Letters for the Week of September 5

Readers sound off on youth curfews, Tom Bates, and Prop 32.

‘Liberal Doesn’t Always Mean Liberal,” UC Berkeley Student Guide, 8/22

The Writing on the Wall?

Thanks! Your blurb about “liberal” in Berkeley is one of the most succinct and clear explanations of our dysfunctional town! I am framing it and will give copies to all those people who ask me about the ultra-liberal leanings of Berkeley.

Thanks for a great job.

Marlon Maus, Berkeley

Enough Bates Boosterism

The recent edition welcoming new students to UC Berkeley and the surrounding community was well-done overall. It was, however, disappointing (again) for Robert Gammon to present such a myopic perspective on Berkeley politics as it relates to development. Gammon has consistently promoted Mayor Tom Bates, and in this article misleads students to think that downtown development will bring more housing at lower rents for students. In reality, the development plan pushed by Bates will result in massive high-rise condominiums that will be very expensive and unaffordable to most local workers, let alone students. If Gammon was a baseball announcer he would be a “homer” for the Bates agenda.

Most people in Berkeley do support a downtown improvement plan that would actually provide housing for local workers at affordable levels, versus huge condos for the very wealthy.

Jim Millins, Berkeley

NIMFY, Either

Robert Gammon is a shill for Mayor Bates, and has been for the past three years that I’ve read his column. It’s most amazing that the Express, a publication that serves our community well, allows him to publish such drivel. He derides the public who come to council meetings to plead their causes, always rejected, and calls Berkeley residents NIMBY (not in my backyard) snivelers. Well, I am a Berkeley resident, and a so-called NIMBY. In fact, I don’t want most of what Gammon supports in my front yard either. Is his purpose to take over both of my yards?

Two other questions: What has Bates given you, Mr. Gammon, to be his broken mouthpiece? And, where in the world do you live? It would be hard to believe it is Berkeley. Finally, in your article lauding Bates, the picture is at least ten years old. Why not use the more current one the San Francisco Chronicle published in its May 27, 2012 edition: It is far more telling of an old pol out to sack his community.

Victoria Peirotes, Berkeley

Stop West Berkeley Project’s Phase 3

Robert Gammon’s article tells UC students that people like me are to blame for high student rents in Berkeley. His reasoning is a chain of vague political characterizations unsupported by any specific instances, leading to an exhortation on behalf of a questionable redistricting. In the middle, he concludes that obstructionist NIMBYs are responsible for high students’ rents. He is wrong.

He may be referring in part to the Berkeley City Council’s current plan to transform West Berkeley by destroying our beloved West Berkeley Plan, which was developed by a process of community consensus, and which the council passed unanimously in 1993.

I am one of dozens of West Berkeley’s industrial business employers who oppose the destruction. As information about the project has come out, formerly uninvolved residents have been galvanized into participating publicly. They are almost universally opposed. Our West Berkeley community has worked for decades to build the neighborhood into today’s vibrant mixture of large and small manufacturing, artisans, and recycling businesses living in close harmony with residents. It’s a satisfyingly diverse ecology of commerce.

Now a city council-mandated planning juggernaut, the West Berkeley Project, threatens to replace the West Berkeley Plan. The first two phases of the project are already law. But the goal of Phase Three is to build massive high-rise labs and insular multi-acre communities. More than 100 acres would be affected. The project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) describes dozens of serious negative effects that can’t be mitigated. Council accepted them anyway. The West Berkeley Plan had none.

We’re afraid, frankly. Some existing businesses could be displaced, along with their services. The EIR shows many homes in the shadows of high-rises. Views both from upper Berkeley and the Bayfront would be blotted out. Traffic at the entries to town would become even more congested.

Ironically, most business owners I know are ourselves developers. We aren’t, as Mr. Gammon tells readers, “preservationists” who “live in rent-controlled apartments” or who “own homes with absurdly low property taxes” and come together only to “scream at the city council.” Allied with us in opposing the project’s impacts at the testifying stages were residents, neighborhood groups, and several non-governmental organizations.

Mr. Gammon is right about one thing: We “packed City Hall chambers,” meaning we vastly outnumbered the handful of proponents — mostly big developers and land speculators. This packing happened at every public hearing for over four years. Reliably, businesses and an increasing number of residents showed up to discuss our ideas rationally and reasonably in the one- and two-minute sound bites we were allowed. But the city council and its appointed commissioners ignored our reasoning and caved to the moneyed interests. Mr. Gammon apparently applauds their vote but doesn’t say why. He castigates the opposition without venturing an argument.

This tone is unfortunate and the direction unnecessary. The community might have put together a deal, given a chance. Although my role was small, I was one of about 85 people recognized as architects of the successful and popular West Berkeley Plan, which amazingly achieved consensus under the very different management style of Mayor Tom Bates’ wife, former Mayor Loni Hancock. Another of the many architects was Councilman Max Anderson who, before being outvoted this time 6-3 in the final stages of the project debacle, called it a “foul exercise.”

During the project’s process the community wasn’t given any way to reach a consensus plan or even talk directly with the developers. Despite multiple calls for face-to-face meetings, we were split by city staff into different “stakeholder groups,” which met separately until public hearings were called. Then at each and every hearing for four years, the appointed planning commission, followed by the appointing city council, voted 7-2 or 6-3 to give the big-capital developers nearly everything they wanted.

Conversely, the existing community got almost nothing it wanted.

Now Berkeley’s voters have a chance to undo this travesty and send Phase Three back to the people to achieve a better outcome. Realizing that we opponents were likely to referend their decision, the council majority placed Phase Three on the November ballot as Measure T. I and many others are asking voters to say no to Measure T.

Stopping Phase Three won’t stop development. It will stop only the juggernaut and high-rise labs. What most opponents want is to force the council to let us all get in the same room together. We deserve a chance to work out differences in open discussion, and revise the West Berkeley Plan by creating the consensus that power politics have denied us. Let’s try again and do it right. No on Measure T.

Daniel Knapp

President, Urban Ore

Glossary of Terms,” UC Berkeley Student Guide, 8/22

What’s Wrong with ‘Frisco’?

What’s with this random (but quite frequent) assortment of people bashing “Frisco” as a term used to refer to San Francisco? Who are you people? I have many friends born and raised in the Bay Area, most from San Francisco, who call it Frisco every once in a while. My ex in college would lovingly call out “Frisco! You know!” every time he felt like expressing his pride about something cool the city did, does, or stands for. I even have a friend from San Leandro who would say things like, “I hate driving this truck in Frisco.” It’s refreshing to hear this old-school term and it seems like all these transplants are anti- for some reason.

Natalie Koski-Karell, Oakland

Why a Curfew is Still a Bad Idea,” Seven Days, 8/22

It’s About Safety

I think having a curfew in Oakland is a good idea and I think Robert Gammon totally misses the point. No one cares that the curfew won’t reduce crime. The point is hanging out in parts of East and West Oakland late at night is a bad idea for anyone at any age. People who hang out at 98th Avenue and Edes Avenue, for example, at 3 a.m. are at very high risk of being shot at. And if you don’t believe me, just look at the statistics of when and where people are shot. A great many are shot late at night and on the street. And who are being shot in huge numbers? Black and brown kids. Why? Because they’re hanging out on street corners late at night and someone comes by and words are exchanged and someone pulls out a gun. And the fact that this happens all the time should be enough reason to have a curfew. Not because it doesn’t reduce crime or because some black or brown kids will get profiled, but because we can save some children’s lives if we can keep them off the street late at night. And how many children’s lives can we save? Who knows? I think if we can save one kid’s life then it is worth it.

I dare anyone who is reading this to go to Seminary at East 16th Street, or anywhere on lower 98th Avenue, or Market at 14th Street, or anywhere along San Pablo from Grand to Emeryville at 1 a.m. and just stand on the corner with a few of your friends for an hour or two and wait and see what happens. Then ask yourself, should a child be able to go hang out on one of these street corners?

I remember when I was a kid there was a curfew, many decades ago. Did it stop us from leading a life of crime? No, but we did stay indoors late at night because we didn’t want to spend the night in jail.

Jay Dodson, Oakland

Don’t Be Afraid of Oakland,” UC Berkeley Student Guide, 8/22

Town Pride

Thank you for your recent article concerning living in Oakland. I am a native of Oakland. As an adult I have enjoyed living in other places inside and outside of the US. I returned to Oakland in 1984 and have lived here continuously since that time. Oakland is a geographically beautiful city in addition to the fact that it is probably one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in America. I have met several people of various racial backgrounds who have left the surrounding suburbs and are quite happy living in Oakland. They could have chosen to live in other areas. Oakland is a major metropolitan/cosmopolitan city with the pros and cons that go with that distinction. Oakland’s physical proximity to San Francisco is without doubt a great advantage. I believe the issues plaguing Oakland are politically based. Again, thanks for your vote of confidence in The Town.

Evelyn Washington, Oakland

The One Percent Doubles Down with Paul Ryan,” Raising the Bar, 8/15

A Better Choice?

I hope Jay Youngdahl, who recently in his column dreaded expected appeals to rally behind President Obama, didn’t mean all should now go out and vote for him because the Republican ticket is so dangerous, but at times it sounded like that. Jay seemed to be ignoring the facts that:

One: We are in an electoral college system, with voting by state. California is not a “swing state.” There is no doubt Obama will win California, probably by multiple millions of votes. If the election is close, more California votes for Obama won’t make the difference. They can only strengthen symbolic endorsement of his record.

Two: There are other choices on the ballot that actually support liberal values, most prominently Jill Stein of the Green Party. Many votes for Stein would signal support for such values. Extra votes for Obama will signal — what?

Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 with the votes of people who believed he would be a president with a clear progressive vision toward which he would “move the polls, not watch the polls.”

“We are the ones we have been waiting for,” he said. The question remains: For what? We’re still waiting. Though Obama is obviously an extremely impressive individual, as far as a moral center, a social philosophy, he’s made it pretty clear that whatever we may have thought we heard, Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers notwithstanding, he seems to like things pretty much the way they are.

The best predictor of a president’s second term is the first. Obama has not led. He has no discernible significant plans for the next four years. Wouldn’t he have mentioned them by now? 

Some point to a difficult political environment as reason to support the president. But Obama was elected in 2008 with the strongest Democratic mandate since 1964: The largest percentage of the vote, the strongest control of Congress. He did, I’d argue, little with it while failing to connect with his base, so that mandate was reversed in 2010. The political environment, at least when Democrats had a majority, was one in which retreat was the first order of battle and no one made a case until elections were imminent, in which liberalism was weakly, rarely, uncertainly articulated, and — surprise! — it lost ground.

The most important thing a president has is the bully pulpit. What the president says and doesn’t shapes the national conversation. President is a political job. A president who won’t engage with his supporters, more or less continually, not just at election time, undermines his own side.

Statements by Obama’s team that they worked at the “frontier of the politically possible” — whether to revive the economy, advance public health care, create jobs, or anything else — are transparently fraudulent. Obama has not even gone on TV, addressed the nation, told it what needs to be done and how we can help. Not during the health-care debate, nor during the stimulus debate, nor otherwise. That’s apparently too old-fashioned, but what takes its place? Answering questions on social media? Kibitzing with celebrity journalists? It doesn’t do the same thing.

By “tacking to the center,” Democratic leaders like Obama reinforce by acquiescence the false assumptions that help corporate and imperial views dominate American political life and so over time weaken the side they at least claim to be on.

Yes, Obama’s government extended unemployment compensation and cut social security taxes. His efforts may extend health insurance to many Americans — however under a hyper-regulated but still-private public utility model that, by failing to control costs and ignoring systemic problems, “kicks the can down the road” while discrediting public health-care solutions into the future, likely shaping a health system with at once the heart and efficiency of PG&E.

What Obama has sadly been best at is killing “America’s enemies,” mostly a bunch of guys in the hills of central Asia who see themselves fighting American domination of their world. This is even worse than it seems. At a time of no true global threat and massive budget deficits, he has ensured growing military budgets equaling those of the rest of the world. Obama has energetically put a liberal, Democratic, Third-World face on policies of domination across the world from the Middle East to Guantánamo. The corrective of a Democratic party skeptical of imperial adventures has been largely neutralized by Obama’s presidency. Were you hoping for a president who might tell Americans they don’t really need to dominate central Asia? 

Meanwhile, no liberal economist can get near the White House. One may have thought in 2008 electing Obama might give Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, or Robert Reich influence in managing the economy. Instead, he passed it largely to corporate Wall Street guys, perpetuating corporate economics and Wall Street impunity — not that that’s helped the economy.

He has offered bailouts without responsibility — for corporations only, promoting an empty economic agenda of “out-competing the world,” ignoring the poor and ever-advocating for the meaningless “middle class” with which all identify. 

For those who support democratic and egalitarian values, any appeal for unified support for Obama now in a safe state like California sadly seems a little too much to evoke what George Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Don’t waste your vote!

Steve Koppman, Oakland

Playing with Ourselves,” Culture Spy, 8/15

An Interplay Enthusiast

What a great article! 

I’ve been doing InterPlay since 1998 or so. The first time I came to a class I felt relieved, like I’d come home. It was exactly what I’d been looking for.

From the start, a lot of the exercises were easy and fun. Or sometimes, deeply revealing and moving. And the first year or two, a few of the exercises were quite challenging, and I thought I wasn’t doing them “right.” But in every class, the leaders would say to everyone, “You can’t do InterPlay wrong — however you doing it, that’s the right way.” And the atmosphere in every InterPlay class I’ve ever attended is so positive and playful.

Some of the benefits:

InterPlay has made my writing more fluid and fun. Also I’ve become a lot more playful, and more easygoing and trusting of life and of myself: that I am “good enough” just like I am. 

Several of the InterPlay forms have come in very handy in everyday life. For a quick break from computer work, I’ll do the three-breath song, the InterPlay breathing or a “shake it all out” thing we do. Just yesterday, I noticed I was feeling fragile. So I did a one-arm dance and allowed a little song to come out, and then did a little free writing about a big trip I’m taking. Five minutes later, I was feeling so much better! Plus I got a simple insight which continues to relieve a lot of stress for me about a project I’m involved in.

Meg MacLeod, Asheville, North Carolina

The High Costs of Outsourcing Police,” Feature, 8/8

Spitting in the Wind

Ironies abound. If my memory serves me, the original legal challenge that broke residency requirements originated when Berkeley was sued to “diversify” its then-mostly white force. The litigants won the case and then they got their way codified by the statute that currently applies.

The issue of pensioners moving out of the area where they earned it is metastasizing rapidly. It might even be close to a majority of them who are fleeing not just their localities but California in general. The left got its way, taking over the state by sheer weight of numbers through uncontrolled immigration. Now the fiscal meltdown proceeds as the takers swamp the makers. (And wait until you see what California’s new “cap and trade” is going to do to what’s left of our tax base).

Even if you dislike such a point of view, at least recognize all of us outside the top One Percent have been sold out by a hellish collection of “bipartisan” policies: The “free trade” deals (actually investor protection schemes designed to make it safe to ship the jobs out) financial deregulation, and ultimately simple non-enforcement of the law. Alleged liberals like Joe Biden voted for whole pile and now complain about the consequences. Academic types who whine about tax rates are a laugh, when the overwhelming force driving inequality is globalization itself. But we can’t tax imports because that would hurt the state religion of “free trade.”

Hope and change? I think about this a lot. Recognize that what has been realized is exactly what Bill Bradley named the policy when he called out Al Gore at the Apollo in 2000: abandonment. There is no investment adequate to re-employ those damaged by the outsourcing and investment policies that I would call anti-American. We are left to consider what can be done with the cash flow that still trickles down. (If you want a breath of fresh air on the subject please consult the Solari.com site hosted by Catherine Austin Fitts, whose financial forecasts have proved stunningly accurate — and are curiously absent from any media sources, save for late night talk radio and Berkeley’s own KPFA). Ms. Fitts speaks of “community economics,” which isn’t much more complicated than trying to keep as much cash flow in your local economy as you can. It would be a big help to get people to give up their dope (or at least grow their own?) and spend the money locally. Follow the example of AgLink.com, where they’re matching local producers with school lunch programs. It wouldn’t hurt the folks still fortunate to get in on a union-protected deal, public or not, to start thinking about the consequences of their consumption and investment decisions (Ms. Fitts says that the PERS fund managers told her that disinvestment in America would be the trend in the 21st Century).

When I was studying for an economics degree, the professors taught “diversification” as a holy doctrine, and what could be more “diversified” than spreading investment the world over? Now the global economy turns out to be our tar baby, where each local outbreak threatens to turn into a systemic contagion — necessitating, you guessed it, another bailout scheme to protect the people who caused the problem in the first place. I would say leaving this situation in place while worrying about where the police choose to reside is pretty much like spitting in the wind.

Mark Talmont, Berkeley

Dianne Feinstein Targets Tule Elk,” Eco Watch, 8/8

Parks are for the People

What are cows doing in a national park? Who intended grass to be eaten by cows instead of elk? God put the elk she created on this land. Humans put the cows there. Cows are man-made hybrids of an ancient beast God put in Europe. National parks are public property of the people of the USA, just like the wildlife, which has been there for millions of years.

Where did Dianne Feinstein go to school? Leave our wildlife alone. If there are too many elk, there aren’t enough cougars and wolves. If you disagree, go back to Europe.

Marcia Denison, Rainier, Oregon

If You Liked Citizens United, You’ll Love Prop 32,” Opinion, 8/8

What’s at Stake

You can’t stop something if it isn’t being done.

Corporations don’t use payroll deductions for political purposes, they take money from profits — away from stockholders. This has no effect on corporate special interests, corporate Super PACs, corporate CEOs, or billionaire businesspeople contributing unlimited amounts to campaigns. These are the same corporations that outsource our jobs. Corporate special interests outspend unions 15-1. 

What’s at stake? Overtime pay, work schedules, meal breaks, nurse-patient ratios, workplace health and safety laws, vacation days, and sick leave, to name a few. Take a peek at how these same businesses treat their employees in Saipan. Screw 32.

Jane Lea, Sacramento


Our 8/29 Fall Arts Story, “High Art Is Paramount,” contained two errors: First, that the singer Joan Baez would be participating in the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s holiday show (she will not), and second, that Nader Abbassi is Palestinian (he is Egyptian).


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