Letters for the Week of August 21 

Readers sound off on fracking legislation, unionization, and genetic engineering.

"Sacramento Needs to Regulate Fracking," Seven Days, 8/7

Stop Fracking Altogether

We all know the expression "follow the money." Another question would be who benefits from an action. In this instance, silencing popular resistance to corporate fracking benefits the corporations. If resistance is transformed into mere reforms, such as testing for contaminants, people's fear and anger will not go into direct action stopping fracking altogether. The corporations, the nonprofit organizations, and the politicians all benefit by testing or regulating fracking because it appears that they are doing something about the problem when they're really facilitating it. The corporations get to do the fracking but promise to be responsible, the nonprofit organization gets to claim that its efforts resulted in the testing requirements, and the politicians get credit for "listening" to their constituents and acting on their behalf. Who loses? The people lose because their initial resistance to fracking has been neutralized by this politically opportunistic process. Something similar occurred in Madison, Wisconsin when workers mobilized against Wisconsin Governor Walker's attempt to destroy their right to collective bargaining. It appeared that the empowered workers would accomplish their goals but then the labor bureaucracy and the Democratic Party showed up with clipboards, directing the workers to go home and put their energies into getting out the vote for the Democrats. This betrayal set the labor movement back years by containing and redirecting the spontaneous anger and momentary emancipation of the workers.

The evidence is clear: Fracking is bad. The only responsible solution is to stop it, not test it. To suggest otherwise is to be complicit with the corporations and their political flunkies.

Charles T. Smith, Richmond

Fracking Causes Earthquakes

There is documented evidence that fracking causes earthquakes. Even if you don't believe fracking is inefficient and environmentally harmful (which it is, but set that aside), this alone should disqualify its use in California.

John Seal, Oakland

Better to Have No Legislation

Robert Gammon couldn't be more wrong to state that SB 4 is better than nothing.  SB 4 will facilitate an overwhelming expansion of the worst kind of fracking in California by providing a false framework of safety within which the process could be done. Even assuming for the sake of argument it is possible (which I believe it is not) to regulate fracking in a way that guarantees no pollution of aquifers or soil, makes the mix of toxins used in the fracking transparent to everyone, and makes fracking companies pay the actual costs of any spills or health hazards, it would do nothing to take care of the primary threat posed by the process. This is its impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the resulting catastrophic climate disruption! California cannot afford any more extreme weather events.  The extraction, refining, and burning of the final products of fracked crude oil produce more GHG emissions than coal and tar sands bitumen.  California's shale oil is low-quality, high-sulfur, heavy crude oil. It is two to three times as energy intensive to refine as typical US refinery feedstock, and it produces 40 percent more greenhouse gas in order to make gasoline. The GHG footprint of fracking for oil from the Monterey Shale is greater than that of any other fossil fuel, including coal. This is because of the leakage of methane into the atmosphere. An estimated 17 percent of the methane produced in the oil and gas sector of the Los Angeles Basin is leaked. Above 1 to 3 percent, the science tells us that developing fracked gas and oil is worse than coal for the atmosphere.  Burning the 15 billion barrels of dirty oil from the Monterey Shale will release 6.45 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is 15 times as much as total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in California in 2010. We have already burned most of the fossil fuel we can before we exceed the 2 degrees Celsius warming and climate change becomes irreversible. The International Energy Agency warned that three-fifths to two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avoid disastrous climate consequences. We must leave shale oil in the ground, not regulate it or frack for it.

What we need is an outright ban on fracking. AB 1301 (sponsored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom), the strongest of the moratorium bills, was introduced this legislative session but never made it out of the appropriations committee. It will be back in 2014. But if SB 4 passes this year, politicians can claim that they've addressed the fracking problem and not look at the issue again for a several more years. So nothing is better than SB 4 at this point. SB 4 must be defeated to stop the catastrophic climate disruption that is sure to follow, and to give our children and their children a habitable earth to continue living on.

Lora Jo Foo, Oakland

"Bred in Abuse," Feature, 8/7

Foster Care System Needs Repair

There is a ridiculous breakdown in monitoring who can foster a child. SO many people are just doing it for the money. That system is in desperate need of repair.

Nikki Simonsen, San Leandro

"Unionizing Nonprofits," News, 8/7

Unionization Appropriate for Some

There are many different varieties of non-governmental nonprofits even assuming we're not talking about the Sutters and Kaisers. Unionization might be appropriate for some types but not others.

For the very and the moderately successful nonprofits that are supported by charitable contributions, such as the Sierra Club or the NRA, it would be appropriate. If you look at what the executives of those organizations are paid, unions could be just the thing to spread around the contributions. Donors could still pick organizations they donated to based on how efficient the organizations are.

For the many struggling nonprofits supported by charitable contributions where the executives don't make much more than the workers, unions would be good for improving working conditions. If unionized employees tried to raise compensation, they'd find out pretty quickly if they were killing the organization and would have to back off.

For the nonprofits that contract with government agencies, unions would be good both for the employees and for the residents/taxpayers. Unionization would remove the argument against outsourcing many state and local functions that it's a race to the bottom.  Many state and local functions could be done more efficiently by well-paid unionized workers in well-run nonprofits.  Outsourcing might reduce the political patronage aspect of awarding contracts, which the civil service system has failed at doing. Couldn't make it any worse.

Leonard Raphael, Oakland

Less Dollars Going to the Needy

Where do nonprofits get their funds to operate? From gifts, grants, governments, and hopefully some from operations, such as the sale of donated goods as with Goodwill. Nonprofits are given highly favored tax status on state and federal levels. While nonprofits should be managed to competitively compensate workers, the overall expected mission of a nonprofit is to minimize its administrative expense to maximize the money flowing to that nonprofit's mission. In fact, many nonprofits compete for funding based on the efficiency of their administrative overhead, showing they deliver more of that money raised to the needy. 

If a nonprofit employee is not competitively compensated or unduly asked to work without compensation, it is their prerogative to seek work elsewhere. As the article itself points out, nonprofits are "booming," so there should be no shortage of job opportunities. The very growth of nonprofits has been aided by unions driving government cutbacks due to exorbitant government worker pay and benefits carved out by unions. 

Adding union dues to a nonprofit worker's expenses will almost certainly result in that worker voting for higher wages, even if they are now being competitively compensated. Every union takes its bite out of a worker's pay for its representation. With workers demanding more (even if nothing more than to pay their union dues, which could be $50 or more per paycheck), less funding will be there for the mission of the nonprofit unless more money can be raised. 

Therefore, the administrative expense of the nonprofit will increase and its benefactors will get less in every single case of unionization, and the homeless served by Larkin Street Youth Services will get less, unless more money than current funding is raised. This is simple math — more for nonprofit workers results is less for those served by the organization. 

These facts cannot be clouded by union babble repeated in this article. SEIU 1021 (the one chosen by Larkin Street workers) is the same union representing BART workers, the same union now demanding huge pay increases in spite of its workers being paid the highest of any in this state, all causing overwhelming public condemnation. It is clear to every private worker, and backed by facts, that government workers now get far higher wages and benefits than private industry workers doing the same jobs. Perhaps worse, by joining a public worker union, Larkin Street's employees' wages will probably now be compared to public worker scales rather than nonprofit norms in contract negotiations. 

Every dollar fed to the union is a dollar less going to the needy, and everyone reading this article must keep that fact in mind. Less for the homeless, less for the whales, less for endangered species, less for low-cost housing, less for all in need.

William H. Thompson, Walnut Creek

"A Model Forest?" Eco Watch, 8/7

Story Behind the Trees

The excellent story, "A Model Forest?" by Madeline Thomas describes an ambitious investment in California's future forests that may or may not be recouped by light-touch timber harvests and sale of carbon credits. Make or lose, the people of California will benefit from the clean water, natural habitat, and sustainable forestry jobs because the Conservation Fund is committed to that goal.

The fact is, many private family forest landowners in California are operating on the same principles. They purchased cutover land, planted and nurtured new trees, and today love and enjoy their woodlands. Many have secured the permanent status of their forest through conservation easements. Have they made money? Probably not enough to cover the costs, but they have become rich in family experiences, and at the same time are providing sustainable forest resources in ways that benefit all citizens.

There is a story behind those trees, and it is a good one.

Keith A. Argow,

Ph.D, CF, President,

National Woodland Owners Association,

Vienna, Virginia 

"Bio Hackers," Feature, 7/31

Dangers of Genetic Engineering

I found some of your comments in your article about genetic engineering to be biased in favor of that technology and insulting to those of us who oppose it. Calling the position of those of us who love nature and respect natural processes "knee-jerk" was uncalled for.  The same label could accurately be applied to anyone who supports genetic engineering, or even technology in general.

The most fundamental thing wrong with genetic engineering is that it tries to speed up evolution, which in nature takes a very long time compared to human lifetimes.  This unnatural speeding-up of evolution is very dangerous because humans have no way of knowing the unintended consequences of messing with the basic building blocks of life, which is what genetic engineering is.  In fact, the objective of genetic engineering is of the same mentality as that of Nazi science: trying to artificially create something instead of accepting what nature creates. The Nazis tried to do it with people, and current genetic engineering does it with other species.

Furthermore, your comment that some of us oppose "tinkering with nature" despite humans doing so for a long time implies a major lie: that human "tinkering," far more accurately described as destruction of species and their habitats, is benevolent, or at least benign. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that once humans started using agriculture and grossly overpopulated the earth, it has all been downhill for other species, ecosystems, the air, land, water, and the earth itself.  Humans have caused the Sixth Great Extinction in which we are now living, are causing climate change that is in turn already causing major ecological disruptions that are certain to get worse, have so polluted our oceans with CO2 that the acidification from that gas will cause the oceans to devolve by 200 million years, have polluted every bit of land, air, and water, etc., etc.  The only humans who are not responsible for these massive problems are those who continue to live naturally and eschew most, if not all, advanced technologies.

The fools who artificially engineer plants and animals by injecting genes of other species into them must be stopped. It might not be very long until the negative consequences of doing this are known, and by then it will be far too late.  Modern humans need to get some humility and respect for nature and natural processes, and drop the hubris before they do something from which there will be no return.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

"BART's Big Gift to Wealthy Corporations," News, 7/17


I love an excuse to blame corporations, but the recent article "BART's Big Gift to Wealthy Corporations" reads like poorly researched click-bait. Of course BART should capture some of the value of the increased property values near its stations. In the transportation field we call this "value capture," and it works pretty well. But as another letter from BART's General Manager explained, BART doesn't actually have the authority to tax adjacent property. It did have the authority to develop much-needed housing around its suburban stations, but neighboring residents refused to allow anyone else to share the gift of their new stations. So instead of building and selling off whole mixed-use and transit-oriented neighborhoods, BART had to build parking garages, and has had to fight to charge enough to even pay for operating them. Don't look at downtown San Francisco for an example of a missed financial opportunity, look at North Berkeley BART.

Ruth Miller, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters


I must say, I'm getting a real horselaugh out of the current public transportation situation. First, a BART strike, and then an AC Transit strike. See, it's enough to make even the most staunch environmentalist yearn for the days when owning and operating a gas-guzzling, carbon-footprint muscle car was not a subject for politically correct hissy fits. Well, when those people who oppose private motor vehicle ownership lose their jobs because they have no way to get to work, they will have the satisfaction of knowing they are amongst the environmentally righteous while they are on the way to the homeless shelter. To those folks I say, "Enjoy! It's only what you set yourself up for!"

James J. Fenton, Oakland


Our August 14 What the Fork column erroneously stated that Spoon Korean Bistro opens at 8 a.m.; it actually opens at 9 a.m. 

In our August 14 Education & Careers story "Parachuting Into Coding," we erroneously stated that App Academy's average tuition is $8,190. However, it's actually double that amount because students must pay 18 percent of their first year's pre-tax salary in the first six months of their new job, not 18 percent of six month's worth of their first year's pre-tax salary. 


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