Letters for the Week of September 16

Readers sound off on short-term rentals, the canonization of Junipero Serra, and development in Emeryville.

“Turning Housing into Hotels,” Feature, 9/16

Airbnb Encourages Bad Behavior

What is truly creepy is how this is all done in the name of “improving the local economy,” i.e. the ads that tout how much local businesses thrive on all the Airbnb clientele, and how easy it is to not follow even the laws that are in place. For example, in Los Angeles, I stayed in an Airbnb, which was being rented out by not the owner but the renter who lived in another time zone and had been making money like a bandit doing that for many moons. I sincerely doubt the owner was even aware that his or her unit was on Airbnb.

Jeanette Sarmiento, Lafayette

Sharing Economy Means Breaking the Law

Definition and particularly how one defines oneself can influence the direction and context of a conversation. This so-called “sharing economy” seems to always be defined by those who are new service providers and quickly getting rich doing the sharing. The problem is that whether it is Airbnb or Uber, these folks aren’t sharing, they are simply not following any of the rules applicable to those already providing the service.

No matter how cool these hipsters want to spin their phone-linked activities, at the end of the day, they are breaking the law. Airbnb is unregulated transient habitation. Uber is a car service in which the owners use a website to basically set up ride connections and transfer all other responsibilities of a car service to the drivers. Uber wants the drivers to maintain the vehicles, pay for their own insurance, call themselves contractors, and work whenever Uber wants. The company doesn’t even do sufficient background checks to provide the public with a basic comfort that the driver is not a serial killer.

To define that as the new sharing economy, where these hipsters skim the profits off the top and move all of the responsibilities of an employer to the employee, is disingenuous at best.

Whether it is in cyber space or on the ground, the legal system is always behind in regulating these new business models. In a region such as the Bay Area, where permanent housing for people is at a premium, we cannot afford to let these scofflaws further deplete the availability of housing for residents. Cities need to get their acts together to not only regulate but to protect the housing stock and neighborhoods.

Further, let’s stop it with the hipster pinhead word spinning and call it what it is. If it looks like a duck, waddles and quacks, it’s a duck. Just because it has one green and one red tennis shoe and a skateboard does not make it a hamster.

Gary Patton, Hayward

“Opposing Junipero Serra,” News, 9/16

We Apologize

As a person whose De Castro family members were part of the Serra, De Anza, and Portola expeditions, I have great sympathy and empathy for both sides of this issue. There certainly were overzealous soldiers then just as we have bad cops now. I would presume that the indigenous populations also had their good and bad people. Whether Junipero Serra actively participated in mistreatment, beatings, etc. is most likely not known except from writings of the people of that time.

I certainly would humbly offer words of apology to any indigenous family who truly believed that anyone in our family participated in any of the heinous acts. I’m not sure, beyond that, what anyone can reasonably do at this time. I do believe, however, that Serra was trying to do the best he could, considering his most difficult mission and his failing health.

Cris Castro, Auburn

“What About Motorcycles and Scooters,” Letters, 9/16

Oakland Has the Worst Two-Wheel Parking, By Far

I was happy to see a letter about Oakland’s lack of motorcycle/scooter parking. I commute to this fair city every work day on a motorcycle. Compared to other neighboring cities such as Berkeley or San Francisco, Oakland has the worst two-wheel parking, by far. Instead of encouraging these compact and fuel-efficient vehicles, Oakland makes it impossible to park them legally.

Urban motorcycle parking involves a gray area of law and enforcement. Under most circumstances, one does not get a ticket for simply violating a time restriction when parked between cars if the adjacent meters are paid. This could charitably be considered a progressive policy of encouraging infill parking. But with the rampant proliferation of disabled placards, almost no downtown meters are paid for, so tickets go to the only target — motorcycles. And I’ve seen scores of curbs that were too small for car parking, previously full of bikes, now painted red.

It’s time for Oakland to step up and help, not persecute, motorcycles and scooters.

Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley

“A Sea Change in Emeryville,” News, 9/9

Stop Blocking the Views!

First thing Emeryville should do is raze the hideous fifty-plus story condo unit and the view-blocking eyesores opposite that one must see driving toward the Bay Bridge. The utter lack of respect for height limits in harmony with the hills and bay are a testimony to the stupidity of its former leaders and the greed of developers.

Bee Montigue, Richmond

Oakland’s Backward Thinking,” Seven Days, 9/9

What about Rail?

Does anyone in the woebegone Oakland political community ever suggest fixed rail lines to provide alternative transportation to residents and visitors? It’s not just San Francisco and Manhattan where one can find such civic development. Long Beach did the same thing years ago. And every town of any size has one in Germany.

It needn’t be a citywide grid, just a few lines, say one from Jack London Square, up Broadway to the Temescal area, and another from downtown to Lakeshore, circling Lake Merritt on its return.

Such lines are no panacea for the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into — with whole communities built on the necessity for private transportation to supply basic needs — but it might be sufficient to dramatically reduce daily traffic and encourage residents to shop locally, without the added expense and annoyance of paying to park in town versus free parking at box stores and shopping centers.

Stephen Shuttleworth, Oakland

“A ‘People’s Budget,'” News, 9/9

This Is a Bad Idea

The problem here is, with small assemblies, what would stop well-organized groups from taking over the budget process? What about the group that took over city council a few months ago? Or worse, the “protesters” who start fires and vandalize Oakland neighborhoods? They don’t represent what Oakland wants — not even close. But they’re willing to simply out-protest, shout down, and outlast regular citizens. Will the assemblies vote? Who gets to vote? How will they stop hard-core activists from influencing every outcome? The city council is far from perfect, but at least they’re elected. I fear this proposal could put the budget in the hands of some real goons.

Joe Mullin, Oakland

“Central Services,” Culture Spy, 9/9

Law Is Old News

Isn’t next year the twenty-year anniversary of John Law re-living events from the past? 1996 was the last year he was actively involved in something new (HellCo at Burning Man). Since then he has been about re-archiving (Suicide Club, Cacophony Society, BM), re-telling (book, bus trip), and re-painting (Doggie Diner heads). He’s been good at appearing at events where the next generation of artists and pranksters make their mark. Nothing wrong with getting another twenty years out of the past — and getting laid.

Ianna Ashton, Emeryville

“Building Downtown Oakland for Cars,” News, 9/2

Oakland’s Vision Doesn’t Match Reality

Interesting, because the day after this article ran, Oakland hosted outside consultants from Miami who unveiled their Downtown Specific Plan, which specifically called for less vehicle traffic downtown. So there appears to be a major conflict between vision and reality here.

Eric Arnold, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letter

Feeling the Bern

My name is Vanessa Clark, and I am a 29-year-old US Navy veteran. Currently, I am a live-in home healthcare provider on the weekends, and during the week I’m a full time student at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, working on a degree in philosophy. With all that said, I am also a huge supporter of Bernie Sanders for president in 2016.

Working to inform the public about Bernie Sanders and what he’s about, and what his plans are for our country, is my number one cause. I’ve never been this passionate or excited about a presidential candidate before. I believe he is truly a man of the people, and is the man we need to achieve real progress in our country.

I’ve spent a lot of time not being engaged in politics — not because I didn’t care, but because it felt pointless. Even without knowing much about what was, or has been going on with our politics and government, it seems impossible to not at least know or have a good sense of the fact that our systems are corrupt — corrupt to the point that it seemed hopeless that ordinary people in our country could stand a chance to even try to change things.

I was stationed overseas during the last presidential election, and I know that President Obama got many excited and hopeful, running under the campaign slogan, “Change we need.” It seems many aren’t so convinced that he really delivered on all his promises. I’m not saying he has been a bad president, or that he hasn’t followed through on some of his promises, but has he done enough? We can blame the GOP control of Congress for blocking him at many turns, but is that really all there is to it? He made all these promises, but Congress held him back?

After getting out of the military and moving back to California, I started school at Diablo Valley College and was fortunate to have a couple of amazing social science teachers. They introduced me to critical thinking in politics and helped me open my eyes to the specifics of the corruption in our politics and government, along with the corruption of our economic system, and taught me how all of these things tie in together.

When I first heard Bernie Sanders speak, after having had these classes to look back on, I was stunned. All the things my teachers so passionately addressed, about what was really wrong with our country, Bernie Sanders was addressing.

This is what makes Bernie Sanders different. He’s not only making promises, he’s shining a light on the root of the corruption in our country. He’s using his platform to wake up our country.

What is the root of our corruption? Corporate greed. That may be oversimplifying, but in truth, that is the core problem: corporations, CEOs, Big Banks, being more concerned with profit margins and what’s in their personal reserves, over the good of the public. The One Percent, controlling everything.

It starts with our economy. We had a good idea with the free market. It was an idea designed to give everyone an equal chance to compete. It would be fair because it would be everyone versus everyone. It would be each person having a chance to succeed because of their own strengths and perseverance. If you worked hard, you had a chance.

The problem is, the free market is broken. Instead of a free market, where everyone has an equal chance to compete, we have economic tyranny.

According to an essay my class had to read called “When I Paint My Masterpiece” by William Rivers Pitt, there are two important US Supreme Court cases that got us to where we are today.

The first one was in 1886: Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Thanks to that case, corporations were granted, by our Supreme Court, Fourteenth Amendment rights. In doing so, corporations were given the same status as “natural-born American humans.” Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Corporations gained legal “personhood.”

The second case was in 1976: Buckley v. Valeo, which granted corporations First Amendment rights. As Americans, if we know anything about the Constitution at all, we at least know the First Amendment. It is our right to free speech.

Corporations were granted, by our Supreme Court, legal personhood and free speech.

Getting back to the free market, this is how our free market broke. Instead of each person having an equal, fair chance to compete in the market, the market became a place where people — individuals — are left to fight corporations. Imagine a WWE royal rumble, type of deal. You have all these competitors in the ring. It’s supposed to be a free-for-all fight — everyone versus everyone — but then a group of guys band together and form a team within the ring, and declare they are all “one person.” Suddenly there is this pack. This team. This group of people claiming to count as one person, fighting everyone else. This group obviously ends up being more dominant and more powerful. Now imagine instead, the ring is our free market, and the group of guys who banded together, are the corporations. The bigger the corporations get, the more powerful they become. It became corporations versus individuals. Corporations versus people.

Now imagine that these corporations, began using their economic dominance — wealth — to affect politics and other important, influencing aspects of our culture and society. Think about it. Who are the big corporations in our country? What do they control?

Getting back to presidential election: It used to be that there was a limit to how much a presidential candidate could receive in campaign contributions, but thanks to a case called Citizens United, corporations have been able to pump unlimited amount of funds into a presidential campaign in the form of what is called a Super PAC. Super PACs were made possible thanks to corporations being granted legal personhood, and being given First Amendment rights. Super PACs, thanks to Citizens United, were deemed, by our Supreme Court, corporations exercising their First Amendment rights.

This is part of how corporations influence our politics. Think about it. Are corporations just giving these candidates money out of kindness? Of course not. You give a presidential candidate money to win an election, you expect certain things in return. Of course the things that corporations expect in return are in their corporate interest, not in the interest of the rest of us. The 99 Percent of us are being left in the dark.

Bernie Sanders is not only running for president, he is taking a stand. He has refused to have a Super PAC. He refuses to take campaign money from these corporations, and he has active legislation, as a US Senator for Vermont, to overturn Citizens United. This isn’t just a move to win an election either. YouTube has many videos of Bernie Sanders uploaded, going back to his earliest years in office, with him speaking about Citizens United and the corruption of the One Percent. Go back to the Eighties and early Nineties, and you will see for yourself. He has been trying to get this information out for a long time.

You can say this for Sanders about his stances on any of the issues: His consistency is one of the things he is best celebrated for. We know where he stands, and we believe he means what he says, because he’s been saying the same things for years. These are things he’s been passionately talking about in the Senate, on television, in his book. He is a man who truly cares to do something about this corruption.

People will argue that Donald Trump is a Republican equivalent to Bernie Sanders, but that is a false comparison.

Trump is not telling the truth. He’s speaking his mind. People just don’t seem to get the difference. Being blunt and speaking the truth of what is in your mind is not the same as telling the truth. Do some fact-checking on the claims or statements Trump has been making, and you can quickly find that he is full of it.

Secondly, people like to point out that Trump, like Sanders, also refuses to run his campaign with a Super PAC.

What’s the difference?

Trump is a billionaire and doesn’t need a Super PAC. Trump refuses a Super PAC because he doesn’t need one. He has his own money. Sanders, on the other hand, has a reported net worth of less than $400,000. His refusal is based on his own sense of integrity — something that can’t be bought.

It is well known that Hillary Clinton has a Super PAC. Her top contributors are big banks, which are part of the One Percent.

Clinton claims that, like Sanders, she is against Citizens United. However, how can she truly take a stand against it while having her own Super PAC?

The argument I’ve heard from Hillary supporters is that she’s just playing the game. For now, this is just how the presidential elections work. You can’t win without a Super PAC. She has no choice. She’s just being smart. She’s doing what she needs to do to win, so she can get in the president seat and change this. So, she’s going to take all this money from these greedy, corporate billionaires, and then turn around, once elected, and tell them, “Sorry, but bye?”

Who is she fooling, the One Percent or the rest of us?

Let’s not forget to mention that, Hillary Clinton is a millionaire who is also married to a former president of the United States (in case you forgot), who has a nice lifetime pension from his time as president.

Let’s also mention that the some of the same major corporations backing Clinton are the same who backed Obama, and the same who back members of the Republican Party.

Is this really even about Democrat versus Republican? No. It’s not. Both sides are being funded by the same greedy, billionaire corporations — the One Percent.

Sanders is running as a candidate for the Democratic party, but he is clearly not your typical candidate.

When we vote Democrat, we don’t say we are voting for the right candidate. We say “the better candidate,” or the popular phrase, “the lesser of two evils.” The lesser of two evils is still not a good thing.

Sanders is not the better candidate or the lesser of two evils. He’s a genuine, honest man, fighting for the rest of us — the 99 Percent. He’s the only choice if we really want to change the status quo, if we want any fighting chance of bridging the wealth gap between the One Percent and the rest of us.

It’s not about creating some hippy utopia, either. He’s not saying we should all make the same thing. It’s about putting proper controls to keep the One Percent from continuing to corrupt our systems, it’s about making them pay their fair share in taxes, to redistribute some wealth, and it’s about giving the working people in our country, the poorer people, and the middle class in our country, a real fighting chance.

He has said on multiple occasions that he cannot make these changes alone. He will need our help — the help of the people to stand with him and help fight to make these changes. This is the political revolution he is talking about.

It’s easy to feel hopeless when you’re barely scraping by. Bernie Sanders inspired a new sense of hope inside of me. I know he can’t fix everything, but having him lead our country is a hell of a start.

While the One Percent has the power, we the people are not powerless. We have just been failing to wield our power. We fail to wield our power by not paying attention, and by not participating. The way we participate is by influencing one another, instead of being influenced, and by standing together to vote. Voting is our power, and it does matter. We need to pay attention so we are well informed, and we need to inform one another, and vote.

If we stand together, we have all the power to change things for the better. I am an idealist, and an optimist, and I believe with all my heart that we can do this. I believe progress is coming — slower than I’d like, but it is coming. The only way to get there, though, is together.

Thanks to Sanders inspiring a sense of hope in me again, I’m paying attention like I never have before.

Vanessa J. Clark, Pacheco


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