Letters for the week of October 15-21, 2003 

Who voted for Gary Coleman. How the landmarks cabal operates. Where would we be without the wall? Why can't Berkeley wake up?

"Gary for Governor," Feature, 8/6

Finally, someone who got the point
Could it be that Californians who voted against the recall took this farce of an election seriously and expected their votes for Bustamante or McClintock were less wasted than mine and other Californians who voted for Mr. Coleman? It has taken me only 22 years of voting to realize that the only wasted vote is a vote diverted to the candidate who is the lesser of two evils. How many Californians voted for Gray Davis as opposed to an independent because they were afraid of allowing Davis' opponent to win?

I do not feel my vote for Mr. Coleman was wasted. I can honestly say I fantasized about millions of Californians waking up on October 8, reading the paper, and gasping in shock as they realized they got what they asked for: A recalled governor and a former child star in his place who did not even want the job. Hopefully, not lost in this election will be a recognition by those who can shout with a loud voice to our new governor, "Tread softly and represent us well ... you are governor at the whim of a small majority who voted you in ... precedent has been set and your position is tenuous. We can now change you as easily as we change our minds."
Craig Englander, Los Angeles

"A Walking Tour of Berkeley's Hysterical Landmarks," Feature, 9/17

Behind the Berkeley Landmarks clique
As a former planning intern for the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission, I found Will Harper's piece very accurate. Preservation in Berkeley has nothing to do with history or community, but rather with forcing the agenda of a small but powerful clique of, to use the Express' own words, hysterical Berkeley residents who grew up in the city, and now, as they are passing through midlife, feel the need to frantically grab at vestiges of the city of their youth with no regard for actual historical "fact." In the mind of the commission, "fact" is an abstract term that can only be determined by the members of the commission, unless, of course, it gets appealed to the city council by citizens who have enough time and money to fight the process.

In the year I worked for the commission, I witnessed eight properties landmarked or made into structures of merit, the majority done out of hatred and spite. It's interesting to look at where these landmark proposals come from and who the authors are. Not too surprisingly, one finds the names of several of the "hysterical" commissioners often appearing in the authorship line of designation proposals. It's also interesting to note that some of these "hysterical" commissioners are also members of (and on the board of directors in some cases), and in one case an employee of, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (the city seems to have caught on to this quaint little coincidence, as this conflict-of-interest matter is currently being tried in court).

If the commission is really expressing the will of the community instead of acting out its own personal agenda, why aren't more designation proposals coming out of the community? Sure, it takes a lot of work and time to research and write a landmark application, but if something is truly worthy and the community really wants it, couldn't a willing author be found? Not to mention the fact that these "hysterical" commissioners end up costing the city tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in legal and administrative costs resulting from their wanton and reckless landmarking of anything they lay their eyes on. Members of the commission have managed to transform what should be a joyful celebration of community and history into a negative and spiteful process, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

And of course there's the dubious nature of what really qualifies as a landmark and thus is worthy of preservation. Let's take the case of 2008 University Avenue, the home of the Darling Flower Shop, as an example. The drama with this project started when the more "hysterical" members of the commission saw the name of the evil developer Patrick Kennedy on a project proposal and immediately went into high gear to try to halt the project, peer-pressuring some of the more reluctant commissioners into initiating the building for consideration as a structure of merit (LPC minutes 10/1/01). The property owner in this case merely wanted to develop his property so that he could retire and live off the rent from the apartment units and pass along the flower shop, which had operated from the location since the 1930s, to his children. If he weren't allowed to develop his land, he would have no choice but to sell the property, spelling the end of the Darling Flower Shop.

So what's more of a landmark in this case: a dilapidated wooden structure with no real architectural or historical significance, or a business that has operated continuously in downtown Berkeley for three-quarters of a century? The commission has proven in the past that anything is fair game when it comes to landmarking, so why not a business? How to decide? It's really quite simple; whichever would halt development the most in the city.

Something must be done to stop this out-of-control commission. The Landmarks Preservation Ordinance has existed in Berkeley for over a quarter of a century. Why hasn't a comprehensive survey of the city been conducted to help ensure that individuals not abuse the process? It would be interesting for the city to conduct a study to see what the monetary costs of such frivolous landmarkings as 2008 University or 1102 Tenth Street have cost the city.

Of course, monetary costs are one thing, the social and psychological costs to the community resulting from the ill will and negativity created by such designations are immeasurable.
Karolina Bufka, Berkeley

Why the wall isn't "crummy"
Will Harper's wordy but scantily researched article is high on opinion and woefully low on facts. I will confine myself to the Le Conte Avenue wall, a case with which I am intimately familiar.

The wall of contention is not merely a "crummy retaining wall," as Harper and Mary Hanna would have it. It is part of the Hillside Club Street Improvements in the Daley's Scenic Park Tract, City of Berkeley Landmark No. 75, designated in July 1983 -- thirteen years before Mary Hanna bought the Bentley House at 2683 Le Conte Avenue. According to its 1911-12 Yearbook, the club's object was primarily "to protect the hills of Berkeley from unsightly grading and the building of unsuitable and disfiguring houses; to do all in our power to beautify these hills, and above all to create and encourage a decided public opinion on these subjects."

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