Letters for the Week of January 4, 2016 

Readers sound off about grinches and investigative journalism.


"Grinches of the Year" By Express Staff, Feature Story, December 21:

Grinch Caveats

I like and agree with your "Grinches of the Year" column, with two exceptions. One of your Grinch comments left out the worst thing about that Grinch, and one was totally wrong.

While Caltrans has been awful in taking and destroying street people's belongings, it has been worse in destroying the natural environment to build roads, often illegally. And you can't punch someone in basketball, no exceptions. Draymond Green got what he deserved.

Caltrans was successfully sued over its illegal logging and illegal plan to harm Alameda Creek by widening route 84 in Niles Canyon. And, as the Express has reported in the past, Caltrans is trying to kill old growth redwood trees in order to widen the road through Richardson Grove State Park. Even more damaging, Caltrans is trying to build a road through old growth forest along the Smith River, the last major river in California that remains undammed.

A far bigger problem with Caltrans is that it acts like a mindless machine, building roads while destroying our natural environment.

As to your complaint about Green's suspension for punching LeBron James, you are totally wrong. I am not a fan of either the Warriors or Cleveland, so I can be objective here, unlike whoever wrote this ridiculous portion of the column. I also remember this incident.

Anyone who punches another player in the NBA would and should be suspended; Green and the Warriors are actually lucky that he was only suspended for one game. The author of this portion obviously never played sports, because anyone who plays knows that you have to control yourself and can't punch another player under any circumstances, that doing so is totally disrespectful to the game, and that doing so will lead to serious consequences including suspension. James should probably have received a technical foul for stepping over Green, but stepping over another player disrespectfully is far less egregious than punching someone.

Other than that, good column!

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley


"Former AK Press Warehouse Sold to 'Tech Co-Op' Developer Who Demolished 1919 Market" By Darwin BondGraham, News, December 13:

Focus on Moving Forward

I honor investigative journalism, and can even tolerate biased reporting if it ends up moving the needle toward social justice. But BondGraham's article was a failed Christmas morality play of good and evil property stewardship. It positioned a hip landlord (Jux Beck) against a greedy real estate agent (Kim Marienthal), who owned adjacent live-work warehouses that burned in a tragic resident-caused fire March 21, 2015.

The hip landlord struggled valiantly to rebuild the space and to continue renting below market rate, but failed. When he couldn't afford to make the required fixes, he sold to another hip owner — this time, two "concerned" and "old-school punk" buyers. Hallelujah!

But, wait! They, too, could not afford to comply with Oakland's extensive rebuilding requirements. Meanwhile, the greedy landlord sought a quick buck and sold to predatory developer Danny Haber, who, of course, is just in it for the money.

Alas, the story doesn't hold up. The evidence for the personality characterizations included praise that Beck "installed smoke detectors and made the building safe" (i.e., complied with code), but failed to mention that Marienthal's building passed a fire inspection just a month before. And, most fundamentally, it is revealed that it appears Haber will buy both buildings. None of the preceding owners have the financing for rebuilding, which costs double what the fire insurance would cover.

My beef with this article is that, by focusing on the personalities of the actors (which ultimately mattered not), rather than the underlying issues, it doesn't help move us forward. Were either of the buildings unsafe? No. Was Oakland reasonable to ask that rebuilding comply with new codes? Yes. Is it realistic to expect that landlords could make such renovations without a rent increase? No. Are city subsidies for such rebuilding available? Not likely. Once burned, those buildings would never again be the cheap, funky spaces that they once were. A systemic response to the lack of affordable alternative workspaces in our region is a complex animal, and will require a shift in zoning and code policies, alternate sources of capitalization, revision of commercial tax exemptions, and many other creative approaches. The recent Ghost Ship tragedy demands that we focus on such solutions.

Lincoln Cushing, Berkeley

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