The Fog of Wards
I don't know if "get Jerry Brown" was the aim of "Brown vs. Board of Education" (November 21). I am certainly not a Jerry Brown fan but this is not the way to attack him. In fact, his three appointees are about the only ones on the school board who can act free of political pressures, whose jobs or political futures are not dependent upon toeing the line.
The events related that I have personal knowledge of are so totally misrepresented that it calls into question the credibility of the entire article.
First, let's correct some history regarding the Montgomery Ward building. The issue was not preservationists against schools -- that is the way De La Fuente tried to frame it. It was a battle between demolitionists and developers, between using valuable resources for children and the community or throwing them away.
After the preservationists' lawsuit saved the building from demolition in 1996, developers were begging to buy it from the city to develop it into live/work space as has been successfully done with such buildings in other cities. The city sent out an RFP (Requests for Proposals) in 1998, and they recommended a respected deep-pocket developer from San Francisco who would buy it for $3.5 million and spend $56 million to renovate the building. But as De La Fuente was determined to bomb it, he came up with the proposal of giving it to the school district to demolish for a new elementary school -- on this industrial site on the county's most dangerous thoroughfare!
In 1999, the developer presented a plan that would share the site with a new school adjacent to a rehabilitated Ward's building. Paul Cobb negotiated with him and because of the value of the building, the developer was willing to build the school as well as renovate the Ward building with a long-term ground lease. So, the school district would not only get a free school but a cash cow for years to come that could help build more schools. And 100 of the 450 units of housing would be set aside as affordable units for teachers.
Within a short time frame, this proposal, because it was such a rational win-win proposal, was gaining steam with both boardmembers and others such as teachers. A poll of the neighborhood indicated nine out of ten people were against the demolition and wanted the building renovated. De La Fuente and Perata knew they had to act quickly, so they "threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings" by getting a staff member to call a special illegal meeting of the board to vote for the building's demolition. Both, after having called board members the night before, sat in the front row to make sure there would be no real consideration of Paul Cobb's proposal.
And Jerry Brown kept silent.
By not considering Cobb's proposal and voting to demolish the building, they put the needs of politicians ahead of those of children. Elementary schools usually cost no more than $15 mil, but, by the school district's own estimate, this is going to be the world's most expensive at $48 million!
Noel Gallo, in a public meeting, proudly compared the demolition of the Montgomery Ward Building to the Raiders deal! He got it right.
The job of the board is not to simply be a cheerleader for staff. Yes, give credit when it is due, but ask the hard questions. Their job is to see that the interests of children are put ahead of those of politicians. If San Francisco's school board had asked more questions, would there have been such misuse of funds?
This article is the kind of sensationalistic, damn-the-facts journalism I would expect in a rag.
Joyce Roy, Oakland
Can't Take Dictation
Your recent article ("Brown vs. Board of Education," November21) was superb. It seems a constant stream of wonderful journalism pours from Chris Thompson. The writing is clear enough to allow a layperson to comprehend the concepts of superheavy nuclei ("Playing God," October 17) and probing enough to force readers to continually question our local government, as in this recent article.
I voted for and generally support Jerry Brown; however, I have always been suspect of the measure to allow him to appoint three additional directors to the school board. However, I believed he had meant well, even if I disagreed with the measure. I believed that he felt it would be the quickest way to improve the schools, much like a "benevolent dictator" scenario. Of course, any sort of dictator is a poor substitute for functional democracy.
It is a shame to discover that the appointed directors, and therefore his sphere of influence, are harming the Oakland school system. I have only lived here a few years, but in that time I have seen a great deal of improvements, especially in the school system. The largest bond ever approved for school improvements passed recently. This year the school parcel tax was not only reapproved, but the value increased. As mentioned in Thompson's article, Superintendent Dennis Chaconas has made great strides. He has forced accountability within the system, brought up student test scores (unfortunately not a fully reliable measurement), and given significant raises to teachers. The Oakland school system has the resources to turn itself around. It is a shame to think that the appointed directors would wish to hinder such progress. It is truly a tragedy that Jerry Brown does not address this situation immediately.
Based upon the information given in the article, it appears that Wilda White means well. However, unless poor journalism is to blame (and I have yet to see anything of the sort from Thompson), Paul Cobb and Harold Pendergrass need to be de-throned as soon as possible.
Thanks again to Thompson for giving us another wonderful, albeit tragic, article.
Mike Williamson, Oakland
I was amazed in your article ("Brown vs. Board of Education," November 21) to see Carol Lee Tolbert painted as a villainess. I have known her and her husband, Joel, for several years, and my Oakland students and I have participated several times in the Tolberts' annual Oakland Civic Pride Fair. We have always found it to be a most wholesome event, beneficial to students, teachers, and parents.
Carol Lee and Joel have always proved to be the most moving and positive people working together to bring some joy into the lives of young people. To see her lambasted in your newspaper was indeed very strange.
Peter Garland, via the Internet