Letters for June 3 

Readers sound off on composting, damming the Mokelumne River, Koreatown, and toll lanes.

"Compost or Biogas?" Eco Watch, 4/15

Let's Do Both

Robert Gammon's article starts with the false premise that we must choose one of two options for handling waste organic materials when, in fact, we need both.

Scores of Oakland businesses supply waste food materials, ideal for methane production, to EBMUD's anaerobic digesters. The solids that remain after digestion are disposed in landfills, because the food scraps are co-digested with biosolids from the water treatment operation. The City of Oakland is engaged with EBMUD to deliver sufficient quantities to justify dedicating a digester solely to food scraps, so the remaining solids can be shipped to composting facilities rather than landfilled.

Oakland's residential green cart program includes both food scraps and yard trimmings. Food scraps represent a small fraction of the total residential green waste tonnage and do not warrant separate collection. Because EBMUD's digesters cannot handle woody yard trimmings, composting is the best option for reuse of Oakland's residential green waste.

The benefits of composting far outweigh the nominal methane from compost production and the transportation-related emissions from the trucking of green waste to the Central Valley. Compost displaces energy- and emissions-intensive petrochemical fertilizer, reduces associated toxic runoff, and saves water and the energy used to deliver the water. Finally, Central Valley compost facilities are ideally located near their primary customers — the farmers who use the finished product.

The City of Oakland will continue to promote composting as a preferred alternative to landfilling, while actively supporting EBMUD's efforts to produce biogas from commercial and industrial food scraps.

Becky Dowdakin, recycling program supervisor, City of Oakland

Robert Gammon Responds

Ms. Dowdakin misstates my story. I never asserted that we should send green waste (yard trimmings) to EBMUD so that it can be turned into methane gas. In fact, the story states the opposite, and notes that EBMUD does not have that capability. Instead, my story argues that we should continue to turn green waste into compost, while seriously exploring whether to send our food waste to EBMUD so that it can be converted to methane gas and turned into clean energy by the utility's West Oakland generators.

"Sierra Water Grab," Feature, 4/29

Leave the River Alone

East Bay MUD should not dam or violate the Mokelumne River. After reading your article, and having moved to Nor Cal looking for this kind of unspoiled recreation, I went up to this river. I was not disappointed. It was being enjoyed by a stoked group of UC Santa Cruz students and grad students on a led kayak tour, a man with four brown labs, doing tennis ball laps, a number of hikers, swimmers, and picnickers on the shore. We can get and conserve water somewhere else. We should let this little river be well enough alone.

Colby Allerton, Albany

"Not Your Typical Ethnic Enclave," Feature, 5/6

Who Should Be Humble?

Resident Tao Matthews commented, "They (Korean investors) should humble themselves. This is not Seoul, Korea. This is Oakland Northgate." A comparable neighborhood in Seoul (the outskirts of downtown) would reveal immaculate streets free of graffiti and litter and rates of violent crime, theft and property damage so miniscule that merchants and restaurateurs routinely leave their sidewalk retail displays, chairs, tables/table settings outdoors all night. If such neighborhoods were commonplace "where I come from," as far as the notion of who knows how to create/who has created wholesome and safe environments is concerned, regardless of my agenda, I certainly would not humble myself to the neighborhood of Northgate Oakland.

The Korean investors in question would not have a track record of legal and profitable real estate transactions were they not capable of "humbling" themselves by heeding tax codes and real estate law (something that local and domestic real estate tycoons small and large have failed to do, resulting in financial ruin for their investors). Furthermore, aside from the humility required by good citizenship, few immigrants or international investors who brought themselves or their money to this land ever succeeded alone or made America a better place by humbling themselves through acquiescence to our status quo. Historically, the immigrants' desire to escape the worst of their homeland while recreating its best on our shores is the impetus that has collectively resulted in the greatness of America.

These Korean investors pursue their goal of investing in and revitalizing an American neighborhood, if not for altruistic reasons, then surely because such previous attempts have proven to be financially successful throughout American history. If they succeed in accomplishing here in America what we Americans have failed to accomplish ourselves, perhaps it is we Americans who should humble ourselves instead.

Matthews' suggestion that Northgate Oakland's international investors humble themselves (By not being so successful? By failing in their efforts to renew Northgate Oakland?) demonstrates her ignorance of the historically positive effects of immigration and international investment in America. Her ignorance is surpassed only by the outright bigotry of her comments.

G Lawrence Han, Berkeley

"Bay Area Toll Lanes Could Lose Money," Full Disclosure, 5/6

Competing Goals

The purpose of carpool lanes is to reduce pollution (not congestion) by reducing the number of cars on the road. The purpose of congestion pricing is to smooth out traffic flows by shifting non-essential travel to off-peak periods. These are competing goals.

As noted in the article, carpool lanes tend to increase congestion in other lanes. Conversely, any reduction in congestion will increase the amount of driving by reducing the cost to drivers.

It's not paradoxical that the toll is higher when the lane is more congested. That's the whole point of congestion pricing, which is intended to measure the cost of congestion (to other drivers) caused by the driver's presence in the toll lane. This means that the price should be nominal (or zero) when the lane is not congested.

For this reason, toll lanes will be ineffective where carpool lanes are uncongested, as is often the case with Bay Area roads today. However, there is reason to believe that these roads may become more congested in the future.

Robert Denham, Berkeley

The Price Should Be Right

While Mr. Gammon's piece highlights an interesting debate about traffic data and the underlying human behaviors, it misses the bigger point. Traffic congestion is essentially a pricing problem. At the peak (which is more and more a plateau, ameliorated only by the temporarily crappy economy), there is much more demand than there is capacity. We see the same thing with daytime mobile phone minutes and flights on Mondays, Fridays, and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, for example. How is it normally solved? It costs more for daytime mobile minutes, and the discounted fares at high-travel times are fewer and vanish sooner.

So while it may or may not be politically or economically wise to convert highway lanes suddenly to carpool lanes and then make them toll lanes, the solution to a pricing problem is clearly pricing in some form. Economists have known this for decades; we planners and politicians (and indeed, voters) have been so stuck on the "Free" in the unfortunate term "FreeWay" that we've lost our "Way." Attempts to convert a lane or two are a step in the right direction, not only because they can generate revenue, but because they use our infrastructure much more wisely.

The major point lost in the article (and apparently not mentioned by the faculty interviewed, to my surprise) is that a congested "freeway" lane operates not at, but significantly below, its capacity. If lanes were properly priced (free or cheap at midnight, pricier at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.), we could ensure maximum flow, saving time, fuel, pollution, and lots of frustration. The economic (and environmental and social) value of these improvements would likely swamp any costs of moving toward FasTrak pricing of lanes. Of course, this would have to been done in a politically sensitive manner, weaning drivers away from congestion and providing both choices — a "free" opportunity to sit in traffic, and a "paid" option with a guaranteed flow rate, by setting the prices according to real-time traffic conditions.

Gregg Doyle, Ph.D., San Luis Obispo

"Aquarium Age"

Ralfee Rules

Greetings. Your "Aquarium Age" Ralfee Finn is a real jewel! What do you do to your people when they do a great job? Whatever it is — do it for Ralfee Finn. His name is a mysterious fascination for me and sometimes the way he turns a phrase is so right on. I love the East Bay Express because — guess — Ralfee Finn.

Vernice Boone, Alameda

Editor's Note

Ralfee Finn is a "she."

Astrology Isn't Porn

Thank you so very much for moving the Aquarium Age out of the porn section. I really hate those ads even though they do bring you so much needed revenue. Thanks again!

A.C. Harper, Oakland

Correction

In "Strong and Gentle," (Body & Soul, 5/27/09), the correct date for the start of the spring session is March 29.

Express Wins Awards

The East Bay Express won five awards, including three first-place awards, in the East Bay Press Club's annual Excellence in Print Journalism Contest for 2008. Clubs editor, editorial coordinator, and staff writer Nate Seltenrich won first place in the Lifestyle Feature writing category for "Writers, Unblocked" (August 6, 2008), a cover story about an Oakland organization that helps artists overcome creative hurdles. Staff writer Robert Gammon won two first-place awards. "The Torture Professor" (May 14, 2008), a feature-length polemic on why UC Berkeley should fire law-school professor John Yoo, won in the Best Opinion writing category, and "Tip of the Iceberg" (December 17, 2008), an examination of Oakland lobbyist Carlos Plazola, won for Best Analysis writing. Gammon also earned a second-place award in the Best Series category for "The Belgian Connection," a series of articles about AC Transit's controversial bus purchases. And he got third place in the In-depth or Investigative Reporting category for "Arrests Are Down, and Crime Is Up" (December 3, 2008), a cover story that revealed the Oakland Police Department's dismal record for solving violent crimes. The contest award winners were announced Friday, May 29, in Oakland. The writing categories were judged by the Los Angeles Press Club, the Cleveland Press Club, and the Milwaukee Press Club.

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