Letters for September 9 

Readers sound off on the BART strike, Café Gratitude, and density in downtown Berkeley.

"BART Brass Hangs Tough," Seven Days, 8/19

Benefits Outweigh Costs

It was wishful thinking to hope the remarks of feature opinion writer Robert Gammon, even though published in an "independent" weekly such as the East Bay Express, would demonstrate empathy for the blue-collar folks who safely transport so much of the Bay Area to work on a daily basis. Anti-labor commentary from the mainstream corporate press is expected, but it's even more infuriating that BART management is aided in its strenuous efforts to cram "take-away" contract terms down the throats of rank-and-file union members by an ostensibly "community"-oriented newspaper.

UPS employees, school teachers, and transit workers all came under fire in the last period, from Republican and Democratic Party state and local regimes alike. Not long ago the puffed up "Governator" flashed his money clip at reporters during a press conference and taunted health care workers as "girlie men" for, among other things, fighting to keep nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals at a safe and reasonable level. Democratic Party honchos have also distanced themselves from BART train operators and station agents; no surprise there!Robert Gammon and the East Bay Express have now also apparently jumped on the labor-bashing bandwagon. Gammon credits BART brass "... for hanging tough and refusing to capitulate to the union's demands." Interesting characterization, that.

What were these "demands" and what, precisely, was wrong with them? The union ranks at each of three BART bargaining units wanted, in essence, to basically "hold the line" and not give back as much as management itself had initially demanded. These days it seems every working person is being told to "work more, for less" in order to "stay competitive" in the world market. Economically speaking it's a race to the bottom, unless you're a Wall Street bank, a big corporation, or a University of California bigwig, in which case you get a bonus or a bailout that would make a Somali pirate blush with embarrassment. 

The sorry union (mis)leadership literally begged BART management to compromise with its workforce by NOT TAKING AWAY SO MUCH as had initially been "demanded" by BART management. Union officers who recommended acceptance of the terms demanded by management were understandably met with stiff resistance by employees with mortgages and real life financial issues. Caustic San Francisco Chronicle and the sneering Oakland Tribune writers made a lot of noise about "antiquated work rules" leading to "massive overtime pay." Yet they were damn short on particulars.

As so many other places seem to have grasped, mass transit does not ordinarily run at a profit, and the ridership cannot be expected to meet the necessary costs by paying out-of-pocket themselves. To say mass transit "runs at a loss" that must be made up by employee wage concessions is bogus. It overlooks the undeniable fact that only public general funds can cover the necessary costs of mass transit, as is done for fire protection and many other public services. Transit budgets are benefits that reduce traffic congestion, reduce air and noise pollution, and reduce parking problems. The "priceless" social benefits of a well-trained and well-paid transit workforce far outweigh the ordinary monetary costs. The same politicians who want to hammer BART employees are frequently very much in favor of massive public subsidies for new sports stadiums. (What is wrong with this picture?)

Enough with the song-and-dance about "give backs" and "compromises" by ordinary working people! The fraudulent government bailout for Wall Street, etc., demonstrates that we all benefit by supporting those BART employees who aren't too demoralized to resist management and corporate pressure to "give back" what they have managed to secure for themselves. Victory to the BART transit workers!

Scott Gilpin, Oakland

Corporate Stooges?

When did Rupert Murdoch acquire the East Bay Express? When did you hire corporate stooge Robert Gammon? First, he claims Berkeley to be NIMBY despite all the proof that it's not, voicing a well-known right-wing canard about Berkeley being "liberal" or "progressive" as long as the ox being gored is not one of its sacred cows. (See Letters, August 19-25, John Vinopal). Now he sides with BART brass. "BART brass deserves credit for hanging tough and refusing to capitulate to the union's demands." The deal "allows BART management to meet its goal of slashing $100 million from employee compensation for all the agency's workers." "The train operators and station agents were prepared to hold the Bay Area hostage." "Bay Area residents ... have no sympathy for the well-paid workers."

I understand that mainstream media always castigates the workers, especially when they organize and act in their own self interest. Since 1981, unions and hourly wage earners in general have been under attack by corporate media. Why should the workers have to sacrifice well-earned benefits? Why is management negotiating with the union capitulation, but not the union kowtowing to management? What is the salary of BART's Uncle Tom spokesman? Of its back-shooting police force? Its top 25 managers? Why is BART going ahead with an unneeded people mover for the Oakland Airport?

Without a well-paid blue-collar middle-class, there is no way out of the current depression, unless we can convince Japan (or Korea or Iran) to attack Pearl Harbor again. Yet the corporate media continues to attack the worker, and not management. And now the alternative media joins them. "Et tu, Brute?"

Eugene Webber, Oakland

"The Secret Sidewalk May Not Be Secret Much Longer," News, 8/19

Watch Out for the Poison Oak

I remember playing on the Secret Sidewalk in the late '50s when I was five years old. Always a challenge to cross the bridge and make it to the tunnel. Watch out for the hobos, the smell of wild fennel, poison oak, a working clay pipe factory, and swimming in the creek. Definitely a hazard and unsafe to walk on, beautiful place for a trail through the canyon if something could be done to ensure the public's safety.

Jim Richardson, San Leandro

"Anti-Growth Group Wraps Itself in Green," Eco Watch, 8/19

Surrounded by Aliens

I feel like I'm in one of those sci-fi movies where we are standing around knowing full well that some of us are evil aliens in disguise (anti-environmentalists) while the rest of us are the good guys (truly green). To compound the problem, it may be that the aliens, like the rest of us, think they are truly green as well.

After watching and arguing a couple days ago with a Livable Berkeley ideologue who was spending her day shadowing a petition gatherer (because "I have to!"), I began to wonder if I was wrong: do the density advocates really have "green" on their side? Do they really have a plan so superior for the city that the mindless unquestioning support of zombie girl is really justified?

All it took was about an hour reading recent studies on the environmental and health impacts of urban density development provided in major journals by the UC Berkeley Digital Library (I have access as Berkeley staff, but anyone can read these at a UC library terminal) to get the general picture. The several studies I read that summarize and evaluate hundreds of other studies are very clear on a couple of points:1) among urban planners, there is *no* agreed upon definition of density2) the myriad of studies are completely inconclusive as to the impact of greater density on either the ecological footprint or the well-being of citizens.

Also, almost all "studies" of urban density, these reports conclude, are theoretical rather than empirical. That is, they do not study the actual effects of density development after implementation.

I think just about any educated person reading a few of these studies would understand that there is no firm ground at all for making environmental or livability claims one way or another based on planning for urban density — despite the adoption of it as a holy grail over the last few decades by cities and planning professionals (and by shadow girl). The studies do not bear out any claims on any side, no matter how widespread the claims may be.

Here in Berkeley we will not begin to settle the environmental controversy over density development. Neither side has a green claim. We'd do better to cut to the chase and leave ourselves to the issues we have some real understanding of: what we want the city to look and feel like, how we want the downtown to function for us.

It's really unfortunate that the discussion got so hijacked by this green herring.

Rob Weinberg, Berkeley

"Insider's Guide," 8/19

How Could You Forget Us?

Shockingly absent from your Insider's Guide to Fruitvale is Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, a six-acre City of Oakland park — Oakland's most important historic site — with thriving youth programs, lavish multimedia exhibits about Fruitvale history (a history which, indeed started thousands of years before the founding of St. Elizabeth's, as stated in the Express), Oakland's largest native plant garden, a community garden studied by the UC Botanical Garden for the wealth of its species and ethnobotanical interest, a historic house on the National Register that opens its doors as a community center for youth and families today, 3-D outdoor exhibits framed by Ohlone poetry about life on the vast cattle ranch that once covered the East Bay, a huge archive of oral history interviews (the Faces of Fruitvale project), a play structure with a giant grizzly bear and cub, etc. etc. etc. How is it that you missed a Fruitvale landmark and an Oakland cultural resource of such importance? It is painful to the community, staff, and grassroots nonprofit who have worked so hard for so long — since the 1970s — to create this amazing place. The huge CA State Landmarks sign on the 580 freeway tells you we are here! Our vision: Every Human Being Makes History.

Holly Alonso, Executive Director, Peralta Hacienda Historical Park

"The Father of Proposition 8," Feature, 8/12

No Surprises

My first reaction upon reading this biased article was, what would you expect? Any newly installed bishop of Oakland, not matter whom, would be an opponent of gay and lesbian marriage. After all, as Catholics we have believed for centuries that marriage is a Holy Sacrament (between a man and woman). The fact that the Catholic Church, Mormons, and Evangelicals were behind Prop. 8 has been well published. It's also apparently true that the Bishop made some "victory" statements that he should not have, and as the article mentioned he indicated remorse. However, labeling him as the most conservative Bishop imaginable is inappropriate. Catholic positions on the poor, education, social justice, death penalty, and war are actually liberal. I pray that the people in East Bay, especially the politicians, adopt a more rounded viewpoint than presented in this article.

Dan Conaty, San Diego

A Slippery Slope to Oblivion

It's quite obvious from the get go that you support "gay marriage" even if it's against the will of most of the people of this state. I remember when a small handful of people dressed in black robes trashed Prop. 187, which denied medical treatment to illegal aliens and being forced against our will to pay through our tax dollars for their health care. I would like you to tell me why I'm compelled to pay for their medical bills? I think that those people from those countries should be encouraged to revolt against their country so that they have no reason to come to this country in the first place, thereby saving taxpayers billions of dollars here. I just don't think that a few judges in the state government have the right to tell us to go to hell when we approve of ballot initiatives passed by the majority of the people here. If this is allowed to continue, than we will slide down a slippery slope to oblivion. People here voted to stop "gay marriage" because they didn't want this kind of behavior exposed to their children, (i.e. showing "gay weddings on TV and seeing live churches showing two men or two women exchanging "nuptials"), which is in your way of thinking, we have no right to do so. It has been proven beyond a shadow of a (through all the available evidence) doubt that there is NOT a "gay gene," this is a lifestyle that is a choice, people who want to be "gay" or "lesbian" is their business, all I ask them to do is to keep quiet about their sexual choice i.e., not to have "gay parades" as you never see anyone having "straight parades." To have them tell me it's too much to ask is despicable to say the least and force us to accept their lifestyle only enhances hatred for them and encourages right-wing groups to commit violence against them. This country will never survive with an "anything goes"-type society as it caused the fall of the Roman Empire, who also permitted "gay marriage" there also.

Greg Sullivan, Hayward

Write About the Good Things

Although I am not Catholic, I resent how you singled out the new bishop in your attack piece. I am not a bigot, but I happen to believe that straight and same-sex couples should have the absolute same legal rights and should all have to go through a civil ceremony to satisfy the legal component and that the word "marriage" be reserved for the optional ceremonial component of the union. In that way the Unitarians could conduct same-sex marriages while Catholics could stick to their age-old beliefs. I visited the new cathedral recently and found the interior beautiful (many local artists), but what I found even more beautiful is that there is a medical clinic there for the uninsured. Why don't you write about all that instead of this divisive attack piece?  

Yvonne Byron, Oakland

"I Am Annoyed and Disappointed," News, 8/5

Landmark Isn't Religious

My name is Father Gerry O'Rourke. I am Emeritus Director of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Office of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. I am also current Chair of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Commission of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. I am President Emeritus of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio of San Francisco. I am an Ordained Catholic Priest since 1950.

My work as a Catholic Priest and as an Ecumenical and Interreligious Leader locally, nationally and internationally has been enormously blessed and enhanced by my participation in and experience of the work and programs of Landmark Education.

I have no hesitation in recommending and approving the great work of Landmark Education. Having personally observed and participated in numerous Landmark Education programs, I can clearly state that Landmark Education is not a religious, cult, sect, or religious denomination. In addition, Landmark Education is not and never has been anti-religious or an obstacle to my religious beliefs. As a Catholic Priest and recognized leader in ecumenical and interreligious affairs, I can declare that Landmark Education has been a huge asset and empowerment in my life as a Priest and a person of faith.

Rev. P. Gerard O'Rourke, emeritus director, Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of San Francisco

Higher Truth

Your August 5 story on Café Gratitude was very revealing. I don't think I plan to dine there, ever, as a result. And while the article does not delve too much into the company's claims of "Sacred Commerce"— I would certainly buy into it — if they perhaps profit-shared with their employees or were worker-owned. Having participated in the labor movement, perhaps I am biased, but their rule on employee participation in Landmark Forum and all that culture entails seems like a sure way to union-bust (before the fact). Don't get me wrong: I am all for spirituality and personal transformation, as a personal and private decision, but to make employment and promotions dependent on it, and to make employees pay for it probably is a violation of the law. It also seems like a conflict of interest, as the owners of both entities are one and the same. And while I do understand that many people have benefited from attending Landmark, this smells of hypocrisy. The owners seem out of touch, as there were indications that it wasn't such a great work environment in terms of having to work "long, tiring shifts." We are talking about the food-service sector, with all due respect — I've been there and done that. I would encourage the owners to rethink their policies, out of compassion for everyone's sanity and pocketbook. As for Ms. Ritter; perhaps another Bay Area restaurant could hire this courageous, easygoing, and sensible woman for a leadership/management position. I would certainly dine there! Finally, perhaps a belief we can all agree on, one Gandhi himself said and professed, "There is no God higher than truth." And am I glad it came out in this piece by Sam Levin.

Thank you.

Anna Roy, Oakland

"Ohh Shyt," Letters, 8/5

Great Read

I loved reading the letter ("Ohh Shyt") that was written by Y. Maria Aldana. It was informative, entertaining, and straight up. Ms. Aldana should consider blogging about food. A list of her favorite restaurants would be a good follow-up. 

Paul Cumpian, Berkeley

Miscellaneous Letters

Let's See the Models

While I personally support the original "greener" downtown plan to the one backed by the Planning Commission and the mayor, it would be helpful to both sides if the community could compare what Berkeley would look like under both plans. Other cities, such as Havana, let citizens see and approve a three-dimensional scale model before changes are made. Berkeley should so the same by creating a web site showing both plans.

Tom Miller, Berkeley

President, Green Cities Fund

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