I can't believe that you call yourselves journalists. Two days after the assault on the World Trade Center, you had some dinky little photo of the collapse of the towers on the cover -- overshadowed by the "Best of the East Bay" banner (September 19), leading to a weak editorial with barely an ounce of compassion (let alone coverage). Was it too much work? Might it be too costly? I haven't had the stomach to pick up any subsequent issues. In my opinion, you really do not deserve to be in Berkeley.
Dean Waters, Via the internet
This is in response to Charles Nelson's divisive whine in the September 26 letters section about subsidizing the "risky lifestyle" of Oakland Hills residents. First things first. People who live in Oakland, irrespective of where, are Oaklanders, and as a community, our taxes go to many things we don't individually benefit from. But our community benefits from the taxes, which is the point.
His generalizations about hills residents are false and reflect ignorance. The vast majority of people living in the hills do not live in McMansions. Most of us live in "regular" houses, including mine, which is approximately 1,500 square feet and was constructed in 1940. Also, my property is covered with ivy, native live oak, and cedar trees, which have extensive and deep root systems to prevent mudslides, and I keep the brush trimmed to reduce the risk of fires and avoid fines from the city for failing to do so. Secondly, whether Mr. Nelson likes to acknowledge it or not, people in the hills are actually subsidizing services for those people who live elsewhere in the city. Am I complaining about it? Of course not. Houses in the hills are generally worth more, meaning hills residents pay higher property taxes than do those living in the flats. The vast majority of the crime in Oakland, especially violent crime, happens elsewhere. Should I get a tax rebate because I haven't needed the services of a police officer since I moved to Oakland seven years ago? No, because my taxes are benefiting my community. My street doesn't have sidewalks, there are very few street lamps, and the city never cleans my street. Can I get a break on all those assessments? Even Mr. Nelson's blather about the resources needed to protect twenty houses in the avenues is specious. The last fire in the hills was in 1995, a quarter-mile from my house, and four houses were lost. There have been hundreds of fires in the flats during that same time with many fatalities and destroyed buildings, both commercial and residential. In a sad bit of irony, the only Oakland firefighter to lose his life while on duty during that time (Tracy Twomey, while based in a hills station) died fighting a fire in the avenues. I knew Tracy (he did some wonderful decorative iron work for me) and he loved working in the hills because they had very few calls compared to stations in the flats. This sentiment was echoed to me when I represented firefighters as a union attorney in numerous cities in Northern California. Should I now scream about how people in the flats should stop smoking in bed or update the faulty wiring in their homes and businesses that cause so many of those avoidable fires? Even though they should do those things, I don't ask for a tax abatement whenever a fire is caused by something avoidable in the flats.
Lastly, Mr. Nelson's rant calls to mind those who live in other regions of the country who feel their federal taxes shouldn't be used to assist anyone in California who suffers because of an earthquake or anyone in the Gulf or Atlantic states impacted by hurricanes. Their logic is eerily similar to Mr. Nelson's: "Why should I subsidize their risky lifestyle?" Get a grip, Charles. All of us live in Oakland. We're supposed to be in this together as a community.
Ken Phillippi, Oakland
As a three-year Berkeley Hills resident, I find the Charles Nelson (September 26) angry letter way off base. Apparently he is not at all familiar with the area here extending from North Berkeley into El Cerrito. Please permit me to shed some light:
We are not asking for any special favors from the city. The city provides large container refuse for which we pay separately and use it to the maximum. The city also has a wood chipper debris collection program, for which we are grateful. We have no gripe with the city and regularly invite fire officials to our neighborhood meetings. The North Berkeley area is badly in need of a fire station. The existing fire station is housed in a 1939 residential house on a difficult curved road, and is totally inadequate to meet a possible future major fire. This is not a question of special treatment but merely a request to have a station on a par with those of the rest of the city.
I took a walk for blocks and didn't see one fire-prone, wood-shingle roof. They were all tar shingle, tar, and gravel or clay tile. The streets are narrow, but a program of one-side-of-street-parking was instituted a year ago without any complaints.
I disagree with the notion that denser housing is better from a fire point of view. With brush control, fire isolation is easier and the number of firemen per square mile needed up here would be comparable if not less than the rest of the city.
As distasteful as this may be, I must agree with Nelson on the question of trees. Putting the native/nonnative dogma aside for a moment, it is correct that pine and eucalyptus trees are far more fire-prone than others. Some of them are so big that their removal would run well over $10,000.
I know many think that people up here are filthy rich. Well, think again. There are many really old people up here on fixed incomes who manage because their mortgages are paid off. Ten thousand dollars is no small sum for them. On the other hand, there are people who actively want these trees to remain no matter what.
While I don't agree with Nelson's sweeping condemnation of the hills, there is a serious tree problem and it hasn't improved one bit in the last three years.
Wayne Huber, Berkeley
What possibly was the point of the East Bay Express' mean-spirited and gratuitous attack on Berkeley City Councilmember Dona Spring in its September 19 issue ("Best of the East Bay")? Spring is a hard-working and conscientious public official who should be praised, not mocked. Since when is being earnest something to ridicule?
This attack on Councilmember Spring follows the East Bay Express' recent attempt to discredit the late Judy Bari with an inflammatory cover photo, and its vicious characterization of the SF Bay Guardian's publisher several weeks back. The Express' editor and new owners are acting like playground bullies, mocking good people simply because they have the power to do so. I hope I am not the only longtime reader who is becoming increasingly turned off by the new corporate East Bay Express.
Clifford Fred, Via the internet
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