Letters for the Week of September 16, 2015

Readers sound off on public transit, police misconduct, and racial inequality.

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

The Car Is Still King

The critical question for the city is when do we know when we have reached the tipping point and how is it best measured? Clearly in the short term, many buyers still want the option of owning and operating a car. When you have a car, you need someplace to put it.

Despite the current influx of East Coast dreamers priced out of San Francisco, new housing in Oakland is still being constructed at far lower densities than those seen in Manhattan, Chicago, and many other center cities in America. The city is embarking on a downtown-specific plan, but the reality is that nobody is or has proposed housing at anywhere near the three hundred units/acre already permitted.

We also do not generally have the developed multi-modal transportation networks seen in more urbanized areas across the country. This is California where the car is still king. Even people who want to live in Uptown, take BART, frequent the walkable music and dining experiences, want to drive to Napa wine country and dine in Marin and Sausalito sometimes. There is not yet the critical mass in Oakland to leap to no parking for new housing. The buyers know it, the city knows it, and most importantly, the developers and lenders know it.

Gary Patton, former Oakland city planning staffer, Hayward

What About Motorcycles and Scooters?

I would like to see more motorcycle/scooter parking in downtown Oakland, if not in all Oakland commercial areas. San Francisco has motorcycle parking available at a reduced cost, and Berkeley offers free motorcycle parking downtown and near the Cal campus. With motorcycle parking, the number of car parking spaces can be reduced while still allowing a choice of private transportation because four to five motorcycles and six to seven scooters can park in one car space.

In Oakland, there are currently two city-provided motorcycle parking spaces near my downtown office and both charge the exact same price per hour as cars and have a two-hour limit. It is difficult to park a scooter or motorcycle on streets where the city has opted for the pieces of paper to print in lieu of meters because 1) where do you put them so that they are seen, and 2) people can easily steal them.

I would gladly pay a few dollars per day to park my scooter near my office, and I know there are others who would do the same. I’m all for encouraging alternative transportation, but why can’t we expand those alternates to holistically embrace all two-wheeled options?

We Need Housing,
Not Parking

Here in the Bay Area, there’s a dire need for more housing. In the market for housing are two kinds of people, those who can get along without cars and those who can’t or won’t.

Let’s build first for those who can get along without cars. Eliminating garage space in new housing will leave more room for living units — which we need much more than we do additional traffic on our streets and highways.

Will Leben, Emeryville

Hey, Oakland, Join the 21st Century!

If you build it, they (the cars) will come. Please, this is 2015, not 1955. Fewer cars, more public mass transit, less fossil fuel and parking hassles.

Gordon Hopkins, Concord

“Pot, Politics, and Scandal in San Leandro,” News, 9/2


Great article, Steve!

Tony Santos, former mayor of San Leandro, San Leandro

“California’s Missing Climate Hawk,” Seven Days, 9/2

Brown’s Plan Would’ve Done More Harm than Good

The harsh reality is that Earth’s atmosphere has no borders — pollution flows freely across all borders — and therefore massive measures in one state make miniscule differences in the world’s environment and, therefore, the environment in California. The entire United States is responsible for about 16.2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. California is responsible for 6.2 percent of all such US emissions. Therefore, if 100 percent of California emissions were abated, the world’s emissions would be reduced by 1 percent. Brown’s plan called for less than half that — fifty percent renewable energy by 2030. Even if the AB350 (the Clean Energy & Pollution Reduction Act of 2015) plan is totally successful [it failed last week], the world pollution would be reduced by less than one-half of 1 percent.

The growth in global carbon emissions stalled in 2014, according to data from the International Energy Agency. World emissions were unchanged from 2013. Meanwhile, the flagging US, European, Russian, and Chinese economies have reduced emissions even more since 2014 — so economic woes have already achieved at least the 0.5 percent of the worldwide objective of SB350.

The argument could be made that act is no longer as urgently needed — an act which penalizes Californians, the California economy, an act that if fully successful has almost no effect on the world’s pollution. The penalties of slashing gasoline use in cars and trucks by 50 percent by 2030 is probably a mandate too far compared to its world effect and the probable economic costs to California citizens, who face higher fuel costs, possible business impacts, and forced investments in complying vehicles.

Californians have traditionally done more than their share in reducing carbon emissions, and there is no reason to believe they will not continue to do so of their own volition, unless so harmed by draconian government mandates that quash that spirit of cooperation. Perhaps Jerry Brown has considered this reality, coupled with the political aspects Robert Gammon also points out about his motivations.

William H. Thompson, Walnut Creek

“Keeping Police Misconduct Secret,” Seven Days, 8/26

OPD’s Actions Are Self-Serving

Robert Gammon is right about OPD’s picking and choosing which information to release on police homicides. I submitted Public Records Act requests for records concerning the police shootings of Demouria Hogg and Nathanial Wilks, the death of Richard Linyard (who is said to have killed himself by squeezing between two buildings during a police chase), and a “wrong-man” chase by armed plainclothes officers that ended with serious injuries and trauma to three people, including a four-year-old. All requests were denied, frustrating the independent citizens’ investigations that I and others were working on, because official investigations were pending.

OPD’s public relations office told me that the point was to protect the integrity of the investigations. Witnesses’ memories and accounts can be contaminated by what they hear others say happened, a real risk if information already gathered is made public.

However, even before the recent private showing to selected journalists of selected portions of some Linyard and Wilks videos “to correct misinformation,” OPD has routinely publicized its own narratives of what occurred, complete with photos of suspects’ alleged weapons and of the place where Linyard was said to be found.

Two days after the Hogg shooting, several media quoted Steve Betz, attorney for the officer who killed him, claiming body-cam video showed the man apparently reaching for a gun. SFGate.com quoted another police-union attorney a day after the Wilks killing, to the effect that videos showed the deceased pointing a gun at police. (Witnesses we interviewed disagreed with this, but the police are not putting out their statements.)

So not only is OPD contaminating its investigation of itself by putting out what exculpates its officers, it is also showing its evidence to the supposed subjects of interest in its investigations and permitting their attorneys to describe it publicly. I don’t think I’d get this treatment if I shot someone, claimed self-defense, and the police had a video that captured it all. In the meantime, the public gets nothing until finally attorneys and the media raise a stink, and then what we get is still what the department decides they want us to see.

Michael Goldstein, Oakland

Police Have Lost My Trust

Police should be monitored at all times. They are in the executive branch of government, but too many act like they are the gods of the legislature, and judiciary, too. They have demonstrated over the years that they can’t even be trusted to stop at a stop sign. Yet, during a certain high quota period, a group of officers wrote me a red light ticket knowing I did not actually run the light. If they can be this petty, why should we trust them to tell the truth about the lives and liberty of ordinary citizens? The police in California have lost my trust (and I’m an old white guy).

Gary Baker, San Leandro

Miscellaneous Letter

Time to Make Black Lives Matter

I’m looking for some evidence that Black Lives Matter above and beyond all the letters, editorials, and expressions of outrage that fill the funny papers every day. Who’s kidding who: Is there anything at all being done at the local or even regional level to make up for the obvious disparity that’s at the very rotten root of all the problems we’ve been experiencing here in the Bay Area over the last century or so?

Yes, there’s been some voting rights legislation and other stuff at the national level, but a lot of that has been rescinded by the Tea Party doofuses, and nothing much locally at all seems to be happening, witness the icky condition of our schools and the correspondingly relentless deconstruction of too many once vibrant neighborhoods. By crisscrossing these once great neighborhoods with monster freeways and other transportation systems aimed at making life better solely for those who can afford to live as far from these pockets of pollution as possible, we’ve created blight magnets.

And where are all the proposals to try and rectify such obvious disparity? So many have become so expert at pointing fingers and absolving themselves of any responsibility for what is, I guess to them, an inherited condition of disparity dating back to before they were born, so there’s simply nothing they can do? Do they have every right to continue on, secure in their particular bailiwick, because it really isn’t their job to tinker with “market forces” or whatever else they might believe is driving the economy?

Maybe the closest we ever came to addressing such rampant inequity was when redevelopment was the law of the land everywhere in California, a system that suffered abuse enough by the construction of golf courses and shopping malls in already relatively affluent areas, that anything and everything other than building inner-city equity was the result. Like any other half-Easter Bunny, half-dogpile process, it simply had to crash and burn, taking with it the hopes and dreams of the community groups and Project Area Committees meant to inform the local agency process.

As a lot of those aforementioned finger-pointers could actually be using their middle digit and aiming straight in your direction when you’re not looking, maybe we ought to identify someone from outside our region who could waltz in here and help solve our problems, sorta like when the citizens of Rome crossed the Tiber and sought out Cincinnatus to help with their particular imbroglios back during the toga times.

Who a similar individual might be here in California is hard to say, as it appears that Cincinnatus didn’t have much of an ego, always resigning his position just as soon as the mess was cleared. But whomever we pick, you just know he or she is going to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the greater Bay Area metropolitan region and then propose something along the lines of a Bay Area-wide Economic Parity Improvement Bond to help realign all our cities and their sub-districts so that the more obvious enclaves of poverty (that only some communities possess) either do not exist anymore or can at least be made more viable as a contributing and energetic partner in the otherwise bustling trade and commerce that our overall Bay Area economy enjoys.

If a city like, say, Oakland has a debt-to-revenue ratio far greater than its sister cities and could benefit budget-wise by receiving, albeit conditionally, some of that bond’s proceeds to help remediate indebtedness, it’d go a long way toward redirecting revenue streams to needed projects like Coliseum City or fixing up the Undermaze. Then the economic promise of Oakland could be released from its stranglehold and allowed to flourish at the same pace as, say, Cupertino or some other community that doesn’t have anywhere near the same barriers to economic development.

It’s time to take the shrill, squeaking hub of the larger Bay Area and true it up so that Black Lives Matter just as much as anyone else’s around here.

Steve Lowe, Oakland


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