university california press, oakland

Letters to the Editor

Week of may 25, 2001


Bangtail Brouhaha
TO THE EDITOR:Wait a tic. Let me get this straight. There is an absolutely huge parcel of essentially empty, underutilized land used for gambling sitting right on the bay along the East Bay’s urbanized core, and there is some question as to what to do with it? (“All Bets Are Off,” May 18)

Horse racing? Give me a break, this is 2001, not 1950! I don’t know what planet these people from Albany are on, but what you gotta be pushing for on that spot is housing.

The fact that Albany depends almost entirely on revenues from gambling is pathetic. They should have some dignity and do things that real cities do: build houses and stores so people can hang out, run errands, spend money, drink coffee, and do all types of normal things.

It’s a sad day when environmentalists and local history preservationists have to condone and support gambling just because a place with some grass on it has been around for sixty years. From the look of the completely empty space behind Peter Tunney in that picture on page 10, Golden Gate “Fields” looks like a bigger waste of land than a golf course! Get it together, people! Face reality!

We are in the midst of a severe housing shortage, and people are debating what should be done with this huge urban parcel? It blows my mind! ABAG says that Albany has to build 277 units to make their fair share. This looks like a good place to start.
Charles Nelson

On the Waterfront
to the editor:In your article about the Albany waterfront (“All Bets Are Off,” May 18), the statement that the Albany City Council put a measure on the ballot “in an attempt to prevent development” is quite misleading.

Measure C was rejected by the City Council. It only went on the ballot becuase of a tremendous three-week signature-gathering campaign by Citizens for the Eastshore State Park and the Sierra Club.

And it was CAS and its allies who conducted the equally enthusiastic election campaign that turned Measure C into law, in spite of oppositions by the City Council.

That victory was a significant factor, following votes in Emeryville and Berkeley, that made possible the present creation of the Eastshore State park.

Incidentally, you should have indentified me as a former member of the Albany Waterfront Committee, since I now live in Oakland.
Bob Arnold

Are Radicals Crazy?
TO THE EDITOR:Thanks to Chris Thompson for vividly demonstrating that red-baiting lives on in the post-Cold War era, even in a “progressive” Bay Area weekly. His attack on leftists in the Oakland Education Association (“Class Struggle,” April 20) essentially brands anyone who forthrightly challenges systemic injustice as lunatic.

I am often critical of the tactics and the analysis by the group Thompson targets (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN), but the public demonization of union activists by other union leaders is infinitely more damaging and shameful than anything BAMN has done. The article scapegoats all of OEA’s leftists (BAMN and others) for perpetuating the outrageous conditions of our schools and attacks us for doing what radical teachers, by definition, do: try to address educational inequity at its root in the inherently inequitable system called capitalism. We also advocate for our members, work for specific reforms, and teach our students.

Thompson uncritically quotes a view that “working conditions and class size…fell into the province of the radical left…by default…and so is [opposition to] standardized testing” because “no one’s been able to chart a viable middle course.” Huh? Why do you think we’re considered radical leftists in the first place? By definition, radicals are the ones willing to fight for social justice while others brand them “irresponsible” and “crazy,” until it’s safe for “respectable” people to take these same stands.

Granted, one wouldn’t think that the fight for fundamental improvements in our horrendous educational conditions would be left to a radical minority. If that’s what Thompson’s trying to understand, he’s asking the wrong question. Instead of, “Why does OEA let commie teachers meddle in their union?”, try this: Why do so many OEA leaders profess to believe we’ll get the changes we all want if only we ask for them in just the right way at just the right time, especially when those we’re begging consistently have scorned OEA and genuine reform?

Our alternative would not be “to engage in screaming matches,” as Thompson claims, but to negotiate from a position of strength.

In a previous life, Thompson surely would have joined those deriding militant abolitionists for “hurting the cause,” prompting one, Frederick Douglass, to retort, “Those who claim to favor freedom and yet denounce agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.”
Craig Gordon

OEA Secretary


Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

As to the article on the Chaconas “shake-ups” (“Metro Desk: Oakland,” May 18): Good Lord! Now, as they say, I’ve heard everything! Suggestions that Chaconas is a racist! Give me an enormous break!

Obviously, the poor guy is trying to weed out, improve, uplift, drag from the depths the Oakland school district, which is in as much trouble as you can get. If a few African Americans are being transferred or asked to do other tasks, he must have a hell of a good reason to do so.

Chaconas, being who he is, where he is, and thus being more than sensitive to “racist” accusations, must absolutely know what he is doing. Let’s let the beleaguered, heroic guy get on with his difficult job. Stop, already, with the racist nonsense.
Robert Blair

School for Scandal
to the editor:It appears that the new Express has lately become the most popular periodical in the East Bay for commentary on labor relations in the Oakland public schools. This is really interesting since the Express is a non-union journal without a collective bargaining agreement with its employees.

First we had your “Class Struggle” article by Chris Thompson (April 20) in which he purported to be exposing a troika on the verge of taking over the Oakland Education Association (OEA) “by any means necessary.”

So what if only one member of this grouping holds a position on the sixteen-person OEA board? Sensationalist reporting, red-baiting, and conspiracy theories sell newspapers or, in your case, boost verified circulation advertising revenue.

Now, we have a piece titled “All Shook Up” by Kara Platoni (May 18). She claims that Dennis Chaconas “instituted the infamous ‘March 15 letters’ which alert underperforming staffers that they will not be returning to the district’s employ the following fall.”

The truth is that March 15 letters for administrators are often retracted and, when binding, do not lead to termination. Principals are reassigned to the classroom (usually at the top of the OEA salary schedule).

For teachers, however, March 15 letters can fire a probationary employee without due process or lead to a termination hearing for permanent staff. The above laws can be found in the California Education Code.

Finally, the May 18 article claims that the reason the student-to-counselor ratio was bumped from 325-1 to 500-1 was because “the Oakland Education Association and the school board negotiatied to use the money saved on counselors to give teachers a half-percent raise.”

The Express needs to employ a fact-checker. The 1996 contract settlement was a package deal designed by a PERB mediator to end the 26-day strike as a compromise settlement. It was never an OEA proposal to increase the number of students assigned to counselors! The OEA has always advocated both salary increases and ratio improvements whether in the classroom or among support staff.

Please do not confuse management proposals with a union’s reluctant need to accept a brokered settlement to end a five-week-long strike that was costing its loyal members thousands of dollars in lost salary while scabs were feeling no pain.

Bring back Dashka Slater as your public education reporter!
Ben Visnick
Teacher, Oakland High

OEA Past President (1992-96)