of Richmond, it tends to water down the political news to the point that it has little impact, which is why I appreciate Mr. Geluardi’s journalistic integrity.

Kent Kitchingman, Richmond

San Francisco Against the World,” Opinion, 10/17

What Now?

It would take centuries for nature to restore Hetch Hetchy to its former glory. Or are we going to build a giant Golden Gate Park in the Sierra? What happens to the ecosystem in place now? Marine and animal life have adapted to the reservoir/lake and the rain shadow caused by it. How do we replace the free, environmentally friendly power? Let’s say we vote yes for this $8 million initiative and then vote to tear down the dam. A Republican-controlled House of Representatives will in fact have final say about the dam. Here is exactly what will happen: They will privatize the water and the power, selling it to the highest bidder, and tell my fellow environmentalists to go F themselves. Hetch Hetchy should never have been damned, but it is here now as a vital, green part of our infrastructure in an era when the forces on the right are fighting every single penny in public works projects. It would be lovely for the people of the 26th century to be able to enjoy Hetch Hetchy Valley, but we should focus our resources and energy elsewhere to mitigate the oncoming disaster of climate change.

Melvin Dean Baker, San Francisco

What About Implementation?

I vote for everything environmental. But we are cutting back on education, cutting back on police, cutting back on the prisons, cutting back on fire departments. Who will pay for the cost of the study? Who will pay for the cost of removal? Who will pay for the cost of getting the floor of the valley in shape for restoration? Another question: They recommend using more groundwater? I find this unsustainable. The water table is getting lower and lower every year. You recommend using recycled water from sewage treatment plants. Is that safe from drugs? I’m not insinuating people from San Francisco are on drugs, but elderly people are — can they filter those meds out? Would you want your kids to take a bath or swim in them?

You also recommended rainwater. How much would trying to capture rainwater cost? If you want to spend money to clear your conscious, go ahead. But implementing it is a totally different story.

Philip Moya, Merced

Liberal Versus Liberal,” Election 2012, 10/17

Two Good Choices

In general, I feel that Rob Bonta and Abel Guillen are both very capable individuals with substance who would both represent us well in the State Assembly. As far as which one is the most liberal: I would say that there are times at which certain issues in our society are not liberal, moderate, or conservative issues, but issues that, one way or the other, affect everyone. In such instances, one should not adhere to liberal or conservative concepts in order to develop solutions. Both men have strong core principles and will do what is best for the people that they represent, regardless of educational or socioeconomic status. I have followed the 18th Assembly race since the beginning, and always felt that Bonta and Guillen were the most qualified candidates, and most capable of getting things done in Sacramento.

Tyron Jordan, Oakland

Vote Bates, Capitelli, and Moore, and Yes on Measures R and T,” Election 2012, 10/17


Let me start by saying these are just my own personal opinions, not those of any organization. It seems the Express has abandoned its long history of local community support in favor of promoting economic growth at all costs. That’s too bad. While growth can be good, it needs to be done in the right places in the right ways. For example, the Measure T West Berkeley Plan would allow large and tall buildings to tower over Aquatic Park, severely damaging the park’s ambience and access to sunlight. In North Oakland, two of your endorsed candidates, Amy Lemley and Richard Reya, have, as yet, been unwilling to take a position on Safeway’s oversized College Avenue shopping center. Your third choice, Dan Kalb, has stated that he agrees with the community’s concerns about the project’s size and impacts. When candidates won’t take stands on local issues, that’s troubling.

Stuart Flashman, Oakland

Just a Coincidence?

On October 3, the Express came out in favor of Measure S, a law banning sitting on the sidewalk in Berkeley. Two weeks later, it came out against Prop 35, which is marketed as making sex trafficking more difficult.

It is worth noting that poor people do not advertise in the Express, while restaurant and store owners, who support Measure S, do. Meanwhile, sex workers, who will be harmed by Prop 35, also advertise in the Express.

Is it just coincidence that your editorial stance in both cases was that which will maximize your advertising income? I know there is more to it than that, but maybe not that much.

Chris Darling, Richmond

The Editors Respond

We came to our endorsements conclusions independently, based on extensive research (With regards to Measure S and Prop 35, see “Unfounded Fears,” 10/3, and “Redefining Sex Work,” 10/17, respectively, to see the results of that research). The business side of our operation was not involved in the process, nor did we factor the Express‘ advertising income into our decisions.

Vote Kaplan and Yes on Measures B1 and S and Props 34 and 37,” Endorsements, 10/10

Wild and Green

My family, friends, and colleagues can attest to my green way of life and my and concern for the well-being of animals. For these reasons, I feel fortunate that I work as the Conservation Director at the Oakland Zoo. I chose this organization because the zoo’s heart is like mine: wild and green, with conservation at the center of our mission.

We have award-winning green initiatives, including a new, LEED-certified vet center. We are deeply involved in the protection of vulnerable wildlife, including the Western Pond Turtle and the California condor. We keep the Arroyo Viejo Creek clean and native, restoring it with volunteers from the local community, and we inspire thousands of children to connect to and take action for wildlife and nature.

Backed by many environmental organizations, Measure A1 protects local wildlife and provides sanctuary for rescued and endangered species. A1 is for all of us in Alameda County who have a true wild and green heart.

Amy Gotliffe, Oakland

The Park Is Priceless

I didn’t know Knowland Park was more than just the Oakland Zoo until I was introduced to it six months ago by a colleague. The zoo is only one hundred acres, with the rest of Knowland apparently a well-kept secret, even though it is Oakland’s largest city park. I now hike there several times a week with my dogs, rarely bumping into anyone besides other dog walkers. It’s a shame, because Knowland is a gem. It is approximately five hundred acres of unspoiled land, teeming with native California wildlife and plant life, including rare and endangered species. Its ridgeline affords breathtaking views of the bay. Knowland’s wide-open spaces are a balm to the urban soul.

The Oakland Zoo has secured approval to eventually develop a large chunk of the land, including the ridgeline with the view. The expansion plan is to build a theme park-type affair, including office spaces, a gondola, gift shop, and restaurant. Ironically, it’s also to include an exhibit about conservation and extinct California wildlife. In constructing this, the zoo will destroy habitat for species that are currently threatened, including the Alameda whipsnake.

My more immediate concern is Measure A1, which will go before Alameda County voters in November. Measure A1 is a $114 million parcel tax, ostensibly to help the zoo care for the animals. The Friends of Knowland Park, the East Bay chapter of the California Native Plant Society, the California Native Grasslands Association, the California Wildlife Foundation/California Oaks, Defense of Place, and the California Chaparral Institute are among the groups that believe Measure A1 is written so broadly that part of this tax could be used for the planned zoo expansion into undeveloped parts of Knowland.

If this vast swath of Oakland’s pristine, open space is tragically to be paved over, those who care about wildlife and conservation object to funding any more of the expansion project as a matter of conscience.

Measure A1 is deceptively appealing, especially to animal lovers. The very cute yard signs urging a vote for Measure A1 sport a picture of a cartoon lion. They are popping up in yards all over Oakland. Glossy brochures are arriving by mail, and ads for Measure A1 are splashed across AC Transit buses. If the zoo is short of money, how can it afford such a slick ad campaign?

The zoo already receives substantial funding from the City of Oakland, the East Bay Regional Park District, and revenues from previously approved park measures. The expansion and development will cost an estimated $72 million. If there is not enough money to take care of the zoo animals now, why are there still plans for such an expensive project?

The zoo has a lot of explaining to do about its priorities, and how it will protect Knowland Park and its native denizens, before I am comfortable handing it more money.

Kathleen Matz, Oakland

Berkeley at a Crossroads,” Election 2012, 10/10

Required Reading

Thanks for this fascinating analysis, Mr. Gammon. Should be required reading for Berkeley voters.

Anti-growth activists in West Berkeley have been claiming a 2.9 percent commercial vacancy rate for at least three years. Odd that it never varies, by even a tenth of a percent.

Tor Berg, Berkeley

Just Wondering

Just wondering — is the Express really trying to blow its credibility? Opening up the print edition last week, there was this story with an accompanying photo of a deserted-looking Fourth Street, one lonely old camper truck, and nobody around. The story and photo caption claim this was a typical weekday scene, and that the buildings in the photo were “mostly abandoned.” This is blatantly false. First off, if you are reading this, please take a short drive down that block on any weekday. Go ahead, do it. It’s packed with cars; if you need to get out, you’ll have a hard time finding a place to park. So when was the photo taken? Perhaps on a Sunday, or maybe on a holiday, but on a typical weekday? Not possible, sorry.

Now, about the “abandoned” claim. The large, long building on the left (it takes up the whole block) is the Wine.com warehouse. Nope, not abandoned. And, of course, all the people who work in that warehouse (and in all the other the surrounding businesses) are parking on the street, hence the crowding. It’s closed on the weekend, by the way, except for the small retail section, which is only closed on Sunday. The tallish black building (background right) is also apparently not abandoned. It’s hard to say what’s going on in there, but with the lights on and stuff in the windows, you couldn’t say it was abandoned. The multi-unit commercial building on the far side of it (not visible in the photo) is occupied by functioning businesses, not abandoned. Vik’s used to be in that building, until it moved to a much bigger place farther down Fourth Street. The light-colored building directly on the right (the old Berkeley Pump building) and the building next to it do not look occupied, rather they seem to have been taken off the to-lease market some time ago by the owner, Doug Herst. Anybody care to find out why?

These aren’t the only false claims in the article, but it was the obviously wrong photo that struck me first, and besides if I tried to rebut the entire piece it would be so long nobody would bother reading it. This is enough, however. Express, consider your credibility gone.

Steven Tupper, Berkeley

Berkeley’s Big Cog

Mr. Gammon is a “big cog” now for the Bates machine that continues to steamroll the Berkeley community. This is not reporting. It is unadulterated campaigning for an agenda that has no business in Berkeley. Does Gammon run the East Bay Express? It would seem so. How could an otherwise good newspaper so flagrantly abuse good reporting? Mother Jones you are not — and shame on you. And by the way, Mr. Gammon, when was the last time you attended a Berkeley council meeting? Surely if you had you would have seen that many are beginning to see that our small community has been “played” by professional politicos … as well as by people like you.

To Berkeleyans: Vote for whom you may, but do vote “yes” on Measure V. It will require this city to finally “come clean” on its debt. Then, perhaps, Berkeley will “clean house” and chart a real future … hopefully before bankruptcy.

Victoria Peirotes, Berkeley

Who’ll Replace Jane?,” Election 2012, 10/10

Raya’s the Right Choice

For generations, North Oakland has been represented on city council by people with progressive politics. And for years, I’ve stood with them and fought with them to make great gains for disadvantaged communities. In this city council race, we have an opportunity to elect someone who is progressive like us, but also represents everything our generation has fought for.

Richard Raya, a candidate for city council in District 1, is the son of farmworkers, a man whose family was homeless at times when he was a boy. He overcame all odds to go to Berkeley, graduate with a master’s degree, and become an expert at making local government work. Richard is the next generation of our progressive fight. He holds our values and he has actually experienced poverty, racial discrimination, homelessness, and the other ills that we progressives seek to cure. Richard would also be the first person of color to represent North Oakland in my lifetime — and perhaps ever.

I believe Richard’s life experience, his fifteen-year career of success in local government, and his vision for Oakland makes him the most compelling — the most experienced, most capable, and most exciting — candidate to represent District 1.

Richard embodies all that I have worked for in my fight for civil rights. He didn’t grow up with advantages, but instead of dwelling on what he has overcome, he focused on what got him out: After dropping out of high school, he went back to community college, was accepted by UC Berkeley, and graduated with a public policy master’s degree — and a determination to make government work better so it could help others the way it helped him.

With fifteen years of success in local government, he has a proven track record of doing just that. He has successfully mediated between some of the same groups we need to bring together in Oakland — helping community, labor, and business join forces in 2006 to pass a $20 billion school bond. He is also the only candidate in District 1 with experience managing a large government budget: As budget director of the Alameda County Public Health Department, he oversaw a $120 million budget and 600 employees—and found ways to save $6 million every year for three straight years in tough economic times, allowing the county to avoid layoffs and maintain vital health services.

Richard’s campaign motto says he “Loves this town.” I believe it. His vision reflects a deep understanding of power relationships; of how a community can join hands to face our challenges together. His campaign brings in new forces, not simply the same old power dynamics and personalities that are much too common in Oakland. He has friends all across the city but he does not have political debts.

Richard grew up in a neighborhood dominated by gangs, and he wants that to end that experience for his family his friends and the Oakland community. He knows that “crime raises with the poverty rate” as my son Boots Riley says; so he wants to take it on with his personal and community-based experience.

Look at his support for CeaseFire. For years in Oakland, our city’s crime-fighting efforts have taken a punitive approach to crime — and our communities are still reeling from this misguided approach. Richard, on the other hand, has promoted CeaseFire, a nationally-recognized crime program that has reduced crime in cities from Baltimore to Los Angeles by bringing to bear all of the city’s and county’s resources with the power of our community. CeaseFire is the community’s way of embracing our youth caught up in destructive life choices. We know we haven’t always provided our children with the tools to succeed in our economic system. We all share blame, and we are willing to take some of the responsibility. The violence must end — and it must end now. Richard will be a bridge to ending the violence, a champion of an approach that brings the entire community together to put all of our children on the path to a better life.

Richard’s campaign shows he can make this a reality, reflecting both the old and the new diversity of Oakland our city must bring together. I recently had the pleasure of spending the day with Richard and members of his team at the Rockridge Out and About, and I was inspired by the breadth of his appeal: He is strongly supported by North Oaklanders of every stripe — older white and black supporters from the Hills, working mothers from Rockridge, longtime African-American residents from the Santa Fe and Bushrod neighborhoods, tech workers with jobs in San Francisco looking to put down roots in Oakland, community advocates who have spent years cleaning up the Temescal or working in community-based social justice organizations, and young people of color from the flats who will be voting for the first time this November.

Richard’s vision for a safer, more prosperous, more unified city is one all of us can rally around. If we want leadership that is truly representative of all of Oakland — and if we want to empower all of our city’s voices — we need leaders whose life experiences reflect a little bit of all of us. Richard has known poverty and prosperity. He understands the conflict of racial profiling, as well as the desire to have his community protected. He’s been an activist, a policy director, a budget manager, and a father. He speaks as someone who has succeeded against all odds and understands how that success can be replicated for the next generation.

Richard’s experience shows what our progressive community is capable of. Our hard-won efforts over the years have helped create a new generation of leaders who have the tools we need to move Oakland forward. Now is the time to stand behind leaders like Richard as they move ahead to lead our city.

Walter Riley, Oakland

There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” Election 2012, 10/10

Prop 38 Makes Sense

Thank you for a refreshingly fair and accurate article. You are correct that neither proposition will solve California’s budget crisis in the long run, but then Prop 38 doesn’t make that claim.

Prop 38 makes sense. While politicians form coalitions and work at building their own campaign funds to get re-elected, California has become a state with one of the lowest funding ratios per student in the nation. At best, we get what we pay for. Prop 38 has common-sense safeguards to reduce waste and pay off debts. Only Prop 38 gives its funds directly to the school by sidestepping the political quagmire in the state capital. Let’s set aside our blanket negativity and pass Prop 38 as an investment in the next generation. Let’s do what’s best for our kids.

Wayne Dequer, Monrovia

Funding the Future,” Election 2012, 10/3

Look Again

On November 5, Alameda County’s voters will be asked to approve Measure B1. If Measure B1 passes, the current transportation sales tax in Alameda County would go from .5 percent to 1 percent, thereby bringing the total sales tax in most towns and cities in Alameda County to 9.25 percent. Once in place, the new transportation tax would remain in place in perpetuity. Once every twenty years, people would be permitted to comment on the way the money was being spent. Once every thirty years they would be permitted to vote on a new capital program. What they could not do is reduce or rescind the tax. If Measure B1 passes, the agencies administering the $7.7 billion projected to be raised by the Measure over the next thirty years would be pretty much free to proceed as they pleased without public oversight. Here are three of Measure B1’s weaknesses:

As anyone who has driven in Oakland during the past decade knows, many of its streets have historically looked and felt like the streets of a war zone. The deplorable condition of Oakland’s streets has resulted in large part because of the way street maintenance funds were allocated under the old Measure B, approved by the voters in 2000. Yet the new Measure B1 would incorporate the same deficient and unfair funding allocation formula that applied under the old Measure B.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), Measure B1 would raise only 10 percent of the funds needed to bring Oakland’s streets up to standard.

$1.8 billion would be allocated to AC Transit. Today, one constantly sees virtually empty AC buses slogging forlornly back and forth across the Bay Bridge and along East Bay streets and thoroughfares. Yet AC Transit reportedly plans to use its entire Measure B1 allocation to put still more buses on the street. More useful would be a crash program designed to attract more AC Transit riders by modernizing its antiquated bus routing system, altering its service levels to meet demand, and improving its operating efficiency. $400 million would go toward extending BART from its current terminal in Dublin to Livermore. This expenditure would represent the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. The cost of just Phase I of this ill-conceived extension is projected to be $1.2 billion, with the ultimate cost of extending BART to the east end of the county running to $3.85 billion. Yet despite its high price, the extension is expected to attract a dismally small number of daily riders by 2035, thereby saddling the Alameda County and the rest of the region with another losing BART line and another colossal waste of Bay Area transportation capital.

BART’s claim that the new station in Livermore would attract 21,000 riders a day by 2035 is patently absurd. Here are the September 2012 daily ridership figures of BART’s other end stations:

West Dublin Station: 2,952

Richmond Station: 4,046

Pittsburgh-Bay Point Station: 5,657

Millbrae Station: 6,412

Fremont Station: 8,356

San Francisco Airport: 7,151

Before deciding to approve a permanent new sales tax that would hit poor and working-class people the hardest, voters should take a close look at how — and on what — the estimated $7.7 billion raised over the next thirty years would be spent. Alameda County’s public transit systems badly need upgrading. To achieve this objective will take a more thoughtful distribution of funds than that embodied in Measure B1.

Tom Rubin, David Schonbrunn, William Blackwell, Robert Feinbaum, Len Conly, Gerald Cauthen, Sherman Lewis and Ken Bukowski, various East Bay cities

Ignacio’s Big Gamble,” Election 2012, 10/3

De La Fuente’s Failures

I’m an Oakland voter and resident for twelve years, and I have to say I was indifferent to both Rebecca Kaplan and Ignacio De La Fuente. Then I thought, I wonder how much better De La Fuente’s district has fared with him being on the council since 1992. And since I work in the Fruitvale, I only see more violence, and especially violence targeting Latina immigrants (robbery and rape), especially by the BART station. Then I remembered how it thoroughly shook me when his son got arrested for kidnapping, and serial rape, including that of an underage girl. Moreover, what was more disturbing was De La Fuente’s statement afterward, where he questioned his own fathering, instead of taking a firm stance against violence, especially against women and girls — when politically he should have at least done so. I’m a Latina and I worked with both young Latinas and immigrant mothers in the Fruitvale, and I can say in 2012 this population feels more unsafe in his neighborhood than in any other in the city. Yes, resources are scarce, but there are always alternatives to organizing against these types of violence. 

I grew up in Chicago amidst the Gangster Disciple and Latin King territories. As the niece of a Chicago homicide detective, I have witnessed that what works is collaborations with schools, churches, neighborhood watch groups, after-school programs, and workforce development programs work — not more policing. Especially within the Latino community, which is already used to being suspect in the eyes of the law. I’m not a big Kaplan fan, but at least she isn’t promoting things she can’t deliver, like Mr. De La Fuente has for two decades on the city council. 

Claudia Gomez, Oakland


In our October 24 book preview, “To Live and Die in Oakland,” we erroneously stated that author Mariah K. Young was born in Alameda; she was, in fact, born in San Leandro.

Our October 24 election story “School Closures Drive Races” erroneously stated that Oakland District 5 candidate Mike Hutchinson had worked at Lakeview Elementary. He had worked at Santa Fe Elementary. Both schools closed last year.

Our October 24 Bars, Clubs, and Coffeehouses story “From Grape to Glass” contained three errors: First, we erroneously said that DC Looney and Lisa Costa are married. Secondly, we misspelled Chris Brockway’s last name. Finally, we neglected to mention that Dashe Cellars in Oakland and Edmunds St. John in Berkeley also make natural wines.

In another October 24 Bars, Clubs, and Coffeehouses story, “The Brews of Our Lives,” we erroneously attributed a quote from Eric Thoreson to refer to the Aeropress as being “idiot-proof.” He was actually referring to the Clever Dripper.

And in our October 24 Bars, Clubs, and Coffeehouses story “Thick, Sweet, and Strong,” we got wrong the name of Imperial Tea Court.

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