Letters for March 12-18 

Readers sound off on our new format, tutoring, aerial pesticide spraying, Patrick McCullough, and, yes, AC Transit buses.

"Career Opportunities," Feature, 2/13

An Improper Characterization

I was excited to see your paper actively sparking a conversation about the merits and pitfalls of SES tutoring services in Oakland Unified. As an educator and community activist, I know that Oakland stakeholders must closely examine how SES programs better the lives of our students in need. The SES program, at its best, can inspire positive change in our community, but I think you also do a good job of showing SES at its worst.

I was truly disappointed to see that my organization, Girls Moving Forward, was mischaracterized and improperly categorized in your article. Our program was not asked to plead its case in front of a review panel; we were approved with the second round of providers. This would have been easily discovered with some fact-checking. I take issue with being lumped in with the likes of Education Station, a company that I have repeatedly lodged complaints against for unethical and aggressive marketing practices.

Girls Moving Forward is a community-based tutoring and mentoring organization dedicated to making positive change in the lives of girls. We pair focused academic tutoring with self-confidence and self-esteem building to inspire holistic change in our girls. I have no doubt that the students, parents, and educators who have interacted with our program would share the incredible results inspired by Girls Moving Forward.

D. Lacy Asbill, Director, Girls Moving Forward

Editor's Note

Ms. Asbill is correct. Our story erroneously characterized what she told us about how her organization came to be approved by the state.

Check Out Our New Contracts

I want to address the article written by Emma Brown, Sierra Filucci, and Sabrina Shankman. I wanted to update them on two new large tutoring contracts that Tutorpedia has won this past month. The contracts call for the company to provide more than 1,200 free tutoring hours to low-income, SES-eligible students in the Bay area. In total, Tutorpedia will provide more than 3,000 hours of free tutoring services by the end of the '07-'08 academic school year as part of our SES initiative.

Seth Linden, Director, Tutorpedia

"Finally, Some Contested Races," Full Disclosure, 2/13

The Invisible Activist

Please reconsider your description of the events which happened on my block involving Patrick McCullough and then fourteen-year-old Melvin McHenry. I have resided on the 500 block of 59th Street for eight-plus years, and although Mr. McCullough is described as a neighborhood activist I have never met nor even seen Mr. McCullough. My only prior information about him came from my skateboarding sons, who noted that he yelled at them to stay off "his" sidewalk. There have been no street thugs terrorizing our neighborhood (where that tidbit of info came from I'd like to know) and it became apparent soon after the shooting and further affirmed by Mr. McCullough himself in media interviews that he disliked and felt free to confront any group of young males not to his ilk. Finally remember that Melvin McHenry was shot in the back fleeing from Mr. McCullough, who had gone back into his house to arm himself. Perhaps he should have instead dialed 911 let the OPD do their job and then come out and meet his neighbors. We're nice folks.

Tom Hutchinson, Oakland

"Albany to State Ag Department: Bug Off," Cityside, 2/6

Add Your Name to the Petition

Thank you for being one of the first papers to cover the impending aerial pesticide spraying of Oakland and other East Bay Cities. And especially thank you for covering the adverse health impacts that the spraying caused in Santa Cruz and Monterey, disproving the state's claim that this aerial pesticide, never tested or used before on humans, is a harmless product. Since your article was published, the State Department of Food and Agriculture confirmed their plans to begin the aerial spraying of the East Bay on August 1, 2008. It is important to emphasize that the Light Brown Apple Moth spraying is not a one-time thing, but rather is planned to occur every thirty days every year until two life cycles past the very last moth found. 

The Express article mentioned the petition against the spraying but did not provide a link. Please go to StopTheSpray.org to add your name and comments to the petition, which as of today has 12,000 signatures. At this link are also scientific testimonies, reports from residents who suffered adverse reactions, and more news articles about the spraying.

Also, this week the Senate Environmental Quality Commitee is holding an important oversight hearing on the program, where public comments will be taken about the proposed spraying: Thursday, March 13, 1-3 p.m., Marin Civic Center, San Rafael, 3501 Civic Center Drive., Room 330.

Dorothy Graham, Oakland

"Belgium or Bust," Feature, 1/30

Why Not Smaller Buses?

As a daily bus rider for two years now, my experience is mostly on line 51 at different times of the day. This route has been voted as "best bus service" of AC Transit's lines. It does come within 15 minutes or so most of the time (best???). And I am pleased to see the easy platforms for wheelchair riders to get off and on.

But the Van Hools are a clumsy pain in more ways than one. Because they are so large, the starting/stopping movement is rather jerky, and when I'm standing I am often jerked from one side of the aisle to the other. Other than the early-morning student crowd from West Berkeley to the campus, it is not usually without seats. But the pull-down seats are very narrow — some of the seats that face each other have insufficient knee room. The worst sight is to see these behemoths with five or six passengers in the middle of the day — what a waste of fuel and space.

New idea: by pooling the $41,500 extra cost of each Belgian bus plus transport, how about giving riders a break with jitney buses that hold twelve or so people and run them on an eight-to-ten-minute schedule. Aside from students, most riders are older, disabled, or slower. Older folks often have to stand around in rain and wind, often without even a bench. Other cities have managed to have such a fleet — how about our progressive Bay Area agencies. A little more flexibility, safety, and oh yes, common sense, please!

Joan Levinson, Berkeley

"Dishonest Journalism" and "Robert Gammon Responds," Letters, 2/20

Why Not Cleaner Buses?

Thanks for publishing the exchange of letters between AC Transit general manager Rick Fernandez, versus your reporter and several people who actually ride AC Transit buses. I think most readers will reach this conclusion: Mr. Fernandez is in way over his head, in running an agency that chronically underperforms other local transit providers in service and affordability. Truly remarkable is Fernandez' claim that his dependence on expensive Belgian buses, which riders seem to hate, is "competitive" purchasing.

When I recently visited Toronto, half the buses I saw going by were efficient hybrids. Unlike AC Transit's despised Van Hools, these were genuinely "low-floor" buses — with seats mounted on the floor, not on raised platforms. So mobility-impaired passengers could easily get to and from their seats.

The nameplates said "Orion," a Daimler subsidiary with factories near Toronto and in nearby New York State. If Fernandez and his staff weren't addicted to junkets and spending sprees in Belgium, they could buy less-expensive buses that are better for riders, the planet, and AC Transit's own balance sheets.

Michael Katz, Berkeley


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