Letters for the week of December 30-January 5 

Readers sound off on the best movies of the year, Oakland's proposed affordable housing fee, and voting in Hayward


"Luck of the Draw: The Ten Best Movies of 2015," Feature, 12/30

Yay for Small Films!

What a good year for films! Thanks for some great reviews, especially those "under the radar" small films that simply don't get good PR. Such as Room. We're so lucky to live in the Bay Area, where we can see more films than anywhere else except Los Angeles and New York City.

Ian Berke, San Francisco


"Oakland Proposes Affordable Housing Impact Fee," News, 12/30

Housing Impact Fees Now

I support this. Rental increases are out of control all over the Bay Area, and Oakland is one of the hardest hit. We need major legislation to stop gentrification. Where are citizens who live on fixed incomes supposed to move to when their buildings are sold out from under them? All of Northern California is being hit by astronomic rental increases. The lack of affordable housing is approaching crisis proportions.

Charles Brown, Oakland

It's Not Enough

This seems like a step in the right direction, and long overdue, but exactly how much "affordable housing" will $60 million fund? A 136-unit apartment complex built by Mercy Housing [California] in San Francisco a few years ago cost $54 million to build. Even if the cost of development is lower in Oakland, realistically $60 million would fund maybe 150 units over the next decade — that is, 15 units a year. That's hardly enough to stop displacement or slow "gentrification." With other sources of funding for low-income, affordable, or below market rate housing at ridiculously low levels, a tiny developer fee that only results in $6 million a year will not do much to supplement the dismal funding from the state and federal government.

Paul Burton, Oakland

Tiered Fee Zones Are the Answer

Full implementation of impact fees could delay housing projects for years, even as AC Transit increases the accessibility of many large opportunity sites in East Oakland. Tiered fee zones will help balance development across the entire city.

Ian Rees, Oakland

Look to Successful Cities

The Oakland train wreck lives another day. When too many people won't question political ideology, when too many people won't question what only seems sensible on face value alone that's how you end up with a city like Oakland. Living in Oakland, I sometimes think I'm actually living in an episode of The Twilight Zone where logic is socially unacceptable. How's that working for us? Right now the only major metric Oakland is excelling at is skyrocketing housing cost. We really don't have much else we can actually to take credit for. I mean, "liberal" Oakland embraced charter schools, an invention by a racist conservative professor who essentially wanted to dismantle the public education system. Now Oaklanders are getting behind development policies that created the most expensive housing markets in the nation! That. Doesn't. Make. Sense. At the very least we should be emulating cities that have successfully managed growth — not the poster children for failure. A truly progressive city would be analytically seeking solutions specific to our city's challenges.

Matt Chambers, Oakland

Fees Are a Mistake

There's no way to subsidize units solely off the backs of developers. The net real impact will be even less affordable housing for everyone. It would seem that the political kudos earned by catering to housing advocates takes priority over tangible results for ordinary renters. Expect average rents to go up, not down after these fees are implemented, and also expect the money collected to get siphoned off to pay for general fund shortfalls. Expect 20 percent fewer market rate units built across the board and 30 to 40 percent less anticipated fees collected, plus a 30-percent increase in the cost to build, so the net will be 25 percent higher rents for everyone and 70 or so affordable units built. Drop in the bucket indeed at significant pain for those the policy proposes to help. Mayor Libby Schaaf campaigned on eliminating red tape and improving transparency for development. This seems like the opposite.

Adam McClure, Oakland


"Boosting Voter Turnout in Hayward," News, 12/30

Unions Might Hurt Themselves

Unions may be cutting off their nose to spite their face. Greater turnout may help remove hated incumbents but reduce the ability of unions to out-organize their opponents for later races. In low-turnout elections, the story has shown union money can make a difference.

Gary Baker, San Leandro


"Soul Food, with a Side of Mayuketchu," Dining Review (Borinquen Soul), 12/30

Great Place

It doesn't look like you need my positive review, but we stopped here [recently] for the first time and had great takeout — richly flavored chicken, rice, and plantains (verde style) with a side order of additional plantains and rice for the vegetarian among us. Delicious — well worth a side trip not to mention the wall-long refrigerator full of local craft beers, if you are so inclined for a six pack, or more. Definitely food unique in California.

Francesca M. Austin, Oakland


"Home Shopping Network," Movie Review (Joy), 12/30

I Disagree

I can't agree with your review. I thought the movie had depth and therefore would have benefitted from deeper layers of analysis, instead of teasing, sardonic one-liners. I strongly recommend the Times Talks interview of [Jennifer] Lawrence and David O. Russell, by Maureen Dowd at TimesTalks.com.

Shirley Kirsten, Berkeley


"It's Time for Brown to Break Silence on Coal," Seven Days, 12/23

Same Old, Same Old

Once again people, what has to happen before you get it? Jerry Brown is all about Jerry Brown. He has a business relationship with [developer Phil] Tagami and will never publicly comment on the coal issue. He has not gone after fracking, oil companies, or coal.

All of a sudden [according to Brown], it's a "national policy" issue? As I recall, when he wanted to push his 10K agenda [to attract 10,000 people to downtown Oakland by 2001] as mayor of Oakland, his biggest tool in the basket was redevelopment financing. But when he became governor, he eliminated redevelopment statewide and kept the money to balance his own state budget.

He sacrificed a new Oakland A's stadium project [in Uptown] so that his developer friends (at Forest City) could build apartments on the site.

He recently had state employees collecting data on his private family property in order to make a decision about potential future development. This guy talks out of both sides of his head at the same time and sees no problem. This is not new behavior.

Gary Patton, Hayward

The Council Can Stop Coal

Robert Gammon's article points out the influence that Jerry Brown could use to stop the threat of coal exports through Oakland. The No Coal in Oakland campaign has been working on several fronts to press Brown to intervene with his associate, Phil Tagami.

However, the article minimizes the power the city council has to block coal exports through a facility on city-owned property. The development agreement clearly sets out the necessary steps to do this: a public hearing, which was held on September 21, and a finding by the city council of substantial evidence of the danger to community health and safety.

The opponents of coal exports have amply fulfilled the requirement to produce substantial evidence, and the city staff is currently reviewing the extensive documentation presented to them. Furthermore, courts defer to local governments' finding of substantial evidence, even where there might be contradictory evidence. Based on the evidence submitted, the city has full authority to ban coal.

On February 16, the city council will consider a possible ordinance to ban coal. Oakland residents who want to block coal can contact their council members in the meanwhile and urge them to vote for a ban. A large number of people are expected to turnout on February 16 to reinforce to the council that the extensive scientific evidence against coal is matched by intense community opposition to this toxic commodity.

Margaret Rossoff, Oakland


"The Police Body Camera Wars," News, 12/16

Video Is Not Enough

Video is only as good as the people evaluating the recording and the context of the recorded events and the unrecorded events before and after. The people have to be independent in background, attitude, training, and funding from politically powerful police unions.

Chicago, for example, has had an "independent police review authority" since 2007 but rarely finds any officer guilty of anything. Its "civilian" administrators are mostly all retired police officers, and 40 percent of its investigators are ex-police also.

Len Raphael, Oakland


"Berkeley's Win-Win," Seven Days, 12/16

It's Bad for Berkeley

What land will be left in Berkeley to build affordable housing? A "shot in the arm" for downtown? Sure, if by "shot" you mean with a Howitzer. Shutting down the major steady economic draw to the downtown (Landmark Shattuck Cinemas) and tearing up downtown for two to four years at a major intersection in order to build a level of expensive housing the majority of local downtown workers cannot afford (forcing longer and longer commutes to get to that low-wage job — not very green) is not going to give Berkeley any kind of positive boost — particularly when this is just the linchpin for similar downtown projects to move forward. Berkeley will be unnavigable and downtown businesses will suffer as a result.

Jai Jai Noire, Berkeley

Overpopulation Is the Problem

I am outraged and highly offended, on behalf of us true environmentalists and on behalf of the Earth and all that lives here, by Robert Gammon's ludicrous statement that "true" environmentalists support so-called "smart" development in order to combat suburban sprawl, and those of us who oppose this development are not true environmentalists. This assertion is dead wrong.

An environmentalist is someone who prioritizes the environment over other issues. True environmentalism, as Mr. Gammon would put it, is all about priorities. Only a psychopath would not like natural views, plants and animals, or clean air and water. What makes one an environmentalist is that we prioritize the environment enough to advocate for it when it comes into conflict with other issues.

Next we must identify the true environmental issues here. We all agree that suburban sprawl is environmentally destructive. Our disagreement is the causes of it and the solutions to it. Any true environmentalist recognizes that human overpopulation and unceasing growth is the cause of sprawl, and any problems with lack of housing are merely byproducts of overpopulation. As I realized when I was fourteen years old and have been saying ever since, human population is the biggest and most important problem on our planet. Along with overconsumption (which includes consuming things we should not be, like fossil fuels), overpopulation is the root cause of all environmental problems, including sprawl. If we don't stop increasing our population, we will never stop sprawl or any other true environmental problem.

Additionally, any true environmentalist wants to see the sky when he or she looks up, not artificial human constructions like buildings. This is so not just for ourselves, but for the birds, squirrels, trees, and all other life. Opposing destruction of natural views is a true environmental issue, because destroying those views with things like tall buildings also destroys part of the sky.

Despite all this, Mr. Gammon and the Express continue to make totally unsubstantiated claims that ever more smart growth in our urban areas — causing ever more population density and blocking out of the sky — is the solution to sprawl. Quite the contrary. This is nothing but a developer scam. There is absolutely no evidence that infill development stops or even reduces urban sprawl.

I realize that Mr. Gammon wants vibrant urban areas in downtown Oakland and Berkeley, and I fully agree that people should live near where they work in order to walk, bike, and use public transit instead of consuming and burning oil by driving. But creating vibrant urban areas is properly accomplished by creating housing in downtown that is in character of the already existing downtown — not by building hideous monstrosities like the downtown Berkeley development, which will do more to ruin downtown than any good it could possibly do.

As to the specific project in downtown Berkeley that Mr. Gammon touts in this column as being a "win-win" on the false assumption that it provides funds for affordable housing and substantially reduces driving, nothing could be further from the truth. As Mr. Gammon admits, this project 302-unit will have 177 parking spaces. As I have said in my letters repeatedly, a truly environmentally good housing project would have no parking spaces. If you want to get people out of cars and onto public transit, you don't build parking spaces for them, pure and simple. The fact that this project will add 177 cars to downtown Berkeley exposes the lie that so-called "smart" development is good for the environment.

Moreover, this is a market-rate development that will be filled with yuppies and other rich people, some of whom will undoubtedly be working about fifty miles away in Silicon Valley. They will be driving to and from work, or taking the elitist buses provided by Google that, while not consuming and burning as much oil per person as individual cars, still consume and burn oil in the form of diesel fuel, a very dirty oil that pollutes the air with small particulate matter that gets into lungs and otherwise causes substantial medical harms.

Mr. Gammon and the Express also never consider the substantial environmental harms caused by new construction, which supports mining, logging, and the oil industry by consumption of their products, to name just a few major environmental harms off the top of my head. It is much less environmentally harmful to add to existing structures and keep new developments small and in character with the surrounding areas than to build things like the Harold Way monstrosity in Berkeley.

In addition to that, the Berkeley project will be eighteen story tall and hideous, totally out of character with even downtown Berkeley. This is not San Francisco, or even Oakland, and a huge building like this is very destructive to the character of our downtown. I am strongly opposed to this project and to the yuppies who took over our city council once vacancy control was outlawed and Berkeley rents skyrocketed, and who now act as nothing but paid shills for developers.

On top of all this, semi-arid California has a major lack-of-water problem, again due to human overpopulation. While it is true that agribusiness uses at least 80 percent of the water in California, people in the Bay Area get their water mostly from different sources. Bay Area natives did not import water from anywhere or even dig wells, because their population was low enough to allow them to live off surface water. The first white settlers here dug wells for drinking water, but when their population got too large for even that, they had to start damming rivers such as the Mokelumne and Tuolumne rivers and transporting their water from the Sierra Nevada to the Bay Area. Considering this, we should not be building any new housing in California, including in the Bay Area. The dry ecosystems of the western United States cannot naturally support large populations, which is why the West has traditionally been far less densely populated than the wetter areas east of here. The Express has published many columns and articles about our water problems, but has never connected the dots to realize that the root of this problem regarding drinking water is overpopulation. Building more housing anywhere in California just makes our water problems worse by increasing population, and should be strongly opposed by any true environmentalist.

In order to fight sprawl, a true environmentalist would advocate for development prohibitions on all open space and advocate for free and unrestricted birth control and abortion, and for empowering women and getting them college degrees, as these things have been proven to be the best ways to lower birth rates. (Countdown by Alan Weisman is an excellent book on this issue, though I disagree with him that we should be willing to cause some species to become extinct in order to support about 1.5 billion people on Earth with a Western European lifestyle.) These are the only ways to prevent sprawl. What a true environmentalist does not do is advocate for development that does things like provide massive parking and block out large portions of the sky, especially when there's no evidence that those harms will prevent sprawl.

Finally, my own credentials as an environmentalist are as follows: I volunteered literally thousands of hours as a campaigner for Earth First! and also worked for Greenpeace. I have put my body and life on the line in civil disobedience actions and have voluntarily been arrested for true environmental causes, such as opposing development. I am an active member of national and international environmental groups like Center for Biological Diversity, Rainforest Action Network, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and local groups such as Save the Bay and San Bruno Mountain Watch. In stark contrast, I challenge Mr. Gammon to provide his credentials as a "true" environmentalist who can say that others of us are not.

Mr. Gammon and the Express owe an apology to us true environmentalists and to the Earth itself and all that lives here. A true environmentalist opposes development unless the environmental benefits of it substantially outweigh its major harms. Development in our world is just a euphemism for destruction — in the case of the Berkeley project, destruction of the sky and of the natural world by consuming more oil and water. True environmentalists oppose this destruction.

The affordable housing issue should be dealt with by economic means, such as government subsidies. (Traditional Native Americans and other traditional indigenous people have it right: No one can own land. The concept of landlords is just an immoral and needless holdover from feudalism that is at the root of the affordable housing problem.) This social problem should not be dealt with by destroying natural views or by bringing in even more population and cars to our downtown areas and by consuming even more water. This is how a true environmentalist thinks.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley


"CTRL-SHFT," Art, 12/16

What About Older Artists?

This is all very great for young, female graduates, and I'm happy for them. However, let me speak up for the older, mature female artists who did not have the benefit of today's insights and novel attitudes towards female art and artists. What about those of us who somehow navigated a tougher system several years ago but yet manage to hang on to our art practice? What about those of us who somehow manage to balance motherhood and their art? Who somehow manage to work for their basic survival needs (and their family's) and still do their art? Who have had to keep a day job and still do their art? Whose art has never been significantly recognized or validated by the art world, and who still keep going? Is today's inclusivity focused only on the young and upcoming? Is the concept of doing art minus the driving ambition of attaining rock star status such a dismal place to be?

Janine Barrera Castillo, Vallejo


"No Place to Go," News, 12/9

Punx for Poop!

I had J.C. Orton's famous lentil soup recently. I don't know what we here in B-Town would do without his dedication in at least the last fifteen years or so that I'm aware of. I've been homeless — on and off again — for seven or eight years or so in the last fifteen. I think the city should double the existing number of bathrooms, use security cameras, and get at least as many existing bathrooms to be open more or less for 24 hours. Author Allie George mentions Berkeley's historic People's Park. Gardening at People's Park is also akin to "picking up poop constantly," and picking up garbage or repairing the garden from vandals, close to half of whom are mentally ill. Others are simply not considerate of the park since both the city and the UC Berkeley administration consistently stigmatize it and do anything they can to further disenfranchise an environment open to low-income and mentally ill people and students. Those expensive French public toilets are much needed in Berkeley. I think a big concert fundraiser at the Greek Theatre with Green Day (local), Primus (local), Rancid (at least partially local), and Neurosis (local) — you know, Punx For Poop! — should solve the finances.

I guess I should like to add that I have a master's degree in urban studies and that my volunteering with 924 Gilman (then also known as the Gilman Street Project) between 1989 and 1995 saw many fundraisers. Also, I'm dim on the history of local punks doing civic fundraisers of the kind as so suggested, (at least outside of grassroots projects/activism/phenomenology). "Punx for Poop" could be a first of its kind here. I believe the city should seriously consider the idea.

Darin Allen Bauer, Berkeley

It's the Homeless People's Fault

Why should one red cent go to fixing or installing any toilets for people who make them filthy? Many of the homeless have little respect for private property. I propose having the very people with ample time on their hands clean their own mess. Of course they won't, so have petty criminals do the work for them. Homeless people are used to having others do their dirty work.

Garry Ovalbach, Oakland

The Lack of Toilets Impacts Everyone

This is not only a problem for homeless folks; it is a problem for visitors to the city as well. We are all made to feel like criminals for needing to use a restroom in Berkeley! This is one of the insidious ways American culture tolerates a class distinction — some people have the right of access to safe and decent toilet facilities, while others do not.

Toileting is a basic human right, and by the way, no one should have to ask permission to do it, ever. Berkeley is the worst for finding some place you can use a toilet without spending money for the "privilege." Through its negligence of this issue, Berkeley government puts the business community, unprepared visitors, and homeless people in opposition, all so senselessly, all being pawns in this serious cultural dysfunction.

Come on, Berkeley, really, fix this problem. The models are out there; other cities have found ways!

Gay Wiseman, Dutch Flat, California


"Vertiginous Viewing," Movie Review (Carol, 12/9

You're Wrong

Wow, what a misguided, miss-the-point review! As just a film, Carol is a beautiful example of setting a scene and a mood, of shots and angles and pacing, film and color; as a story, it's a nuanced portrayal of desire, all the stronger through its restraint. It's brilliantly written, acted, and directed.

Anne North, San Francisco


"Affordable Housing on Public Land," Opinion, 11/25

Unbalanced Rationale

Regarding the East 12th Street parcel, I agree that the city completely bungled the development process of surplus public land. Rightly so, they pulled back on the previous UrbanCore [Development] proposal. I also agree that affordable housing needs to be addressed in any potential development or proposal opportunity on Oakland public land (check out SPUR's [September 2015] smart and informed recommendation for future downtown Oakland development at SPUR.org, entitled "A Downtown for Everyone"). That said, while I get the E 12th Coalition's position, I don't agree with their unbalanced rationale presented in this opinion piece.

"Every few months, news of another major, market-rate high-rise development coming into Oakland makes headlines..." Yes, they may make headlines, but the fact is none of them have broken ground. There are zero construction cranes. Developers are interested, the city has welcomed and approved them, but none of them have secured financing. If that were the case, we'd see the cranes we see in San Francisco, San Jose, and all the cities up and down the West Coast ... but nothing. So the fear of displacement because of that is unfounded. It's happening in spite of that.

"The developers behind the new Uber headquarters are planning two acres of high-rise housing, retail, and office space on a parcel at 21st Street and Telegraph Avenue." Sure, but they are partnering with local developer Alan Dones, an Oakland native who is African American and whose original plan was to include 15 percent of the housing to be affordable or low income. But now that Lane Partners (Uber developers) are on board, [Dones told the San Francisco Business Times] "that percentage could increase now that Lane Partners is in the picture. Dones added that the developers would search for state grants and new market tax credits to help pay for more affordable housing."

E 12th Coalition also begins with, "What would it look like if the City of Oakland worked not just with corporate developers, but with neighborhood residents to determine what should be built on our precious public land in Oakland?" Well, according to the city website, they are reaching out to community stakeholders: www2.OaklandNet.com/PlanDowntownOakland.

E 12th Coalition also says, "The City of Oakland is selecting a developer for the parcel at 1911 Telegraph, hoping to see a high-rise, mixed-used development and a hotel." Well, the good news is that they have narrowed the short list to three developers that all include an affordable housing component. (See BizJournals.com, "Oakland Reveals Top Choice Developer for Uptown Mixed-Use Site Near Uber," Nov. 20, 2015). One of the developers is Bridge Housing, which has a great track record of building affordable housing in Oakland (see BridgeHouseing.com/properties).

Going back to the East 12th Street parcel, the E 12th Coalition definitely presents a proposal worthy of consideration. But it should only be judged on the merits of what it can do to address the affordability crisis, how it can provide what the community really wants, while balancing the overall housing density needs of downtown Oakland and the region (see the SPUR report). It should not be judged by the unbalanced criteria presented in the E 12th Coalition opinion piece. UrbanCore is also coming back with a revised proposal that, in my opinion, addresses these criteria (see BCT4Oakland.com).

I'm not a newcomer to Oakland. And although I've lived in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Los Angeles, I have lived in Oakland for the better part of my fifty years. I love this town, and it's home. I like the "new" vibrancy Oakland now has, like a city should. I don't want it to be stifled. I get the challenge and role The Town has in meeting the housing and economic demands of the region while maintaining its historical and cultural diversity. But I'm weary of the consistent tactics evident in this opinion piece that I see as counterproductive to the ongoing debate.

Ross Almazan, Oakland

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