Letters for the Week of March 11, 2015 

Readers sound off on dive bars, OUSD's seniority battle, and going tipless.


"Where to Get Your Drink On," Insider's Guide, 2/25

Here's to the Avenue!

The Avenue on Telegraph in Oakland is the best bar ever: a good place to drink, good mix of customers.

Judy Keating, Hayward

Baggy's, Sure, But You Missed Some Great Dive Bars

I lived a block from Baggy's by the Lake in the late Seventies. I've visited as recently as three years ago. Yeah, this is the ultimate dive. But what about that piano bar near the Grand Lake Theater? And don't forget Kip's in Berkeley, a Fifties student dive that's still diving.

Ted Friedman, Berkeley


"Oakland's Outdoor Art Exhibit," Insider's Guide, 2/25

There Are Lots More Murals

You could also check out (and add to) this immense list of murals on OaklandWiki — LocalWiki.org/Oakland/Murals. There are more than five hundred murals on here — all collected by members of the community. The majority of them are mapped: Click the map, a neighborhood, and go!

Lauren Briskin, Oakland


"The Battle Over Teachers' Seniority Rights," News, 2/25

Don't Change Article 12

Thank you so much for your column on Article 12 [of the Oakland teachers' union contract with the Oakland Unified School District]. I am an Oakland teacher and would like to add an additional reason that changing Article 12 [which would eliminate teacher seniority considerations in hiring in certain circumstances] would be a mistake.  Not only is there risk that outspoken teachers would be punished, but also an even greater possibility that higher-paid teachers would be replaced by newer less salaried teachers. Sites have greater budget flexibility and there is a financial incentive to hire inexperienced new teachers at a lower salary in order to balance your site budget.

Donald Carter, Oakland

Yes, Change Article 12

Our kids deserve the best teachers we can find, and who better to choose them than school communities and school leaders? Also, can you imagine working in a job in which your boss and community didn't want you there? Sounds terrible for everyone involved.

Andrew H. Garland, Oakland

No Free Labor

Can we please stop saying that teachers are only working "minimum hours?" Under work-to-rule, they are only working their paid hours. No free labor.

Jill Guerra, Berkeley

Changing Seniority Shouldn't Be on the Table

I appreciate Sam Levin's thoughtful and well fact-checked article. I want to emphasize one aspect of this piece: OUSD hired at least 470 new educators this year. School communities and principals got to say who was hired in all of those cases.

Seniority only plays a significant role in placement when an educator is displaced due to no fault of their own. Unless there are significant numbers of school closures planned, it plays a relatively minor role in placing educators in assignments ­— but is very important for those individuals who are forced from school communities they know and care for.

Hundreds of educators leave Oakland every year — but OUSD wants to focus on this relatively small number of displaced employees as a way of spinning their proposal. Which do you think is the larger problem?

Doug Appel of the California Teachers Association, Oakland


"A Place at the Table," Dining Review, 2/25

Michele Rocks

I can't wait to try Michele LeProhn's new venture, Communite Table. I have had the opportunity to sample her delicious food at Poulet and the former Gulf Coast Oyster Bar, and her cooking rocks!

Alison Negrin, Alamo


"Paradise Lost," Art, 2/25

It's Fitting

No question, what happened to the folks at the Albany Bulb should be memorialized. Shame on the perpetrators who attacked the homeless for committing the "crime" of living on a dump.

Charles T. Smith, Richmond


"The Tipping Point," Feature, 2/18

Here's to No Tipping!

During a tip-free trip to Japan last year, I was amazed at how much more I enjoyed restaurant meals when they didn't end with the time-stressed, judgmental, arithmetic-quiz exercise of tipping. It was so much more relaxing that way! And of course the assumption there is that service should always be excellent (which it was), which nixes the whole rationale for tipping anyway. So I am all for Oakland leading the way to abolish tipping. I will happily accept reset price points as long as they seem fair. If any of this leads to happier restaurant staff front and back, please trumpet that and add momentum to this movement.

Russell Yee, Oakland

Fabulous Job

No matter how one views Oakland's or any other city's new minimum wage rules, this is a fabulous article. Well done, Express: This was a very well-balanced, thoughtful case study. I hope economic analysts across California will include it when they do their respective analyses of possible impacts stemming from and business responses to the new wage rules.

Tony Daysog, Alameda city councilmember

Goodbye to Chain Stores and Restaurants

I am still thinking that one of the unintended consequences of this ordinance will be to keep your average chain store or chain restaurant that typically pays minimum wage from setting foot in Oakland. You want to go to a Chick-Fil-A or Macy's? Better head to Walnut Creek. I hope people will support all the cool new Oakland local-owned restaurants, bars, stores, etc., at the new higher prices, so the staff gets higher wages and we all live happily ever after. But time will tell.

Clive Scullion, Oakland


"Berkeley's Anti-Union Shift," News, 2/18

Why Do We Need Security Guards?

Beyond the question of union or non-union, I still find the presence of security people to be a questionable expense for any business or government. As common sense might indicate, it's the lawyers and the insurance companies that require their presence. It is my general feeling that the presence of such guards does very little to provide any actual security, other than low hourly wages for people with minimal skills.

That's something, I suppose, but still — unless someone could actually show some evidence that security guards actually improve security or safety at their places of employ — it seems like another mandated expense from companies fearful of getting lawsuits from patrons who might experience harm on their premises because there wasn't a security person. On reflection, the "security" they provide is merely another layer of proper accountability against lawsuits. What a world.

Chris Juricich, Berkeley


"Just Desserts," Culture Spy, 2/11

Yay for the Radical Brownies!

I think this is absolutely brilliant. I am not black, but I told my granddaughter about this troupe and she wants to be a Radical Brownie, too.

Sharon Jackson, Duncan, British Columbia, Canada

Right On!

This is awesome! Much needed!

John Blaze, Oakland

What About the 23rd Oaklanders?

Scouting in the United States has a lot to atone for. I certainly welcome alternative scouting movements like the Radical Brownies that break with the past. I understand the idea behind this approach, but prefer a traditional scouting program that is inclusive and co-ed. Gender-segregated scouting is increasingly rare around the world, and should be here as well. The Express should do a profile of the 23rd Oaklanders scout group, the biggest/strongest BPSA [Baden-Powell Service Association] group in California.

Ethan Jewett, Portland, Oregon


"OPD's War on the Poor Needs to End," Seven Days, 2/11

You're Ignoring the Victims

About twice a month I get notices on the neighborhood electronic bulletin board of robberies. In this polyglot burg (the erstwhile city of "Brooklyn") the fear that dominates daily life is of the young men who target elderly Asian-American folks or women homebodies. We've had a string of daytime break-ins and our share of auto thefts. The victims generally report two or three men in their late teens or early twenties who point guns at unsuspecting pedestrians or, more frightening, burst into homes while the residents are there.

There is one detail that seems always to be a part of the description: "The men fled in a late model American car with a cracked windshield and busted tail light." "Robbers got away in a blue sedan with rusted paint job and no license plates." The men who terrorize this area invariably drive old clunkers with enough defects to shout: "Criminal at work here." I guess robbery doesn't pay well enough to allow them to afford a new Mercedes.

Robert Gammon reports that Oakland cops stop a disproportionate number of poor people, often African-Americans, for minor infractions – no tail light, expired registration, that sort of thing. He says this harassment alienates the OPD from African-American residents. And I'm sure he is correct. I've noticed the same thing just driving around town. Most of the low-income Oaklanders I've talked to regard the OPD as an occupying army of mostly white racist suburban interlopers.

I've read Mr. Gammon's work for long enough to know that he is a very smart guy. So I assume he knows (though his piece never explicitly says this) that the OPD isn't stopping these folks to prevent accidents. Anyone with common sense assumes that these pull-overs are the cops' excuse for checking out drivers who look suspicious. If they find burglary tools or somebody violating probation I'm fairly sure the fuzz feel they've done a public service. One more bad guy off the streets, one more old Asian lady in my neighborhood who won't have a gun thrust in her face this week.

I know how poisonous it is that so many Oaklanders mistrust or hate the OPD. It's impossible for me to escape the intimation that I don't care about the innocent motorist on 88th Avenue victimized by arrogant Oakland cops. But I think it's worth remembering that when Mr. Gammon calls for a de-escalation of these traffic wars he is potentially harming another group of innocents who get little recognition on the pages of the Express

Jerry Heverly, Oakland


"Exploiting Inmates," Feature, 2/4

It's a Lose-Lose

Excellent story. The Federal Communications Commission's studies indicated that lack of a support system during and after incarceration is linked to increased recidivism. These high phone rates could be indirectly increasing state costs. Bad morally... and economically.

Erin Umberg, Berkeley


Miscellaneous Letters

It's Up to Governor Brown

It takes one man's decision to halt fracking in California, but it takes many people to ensure he makes that decision. As a resident of Oakland and climate justice advocate, I am inspired by the more than 150 leaders of various social, health, and environmental groups standing together to demand that Governor Jerry Brown protect our water from the dangers of oil drilling in California.

Our aquifers have been put into peril by the oil industry — illegal injections of poisonous wastewater into numerous drinking and irrigation water aquifers has been condoned by state officials, and ultimately by Governor Brown. California is in the midst of the most severe drought in its history with no relief in sight. We cannot let this dangerous industry continue to work this way. It is up to Governor Brown to halt fracking and other unconventional drilling methods that put our water and our health at risk, once and for all.

Shoshanna Howard, Oakland

Stop Quoting King Out of Context

At some of the Oakland protests I have seen signs with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words: "Riot is the language of the unheard." These signs provide an incomplete, out of context, and blatantly dishonest way to quote King and attempt to condone the trashing of Oakland. To accurately quote King and capture the power of his ideas, we need to include his words: "Riots are socially destructive and self defeating," "I will continue to condemn riots," and most importantly: "It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which caused persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots." Let it be clear, MLK would not condone the trashing and burning of Oakland.

Pepe Vallenas, Oakland

Open Letter to Arecia Yee, Community Services Program Manager for Richmond Plunge, Richmond Recreation Department

Ms. Yee, I wanted to draw your attention to a shocking waste of water at the Richmond Plunge that I witnessed recently, which I hope is of concern to you during this historic drought: Each of the three times I went to the shower stalls in the men's changing room, all of the (ten or twelve) showers were flowing at full volume, but no one was using them. Either everyone is forgetting to turn the water off, or a few people are deliberately turning on all the faucets — behavior that in either case points to a culture problem and educational opportunity at your facility. Additionally, your employees are not sufficiently monitoring for this behavior, which indicates a management problem at your facility.

Whatever the cause, this must lead to hundreds — if not thousands — of gallons of unused fresh water going directly down the drain daily. When you consider the massive expense and environmental cost our state has undertaken to secure fresh drinking water from the Sierra directly into your shower pipes, it's appalling that so much of it ends up going directly down the drains in your facility, particularly at a time of drought. I urge you to install the auto-off shower valves found at most municipal shower facilities, which would save water desperately valuable to farmers, homeowners, industry, and salmon alike.

However, even with the water waste stopped, this prolific water consumption shows that no one is paying attention to water usage — even at a moment when public officials up to the governor himself feel the need to weigh in on water conservation. This troubling lack of oversight suggests a larger culture problem within your department, at the very least. It also suggests a lack of metrics and audits on your system, and a lack of accountability from your supervisors. I urge you to develop metrics by which you audit your monthly water usage, and incentivize your staff to conduct their work duties with these metrics in mind.

While I recognize that some people may feel that there are larger, more pressing issues in the world than water conservation, the fact is that freshwater shortage is quickly moving up the list of the world's critical problems. And as the program director of a water-based facility, one would think that ensuring an abundance of good, clean water would at least be your first priority. I don't know you, your priorities, the standards to which you are held, or your organizational structure. But I do see the resulting water waste, and I urge you to do better. I can only hope and trust that you and Richmond's Department of Recreation are already hard at work addressing these issues.

Joe Chojnacki, Oakland

We Need More than Cheerleading

I suppose I should be pleased to have a new mayor who is unabashedly in love with Oakland and who freely proclaims her Oakland roots and lifelong love affair with our town. It is obvious that Libby Schaaf has conflated her unconditional love for Oakland with a commensurate willingness and ability to transform the town.

My question to her is: Into what? I have no idea whatsoever of what this mayor plans to do differently from past administrations and how her rhapsodically idealized declarations about Oakland's incredible potential can be realized. There have been, after all, a lot of murders already in Oakland this year. Burglaries in the hills are still completely out of control with absolutely no evidence that they will abate anytime soon. Carjackings and shootings are a daily occurrence. To be realistic, downtown Oakland is still scary.

It is one thing to be effusively enthusiastic much like a hyperbolic cheerleader and it is another altogether to construct a coherent, thoughtful plan to actually effectuate real change in this town. I don't have a problem with this mayor being our number-one cheerleader, but truth be told it is going to take a whole lot more than enthusiasm and self-professed parochialism to turn this town around. If it was easy, there are thousands of other folks with a similar resumes and a lifetime residencies in town who could do the job.

Jonathan C. Breault, Oakland

Corrections

Our February 25 Insider's Guide report, "A Year's Worth of Festivities," erroneously stated that Bike to Work Day in the East Bay is organized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. It is organized by Bike East Bay. And our March 4 news story, "Protecting Ohlone Heritage," misstated the date in which the documentary Beyond Recognition will be broadcast on PBS affiliate KRCB Channel 22. It's scheduled for March 16 — not March 15.

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