Letters for the week of April 7-13, 2004 

Wilson Ogg responds to our coverage of Pinebrook, which he characterizes not as a sham, but legitimate family.

"Send in the Clones," Bottom Feeder, 3/10

What would SpongeBob say?
This letter, as you will see, will hopefully assist you in your future exploits of defamation of things that you know not of. I was stunned to see that someone who claims such huge allegations about my election to the Alameda County Central Committee as a LaRouche Democrat, using such language as "cultish" and "jackasses," would not have done more research. There are a number of fallacies (which isn't surprising, considering it is after all the Express), of which I will only go into one particularly humorous aspect.

I quote this section of your article "Send in the Clones": "Democrats are notorious for favoring women, which might explain the success of LaRouchies Sylvia Spaniolo and Summer Shields ..."

I don't think that it would have been particularly taxing to figure out what my gender was, if you were truly a dedicated journalist. As for the rest of the "facts"? Who could possibly refute any further, a publication that decided to put an ad for a "Clitoris Celebration" event in the kids' section, right next to SpongeBob SquarePants.
Mr. Summer Shields, LaRouche Democrat, Oakland

"Who's Your Mama?" Bottom Feeder, 3/3

A tiger on my side
I feel compelled to come to the defense of attorney Carol Amyx, who received negative, one-sided treatment in the article, as well as a gratuitous ad hominem (or the female equivalent) slur from Professor Joan Hollinger.

Carol represented me in my divorce and custody issues fairly, ably, and inexpensively. I have since recommended her to scores of friends. She honored all of my wishes for compassion and justice toward my ex. Together she and I crafted the divorce action, settlement, and custody issues. She gave great advice, too, at a stressful time. I appreciate the advice of experts in whatever profession I am engaging.

Carol is even-handed in warning clients about the dangers of being too nice up front to potentially deadbeat dads or moms. She should wear Professor Hollinger's sour grapes/sore loser name-calling as a badge of honor.

Believe me, I want a tiger on my side in the courtroom. The law is a majestic instrument which can be wielded for good or ill. Carol is an advocate of the former; of that I am 100 percent convinced. She knew what was ahead in my post-divorce future through her years of experience: If only I had listened to her MORE!
Wendy Schlesinger, Albany

"So, How Do You Feel About That Scene?" Feature, 2/25

Original journalism
I just read your wonderful article on cinema therapy. My first reaction was "Only in the Bay Area," and my second was, "Who has not felt this way about a film?" As wild as it is, it's no more so than any other approach to mental health and harmony. You should seriously consider doing an additional piece for Premiere or Entertainment Weekly, et al. It's hard to find an original story in today's polluted airways, and you did just that.
James Dalessandro, San Rafael

"Dogging Mr. Ogg," Bottom Feeder, 1/28

The view from Pinebrook
Your staff writer, Will Harper, has written a column with apparent malice intent to mislead the readers of your publication, and apparently without a good faith belief on his part in the truth of his libelous language and, in fact in a cynical disregard of the truth. The following language is defamatory:

1. Language to the effect that I am one of the kooky landlords who dodge rent controllers. No facts are cited, and no facts could be cited, to support this libelous language.

2. Language to the effect that Naomi Brandes accused me of failure to repair a "gas leak." Brandes never made such a claim. Her false claim was not that I refused to repair a gas leak but that she asked me to turn off the gas, and I refused to do so.

3. Language to the effect that I called the cops to report a "contemplated trespass." When an illegal inspection of Pinebrook was planned, an inspection that would violate my privacy and the privacy of family members other than Brandes, I used two police officers to be impartial witnesses that I did not use force to prohibit the inspection but relied solely on the fact that under the law a single-family house cannot without cause be inspected without the owner's consent. I explained to Harper the real facts, but he apparently become so dedicated to assisting Thomas Ostly, counsel to Brandes, in the building of a case against me that truth became irrelevant to him.

4. Language to the effect that family members pay me a monthly fee to live at Pinebrook. This statement is libelous and defamatory for the reason that charging such a fee would be highly improper and inconsistent with the Pinebrook Family Sharing Agreement. Family members do reimburse me, in part, for expenses of Pinebrook maintenance based on the fair-use value of the quarters they occupy at Pinebrook, which usually has been less than their allocable share of expenses.

5. Language to the effect that family members provide me "thousands of dollars of nonrental income" is absurd, asinine, and defamatory on its face. By using the words "nonrental income," Harper is apparently accusing me of failure to report rent as income, a very serious crime under federal law. Moreover, I have always lost money as a result of my ownership of Pinebrook. It has always been a labor of love on my part, and I have always allowed other persons to share the beauty and former peaceful nature of Pinebrook, now destroyed by the actions of Thomas Ostly and Naomi Brandes.

6. Language to the effect that the city considers Pinebrook to be "a triplex at the very least" is false and defamatory. It was for the reason that the city considered Pinebrook a single-family house that the housing inspector was prohibited from inspecting Pinebrook.

7. Harper accuses me of intentionally engaging in a course of conduct to hide Pinebrook from the rent board. I had no need to avoid "detection" by the rent board. Pinebrook has always had high visibility, was once depicted in Life magazine, and could be on the National Register of Historic Places.

8. Language to the effect that "Ogg wound up evicting" Naomi Brandes is false and defamatory. She vacated her quarters after I served upon her a thirty-day notice to vacate. In my nearly forty years of Pinebrook ownership, I never completed eviction proceedings against any family member. It would be inconsistent with family membership, with all disputes preferably handled by arbitration under the family agreement.

9. Language to the effect that a rent board hearing examiner concluded that the family association was a sham designed to circumvent rent control is false. The proceedings were dismissed by Naomi Brandes' counsel before any decision was reached. The decision of the hearing examiner would not become effective unless it was neither appealed nor dismissed within thirty days. Miss Brandes dismissed the proceedings within thirty days.

I explained to Harper that the family sharing agreement was drafted pursuant to the 1980 California Supreme Court decision in Adamson v. Santa Barbara. The decision clearly allows persons unrelated by blood or marriage to constitute themselves as a family for zoning purposes and necessarily as a family for rent control purposes. Mr. Harper avoids any mention at all of Adamson v. Santa Barbara. Instead, with apparent malice, Harper engaged in a campaign to ridicule me by ignoring the true background of Brandes v. Ogg and apparently to fabricate a false background that would be of help to Mr. Ostly and Ms. Brandes in their attempt to improperly recover $110,000 from State Farm.

Harper's column also contains many comments apparently and somewhat cleverly used to prejudice the reader against me. An example of this is his comment that "he speaks with a distinguished British-sounding accent despite being a California native." My so-called accent is actually a symptom of auditory dyslexia. People familiar with auditory dyslexia recognize my accent as a speech impediment. The only language I speak is English but unfortunately with an impediment -- sorry about that, Mr. Harper. Harper apparently thinks I am a "character" because I have auditory dyslexia leading to a speech impediment and, at the same time, a Mensa membership.

For an objective approach to Brandes v. Ogg by a disinterested party, I am enclosing a letter to the Rent Stabilization Board by a former Pinebrook family member. The publication of [my] letter, as well as the enclosed letter by Mr. Cox, would allow your readers to get a clear picture of the situation underlying Brandes v. Ogg.
Wilson Ogg, Berkeley

I'm sorry to hear that Wilson Ogg's good faith has been abused by a member of Pinebrook. It find it shocking and depressing to think that a person who joined his extended family has treated him so poorly and unfairly. I wish to attest to the character of Mr. Ogg, and express my fear that the actions of Ms. Naomi Brandes will deprive others of the remarkable experience I had in extended-family group living by forcing him into a forced sale of Pinebrook.

When we first met, Wilson explained the terms of joining Pinebrook very clearly to me (including the legal details of Adamson v. Santa Barbara). If accepted, I would not be a tenant, I'd be a family member. This was a different concept in group living, but after thinking about it for a while, asking a bunch of questions, I was satisfied with the answers I heard, and I decided Pinebrook was for me.

Once I moved in, anything I ever needed in terms of the physical structure, kitchen unit, laundry etc., was attended to right away. Wilson was always extremely polite, respectful, reasonable, cooperative, thorough, and friendly. I felt completely at home visiting him in his study, or having him over for tea and conversation. I was happy to chip in by assisting him with his computer. It actually was a family; we all pitched in and were close friends. It was quite unlike anything I'd ever experienced when I was merely "renting a place." Wilson Ogg is an uncommon person, and he made Pinebrook something extraordinary.

Pinebrook is not a weird cult, nor is it a sham to get around zoning. It is in every way an extended family. If Ms. Brandes was cynical about this concept, then it is she, not Wilson, who is to blame; through her self-centered and cynical approach to group living, she short-changed herself, and is now in the process of hurting an exceptional person, and doing others a rare privilege that she apparently still fails to appreciate.
Jon Cox, letter to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board

If indeed we mischaracterized the true reason for Wilson Ogg's manner of speaking, then we apologize, and regret the error. However, we stand by the rest of Will Harper's column, which was largely based upon public documents, including documents on file at the Berkeley Rent Board and Alameda County Superior Court.

For example, the "gas leak" allegation that Ogg says "Brandes never made" was, in fact, contained in both her Tenant Petition for Individual Rent Adjustment to the Berkeley Rent Board and her civil complaint in Superior Court.

Moreover, the phrase "contemplated trespass" was contained in Ogg's own February 4, 2003 letter to J. Morgan of the Berkeley Rent Board. Contrary to Ogg's assertions, the Berkeley Rent Board Hearing Examiner, Debra Hutton, did in fact conclude that the "sharing agreement was a disguised rental agreement designed to circumvent the Rent Stabilization Ordinance by sham." Two weeks later, the case was dismissed pursuant to a settlement.

Finally, the difference between eviction and sending a notice to vacate is not a significant distinction.

"Wake Up: Words, Music and Healing," Performance, 2/18

Where is the art?
Thank you Express and Natasha Nargis for opening-day publicity for my art exhibition, Insomnia (Awakening), at Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, and performances of poetry, music, and dance around the subjects of sexual assault and child abuse during the exhibit. The art itself is a retrospective installation of works spanning my career, centered on the installation within the larger context, "Insomnia" (on the red wall). I first looked for the article in the Visual Arts section of your paper, which shockingly no longer exists in the paper itself, but is to be found online only. Next I looked at your catch-all section, Billboard, could not find it there, and after some further searching, concluded the article had not been printed after all. Imagine my surprise when Pro Arts director Margot Dunlap at last found the above-titled article (no mention of art!) in the Performance section. Please understand, all aspects of my project were conceived and built around the huge body of over two hundred artworks in the show. To appreciate the magnitude, the exhibit must be seen. Finally, the illustration by Al Cameron accompanying the article of possibly one of my sculptures may have mistakenly led people to believe that that was my artwork.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: All publicity is good publicity, and so I thank you.
Chandra Garsson, Oakland


Now Opening: On Stage
This week, we'd like to call attention to On Stage, a new weekly column of capsule theater reviews by longtime Express theater critic Lisa Drostova. On Stage will be an opinionated guide to local productions playing in the East Bay. In the coming months, we'll be fleshing it out with reviews of shows other than those Lisa has already reviewed for the paper. We'll also soon add a separate column of capsule art reviews to join it.

But alas, newsprint is a finite commodity, and so, to make room for these new features, we are discontinuing our separate Kid Stuff category in the weekly calendar section this week. But don't despair: Many of the same events will find a home elsewhere in the section. And all the same comprehensive events listings are still available online at EastBayExpress.com. Just go to the Web site's Billboard section, select "Kids" from the pulldown menu, and click "Go." And if you or your organization has East Bay events for kids or adults that you'd like us to tell our readers about, send press releases to calendar@eastbayexpress.com - The Editors


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