Letters for November 25 

Readers sound off on West Berkeley development, North Korea, and Dan Das Mann.

"Michael Moore's Action Plan," Raising the Bar, 11/4    

Moore to the Story

Jay Youngdahl tells us that Michael Moore wants an end to home evictions. To paraphrase Mark Twain, let's see what this prayer really means.

1) Rational or fiscally burdened tenants will stop paying rent.

2) Without money for repairs, landlords will allow buildings to become uninhabitable and

3) Without money to cover taxes, landlords will abandon buildings.

4) Loans underneath those buildings will crash.

5) Government services dependent on tax revenue from those buildings will be starved out

6) Homelessness will skyrocket

7) With the evisceration of the housing supply, the cost of living space will zoom.Like everything else Moore creates from the isolated aerie of his million-dollar Park Avenue penthouse, this is a movie I don't want to watch

David Altschul, Berkeley

"Understanding North Korea," Feature, 11/4


Thank you so much Kathleen Wentz, for your unusually informative reporting on Korean politics through the lens of local peace activists. The 1950 war napalmed Korean peasants — and scorched US voices of dissent — before massive civil rights and anti-war movements opened hearts and minds to the credibility gap. From Southeast Asia to Central America, from Iraq to Afghanistan, global warming and beyond, we've grown accustomed to full-throated debate over US policy conducted in our name. Yet too often discussion of Korea remains frozen in a Cold War Ice Age of arrested development.Thankfully, the political debate inside South Korea has grown much more diverse in tandem the country's dance with democracy. The local activists you featured blend their experiences as Korean-American peace instigators with what they learn from counterparts across the Pacific — often over spicy soup that begs to be shared family style.As one whose maternal grandfather immigrated to Hawaii from what is now South Korea and whose grandmother hailed from what is now North Korea, I say "Chotdah! Most excellent!" I hope the Obama administration will take advantage of this input and finally end the Korean War and the high cost of militarism on all sides.

Miriam Louie, Oakland

Being Right Isn't Wrong

As director of the documentary Kimjongilia, cited in the article "Understanding North Korea," I would like to set the record straight. The film received absolutely no funds from either the National Endowment for Democracy or the Citizen's Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (incorrectly referred to as "Citizen Coalition" in the article.)  These groups were thanked in the credits because they were helpful in putting me in touch with defectors. Funding for the film came entirely from private donations and a grant from the Sundance Institute. Neither the many friends and family who loaned or donated money, nor Sundance, made any editorial demands. Whether the US is at fault in the current Korean peninsula situation or is cynically manipulating the Korean divide to its own ends are both questions that provoke arduous debate, but always seem to lead to conclusions that fall within hardened ideological lines. Meanwhile, it is difficult to see how US-led UN forces, no matter what they did during the Korean War, can be blamed for the DPRK's practice, sixty years later, of beating, torturing and starving its own children in political prison camps. Likewise, even if American restrictions on trade contributed to NK's Great Famine, which is a dubious assertion, this does not make them responsible for the DPRK's criminal practice of executing people who leave the country looking for food.  Joint military exercises by the South Koreans and Americans might explain the North's desire to test nuclear weapons, but it in no way can explain or excuse North Korea's truly dreadful human rights abuses. 

Defectors and refugees who have suffered under communist totalitarianism often drift to the right when they escape because the left can seem to be defending the regime from which they have fled. Simply because they identify with the right, however, does not make them wrong in wishing to see brutal dictatorships fall.

NC Heikin, Producer/Director KIMJONGILIA

Reunification Costs Too Much

I read with some amusement the article "Understanding North Korea" in your November 4-10 issue. Blaming the United States is easy when one fails to look at the larger picture of global politics. Consider North Korea's neighbors and their motivation to maintain the status quo.The People's Republic of China is happy to have North Korea as is, an almost proxy state that acts as a buffer to South Korea, Japan, the Russian Federation, and the United States. A united peninsula would bring no good to China. Japan would not benefit from a united Korea. With their historic animosity, the potential for a nationalistic and nuclear united Korea serves no purpose to Japan.The Russian Federation, like China, is served by a weak North Korea, the closest maritime neighbor to its most important Pacific port, Vladivostok. Neither Russia's economic or military needs would be served by the equivalent of the Berlin Wall falling in Korea. Lastly, South Korea's policy to look tough but then appease the North is nothing more than a means to maintain status quo. One need to only look at the cost of German unification to understand the reason behind this policy. The economic cost of Korean reunification is unpalatable to most South Korean politicians, business leaders, and trade unions.The questions asked shouldn't be what the United States did on the Korean Peninsula, but what can it do to convince North Korea's neighbors that a united Korea is in their best interest. To this, I am not hopeful ...

Scott McNeil, Oakland

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

We Need Balance

Robert Gammon's ageism ("old hippies" stuck in a "time warp") and easily flung accusations of "NIMBY" in his opinion piece, "Activists Try to Block Green Tech in Berkeley," reflect his ignorance, prejudice, and laziness. The issues in West Berkeley facing decision makers are complicated and deserve a better journalistic platform — certainly more than the stereotyping and name-calling by Mr. Gammon.There was applause for speakers voicing concerns with the city's proposed changes to the West Berkeley Plan at the November 4 Planning Commission workshop, but I heard no "ridiculing and heckling of anyone who disagreed with them," from the audience. (Though I did smile to myself once when I heard the phrase, "Developers' fair share.")It would be nice to see an intelligent, thoughtful, and balanced article in the Express about West Berkeley. Speakers brought valid concerns and research-based information to the commission for consideration. Gammon ignores that "green" businesses providing living-wage jobs (and better) have been around for decades in West Berkeley. The diverse use here is appealing and worth being preserved. No one is fighting to prevent change or progress — we're speaking up for new development along with the preservation and expansion of what is working. I find it negligent that in the middle of this huge economic downturn brought about by unregulated, laissez-faire policies and practices, that anyone would think that opening the doors wide to market forces (green or otherwise) is a good choice. There is a balance to be struck.

Susan Henderson, Berkeley

Data-Free Ranting

I first read Robert Gammon's account of the Berkeley Planning Commission's November 4 workshop on the Express web site; astonishingly, this virtriolic, data-free rant was published under the heading of "News."

As Gammon has it, former hippie environmentalists are fighting Mayor Tom Bates' efforts to turn their West Berkeley neighborhood — "a once-bustling hub of warehouses and industrial manufacturing that has been slowing [sic] decaying for decades" — into "a green-tech corridor" lined with spinoffs from UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Engaging in "me-first economics," these "fifty-and sixty-something" NIMBYs want to limit R & D to six big, vacant industrial sites and otherwise leave the zoning that protects the district's manufacturing, warehousing and artisans. (True.) They're convinced, says Gammon, that "Bates' vision ... will lead to gentrification, overcrowding, and high rents in their neighborhoods." (Also true.)

Gammon concedes that rents will "probably" rise, but that's the price of "ward[ing] off the greatest environmental disaster ever known." If the city keeps the zoning protections for industry and artists, the spinoffs from UCB and the Lab "could end up in the suburbs," increasing sprawl and "making green-tech less green."

If West Berkeley were the blighted wasteland of Gammon's imagination, it might make sense to open it up to the high-end, high-rise R & D development sought by Bates and his big bucks associates, who include, along with the UCB administration and the Lab, San Rafael-based Wareham Property Group.

In fact, according to commercial broker C.B. Richard Ellis, in the third quarter of 2009, the vacancy rate for Berkeley's industrial market was only 3 percent. That figure would be low at any time; in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, it's striking. A low vacancy rate indicates high demand. So much for Gammon's portrait of decay.

Berkeley already has loads of "green-tech." Go to the west end of Heinz Street and gaze upon Wareham's massive Aquatic Park Center. The city just gave Wareham permission to build a 92,000-square-foot biotech facility at 740 Heinz. A recent study by UC Berkeley graduate students reports that the six big vacant sites contain at least 2 million square feet. Assuming that a sizeable portion of that space goes to labs, and that at the same time the city reaffirms its protection for its industrial and artisanal enterprise and jobs, there's plenty enough room for R & D to expand in West Berkeley.

As for Bates' "green-tech corridor": Gammon is presumably referring to the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership, an official consortium that includes eight cities stretching from Richmond to San Leandro. The notion that all the spinoffs from UC and the Lab have to be in Berkeley flies against the Corridor's declared mission of sharing the wealth of a new green economy across city boundaries.

That mission, by the way, has nothing to do with preventing sprawl. But perhaps Gammon considers Richmond, San Leandro, Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda, Albany, and El Cerrito to be suburbs of Berkeley. That's about as plausible as his designation of opponents of the Bates/UC/Lab gentrification scenario as aging NIMBYs (and since when do NIMBYs of any age want to live next to factories?).

Zelda Bronstein, Berkeley

Former Chair, Berkeley Planning Commission

Killing the Goose

I wish to comment on the column by Robert Gammon concerning the situation with West Berkeley development issues. Speaking as a Berkeley resident and a longtime environmentalist myself, I never thought that I would see the day when stopping climate change would be used as a reason to justify the forced displacement of longtime residents and businesses. In particular, the attack on the West Berkeley Alliance of Artisans and Industrial Companies is especially galling. To accuse these local businesses as people living the past flies in the face of reality.  Many of these companies have been "green businesses" long before it became a trendy thing to do. Urban Ore, for example, has been recycling household items and building materials for well over 25 years. This so-called "Green Corridor" that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates so loudly trumpets is merely a smoke screen to mask the intentions of a few well-connected moneyed interests who want to turn West Berkeley into an extension of Emeryville, with ever more expensive condos and office buildings. I even recall that in a past radio interview, Mr. Bates justified these actions as simply being part of the "free market," something that would have made Ronald Reagan beam with pride. It's as if a sort of "Manifest Destiny" is being preached by these so-called "progressive" political forces.While I have nothing against the idea of green industries, I nevertheless believe that the actions of the City of Berkeley to de-industrialize the flatlands are, in my opinion, killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The businesses that WEBAIC represents greatly contribute to the economic well-being of Berkeley, and generate much needed revenue that stays in the city. With the East Bay in the middle of a major economic recession, to purposely destroy independent businesses and the artistic community who live in this neighborhood is nothing short of insanity. This pie in the sky called "Green Jobs" is still in the birthing stage, and to risk our regions economic future on a maybe is the same sort of thinking that got us into our current economic disaster. It makes much more sense to keep manufacturing in West Berkeley, which will, in turn, create a fertile environment for independent green-related businesses to start and to flourish. In all, I find Mr. Gammon's recent column to be one of the most disingenuous pieces of journalism that I have ever come across.

John F. Davies, Berkeley

Strength in Diversity

Setting aside the dubious worth of the University of California's embrace of British Petroleum and biofuels, Gammon's unwillingness toacknowledge the connection between the economic health and substantial financial contribution of the one part of Berkeley that works and itsperhaps complex but functional zoning restrictions is peculiar.

Portfolios, biospheres, populations, and societies are stronger, healthier, and have more creative possibilities if they are diverse. Thecurrent West Berkeley Plan's restrictions have created perhaps the last neighborhood where art and industry, both large and small, can survive.

If Mayor Bates, his economic development team and a deck of developers want to try some new ideas, I suggest they tackle the empty storefronts littering the downtown and nearby commercial zones currently burdening existing businesses and the tax base. Those of us who live and work in West Berkeley love it here, and yes, we know how to sign referendum petitions.

Carol Denney, Berkeley


In our November 18 music feature on Pirate Cat Radio, we misstated the year that major radio ownership rules changed. It was 1996.

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