Letters for the week of October 8-14, 2003 

Enough whining about Wal-Mart. Go open your own rock venue. Thank goodness for Berkeley's restraint. Finally, an interesting Express story.

"Low Prices, Blighted Suburbs," City of Warts, 9/17

If Wal-Mart sickens you, try not shopping there

Can we stop writing about the evils of Wal-Mart already? Sure, the company is anti-union, and yes, the stores are a blight on the landscape and to local businesses. Every story that mentions opposition to Wal-Mart seems to miss one key point: If the company's so evil, why is it thriving? People have to be willing to shop and work at Wal-Mart for the company to open new stores.

To all the people who want to block approvals for Wal-Mart and other out-of-town chain stores, I say: Don't shop there and don't let your loved ones shop there. Surely individual customers are easier to persuade than giant corporations. These companies aren't causing the problems that follow their new stores; it's the shoppers who allow them to stay open. If they're so odious, why do cars clog the freeways every time a new megastore opens? Everybody can live without the cheap, convenient, and plentiful crap sold at Wal-Mart. Until more of us learn to support our local businesses, we ought to quit bitching.
K.C., Fremont

"Sweet's Relief?," Planet Clair, 9/17

It's her rock 'n' roll fantasy
Unless Katy St. Clair or the Express are offering to foot the bills and take the legal falls and ramifications for whatever happens with St. Clair's smug fantasy of a "rock 'n' roll, people" punker anarchy emporium at Sweet's Ballroom, she frankly should lay off Craig Krstolic and build such a place of her own.

Krstolic, Matthew Fox, and others didn't go through the efforts they did to restore and revitalize this landmark (which is HISTORICALLY a blues, jazz, and swing venue, for St. Clair's information) to see it trashed and destroyed either by crazed fans or by police looking for the slightest excuse to close the place down.

It's easy for St. Clair to say "simply have the paperwork ready when the fuzz barges in," "live a little," and "do it" when you consider that she's not the one who'll be staring the police or other officials in the face or suffering the consequences of the actions she insists on Krstolic taking.

(But then again, the Express did "do it" for Gary Coleman ...)
Garrett Murphy, Oakland

"A Walking Tour of Berkeley's Hysterical Landmarks," Feature, 9/17

Goliath still has the power
When you blow away all of the smoke and rhetoric, what we're left with is the simple fact that the only power that the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance gives the volunteer landmarks commissioner "Davids" against the big-monied big-building developer "Goliaths" is a one-year maximum protection against demolition. After that, the owners and developers are free to do whatever in the world they want. Period. End of story. Except of course for the other simple fact that no one screams louder when attacked than the schoolyard bully.

As a Berkeley citizen and as a former landmarks commissioner, I can only say thank goodness for all of those who have struggled to enable Berkeley to maintain its sense of scale and dignity, and who have had the good sense to recognize that what gets put up is oftentimes and sadly so much more ugly and useless than what gets knocked down.

The landmarks preservation process doesn't so much "slam on the brakes" as slow things down just enough to help people to stop and think about the value of preserving what little remains, thereby enabling Berkeley to maintain its sense of place as a unique, livable, and humane community. And for that we are all better served.
Ken Stein, Berkeley

Will Harper responds
The letter-writer oversimplifies the situation. Having something designated a landmark or a structure of merit is all too often a project-killer in Berkeley. Period. End of story. This is the "moment of reflection" argument advanced by Berkeley's hysterical preservationists to justify their decisions. By designating something a landmark or even a lowly structure of merit, the commission imposes an extra layer of red tape and ensures itself a role in the fate of a project because it gets to review any proposed demolition or alteration of a designated historic resource. Perhaps more importantly, designating something a historic resource typically triggers an extra level of costly and time-consuming regulatory review under the California Environmental Quality Act that can delay construction for months, if not years. As the saying goes, time is money, and not too many developers want to spend what it takes to get something built in this town.

"Landmark" has lost its meaning
Thank you for the walking tour of Berkeley's Hysterical Landmarks. I have often wondered how much money Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) would raise for its lawsuits and operations if it sponsored just such a tour of "non-elite" landmarks rather than those buildings for which Berkeley is famous.

The word "landmark" implies a hierarchy of values which has been negated by those who have dishonestly used such designation to stymie change in the perfection they feel Berkeley has achieved. When a leader of BAHA and the landmarks commission once told me that a West Berkeley pickle factory had as much value as Maybeck's Christian Science Church, I understood that the word no longer had meaning here.

BAHA members should ask for an accounting of how much of the organization's money and staff resources have been expended on such nonsense as the Doyle House lawsuit, and all Berkeley residents should be concerned for what such perversions of process are costing the city.
Gray Brechin, Berkeley


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