Letters for the week of June 19-25 

The truth about Cherish, the other side of Measure O, the problem with dive bars, the problem with no dives.

The actor responds
In my opinion, your review of Cherish ("Robin Is Hoodwinked," May 29) is unfair and unkind. There are very few nonstereotypical roles for dwarf actors. Max's character was not a "contrivance designed to allow Cherish to be submitted to every possible demographic-themed film festival." My part was originally written for Finn's best friend, Gary, a gay, Jewish dwarf journalist. Gary also appeared as a drug dealer in Finn Taylor's Dream with the Fishes. Unfortunately, Gary died a year before production began.

Still, Finn Taylor wanted a dwarf person in the role and he should be commended and praised. He found me, an unknown aspiring actor and professional photographer, at a local Berkeley cafe. I was nervous having to step in for Finn's best friend but I also felt honored. I worked very hard learning my lines and creating a believable character. In the end, I believe I did a pretty darn good job for my first film.
Ricardo Gil, Berkeley

Do a little research
Mayor Shirley Dean deserves her share of credit for Berkeley's homeless policies (7 Days, May 29), but Measure O was born under ex-mayor Loni Hancock's (Tom Bates' wife) reign and only opposed by a couple of liberals on the city council after citizen opposition forced it onto the ballot. Councilmember Dona Spring to this day commends herself for opposing it, conveniently forgetting that she signed the initial, most egregious legislation. "Operation Avewatch" likewise had liberal support. Councilmember Kriss Worthington still waxes on enthusiastically about the effectiveness of the green sidewalk scrubber, seemingly oblivious to the harassment of the people, primarily youth, whose rights were abrogated.

Hold the mayor responsible for her own acts, but as Tom Bates' candidacy rises on the horizon, keep in mind how much complicity the liberal council representatives exhibited, and for heaven's sake do a little research. Whoever's memory the Express is relying on has clearly become pure agenda.
Carol Denney, Berkeley

It makes me MADD
I'm writing with the hope that you'll retract your Best of the Bay pick of the Hotsy Totsy as best dive bar (May 7).

Eight of us went to the Hotsy Totsy Friday night and ordered drinks. The problem was that two of us were designated drivers who ordered Shirley Temples and WERE REFUSED them. The bartender/owner was VERY clear that she doesn't serve anything but alcoholic drinks, especially on weekends, going so far to enlist her cadre of friends sitting at the bar in her defense. Frankly, this behavior was about the most inappropriate I've ever witnessed by a bartender, ever. So if you're looking for the best dive bar, try the Stork Club on Telegraph. If you're looking for a place that will get you or your friends killed by drunks behind the wheel, hit the Hotsy Totsy.
Josh Miner, Oakland

All affordable housing projects are equal, but some are less equal than others
Dona Spring's letter ("Hey, Shirley Can Afford It," May 29) praising Howie Muir as having "done more for affordable housing than many in this city" must rank as one of her most Orwellian utterances to date. For Mr. Muir has spent more time and energy trying to stop affordable housing than any NIMBY activist in the city's history. To wit:

1. Mr. Muir appealed the zoning board's approval of the 35-unit low- and moderate-income housing project proposed for 2700 San Pablo at Carleton. He lives two blocks from the project.

2. Mr. Muir led the appeal against the zoning board's approval of the 71-unit low- and moderate-income housing project at 1392 University Avenue at Acton. He lives more than a mile from the project.

3. Mr. Muir appealed the zoning board's approval of a 44-unit mixed-use housing project at the old Thrifty Drug store site at 2119 University. Mr. Muir lives more than two miles from the site.

4. Mr. Muir appealed the zoning board's approval of the hundred-unit mixed used project, rebuilding the Fine Arts Theater at 2471 Shattuck. Mr. Muir lives more than two miles from the site.

Mr. Muir has personally appealed the approval of 179 housing units, with 34 low-income units, and assisted the appeals to stop the construction of more than one hundred additional units. Is this what Dona Spring refers to when she talks about "doing more for affordable housing"? On the broader front, Mr. Muir is actively promoting the downzoning effort for all the commercial corridors, gutting the City's affordable housing incentives.

And to top things off, Mr. Muir induced Dona Spring to request a new provision in the zoning ordinance to mandate more explicit notice requirement for any new affordable housing unit. So please Dona, spare us the spin on "affordable housing": Mr. Muir and the other founding members of the Berkeley Party deserve a spot in the NIMBY Hall of Fame. You can look it up.
Patrick Kennedy, Berkeley

"Too dense" is code for "too poor"
Dona Spring, in her letter last week, has to be kidding. Does she really think Howie Muir and his Berkeley Party have done anything for affordable housing in this city, let alone "more than many in Berkeley"?

As a small sampling, Muir has opposed eight units of inclusionary affordable housing by Jubilee Restoration at 2700 San Pablo; 24 units of affordable senior housing by Resources for Community Development at 2575 San Pablo; and forty units of affordable housing by Affordable Housing Associates at 2517 Sacramento. Aw, yes. All three are "out of scale of the neighborhood" and "too dense." These three projects are also "too close" to Mr. Muir's home in Southwest Berkeley, one of the fastest gentrifying areas in the city -- which saw a drastic reduction in the number of African Americans and renters over the past ten years. Oh yes, this is a fighter for affordable housing.

Muir and his Berkeley Party's sole contribution to the affordable-housing crisis has been to move away from opposing affordable housing because of "crime" and "lowered property values," and introducing "density" as the new code word for opponents of affordable housing. It is common sense that affordable-housing projects, with low, restricted rent levels, must be built at a higher density than for-profit, market-rate housing. To oppose an affordable housing project because it is "too dense" is to oppose a project because it is "too low-income." People should not be confused by this.

I wish I knew what Dona Spring was thinking. Having admired Dona for the ten years I have known her, I am worried and disappointed by her deciding vote a few years back to return money to HUD for affordable housing in downtown Berkeley when a few business owners voiced their opposition, and her recent abstention from voting for Outback Senior Homes, a forty-unit affordable senior project, when some neighbors opposed the project.

It seems disingenuous for her to point fingers at others for not supporting affordable housing, when her own record needs serious inspection. If she is, as I've always assumed, a supporter of affordable housing, in deeds and not just slogans, then I would hope that she stands with the people who are working tirelessly to bring affordable housing to her constituents, and not stand with those who would do and say anything to keep affordable housing away from their front and back yards.
Kevin Zwick, Affordable Housing Associates, Berkeley

There goes the neighborhood (bar)
The San Pablo Corridor had, for many decades, more than a handful of working class dives ("Dive Bar Down," May 29). The Steppenwolf, the Blind Lemon, Mandrakes, the Odyssey, the Top Hat, Ben Levine's -- and Mike & Mary's -- were all on San Pablo or on University or Dwight Way. These watering holes were ALL places for neighborhood people to gather and mingle with students and West Berkeley factory workers getting off of work. If you were lucky, you could get a sandwich or a slice of pizza to go with your suds, and draft beer was cheap and chilled and crispy clear to clear a dry dusty throat at the end of a long day.

Those days and dives are now gone. Starting with the Steppenwolf and the Blind Lemon, those bars closed or went yuppie. There is no place for a draft Bud anymore, or even a bottled one. I am reduced to going to the Ivy Room for their draft, or to Brennans for the sandwich and the bottle, or to the Missouri at Parker for just the bottle and some camaraderie.

I mourn the loss of Mike & Mary's not only for missing my friends and decent brews, but because it was just around the corner from me. Marion and the regulars DID know my name, and greeted me in chorus when I came in the door. There were parties for birthdays and holidays; people would bring food to share, sometimes exchange gifts. It was airy, well-lit, with plants and candles with mainstream rock and country music playing in the background.

Cheers on a serious dose of crack? No way. This was a second home to me. The friends that I met there over the past years were lively but fascinating people, simple but diverse. Marion was responsible for the upkeep, the cleaning, and for orchestrating this wonderful mix. She did an excellent job. And yes, the ladies' bathroom did lock, and she wouldn't let the guys use it, either.

I went into Acme several times, both day and night. I was so shocked at the decor that it was all that I could do to down a draft pint of Bud at $3.50, because a bottle was $3. When they stopped serving the draft, I ordered an Oly for $2 next time. The music was so loud and awful (hip-hop and rap?) that I haven't been back since.

Acme is a loud, offensive, and trashy bar and I wish that it would move out of town.
Edith Monk Hallberg, Berkeley


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