Letters for December 9 

Readers sound off on Marcel Diallo, PG&E, and the milk industry.

"You Don't Know Jack," Full Disclosure, 11/18

Where's the Evidence?

Firstly, I am a thirty-year resident of Oakland, the current project manager for the Black Dot Café, and I am the president of the Village Bottoms Neighborhood Association.

Robert Gammon's article is so obviously a hatchet job on a grassroots community cultural movement that I hesitate to dignify it with a response. But there are many people new to the community and they may be susceptible to believing this type of disinformation masquerading as journalism.

To begin with, what is the "strong evidence" that Gammon is talking about in this article? For years I've noticed that people sit outside cafes and other businesses to get Internet access, send, and receive e-mail. Anyone could have done the same on the Black Dot Café's wi-fi or Marcel's house wi-fi. Gammon has obviously spent little or no time on Pine Street or he could have observed that it is not "sparsely populated" but populated by a community of artists and dedicated volunteers who all know Marcel. In addition to that, all of us have been in the cafe at all hours of the night. I don't know who sent the e-mail, but nothing in this article convinces me that it wasn't Max Allstadt.

Robert Gammon not only doesn't have any knowledge of the Village Bottoms as a community but he refuses to be ethical enough to engage us to gather accurate information. Our neighborhood association meetings are open to the public and held at the Black Dot Café. He could easily have attended one of the meetings. We know that he doesn't want to do that because he would have to acknowledge that we are educated, dedicated, hardworking volunteers in the Village Bottoms that are working with little resources other than the strength of our convictions. As much as people like Gammon, Allstadt and the rest of their gentrification crew want to complain about how bad crime is in West Oakland, they attack people who are working very hard to beautify and uplift our community. Let's be honest that's what this piece is about. It is an attack on the right of Black folks to build and beautify our own cultural district in the same manner that North Beach does for Italians, Chinatown does for the Chinese, and the Fruitvale District does for Latinos.

People like Gammon have the unmitigated gall to criticize activists who are making positive change in our local communities by insinuating that it is just being "stubborn" to try to keep our homes and continue our work in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in American history. Gammon takes a very insensitive position in these economic times, doesn't he? How about highlighting determination in the midst of economic adversity? Economic adversity that is increased by people like Max Allstadt, Sean Sullivan, and Richard Fuentes. These people who refused to engage the already-established longtime community workers and took over the board membership of organizations that control much-needed grant money such as the CDBG. I witnessed this disgusting display the night that Sean Sullivan, Richard Fuentes, and other folks, who comparatively speaking just showed up the day before yesterday, disrespect elders who have been working in this community for decades. Sean Sullivan, Richard Fuentes, Max Allstadt, and their constituency that I suspect includes the author of this article are attempting to monopolize grant money that could be used to bring projects such as the Village Bottoms Farm to full fruition. Instead of assisting us, writers like Gammon ridicule us.

To inaccurately call The Black New World a "... rusted, corrugated metal shack ..." and leave out the fact that its stage has hosted nationally and internationally recognized poets, musicians, and politicians is a blatant lie of omission.

If the East Bay Express is truly about unbiased community reporting then send a journalist to the Black Dot Café to experience the community firsthand. We're not hiding. We are welcoming everyone to experience the beauty of our community.

Duane Deterville, Oakland

Disparaging Good Work

I feel compelled to respond to Robert Gammon's article "You Don't Know Jack." I have several beefs, but I'll focus on the following:

I have met Marcel Diallo while working with a planning nonprofit that has consulted with him regarding a vision for the future of the Lower Bottoms in West Oakland. His vision is one of economic and cultural revitalization of a community that has been there for generations. The efforts to realize this vision have been genuinely grassroots. Money is scarce, accommodations are marginal, and work often stalls while funds are being raised. Gammon's article disparages this work with innuendo, implying that somehow because of these financial struggles and marginal structures the work is illegitimate or unworthy. Such innuendo is a cheap and convenient way to portray Max Allstadt, in comparison, as a rising star.

Mr. Diallo's vision places race front and center, which can make white folks uncomfortable. It's also rooted deeply in place, in efforts to reclaim a history that has been erased, and in efforts to create genuine grassroots economic opportunity. While I don't always feel comfortable with the rhetoric, I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the Village Bottoms neighborhood and the Black New World precisely because it is a heartfelt, genuinely grassroots effort to honor history, place, and people. No effort is made in the article to portray these aspects of the work of Mr. Diallo and the Village Bottoms community.

Mr. Allstadt and his "clique" (Gammon's own words, I suggest you look up the definition, the part about "excluding others") are clearly playing political hardball. Having consolidated power on the West Oakland CDBG board they appear to have been only too happy to deny funding to the Village Bottoms farm project. While an alleged lack of activity at the 10th and Pine Village Bottoms Farm is cited in the article to further disparage Diallo, no connection is made to this simple fact: There's no better way to keep the corner of 10th and Pine a boarded-up vacant lot than to deny funding to grassroots efforts to transform it.

The article's bias is further made clear when it states that Allstadt and his friends are "challenging the neighborhood's traditional black and progressive power structure" without exploring what this really means.  Did it occur to Mr. Gammon that Marcel Diallo and the Village Bottoms community offer a genuine alternative to precisely this type of blind political ambition? As I noted above, their work looks both forward to a sustainable future, and back many generations, explicitly and consciously honoring elders both living and dead.  It will be a damn shame if the collective memory of these elders is thrown under the bus in the rush of Mr. Allstadt and his "young white activist" friends to consolidate power.

Geoff Holton, Berkeley

A Character Assassination

It's a shame that Oakland political blogger Max Allstadt was victim of Internet fraud. He has every right to be upset. But likewise readers of the Express have a right to be upset that lacking any conclusive evidence, the Express nevertheless felt comfortable acting as judge and jury in issuing a verdict, all on Mr. Allstadt's hunches. In fact, any one of dozens of people who had the password to the Internet hotspot for the Black Dot Cafe wireless could have done the deed and were likely upset enough to consider it.

But Allstadt apparently decided early on that it must have been Diallo after he (Allstadt) and his caucus on the West Oakland community block grant board (CBDG) voted against the Village Bottoms Farms project proposal submitted by Diallo's NGO. My nonprofit organization, Ecocity Builders, was a partner on the Village Bottoms Farms CBDG RFP. Ecocity Builders and the Village Bottoms Neighborhood Association crafted the proposal after spending time in Milwaukee studying urban farming and aquaponics with MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" awardee Will Allen and his organization, Growing Power. Allen is the nation's leading expert on low-cost aquaponics, a method of growing fish and greens affordably on brownfield sites in a closed loop, stacked system.

Our proposal was, and still is, to launch a prototype urban farm and aquaponics system on a vacant lot and former scrapyard on Pine Street in the Lower Bottoms, working under the coaching and technical assistance of Growing Power and Mo Betta Foods, a Black-run food security organization in West Oakland. The funding from the CBDG award would have allowed the community to build out the farm, hire a few locals to run it, and set up a marketing program to get the produce into the hands of neighborhood families. After the Farm was up and running it would mostly sustain itself though revenues from the sale of produce. It would also become a West Coast training center for Growing Power's aquaponics systems and methodology. We were in the process of securing a Regional Operations Training Center (ROTC) agreement with Growing Power pending the successful outcome of the RFP to the CBDG.

But Allstadt and his caucus had already decided who would get funded, and it was not going to be Village Bottoms Farms. Apparently to make sure of that, before the vote was taken on Village Bottoms Farms' proposal, Allstadt's associate on the board announced to everyone that if they did recommended the VB Farms proposal, HUD (the federal funder) would mostly likely revoke all funding from Oakland's CBDG programs because the Farm was proposing to set up an enterprise that would create jobs to sell produce for a profit.

This misleading statement was completely false. HUD WANTS to support local job creation and boost local economies through business development. However, the alarmist announcement created visible confusion and a hesitancy among the board. The proposal was voted down a few minutes later and a white-run NGO doing community and backyard gardening was approved.

Ecocity Builders immediately wrote a letter to the Oakland City Attorney about the seeming overt attempt to sabotage the neighborhood's proposal. The Attorney's office replied that they would look into the matter and eventually sent a letter stating that although they acknowledged that the false eligibility question had been raised against the proposal, and that although it was indeed not factual, most people on the board probably would have known that.

So in other words, they dropped it.

So getting back to the e-mail attack on Mr. Allstadt .... By this point, a lot of people were upset, not just Marcel Diallo. Five of us had gone to Milwaukee to study with Growing Power, more people had helped craft the proposal, even more had been to community events to learn about the project and were getting excited. Village Bottoms Farms was hosting weekly work parties to prepare the site and many people were coming through on a regular basis to volunteer.

A short time after the board's funding decision, someone did send a hateful e-mail from the vicinity of the Black Dot Cafe, and it was wrong. But to conclude that it had to have been sent by Marcel Diallo is irresponsible. Obviously, it could have been any number of people who were deeply upset, disappointed, and frustrated. That it happened at a strange hour is not that surprising ... people in West Oakland keep odd hours, many don't have regular "9-to-5" jobs although they probably wish they did. After getting to know Marcel for several years now, I don't believe he sent the e-mail; he wouldn't stoop to that level and he's too smart to set himself up like that. But that's my opinion. He hasn't actually been found guilty. Unless you count this character-assassinating East Bay Express article.

There is so much more that I could add to this letter because there are so many more inaccuracies and misleading and damaging conclusions from Mr. Gammon's article. But for now I will just finish the story about the farm, only one of the several grassroots community enterprises currently being incubated on Pine Street.

After receiving zero funds for the farm from the CBDG board, we kept on working on the project anyway, eventually securing small grants from Kaiser Permanente and the Foundation for Sustainability and Innovation. To date, the farm compost system is up and running with the red wiggler worms getting nice and fat. The community has built the first aquaponics systems, they however need to get the greenhouse finished before they can add fish to the tank. Local businesses are supplying the resource streams for the compost: coffee grounds, brewery waste, sawdust and wood chips, food scraps. Community volunteers are there every day working on the project. Ecocity Builders and the Village Bottoms Neighborhood are jointly gearing up to apply to more funding sources to build out the prototype farm. The vision is to eventually expand farther down the street where one day a much larger urban farming enterprise could start providing more fresh and healthy food to the community while creating jobs and food security in the neighborhood.

The plan is part of a larger vision for the sustainable development of the entire Lower Bottoms. If you are interested we have a sixty-page booklet outlining the vision, along with a comprehensive section on the history of the area and another section on the residents' vision for its sustainable future. Their vision is about honoring, supporting, and uplifting local culture, the environment, and the economy, 

I hope the slanted and inflammatory article in the Express has perked your interest in finding out what's actually going on in the Lower Bottoms in West Oakland. Please stop by the Black Dot Cafe, have a cup of tea, and learn more about the positive vision for the community.

Kirstin Miller, Executive Director, Ecocity Builders, Oakland

Cut Diallo Some Slack

In the November 18 article "You Don't Know Jack," Robert Gammon seems to have traded in his role as a journalist for that of prosecutor, judge, and jury all in one. It's one thing to report that Marcel Diallo is accused of sending a fraudulent e-mail (with no proof that he actually did). But spending two-thirds of the article on a one-sided attempt to paint Marcel as a desperate scam artist without any kind of alternate viewpoint does not reflect well on Mr. Gammon's journalistic integrity. He really sounds more like Max Allstadt's PR manager than a reporter for a weekly newspaper.Marcel's biggest offense, as spun off in the title of the story, seems to be that his real name is Marcel Diallo Jack, not Marcel Diallo. Ha, gotcha! Anyone not going by their birth name obviously can't be trusted with truth-telling, especially if he's a poet. You know, like Bob Dylan, that lying, cheating sun of a gun. Seriously, you're going to discredit someone because he has an artist name?The next thing Marcel apparently has going against him in Robert Gammon's trust department is that he's poor and got hit hard by the current housing crisis. Gee, if only he had a trust fund while growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, we'd cut him some slack. But no, who on earth does he think he is, trying to get loans to buy and remodel property and revive the neighborhood he and generations of his family grew up in?I applaud Mr. Gammon's thoroughness in raking through every detail of Marcel Diallo's finances, but I wish he had spent even a fraction of that time coming down to the Village Bottoms and talking with the community members. He would have found that "the gated vacant lot that appears to resemble a farm" is an aquaponic system, a method of growing crops and fish together on re-circulating raised beds, based on MacArthur Fellowship recipient Will Allen's inner-city farming model.He also would have found that Marcel and the community have been diligently working with Ecocity Builders on a plan to rebuild the Village Bottoms, not only to create new opportunities for a community beaten down by a history of discriminatory urban planning decisions, but to heal the wounds of the past by honoring its cultural roots and integrating 21st-century environmental principles. I know this because I was a volunteer in doing the historical research for the sixty-page booklet.I don't know who wrote the e-mails in question, and neither does Robert Gammon. But I do know that this kind of attempt at character assassination doesn't help anyone with a sincere interest in rebuilding a struggling neighborhood. Why not come down to the Black Dot Cafe and talk to the locals. I guarantee there won't be any unreturned phone calls.  

Sven Eberlein, San Francisco

How Is He Guilty?

In the latest article "You Don't Know Jack," the East Bay Express and Robert Gammon are trying to gain the readers sympathy for Mr. Allstadt by telling a story of fraud and racist accusations. They have attempted to show how one man fraudulently assassinated the character of another; but this article is doing to Marcel Diallo exactly what Mr. Allstadt is accusing Diallo of doing to him. I guess, however, since now it's perpetrated by a large organization such as the East Bay Express, it is alright. Thus, what was supposed to look like an authentic journalistic piece comes off as nothing more than an editorial feature set up to express the author's obvious dislike for one man and his work.

Please explain how an artist changing his name (or dropping his last name) and creating a stage name for himself amounts to dishonesty? Prince? Marilyn Monroe? Madonna? Please explain how financial instability and foreclosures mean that Mr. Diallo is a liar. In today's economic climate, who isn't having financial difficulties?

Then the reader is told that Mr. Diallo lived "part-time on Park Boulevard." Big deal! Again, please explain what this has to do with your original point challenging the honesty of Marcel Diallo and the fraud issue at hand? Or explain how receiving help from a "white developer from Emeryville" is relevant to Internet fraud? From what I know, receiving monetary help is called a "bailout;" except this is one bailout that is actually helping the community.

And what does the condition of the Black New World have to do with anything? Dear Mr. Gammon, the rust and corrugated metal you speak of are actually a part of the aesthetics of the building and wouldn't the hole you speak of point to even more reason for it to qualify for an upgrade.

And if it's true that an activist works "for the people" and not against them, then it would seem that Mr. Diallo — with his support from a white millionaire, a white city council member, a white environmental group, and a following of many other Black, Asian, White, Latino, and Native people — would be more the activist than Mr. Allstadt — who, by your own words, came to challenge (i.e., replace) the power structures of the people within the neighborhood that he just "recently" moved into.

Journalism 101 — State your point and then bring forth the evidence to prove your point.

It seems you have confused yourself and the readers! You've tried to inform the reader of Internet fraud when in reality, you've only succeeded at emphasizing issues that point to the difficulties many nonprofits face during recession and non-recession times.

Now if the Internet fraud claim is found true in a court of law, I'm sure Mr. Diallo will have learned a valuable lesson. However, Mr. Gammon, rather than trying to disparage Mr. Diallo and make us aware of Mr. Allstadt — what you have really done is disparage yourself and your work as a journalist.

This article, were one to read it without the irrelevant side talk, would read as nothing more as a questionable, yet common practice among bloggers. So, East Bay Express and Mr. Gammon, I challenge you to present an article to your readership devoid of any of the sensationalism or gossip-mongering pervasive in to many of today's so-called media outlets.

Aishah Bashir, Oakland

Outsider Reporting

As I'm sure Max Allstadt did not deserve the alarming e-mail event in his name, I am deeply disturbed with the extremely superficial portrayal of the Black Dot Artists Community, to the point of worried.  I am a local urban planner and have friends who are part of that grassroots community who do in fact put on cultural events and community development in the name of enriching their community. The only balanced investigative journalism shown in the article was Robert Gammon's ability to drive-by The Black New World and criticize its facade structure. Gentrification is a very complex force in West Oakland and to treat it so superficially, one-sided, while disregarding the older community living there who is working to build up their cultural district without a phony or corporate sponsored tone should be commended not misunderstood by a determined under-informed outsider journalist. I expect more from the East Bay Express

For starters, you could check out a new book on the neighborhood produced by Ecocity Builders and the Village Bottoms neighborhood.http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/invited/609951/d3ef72c2b657a3e92fd306fb3a75a903

Gabriella Condie, Oakland

Thanks for the Write-Up

I'd like to thank Robert Gammon for being willing to write about my ordeal. Given my sometimes sarcastic criticism of some (though not all) of his articles, it was big of him to help me get the truth out.  

That said, I have some minor qualms regarding the tone of the article. The choice to take a dismissive voice about Black Dot Artists' venue, the Black New World, was unwise.  Mr. Diallo's enterprises, though failing, have a small and loyal following. Until it was shut down for safety and permit violations last year, the Black New World was known for hosting well-attended events. Also, I think the photo the Express chose of Mr. Diallo was unnecessarily goofy. Combined, these issues made it easier for Mr. Diallo's followers to see the article as slanted, even though the facts presented are all well sourced and could have stood on their own.

I also disagree with the sentence which says that my friends and I are "challenging the neighborhood's traditional black and progressive power structure" in West Oakland. West Oakland's political leadership is among the most diverse in the city. Consider our community boards, our councilmember, and our school board representative — the big picture of West Oakland is that we are an encouraging collection of ethnic and socioeconomic pluralities. I also feel that the fairest characterization of my own political views is that I am very progressive in a neighborhood that tends to be very very progressive. Divisions in West Oakland are not nearly as wide as some might think.

These minor issues aside, Mr. Gammon's article was important, and his research uncovered many important facts that I had not been aware of. His willingness to take this on has focused media scrutiny on Mr. Diallo's enterprises. Previously it seemed that Mr. Diallo had been able to control his own media exposure, leading other news outlets to unquestioningly portray him as he desired.

Max Allstadt, Oakland

Stoking Racial Fires

I have worked with Diallo's group, Black Dot Artists, directly as a community planner over the past six months. I am deeply disappointed by the lack of journalistic honor in Robert Gammon's article, "You Don't Know Jack." It is one-sided, inaccurate, and irresponsible. Gammon is as capable of critical thinking as Allstadt's dictaphone, and did not seek Diallo's and/or other community members' perspectives. It is obvious from his article that Gammon has never visited the Village Bottoms. His article stokes dangerously divisive racial fires that will further disempower West Oakland's black communities and speed up gentrification. I demand that Gammon visit the Village Bottoms, inform himself, and do what is responsible as a journalist to correct misperceptions that may have resulted from his slanderous article.If unbeknownst to Gammon, he is sowing the very seed of gentrification Diallo and other West Oakland community leaders have been trying to nip in the bud. What is Allstadt doing in West Oakland, "challenging the neighborhood's traditional black and progressive power structure"? Is it not enough that in the 1950s, in the name of "urban renewal," black folks were ripped out of areas like the Fillmore and West Oakland? In the last half century, the USPS distribution center, the Cypress freeway, and the BART track and station displaced hundreds of families from West Oakland, barricading the remaining families from services, downtown, and political power. It is time the region acknowledged we benefit from the cultural wealth of African Americans as we do from a Chinatown or the Mission district. Building the groundwork for the black cultural district has not been easy and Gammon just hosed it down the drain.By funding City Slicker Farms, a white-led feel-good nonprofit, Oakland's CDBG funding is supporting the charitable model that locks in low-income African Americans into a class status few want to stay in. Diallo's Village Bottoms Farms promotes entrepreneurship and economic self-reliance, "teaching a man how to fish," instead of "giving him a fish." Neither model is more correct than the other, but both should be able to co-exist; power and resources should be shared equitably.

In my view, it remains inconclusive that Marcel Diallo is indeed the originator of the e-mails from MaxAllstadt@gmail.com. West Oakland is widely known as an Internet desert, and Black Dot Cafe is one of the local hot spots. Wi-fi access is available to anyone visiting the cafe, during and after business hours. Many people drive by and park outside the cafe to access the Internet. Anyone — including Max Allstadt's cronies — could have sent that e-mail fraudulently.

Evidence of Gammon's lowball character assassination, that I demand he retracts immediately:

1) His calling out Diallo's real name. Many spoken-word poets and other artists have alternate names. This bears no importance to the subject at hand. This is muckraking at the kindergarten sandbox level.

2) Foreclosures in West Oakland and many other communities across the country is not news. At the height of the housing boom, many low-income families of color were targeted by predatory lenders. Many of these lenders knew these families could not afford a house but were encouraged to buy. Even middle-class families were victims of adjustable rate mortgages and ensuing foreclosures. This reflects a failure in the government and real-estate industry's systems, more than the individuals' failure.

3) Gammon is ignorant of the fact that "financial grants received from the city for after-school arts programs" are not supposed to help pay mortgages. Such funds are restricted to be used for after-school arts programs.

4) "The black empowerment leader ... being propped up financially by a prominent white businessman" is an incomplete description of Diallo's and Holliday's partnership. Why would Holliday, an astute businessman, simply give Diallo a free lunch? An urban planner by training, Holliday knows that unless the area develops and improves as a whole, his housing project will not see favorable sales. 

5) Gammon obviously has never been to the Black New World or the farm, as he describes the Black New World building as "a rusted, corrugated metal shack with at least one large hole in the side. As for Village Bottoms Farms, it's a gated vacant lot, and the only thing that appears to resemble a farm is a mid-size planter with some tomato vines in it."

I urge Gammon and anyone else interested to visit and hear the story from the Bottoms. Don't just take Allstadt's — or anyone's — words for granted and become an unwitting loudspeaker for the forces of gentrification.

Jane Wardani, Berkeley

"Activists Try to Block Green Tech in Berkeley," Eco Watch, 11/11

Green Tech and Green Collar

Robert Gammon's factually challenged hit piece disguised as a news article and spiced with personal attack may move newspapers, but environmental sustainability, the viability of our local production economy, and the ethnic and economic diversity of our cities deserve better.

The author attempts through misrepresentation and stereotype to delegitimize the West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies (WEBAIC) and the area's residents, falsely characterize West Berkeley as "slowly decaying," and portray WEBAIC's position on green tech as opposite to what it is.

Far from the author's implication that the West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies is one person's "group," WEBAIC is comprised of over 70 local enterprises employing approximately 1,000 people, from one-person art/craft studios to manufacturers with 250 employees. Along with art/craft and manufacturing, WEBAIC consists of warehousing and wholesale trade, R & D lab, industrial and construction supply, green tech, recycling/reuse, food processing, auto repair, construction contracting, and printing businesses. Had he listened to public testimony at the November 4 meeting, the author would have heard representatives of Meyer Sound, George M. Martin Co, Urban Ore, the Ecology Center, and many other West Berkeley businesses articulate a rational land use policy that retains the local production economy while facilitating more space for green tech. The over 320 industrial PDR (production, distribution, repair) companies in West Berkeley employing upwards of 7,500 people in living-wage jobs and the over 225 art and craft studios with 800-plus people working there all depend upon affordable, industrially zoned space. It's part of WEBAIC's mission to ensure this space.

As to Mr. Gammon's fiction of West Berkeley as "slowly decaying," commercial broker C.B. Richard Ellis' 3rd quarter 09 Report shows West Berkeley with the East Bay's highest industrial rents and lowest industrial vacancies (3 percent). UC Professor Karen Chapple's report on the West Berkeley economy shows total employment stable from 1990-2005. West Berkeley is a vital urban ecosystem built on an extensive network supply chain where parts move in multiple steps from basic formulation in machine shop or lab to manufacturer to finisher to warehouse/distributor to finished product used by local business, and ultimately back to a recycler/reuser. In three years 20 new industrial and artisan business have located within three blocks of this writing. Decaying? Hardly.

Had Mr. Gammon contacted WEBAIC, he would have found his claim that our position is "no green tech in my neighborhood" and "block green tech" to be simply untrue. WEBAIC's proposal to easily permit subdivision of large spaces for such uses was just approved by the Planning Commission. In position papers and meetings WEBAIC has consistently SUPPORTED the robust location of green tech in West Berkeley, specifically UC spin-offs. WEBAIC believes Berkeley is in the fortunate position to be able to both provide space for green tech R & D (though opening up industrial protections to these uses on 1,200,000 square feet of space on six large sites targeted for green tech by the City and streamlining the allowed conversion of 25 percent of remaining protected space — 1,850,000 square feet) while at the same time assuring the continued viability of industry and arts by maintaining protections on most of their space. Add this 3,050,000 square feet to the 3,500,000 square feet of existing non-protected space and 6,550,000 square feet is revealed as potentially available for green tech, or over 60% of all West Berkeley space.

The West Berkeley Plan, (the area's guiding policy document) recognizes that minus such a balanced protection policy, the more highly capitalized R & D uses would displace industry and art, sectors the Plan specifically protects to fulfill its goals of maintaining the city's economic and ethnic diversity, largely through providing "good jobs, particularly to people without advanced education."

The author's silence on green-collar jobs is instructive. Green-collar work contributes not only to environmental sustainability but also to societal equity. WEBAIC's green-collar enterprises/workers fulfill Berkeley General Plan goals to "increase social and economic equity in land-use decisions" and our mission includes assuring their viability. West Berkeley's industrial zones are the only Berkeley area providing significant numbers of living-wage jobs for people without college, a large percentage being filled by people of color. Green tech fulfills neither of these functions, thus the need for balance.

Professor Raquel Pinderhughes' city-commissioned Green Collar Job study details the disparity of "the two Berkeleys": "Economic, educational, and racial/ethnic inequalities are profound in Berkeley. The situation for low-income black and Latino residents is ... severe in West and South Berkeley. Black median family income is 41 percent of white family income, ... Latino and Asian ... about 50%; black unemployment is 3.22 times white unemployment, Latino 1.88 times, and Asian 1.67 times. Providing low-income residents with ... living wage jobs is ... critical ... toward alleviating poverty, unemployment, and racial inequality. Cultivation of green-collar jobs for men and women with barriers to employment provide ... benefits of green economic development to low-income residents and communities."

In concert with East Bay Green Corridor Principles, WEBAIC seeks to balance green tech and green collar in service of maintaining a sustainable and diverse local production economy and culture. We can and will accommodate both if we have the common sense to ignore one-sided, intemperate voices such as Mr. Gammon's that would blind us to the path leading not only to a sustainable future for the planet but an equitable future for its people.

John Curl, WEBAIC chair; Rick Auerbach, WEBAIC staff; Berkeley

"PG&E Wants More Fossil Fuel," Eco Watch, 11/18

Approve the Gas Plant

Robert Gammon's critique of PG&E's natural gas plants is misplaced. As he mentions in one place in his article, "renewables" can neverreplace fossil fuels.

Solar thermal or photovoltaic collectors provide power only when the sun shines. That's it. Effectively that means six hours a day when the sun is high. Wind, ditto. You get power when the wind is blowing, then nothing. This means a huge capital investment for part-time power, and because both wind and the sun's rays are so weak, you need a huge collection area to get anything. Thus, the high cost. Solar and wind apparatus are dependent on fossil fuels to run the factories in which they're manufactured, so they're not "renewable" at all.

The first solar plant up for approval in California in 22 years, in Ivanpah Valley near Las Vegas, is slated to occupy a huge area, 5.3 square miles. It is rated at "400 megawatts," but this is misleading. The sun will shine on the mirrors one-quarter of the time, dropping the output to 100 MW, one-tenth the output of a real power plant. Anatural gas assist is needed to keep the boiler hot at night, so the solar component is even lower. This is mickey mouse by moderns standards;engineers call it "flea power." Solar is good for your calculator, lousy for your washing machine.

The Ivanpah operators have $160 million lined up for their investment, which will cost a billion. They want the Obama administration (YOU)to fund the rest with an 80 percent loan. Our nation is bankrupt. We can't afford solar and wind fantasies in the desert. The gas plant should beapproved as soon as possible.

Steve Tabor, Oakland

"Iranian Hikers Paying Price for US Spy Policies," Raising the Bar, 11/18

How Do We Know?

Jay Youngdahl, just like Hillary Clinton, asserts that "Iranian authorities are surely to blame with regard to these three hikers." Why? Did the Iranians invite them to cross the border illegally? Is it just a coincidence that they picked that conflicted area for a "vacation"?

How do we know when a "journalist" is actually a spy? The best guide is when we see high-level US government's officials claiming that he/she is not, and demand their freedom. That was the case with Laura Ling, Euna Lee, Roxana Saberi, and now these three. Journalist and activist Lori Berenson has been in jail in Perú for fifteen years, accused of being the leader of a guerrilla group when she'd only been in Perú for a relatively short time to be a "guerrilla leader." However, we never heard Bill Clinton (or Hillary and Al Gore), George W. Bush, or Barack Obama speak out in her defense and demand that she be set free.

As for Youngdahl's contention that the three are "progressive" journalists; there are many of these "progressive" journalists, mostly Jews like Dennis Bernstein and Reese Erlich on KPFA, who are rabidly anti-Iranian and they even participated in promoting and propagandizing demonstrations against the Iranian government in the US, just like the US government. Regardless of the facts surrounding the case of the three "hikers" ("journalists"), they should be executed just for coming out of UC Berkeley. This argument is as good as the ones presented by Youngdahl in favor of innocence.

Leo T. West, San Leandro


Grim Outlook

California's fiscal outlook continues to worsen. Concern is mounting over the impact the state's budget deficit will have on education funding.

The California Teachers Association (CTA), along with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, claims California's per-pupil funding now ranks 47th nationally. In reality, most experts agree California is around the middle of the pack when it comes to school funding, including the CTA's own parent organization, the National Education Association.

But what matters to most California parents isn't how much other states are spending — it's the results their children's school districts are getting compared to other school districts right here in California.

And on that front, California must do better. It's not because there's too little funding. It's because the state's school financing system is illogical and inequitable.

The California School Finance Center database — a new project from the Pacific Research Institute and the Educational Results Partnership (formerly Just for the Kids-California) that compiles data from a dozen California Department of Education sources — helps shed some much-needed light on this reality.

The data show some troubling discrepancies among similar school districts. In Alameda County, for instance, a majority of students in both the Fremont Unified district and the Castro Valley Unified district scored proficient in English and math on the California Standards Test in the 2007-08 school year. Yet Castro Valley, which enrolled a smaller proportion of English learners and low-income students, received $3,400 more per student that year — $13,324, compared to Fremont's $9,908.

Conventional wisdom suggests that districts with more money perform better — but that's not always the case.

Alameda City Unified and New Haven Unified had similar socioeconomic profiles and enrolled similar proportions of English learners during the 2007-08 school year. But Alameda outperformed New Haven by nearly 12 percentage points in English and nearly eight percentage points in math. Despite the scoring discrepancy, both school districts received about the same funding per student that year — $10,100 for Alameda and $10,196 for New Haven.

Alameda County parents and taxpayers are entitled to wonder why their school districts may be receiving more money but achieving less. So are other Californians.

State and local per-student funding should be higher in districts that enroll children whose educational needs make their schooling costs higher, such as low-income students or English-learners. Yet on average, state and local funding actually decreases as the proportions of these students increase. Such funding disparities mean less money for classrooms with the greatest need.

Money does matter when it comes to public school performance, but just as important is how effectively that money is used. The California School Finance Center database makes it easier to identify which public school districts and charter schools are making the most of their education dollars and emulate their success.

Vicki E. Murray, Associate Director of Education Studies, Pacific Research Institute, Sacramento

Where's Black Santa?

"Mommy how come Santa never looks like us?" A simple question coming from a child who is beginning to notice all the subtle ways that we as people of color, we as black people, we as African Americans in the United States of America are treated and revered. My oldest child, 11 years old, stated that "it makes us feel like we are not important, like nobody cares." Each year at the Oakland parade the streets are filled with the faces of children; black, many shades of brown, white and others. Each year a white Santa represents the Christmas Spirit for all! A white Santa at the parade every year has a negative impact on the non-white children who year after year see no representation of who they are. It has a negative impact on the white children reinforcing so many other messages in society that directly or indirectly perpetuate racism and inequality. 

My advice to the parade committee is to either a) Have more than one Santa at the parade or b) Alternate each year with a Santa representing a different culture.

Thanks for listening. I hope you consider my words for the sake of my children and for the sake of many more children and families in the city of Oakland and beyond.

Nola Brantley, Walnut Creek


In the 11/25 CD review of Larry Ochs, we misspelled the name of pianist Satoko Fujii.

In the 12/2 letter entitled "Why Richmond Can't Progress," we printed the wrong city that writer Michael Beer lives in. It's Richmond.

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