"Oakland can't even get its parking meters right, but people in the hills believe the city could conquer nature."

You Know ... That Place Between Emeryville and San Leandro

Best of... Berkeley, Berkeley, Berkeley, Berkeley. Would you consider running a "Best of the East Bay" (September 19) excepting Berkeley? Come on.
Craig in, you guessed it, Oakland

Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most

Re: your recent "Best of the East Bay" issue (September 19): I find it offensive to begin with that you even included a category titled "Most Entertaining Public Official." The glib, sophomoric hatchet job that followed reflects much more negatively on your journalism than on the performance of Councilmember Dona Spring.

The article states that her "overriding earnestness ... and the terror with which she receives public criticism are legendary." First of all, what is wrong with being earnest? I guess you'd prefer a public official who tries to be entertaining. Personally, I'd rather have someone who takes very seriously what they do, whether I agree with every position they take or not.

To support the claim about her terror of criticism, an old incident from seven years ago was dredged up. Seven years ago? People change in seven years, new public officials unaccustomed to the heat of public criticism certainly develop thicker skins. As far as I know, there's been nothing in the press for many years now about this.

And finally, the incident was cited in which Dona (a strict vegetarian) called a zoning board member having a barbecue who replied, "Hold on, I gotta turn over the veal burgers." It's unclear what was intended by reporting this story, but it's apparently supposed to be making fun of Dona's "overriding earnestness." To me, it just makes the ZB member seem childish, taunting someone for their lifestyle that is different from his.
Carol David, Berkeley

Silly Savage

Of all the changes in the new Express, the one I like least is the substitution of Carol Queen's kinder, gentler "Queen of Hearts" for Dan Savage's harsh, unpleasant "Savage Love" advice column.

"Savage Love" of August 29 was especially reprehensible. In it, Savage excoriates all HIV prevention educators based on an article he read about one such educator, an HIV+ man who doesn't always use condoms even though he recommends them to others. Savage foams at the mouth with contempt for this fellow, calling him "a skank" and "a moron," and asking, "What kind of an IQ test does a person have to flunk to work in HIV prevention?" He tells his readers that if they donate to AIDS charities, they are "suckers and marks," and warns them never to sleep with "a manipulative, selfish, barebacking piece of shit. (Or an HIV educator.)"

Writing a sexual health column in this age of epidemics is a responsibility -- and a privilege. Only those who know how to do it with great awareness and maturity should be granted such a forum. It's downright irresponsible for Savage, in a cynical, shoot-from-the-hip style, to condemn HIV educators and warn his readers not to trust them. (How did this get past his editor?)

I'm an HIV educator myself, and so are a lot of my friends and colleagues. We work at various places around the East Bay: Berkeley Public Health Clinic, Berkeley Free Clinic, the UC Berkeley health center, La Clinica de la Raza, East Bay AIDS Center, etc. As a group, I would say we're very well-informed, helpful, supportive, and nonjudgmental in our HIV education/testing programs. Are we perfect, never making mistakes in our personal or professional lives? Nope. Nobody is.

Every sexual health educator understands (and Savage should, too) that humans are often inconsistent, taking risks even when they know better. To help people reduce their risk of exposure to HIV and other STDs, the best thing we can do is give them good information, ideas, and techniques, and lots of support. We are trained to never do what Savage does: condemn, shame, or blame others; call them names; guilt-trip them; castigate them, or give up on them. That kind of approach can do a lot of damage, turning people off to our message.
Trena Cleland, Berkeley

High and Low

Am I the only one who laughs out loud whenever hills residents complain that the city hasn't been able to completely eliminate the risks of firestorm and landslide ("Ten Years After the Oakland Firestorm," September 12)? Answer me this: Is there any way in hell that anyone could believe that building houses on steep hillsides surrounded by (nonnative) eucalyptus can stand until the end of time without any consequences? Oakland can't even get its parking meters right, but people inthe hills believe that the city could conquer nature, if only it would spend enough money!

Maybe I just read too much Mike Davis, but here's what I think: Hills residents are living in an unsustainable fashion. No matter how much more money hills people receive disproportionately from the city, there is nothing humans can do to make building huge structures on the sides of mountains risk-free. As long as hills residents build their disgusting McMansions, insist on their wood shingle roofs, and incessantly insist on preserving their absurd "rural" community, then so-called natural disasters will continue to be likely.

Hills homeowners want the narrow roads and the isolation that they bring, but then complain that fire trucks have a hard time getting to them. They want the best bang for their tax buck but live far apart, eliminating the economies of scale for city services in denser, more orderly neighborhoods. In the avenues, one fire engine can park in the middle of the street and spray water on twenty or so houses without moving. To protect twenty hills houses takes a lot more effort, and it's certainly not just the hills homeowners who pay for it. People throughout Oakland pay for the disproportionately intensive fire services of its wealthier residents.

Not all of the world, not even all of Oakland, is appropriate for human settlement. If you want to live on a hillside surrounded by chaparral in pleasant isolation, then you should pay for it! Why should I subsidize your risky lifestyle? Take some responsibility for the predictable consequences of your actions! Why don't hills folks get regular houses like everyone else?

Oh, and, yes, we all pay property taxes, so save that one.
Charles Nelson, Oakland


In the September 12 cover story, "The Unsolved Mysteries of Judi Bari," Mendocino archivist Russell Bartley is misidentified as Russell Bartlett. We regret the error.

In our September 19 "Best of the East Bay," we neglected to identify the "Best Place to Buy Flowers." It is The Meadows, at 2109 Cedar Street in Berkeley. 510-665-4731. We regret the omission.


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