Letters for May 28 

Readers debate the rent squabble at 138 Monte Cresta, plus which side are truckers on.

"Clean Air at the Port Could Cost Truck Drivers," News, 4/30

The Sides Are Clear

As a twenty-year port truck driver, I know all too well what it's like to feel nauseous from breathing diesel soot exhaust for hours at a time while waiting in line for a load of cargo. I live in Oakland and on several occasions, I have had to rush my seven-year-old son to the hospital as he gasped for air during an asthma attack. (As a full-time port truck driver working as an "independent contractor," I make only about $30,000 a year and I get no health insurance.) So I was pleased to see your paper give long-overdue attention to the serious problem of port diesel air pollution and how it has created a public health crisis in our community.

However, I must take issue with your characterization of who's on each side of what you call the "real fight — which will be over employment status." According to your article, "On one side: a clamorous Teamster-led organization of labor, environmental, religious, and community groups, which is pushing for companies to employ their drivers, rather than contract with them. On the other side: just about everybody else. And the drivers themselves? They're busy making a living." You say the truckers are "barely part of the conversation about what should happen to their jobs ... their voices are hard to hear."

The way I see it is that this is a fight between the industry, which is making huge profits, and just about everyone else in the community including the drivers. The Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports includes 78 environmental, faith, and community and labor organizations representing a broad cross section of the Oakland community. Yes, my fellow drivers and I are busy making a living. But doing something to clean the air is an important priority for us. That's why when we get off work — often working up to fourteen hours a day — many of us do our civic duty by attending port commission meetings to voice our concern about the dirty air and sweatshop working conditions at the port. At a port commission meeting last year, drivers delivered a petition signed by more than 1,250 drivers stating our desire to become employees and have the trucking companies take responsibility for buying and maintaining clean trucks. We attended a town hall meeting with port executive director Omar Benjamin and have demonstrated at rallies including a recent march and truck caravan from city hall to the Port of Oakland.

As the port considers reforming the broken port trucking system over the next few months, many port drivers and I will take every opportunity we can to make our voices heard. It's pretty clear to me which side the drivers are on.

Manuel Rivas, Oakland

"Raising the Rent at 138 Monte Cresta," Feature, 5/7

The Case Against Rent Control

I can't think of a better illustration of why we need to get rid of rent control than this article.

Let me see if I understand this: The tenants didn't like the previous landlord because he wouldn't do more than basic repairs. The tenants wanted him to make upgrades and pay for them out of his pocket. Then, a new landlord decides to do major upgrades and take care of deferred maintenance (deferred because the prior landlord wasn't making enough money from rents to do them) and then tenants don't like HIM because they are actually being asked to pay for a portion of the cost of the upgrades, even though the rent increases would still keep their rents below market rate!

Do none of these people understand basic economics? You have to have a positive cash flow to keep up the property. When expenses go up rents have to go up or the place turns into a slum. You have to have a positive cash flow to put money away every year to save up for that new roof or exterior paint job.

What gives these people the right to decide that the landlord needs to subsidize them forever? Who are they to tell him he "should have put 50 percent down instead of 25 percent"?

If these people think they can keep up that apartment building with a negative cash flow, then they should pool their resources and buy it as a tenancy in common. And then they can see what it's like to actually have to pay taxes, upkeep, etc. I think they would be shocked to say the least when the expenses go up every year and the repairs need to be made and they can't count on someone else to subsidize them.

And the most frightening thing in this article was that the rent board, a bunch of pencil-pushing bureaucrats, is actually going to decide what an "acceptable" type of loan is. What gives them the right (or the expertise!) to decide that? There are so many variables when making a loan on a commercial property that there is no way to decide what an "acceptable" loan is, unless what is "acceptable" to them is one where the new landlord cannot raise the rent to cover expenses.

Dean Lekas, Oakland

Watching in Horror


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