Letters for the Week of September 23

Readers sound off on UC Berkeley, coal exports from Oakland, and Prop 47.

“Tumbling the Ivory Tower,” News, 9/23

It’s About the Dough

The operant sentence in this exhaustive article about the ACES program at UC Berkeley is as follows: “But last spring, at the end of the 2014–15, the money ran out.” They spent the money, and there is no money to replace it, unless that money comes from other programs and courses targeted on the core education students need to graduate and function in society. In itself, this is a valuable lesson in economics. This article is less about “Tumbling the Ivory Tower” than living within a budget, and how screaming for more allowance might not be the solution.

William H. Thompson, Walnut Creek

“Buying Support for Coal,” News, 9/23

This Stinks

As the list of Oakland insiders trying to profit from this coal-related use grows, the smell gets worse as each new name and their roles become public. Phil Tagami and Mark McClure (former Port of Oakland board members), and Jerry Bridges and Omar Benjamin (former directors of the port Commercial Real Estate and Port Operations) are the brain trust of the group. Darryl Carey, who historically has opposed almost everything the city has ever proposed in West Oakland, is all of a sudden supportive of something.

Yes, we need good jobs in Oakland and yes, that is exactly what the Oakland Army Base development was supposed to bring. However, we should not forget the one-hundred-year-long history of environmental damaging land uses and health hazards affecting the West Oakland African-American community. If this proposed coal operation is truly safe with cutting-edge technology, why have the details not been made public and the community apprised of specific details? Why is Darryl Carey lobbying through his own brother’s church and soliciting support from members of Acts First Gospel Church on the other side of town? Be sure that there is something in the plan for Mr. Carey at the end of the day.

My sense is that the brain trust mentioned above want to divulge as little as possible to the community and will continue in their efforts to try to buy their way out of the problem by promising community benefits. Like the proposed housing on East 12th Street, developers with a hidden agenda only seem to remember community benefits after their tricks are made public and the community says “no.”

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

Anyone Paying Attention?

One must wonder exactly how did the coal shipping proposal get so far along? Was anyone in City Hall paying attention to developments at the former Army Base?

And now former permanent City Hall residents, Jean Quan and Nancy Nadel, are working to crawl back onto their familiar perches. Does this suggest something about the newness of the new “hella” administration? Or is it that the more things change in Oakland, the more they stay exactly the same?

Hobart Johnson, Oakland

“The Push to Imprison Low-Level Offenders,” News, 9/23

It’s the Unions’ Fault

The notion that our public employees should be dictating public policy is not only wrong, but deeply offensive. That’s akin to allowing warehouse workers at Amazon or Safeway to dictate what the company should or should not sell. Ridiculous. Law enforcement “officials” are paid by the taxpayers to do a job — they are simply hired help paid to do a specific task. It is unacceptable that we’re allowing them to unionize and to have those unions then writing and otherwise affecting public policy as an incredibly powerful “special interest” group.

The taxpayers collectively, and not their public servants, should be writing policy, rather than people who handsomely profit from those policies going in a specific direction. Make no mistake about it — tough on crime policies only benefit the prison guard unions and other “law enforcement officials” who directly profit by essentially ripping off the taxpayers. We need to put those “officials” on a much shorter leash, forbid them from unionizing, and take back our government.

Wisconsin has clearly shown that curtailing public employee unions saved the taxpayers $3 billion so far. The solution to crime is to provide proper social services, and to save taxpayer dollars by providing those services (data clearly shows that housing homeless people is exponentially less expensive than providing services for them on the street, for example). Shifting — as much as possible — from reactive/reactionary actions such as policing to proactive solutions is the way to not only create a sane society and to save lives but to save ridiculous amounts of taxpayer dollars.

Proposition 47 was a great start in that direction. It’s time to send our public unions packing out of town. They’ve corrupted our democratic process long enough. Enough is enough.

Vladislav Davidzon, Berkeley

“The Winners and Losers,” Legalization Nation, 9/23

Follow the Money

“The state’s medical cannabis industry will be for-profit for the first time” — a very funny statement! It has all been about profit, big profit, at all links in the chain, all along. Look a little deeper. …

Steve Heilig, San Francisco

“Chowhound in Crisis,” Food, 9/23

Good Luck, Chowhound

As much as there are problems with the recent redesign, the bigger issue is the heavy-handed tactics that turn many longtime supporters off. And once these folks are driven away, they probably have a hard time bringing themselves back. There is a lot of chatter about users getting suspended for merely making their voices heard, and not in a disrespecting manner either. The management likely realized the scope of the backlash they have on their hands, and they feel the need to start muting the voices of the community. This reminds me of the government of a totalitarian regime that doesn’t like dissenting opinions and resorts to heavy-handed tactics to silence the crowds. Ironically, Chowhound is owned by CBS, a respectable news organization.

Sure, the redesign is problematic, and they can probably improve it if they want to. But they are not likely to get the longtime users back. The difference between Chowhound and other food sites is that much of the content is user-created. That is the essence of the community, not the platform itself. And there aren’t too many of these food experts around in any particular area that one can substitute in either.

Since Chowhound General Manager Georges Haddad was behind the Flickr makeover, I guess redesigning websites and adding features that are appealing to the masses will supposedly broaden the user base and bring in more ad revenue for the owners. The only challenge is we already have Yelp for the masses, with opinions from everyone, including those who have very limited knowledge of a particular cuisine, along with some somewhat knowledgeable ones. To become Yelp, the Chowhound quality will have to be diluted. And arguably Yelp has a better interface to facilitate that type of review sharing.

Good for Haddad that he’s able to sell his management this vision, and good luck with the execution.

Victor Medina, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letter

Do Your Job!

What the “H…” are our city council and city attorney doing? Why the special hearing on coal that caused hundreds of Oaklanders to spend needless hours away from jobs and family to tell the council what it already knows? Why the long delay in dealing with this illegal issue of coal that so clearly has a straightforward and mandated remedy?

The consultant’s agreement specifically forbids materials at the break-bulk facility that have health or environmental impacts. States and nations all over the world are discontinuing mining, storage, and use of coal, primarily due to negative health and environmental consequences. Even China, the world’s greatest user of coal, diminished coal imports last year by 22 percent. Coal contains highly toxic mercury and arsenic, and West Oakland, which already suffers among the highest asthma rates in the state, would be doubly impacted. Owing to its undeniable health and environmental impacts — which cannot be completely mitigated — coal is automatically excluded under the Army Base contract.

Should the contractor have chosen to protest the prohibition, it was contractor’s responsibility to have produced scientifically documented studies conclusively proving that no health or environmental impacts are possible from shipping, handling, storage, long-term holding, or re-handling of coal for export. The lack of such study and scrutiny, and the consensus of the scientific and environmental communities, automatically vetoes any consideration of “coal.”

Secondarily, the specter of possible litigation appears to frighten councilmembers. This is ludicrous. As revealed by Gene Hazzard’s blog, Clean Oakland, the contract clearly states: “contractor shall not assign any part of its contract without approval of the city.” How is it possible that the city is afraid to enforce its own contract? If this is so, why have a contract at all? The city should simply anoint its favorite vendor with the simple instruction to “proceed however you choose” — ludicrous!

While the September 21 special hearing was totally unwarranted, the community nevertheless responded enthusiastically and loudly proclaimed, “No Coal in Oakland.” One of the broadest coalitions in recent memory — consisting of labor unions, businesses, faith organizations, public interest and community groups, and residents from all walks of life — filled City Hall and its chambers with a boisterous protest against the disastrous possibility of storing and exporting coal from Oakland.

City attorney — do your job! Instruct the city council that the contractor has violated Sections X and Y of the contract and that actions to terminate are already proceeding!

City council — get on the ball! Immediately cease your “hemmin’ and hawin’,” and give full instructions and backing to the city attorney.

Then, publicly announce to the residents of Oakland that you have acted decisively in the interest of the city to halt this illegal threat, and that as the city council, you pledge to be vigilant in protecting the health and safety of the residents and the city, as well as that of the planet.

James E Vann, Oakland


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