Letters for the Week of September 4

Readers sound off on single-cup coffee, climate change, and Richmond's city council.

“Waste: The Dark Side of the New Coffee Craze,” Feature, 8/21

A Convenience-Oriented Society

We’re a convenience-oriented society:  fast food, fast coffee, and there are even apps now for coordinating sex within the hour. When Peet’s first opened on Solano twenty years or so ago, I remember people would bring their own cup or use a ceramic cup there.  Now everyone just takes the paper cup, top, and protective sleeve without thinking much about it.  

It was the push of bottled water at Peet’s stores starting several years ago that soured my opinion of them.

Chris Gilbert, Berkeley

Strikes Against Single-Cup Brewing

Thanks for this important article. One small correction: Coffee has not been a beverage for many thousands of years, only since about the year 600. But that small error does not detract from the importance of this piece.

I have already written to Peet’s, excoriating the company for this terrible move. Either it is specialty coffee, or it is not. Even terrible coffee (Dunkin Donuts) costs what Kona should cost when packaged [in pods]. Higher-end coffee will be costing $70 per pound or more. For that kind of money, a civet should be processing these beans.

So strike one is the ridiculous cost.

Strike two is the inevitable staleness. Grinding coffee multiplies the surface area available for staling by many thousands. No amount of nitrogen flushing will keep these vulnerable grounds free of the oxidation that occurs as the barriers seep oxygen, no matter how gradually.

Strike three, though by far the most serious in moral terms, is the greatly magnified waste.

Strike four: The convenience advantage is illusory. In an office setting, the lack of cleanup is a slight time saver perhaps. At home, a pour-over is just as easy for a single cup, and a high-watt brewer is just as easy for multiple cups.

Strike five is weak coffee, for two reasons: One, the coffee is not brewed at the right temperature, and if it were, it would probably be too bitter; and two, the only way to get a proper dose is to select a small cup size.

Strike six: After so much progress on connecting coffee drinkers to the growers and getting people to care about good coffee, these machines serve to dumb down coffee drinkers. People might pay a premium for Peet’s for a while, but once it is clear that it is not worth the money the question of paying legitimate premiums for good, ethical coffee will be muddled. In other words, Peet’s is making the market safer for bad coffee competitors.

James Hayes-Bohanan,
Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Make the Effort to Go Green

Nespresso’s single-cup pods are much more green if you make the effort. Take the used pods to their store in San Francisco’s Union Square and they are separated into recyclable aluminum and compostable coffee. With encouragement and expanded sales, they might add more facilities or inspire other makers to create more recyclable products.

Ted Russell, Oakland

Simple Solution

Not one mention of the fact that K-Cup brewers come with a reusable pod for those of us who like the convenience and still grind our own beans.  A simple solution is at hand—use the reusable pod that came with your machine!  If grinding beans is too daunting for you, have it done where you buy the coffee. Cleanup is easy and you’ll save money and won’t have to read these “be afraid of everything”-style articles that only offer gloom and doom and no solution.

Tim Nelsen, Oakland

“Berkeley Moves Forward With UC Student District,” News, 8/21

Student District Will Lessen Influence

Putting as many students as possible in the same district will lessen their influence citywide. Instead of being a strong force in two or three districts, their influence will be limited to one. This process has the same effect as when Republican state legislatures pack Democrats into as few districts as possible.

Jack Sawyer, Berkeley

“We Need a Comprehensive Plan on Climate Change,” Seven Days, 8/21

Hacks Run the Show

Your otherwise excellent article summarizing the global warming problem unfortunately ends on an absurd note.

You tell us that the chronic gridlock in Washington is caused by Congressional Republicans.  You go on to reassure us that since the Democrats are in charge in Sacramento, California has no excuse for not getting global warming right. Are you kidding?! Did you insert those sentiments to gauge the gullibility of your readers? Or did you just fall off the back of the cabbage truck?

In case you hadn’t noticed, the hacks run the show, both in Washington and in Sacramento. Democrats are just as bought and paid for as Republicans are. Big oil, big coal, the financial companies, agribusiness, the pharmaceuticals, the public employee unions, etc. call the shots regardless of which party is in power. In fact, when it comes to the environment there is more to be hoped for from the occasional courageous Republican than from the perpetually cynical Democrat. 

We’ve all heard how journalism schools crank out cookie-cutter lefties, but in 2013 can anyone still seriously believe that getting lots of Democrats in power will save the environment or otherwise serve the public interest in any meaningful way? No wonder the fish wraps are going down.

Stephen Pfang, Oakland

We’re Going to Cook Ourselves

There seems to be a massive amount of delusion among those of us who actually care about the consequences of global climate change, specifically the idea that we actually can slow and reverse global warming.

Now, I’m no climatologist or other expert in this field, but it seems pretty evident to me that we’re already well past the “tipping point.” All the data show that the effects of anthropogenic global warming are much more severe than originally estimated. Glaciers are melting and temperatures are rising. But the more glaring outrage is that despite all the hot air being generated by talk about global warming, we’re not doing jack shit to actually stop it!

Sorry, folks: Driving a Prius ain’t gonna save the Earth. Neither will recycling, nor using twirly light bulbs. Now, all of these things would probably be necessary in order to reverse course, environmentally speaking. But while they’re necessary, they’re not sufficient. And speaking of delusions, what is it with proponents of electric vehicles? What do they think these cars run on — pixie dust? Don’t they realize that the energy to propel your Volt or Tesla comes primarily from burning fossil fuel? Or just how much energy it takes to construct and maintain the damn thing in the first place?

A quote in an unrelated article in the same issue of your paper (“Waste: The Dark Side of the New Coffee Craze”) gives one of the reasons for our collective inaction here. A packaging specialist says, “People want convenience, even if it’s not sustainable.” People still want to cart their fat asses around in fossil-fuel-burning, individual pollution-producing units.

Convenience trumps common sense, resulting in a tsunami of (mostly) plastic crap, most of which is not recycled, believe me. And the continuing obsession with handheld electronic devices only adds to the mountain of trash, not to mention the gigawatts of energy required to run them, if you add up all the wall warts, USB chargers, etc.

No, my considered response to all this is to simply say enjoy the ride while it lasts. Because absent some actual concerted, serious global effort to quickly and radically change the way we do business down here on Planet Earth, we’re just going to cook ourselves. It remains to be seen, of course, just how this plays itself out so far as the details are concerned, like rising sea levels, drought and desertification, famine and disease propagation, etc. We can argue and speculate endlessly about such fascinating details, but in the end we’re basically screwed. Have a nice life.

David Nebenzahl, Oakland

“Homophobic Group Disrupts Council Meetings,” News, 8/14

Totally Disgusted

Your article was right on.  As a council watcher for many years, I’ve been totally disgusted by what happens in the meetings ever since [Corky] Boozé took office. The worst thing for me? I voted for him. Once, but never again.

Bob Larsen, Point Richmond

Thank You

Thank you for telling the truth about [Richmond] City Council meetings. If the truth is ugly, then telling it is not pretty. But pussyfooting around it like so many article writers do is disgusting to me. Again, thank you.

Gwynn O’Neill, Richmond

“Bushwhacking Through California Parks,”
Eco Watch, 8/14

Poison Oak Is Part of the Experience

Although I generally enjoy your stuff, you went overboard this week. Could it be that poison oak is as much a part of the park experience as a pristine, carefully carved path?

I hope you have duly considered the many park lovers who are not on board with the feeling that parks ought to be carefully managed and manicured. Frankly, the more sophisticated park defenders that I have known are not on board with California State Parks Foundation’s conservative attitude that parks need to be carefully managed, and are actually glad that the budget cuts have forced a more grassroots, locally appropriate approach to parks management. We could go back and forth on what this actually means, but I sense that with this article you have stepped over the line into park-management extremism. 

Consider that poison oak is maybe part of the experience, and maybe the park and its full-time inhabitants appreciate its presence more than you.

Ryan Mykita, Berkeley

Miscellaneous Letters

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Stimulate Local Economy

New immigrant and refugee families are becoming a more prominent part of the fabric of our country’s society and economy. These individuals face a great struggle and barriers upon their arrival to the United States and are forced to adapt to a culture that is completely foreign to them. One way that these individuals have historically been able to succeed and move forward is through entrepreneurship. These new Americans are finding the benefits of driving their own careers through self-determination and ingenuity.

A recent report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that first-generation immigrants are starting their own businesses at almost twice the rate of the previous generation and at a 27 percent higher rate than non-immigrant Americans. This shows that new Americans are very important contributors to the development of our economy and future. California leads the country in immigrant entrepreneurship. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York-based think tank, about one-third of California’s small businesses are owned by immigrants.

A local nonprofit, AnewAmerica, offers the only program in the nation that provides immigrants, recent refugees, and new citizens and their families with a three-year-long program involving customized business training and coaching, certification in business planning, business development support, access to credit, and social responsibility education. These new American entrepreneurs also find encouragement for integration in social, cultural, and political life in the United States and envision new future possibilities in this country. “We salute our entrepreneurs’ success in launching and expanding their businesses. They are creating jobs, building assets, growing green microenterprises and promoting economic prosperity,” states AnewAmerica CEO, Viola Gonzales. Since 1999, AnewAmerica has successfully established 453 self-sustainable businesses and helped expand 130 more in the Bay Area. They are currently forming their 70th group of entrepreneurs for this upcoming fall.

One of its clients, Betty Bedregal, joined the program in 2012. Originally from Peru, Betty immigrated to the US to find better and safer opportunities for her family. With the support of AnewAmerica, she and her family opened Betty’s Butterflies Day Care, a bilingual, multicultural, and green day care in Mountain View.

Through her day care business, Betty implemented two innovative programs—AnewAmerica’s Healthy Roots and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!”. With Healthy Roots, children learn and become aware of the importance of organic, sustainable, and edible gardening, and balanced nutrition. With “Let’s Move!”, Betty’s day care coordinates activities including neighborhood walks, holiday events, and nutritious family potlucks to invite families from the community to be healthy together.

In October 2012, Betty was recognized as a Top 7 Business Model Finalist in the Santa Clara County StartUp Cup Business Model Competition. In May 2013, she received a public nomination and was invited to attend the Champions of Change Ceremony for Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Innovators at the White House as an audience member. 

Betty is committed to helping families in her community live happy and healthy lives. She is a role model and inspiration to other aspiring entrepreneurs. Betty will be awarded with the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award at AnewAmerica’s upcoming annual Microbusiness Expo on August 29 at the Kaiser Center Rooftop Garden.

José Antonio Flores, Berkeley


Our August 28 feature, “Waste: The Dark Side of the New Coffee Craze,” misstated how long humans have been brewing coffee. It has not been for thousands of years, as we stated. Some historical accounts place the first use of coffee around the 9th century, although the exact date is unknown.

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