Letters to the Editor

Week of January 30, 2002

The Clever Mr. Riles
Thank you for your coverage of the Oakland mayor’s race. However, your “7 Days” report (January 16) of the Channel 9 candidates debate missed some important points in that encounter. Mr. Riles contended, not once but twice, that taxes from downtown redevelopment of housing or businesses do not go to the city’s general fund; they go back into the redevelopment agency, because downtown is a special tax-exempt district. Therefore, taxes from neighborhoods outside downtown must pay the cost of downtown’s city services, such as water, sewers, fire, police, etc. Thus, downtown is a drain on many other neighborhoods, which deserve support and redevelopment themselves.

In your article on the military charter school (January 16), writer Orquedia Price says it costs “almost twice as much per pupil” than other Oakland public schools. Again, Mr. Riles pointed out in the KQED debate that it costs $27,000 a year for each student at the military charter school, which enrolls less than 200 students, while only $9,000 per year goes for the other 54,000 public school students. That’s three times as much for a small, select number of students, and is far from equitable.
Tom Ross, Oakland

Unintended Consequences
Kara Platoni did a good job describing the human suffering and legal maneuvering surrounding the decision last year by the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) to fine Kaiser Foundation Health Plan $1.1 million “for systemic problems in its emergency care system” based on the deaths of three enrollees (“Critical Condition,” January 16).

The DMHC’s decision is likely to have the unintended consequence of hindering the ongoing effort to keep HMOs out of medical decision-making. The reason for this lies in the structure of Kaiser Permanente and other HMOs.

Managed care organizations have three basic components: a health plan, a physician group, and hospitals. Whether these are all part of one organization, or are organized as a network of individual physicians and hospitals that contract with a health insurance plan, each component has a distinct function. The health plan is an insurance company that contracts with employers, the federal government, or other purchasers to insure the medical care of its enrollees. The health plan, in turn, contracts with physicians and hospitals to provide the medical care its enrollees require. Medical care for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan enrollees is provided by the Permanente Medical Groups, which are separately owned and operated by the physicians as professional corporations in Northern and Southern California, and in several other states.

The goal of public policy in recent years has been to minimize interference by health insurance plans in medical care decisions that should rightly be left to physicians and their patients. Senate Bill 59, which was passed by the California state Legislature in 1999, explicitly states, “Decisions about medical care should be made by physicians and other relevant health care professionals.”

By holding Kaiser Foundation Health Plan accountable for the tragic deaths of these patients, the DMHC is encouraging health insurance plans to take a more active role in medical care decision-making. This is contrary to the direction of current public policy and is not in the best interest of consumers. Failures of medical care decision-making should be addressed by other means, such as civil suits for medical malpractice or by agencies responsible for oversight of medical practice. The state of California should not be encouraging HMOs to interfere in the practice of medicine.
Ken Stanton, RN, PhD, El Cerrito

Readable Journalism
Multiple kudos to Will Harper for his January 24 piece on abalone poaching, “A Dying Breed.” Will must have called me 25 times in the nearly two months he worked on this, and it shows in the amount of territory he covered. But that part of my job is worth it when something like this results. Simply put, it’s one of the best, and most readable, pieces I’ve seen on the world of abalone poaching. Thanks again!
Steve Martarano

Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento

No Molotov Cocktails
Re: “War and Peace,” (January 9). Good article — except for the repetition as “fact” Lynn Chadwick’s claims that “we were shot at” and that the protesters had Molotov cocktails. The shot occurred in the middle of the night that Nicole Sawaya was fired (when no one was in the office). … But, no one knew that Nicole had been fired until the next morning and there were no “dissidents” yet who could have been responsible.

The most plausible explanation for the shot that I’ve heard was that it occurred at the time when a night programmer was entering the building … and she later filed a complaint against her boyfriend. She believed that the shot was intended to scare her and had nothing to do with the uproar that erupted the next day over the firing of Nicole Sawaya.

There were never any Molotov cocktails … there was a street theater production that juggled burning torches.

Our best information at this time is that Pacifica is $2.9 million in debt. However, Pacifica’s “comfortable reserves” were not spent over the past three years to defend the lawsuits because the lawyers haven’t been paid. … $1.5 million of the $2.9 million outstanding debt is attributable to legal defense bills that should have been paid by Pacifica’s directors and officers liability insurance carrier.

We just received a $20,000 grant to get independent accountants into the books for two weeks to find out where the money went. That report is due out January 31 and will be made public.
Carol Spooner, Secretary,

Pacifica Foundation Interim Board of Directors

San Mateo’s the One
Just wanted to let you know that the Berkeley Daily Planet is the sister paper of the feisty San Mateo Daily Journal, not the feisty Palo Alto Daily News as you reported in your article on Judith Scherr departing. The new editor, Devona Walker, comes from the SMDJ — a paper she helped fashion into the mouthpiece of no one and the critical eye of everyone. I think if you decide to crack on another paper, you should at least get your facts straight.

Jon Mays Editor,
San Mateo Daily Journal

Editor’s note:
The Palo Alto Daily News and the Berkeley Daily Planet are indeed owned by different companies, although Dave Danforth, the so-called “father of the micro-daily,” had a hand in launching both papers.

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