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

As a tenant of an apartment building a few streets away from 138 Monte Cresta and a longtime resident of Oakland, I have watched, in horror, at the havoc Mr. Cox and his relentless construction and renovations have subjected the neighborhood and his tenants to. How convenient, that he managed to find a loophole that will, if permitted to stand, reap him huge profits off of the backs of the very tenants he has abused — that is, what remains of them. If the Oakland rent board is spineless enough to countenance his tactics and not set limits on the amount of interest landlords are permitted to pass onto their renters, the floodgates will open and the rest of us will be drowned in the speculation to follow.

Eloise Hill, Oakland

Who Is the Liberal?

Even though I assume most of the tenants consider themselves Democrats and liberals, it appears that they have that Republican mindset of not wanting to pay for what they use. They are upset that the building has been somewhat neglected, yet when a new owner comes in and attempts to fix the building they cry foul and do not want to pay their fair share. I am amazed at how low their rents appear before and after what the new owner has asked for, especially in that area. Rent control is needed, but if landlords cannot get fair rents then rental property will shrink in the Bay Area. Then where will these renters go?

Mike Santos, Alameda

An Analogy

Buying a building then trying to justify raising rents to cover your cost is analogous to murdering your parents, then trying to throw yourself on the mercy of the courts because you are an orphan.

Steve Juniper, Berkeley

Do You Know How Shoddy Local Apartments Are?

I moved to Berkeley from Minneapolis in January and got my first taste of the Bay Area apartment market. I am now against rent control and for increased density via weakening height restrictions and encouraging new construction.

Apartments here are the lowest quality and landlord/tenant relations are the most adversarial that I've seen. Also, as a recent transplant and postdoc, I am paying top dollar for my place and probably will not be around long enough for rent control to work for me.

I've heard many people say that rent control helps lower-income people with housing. However, by its very nature, rent control benefits people who can stay in the same apartment for decades on end. These people are usually more financially secure than people who have to move around a lot or have just arrived on the job market and often didn't need the help in the first place.

I've also heard many people talk about the magical "communities" that exist in the Bay Area that would be destroyed if rent control were abolished. Hate to break it to you, but any reasonably large/dense city/metro area has "neighborhoods" and "communities" and I really haven't noticed anything special here in this regard. And my interaction with the people in my building really hasn't changed from when I was in the Twin Cities.

Related to the above paragraph is the notion that increasing density or weakening height restrictions would "ruin" the Bay Area somehow. Honestly, I don't see how adding a story or two on top of the average building would change the scenery much. You'd still have Marin County, Muir Woods, etc., and I really can't see the bay from my downtown Berk apartment as is.

Oh yeah, you people that say there's "infinite demand" here because San Francisco is God's Own Paradise and everyone's just DYING to get a chance to move here ... please. This is a reasonably dense metro area that's pretty. Boston, NYC, etc., kick its ass when it comes to public transit. As for the weather, winter in parts of the country that have discovered insulation is just fine for the 98 percent of the time you're inside (another reason to have more modern construction here). I moved here for a job at Berkeley. I'll probably leave when that's finished.

Brendon Rhoades, Berkeley

Apartment Wanted in Brigadoon

Here's the paragraph that somehow was omitted from Jesse Nathan's lengthy cover story:

"Back in 1996, when one of the building's newest tenants moved in, property tax was _____, routine maintenance cost _____, and _____ was spent on building renovations. Last year those overhead costs were _____, _____, and _____ respectively. If tenants who don't want to be fiscally responsible for the benefits they enjoy succeed in making it financially impossible to own rental property in Oakland, the resulting abandonment of property will not only deprive the whole city of needed tax revenue, but will decrease the housing supply and drive up prices for everyone. Renters who believe they have a right to rent in an environment free of economic change should look to rent in Brigadoon."

David Altschul, Berkeley

A Sense of Entitlement

I don't get it. The landlord is spending a million dollars to fix up the building and he cant raise the rents by $381 a month? And the rents are still quite a bit under market? I guess the tenants have had a pretty good deal, but do they get to have it forever? Rent control should work to keep things reasonable, not to transfer a permanent right to reduced rent.

Kurt Schoeneman, Boonville

No Income, No Improvements

As a person who for fourteen years lived in a rent-controlled apartment and then had to move when a disruptive neighbor moved in next door and the landlord would do nothing to resolve the situation for me, I understand the pain and resentment of the tenants in this story and the shock and difficulty of having to move into a rental market where rents are now 50-100 percent more than what we have been paying. However, the tenant's pain and economic difficulties are not fairly placed at the feet of one particular property owner, the new landlord. The cost of living in the Bay Area is very high and it is difficult to make ends meet, but private property owners cannot be expected to subsidize everyone who is challenged by these circumstances. I used to think all landlords were rich and could afford to do this: now I'm a landlord, I've had tenants who make three or four times as much as I do, and I know that some property owners like myself just scrape by. Even property owners who are wealthy should not be obliged to provide economic support to those of modest means. These difficult economic issues that many face are real, are cause for national concern, but they won't be solved by requiring people to conduct business at lower than market rates. Perhaps we should all be talking about a portion of renter's rent being allowed as a deduction from gross income level on their tax returns, much as property owners can deduct mortgage interest, or making the standard deduction or single exemption much larger, or not taxing people who earn less than $30,000 per year. We can find ways to provide greater financial support to those of modest means, which we all contribute toward, rather than expecting landlords to singly take on this subsidizing effort.

As the article points out, when people can't make decent income in purchasing rental property, they will either not invest, or will not keep up their properties.

Deborah Cloudwalker, Oakland

We Can End the Insanity of Rent Control

The definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior while expecting different results.Rent control is no longer a new experiment. We know what happens. Why keep repeating the same mistake? Insanity!

The few places in the US that have tried it know it follows the law of unintended consequences, like so many other very complex economic processes.

It doesn't help most poor people. New rents skyrocket. Poor people have to move more often and are punished each time. It actually drives out minorities and poor people in part because they can't afford the new rent when they have to move. And the supply of vacant units plummets because maintenance and new construction of rental housing plummet while wealthier tenants are discouraged from moving even when they need to.

We criticize extremists in national government for ignoring science while we applaud local activists for ignoring what almost every economist knows is basic science. Rent control backfires!

Middle-class voters WANT rent control to work because THEY DON'T HAVE TO PAY TO HELP HOUSE POOR PEOPLE. They shift the burden to landlords, they think. But the problems only get worse and the solution becomes more obvious. Subsidize the people that really need it and not all the other tenants. But everyone will have to pay a little more in taxes. I'm willing, if the problem is actually addressed. Are you?

Yes on Prop 98 and No on Prop 99 in June. Phase out rent control gradually. Protect all existing tenants. And stop the abuse of eminent domain, as well. Only after rent control is gone will we and our legislators face the real issue: helping to house poor tenants with a fair, effective subsidy system.

The Federal Section 8 voucher system works, for example. Rent control does not. One out of every six rental units in Oakland is subsidized under Section 8. If that's not enough, let's expand it.

But let's get busy with real solutions, not symbolism.

Otto B. Alau, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

Reduce Your Meat Consumption For the Planet

It has been the leading story in major newspapers and TV news programs for the past week. More than 100 million people are being driven deeper into poverty by a "silent tsunami" of rising food prices, according to World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran. A dozen countries have experienced food riots and strikes.

Prices for basic food staples such as rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans have skyrocketed in recent months. They are driven by rising fuel and fertilizer prices, diversion of corn to produce biofuels, drought in key food-producing countries, soil depletion through overgrazing, and growing demand for meat in China and other developing nations.

The resulting hunger afflicts nearly one billion people, mostly women and children. It kills an astonishing 24,000 per day. It's not just a problem for strangers in faraway lands. It affects millions of Americans, and some US stores are already rationing food.

The good news is that even a small shift toward a plant-based diet in the United States and other developed countries would free up enough land, water, and fuel to feed everyone. More than 80 percent of US agricultural land grows animal feed. A plant-based diet requires only 16-20 percent of the resources of the standard American diet (SAD).

Every one of us can start abating the scourge of world hunger today by reducing our consumption of meat and other animal products and by supporting food distribution agencies. (For more information, see TheHungerSite.org.)

Evan Teller, Emeryville


Earlier this week, the prestigious Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded that factory farming takes a big toll on human health and the environment, undermines rural economic stability, and fails to provide humane treatment of livestock. Capping a two-year study, with agriculture industry participation, the report calls for a national phase-out of all intensive confinement of farmed animals.

The report is long overdue. For the past sixty years, animal agriculture has been devastating our country's vital natural resources, including soil, waters, and wildlife habitats. It has been generating more greenhouse gases than transportation. It has been elevating the risk of chronic diseases that account for 130 million deaths annually. It has been abusing billions of innocent, sentient animals.

The only long-term solution to this tragedy is to gradually reduce the consumption of animal products to zero. Help is available at: tryveg.org and chooseveg.org.

Earl Eppler, Emeryville

Don't Halt the Production of Food

The 2007 US Farm Bill is a multibillion-dollar farm subsidy bill renewed every five years. It is a continuation of the 2002 Farm Bill. The bill first became law in 1933 as a means of preventing farmers from taking a loss on their annual production of crops (corn, wheat, cotton, rice, and soybeans). The government paid farmers the difference between what they sold and what it cost to produce. At the time it was a brilliant means of "priming the pump" so that farmers could be temporarily shielded from the effects of the Great Depression on their industry. Today's Farm Bill is a clear example of a government program being continued way beyond its original intention. Essentially, the government now pays farmers to underproduce crops in order to charge higher prices. Adding to the controversy is that it gives two-thirds of the subsidy to the top 10 percent of farmers. As with most government programs, bureaucratic self-perpetuation has allowed for this subsidy to become corrupted. Not surprisingly, the government has it backward. Why not let the farmers produce as much crops as possible, sell what they can on the world market, and give their surplus to the poor. Whatever they don't sell, the government should pay them for their surplus and distribute it among those in poverty. In a world facing a food crisis never before seen in the history of humankind, we should never halt the production of food under any circumstances. 

Joe Bialek, Cleveland, Ohio

Work for Real Change

Some people think that government oversight is needed to prevent any more financial mismanagement. But instead of "watchdogs," these regulators would be "foxes" in charge of the chicken house! Wall Street finances political campaigns and the politicians will return the favor by playing favorites in how they "manage" the financial markets. When politicians talk about managing the economy: BEWARE! What they call "manage" means they will use their tax, regulatory, and spending powers to manipulate economic decisions. We don't notice the negative effects of this because only a minority of people pay most of the taxes while a majority of us enjoy the benefits. But there are negative consequences. For example, through its regulatory powers government forced lenders to loan money to people who could not afford their home mortgages. So when borrowers cannot pay and lenders foreclose, the politicians want to solve "the problem." Some would loan the lenders more "capital," while others would impose a moratorium on foreclosures. As a result, these conflicting policies stymie efforts to refinance mortgages. Each government "solution" has its own conflicting interest groups, complex bureaucracies, and layers of regulations that create unintended negative outcomes and new problems. This is how we get energy policies that promote use of scarce corn rather than abundant oil shale, electricity from Canada rather than nearby power plants, and oil from the Persian Gulf rather than the Gulf of Mexico. Government policies have made it more profitable to import oil and consumer goods and export jobs and wealth so that, in fifty years, we've gone from holding 75 percent of the world's "investment capital" to now only 25 percent. We didn't notice this because government just "borrowed" from Social Security and pension funds made "rich" by the contributions of 80 million "Baby Boomers." However, in the coming years, rather than save and invest, these retirees will try to live off the dividends of investments that are losing "capital." The more government borrows, the less funds are available (at low rates) for businesses and individuals.

The politicians have done nothing to repay the "national debt" and, in fact, some propose new taxes, regulations, and spending to further manipulate the economy. Doubling the "capital gains tax," for example, will only drive more "investment capital" out of the country. Politicians cannot "manage the economy"; they only manipulate it. They have too much power. Our constitution was altered to give Congress the power to take private property (our income) and redistribute it without any restraints (by the state legislatures). If we are to have "real change" we must restore the constitution's original system of "checks and balances" that limit government power and keep politicians accountable. We start by electing reform-minded politicians who will make this "real change" happen. Our liberties, livelihoods, and nation's economy are at stake.

Let us work for real change now, rather than suffer real chaos later?

Michaelf McCarthy, Hayward

What's the Deal with In-Home Services?

Since 1994, I have been on the In-Home Supportive Services program (IHSS) that pays for my overnight care as a result of my physical disability, cerebral palsy. For over nine years my IHSS was active in Alameda County. In 2004, ten years later, I transferred my case to San Francisco. In November of 2007, my fiancée and I moved back into Alameda County where I was told my IHSS would be transferred back to and until this took place San Francisco would pay for my IHSS. As of March 31st, San Francisco IHSS — after much delay — would not be involved anymore and Alameda would take over effective April 1st. However, I did not see an intake worker until April 14th and as of yet my case is still pending.

My workers have not been paid for a month and I was informed on May 1, 2008 that the client rights advocate for IHSS had turned my case over to the director of IHSS who I have been unable to get a hold of. In the IHSS telephone information system, my case has been pending since November 20. My providers are average people who are proud of what they do for me and they deserve to get paid. If I do not receive my IHSS payment soon, one of my attendants who has been with me for ten years will be forced to go on unemployment and the other will be forced to look elsewhere for work.

I have spoken to my intake worker once and the client rights advocate on several occasions. After the home visit where I was assessed, I was told that IHSS would enter my information into their system and that my workers would be paid very soon. I wonder how a government agency can get so backed up and so discombobulated that it puts people like me at risk of not being able to do my activities of daily living at risk for bedsores, health and safety issues along with losing great in-home care attendants who know and understand the severity of my condition. If IHSS is not operating effectively, then why do my workers have to go without pay?

Nick Feldman, Berkeley

Negativity and Magical Thinking

It is fatalism when a person refuses to do anything to make their future better. Either that, or a person may have "magical thinking" including the belief that some external power is going to fix their problems for them. People who are addicted to gambling might be suffering from the magical belief that the next roll of the dice is going to make them a fortune, and save them from all their problems. In the process of having this belief, the gambler loses everything they own. It's not something I'm an expert on. I stopped buying lottery tickets in 1985 when I realized I was wasting my money and couldn't afford it.

Our President is criticized for his policies and may be suffering from this magical and delusional thinking I speak of. For example, he refuses to address the catastrophic damage being done to our environment, one symptom of which is global warming. Is it that he assumes he will be indoors (with the air conditioner on) most of the time since he needs a lot of security anyway? Or does he believe that some external force such as God is going to swoop in and fix everything? (He may be right; however it may end up being God acting through Hillary Clinton who will save us from global warming and the other problems Bush hasn't addressed.) Does Bush simply believe that it is inevitable that we must ruin the Earth's environment, and it is pointless and a waste of time to try to stop it? That would be fatalism and a dismal view.

The Republicans believe we live in a hostile and threatening world. They believe that we need to take extreme measures to protect ourselves from the threats that loom everywhere. They're more than willing to relinquish their right to privacy, liberty, and free speech in order to keep safe from the bad guys. They think there is some good reason to have an endless war in the Middle East, that this does something for us. They have a lot of fear that warps their minds.

It is inconceivable to many Republican politicians that we could just stop going to war, and focus on being positive. (We did that for eight years with a Clinton as President, and we somehow managed to survive it.) Republicans seem convinced that the world is constantly on the verge of ending. Republicans forget that this too shall pass.

If the Republicans were less warped and dismal, they might see the folly of investing all of these trillions of dollars and all of these human lives in a pointless war that we can't win, or for that matter, in any war.

If General Petraeus were as successful at a Las Vegas casino as he currently is at the Iraq war, he would be penniless and would have to panhandle for bus fare back home. Fortunately for Petraeus, being unsuccessful gives him job security.

It shows negativity that our government won't disengage from the Iraq war. If the war continues for decade upon decade as the Republicans envision, the drain of lives, hope, and resources that this war creates over time will ruin our country. The only thing stopping us from leaving Iraq is the fear of our politicians.

Opposing alternative fuels and alternate sources of energy is a sign of extreme pessimism. There is a faction in the country that says we will always need petroleum and coal to run everything. You can see them express their viewpoint on many television ads. I assume this faction consists of mostly Republicans. The willingness to switch to newer, cleaner, greener power sources shows willingness to move into the future.

In short, it shows negativity and/or magical thinking if you don't engage with your problems to solve them. This appears to be a trait of the Republican politicians in the past few years. (Note that I am not criticizing members of the general public who are Republican.) If you're doing something to realistically fix your situation, you're probably more of an optimist. This is something to look for when voting.

Jack Bragend, Martinez


In our May 21 story about the Alameda Theater, we misspelled the name of Alameda's Central Cinema.


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