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Letters for October 6

Readers sound off on Alameda inspections, bad public art, redistricting, and John Burton

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"An Art Project for the Birds," Eco Watch, 8/25

Gas Masks and Burrowing Owls

This "art" project raises several questions. First, why do people have to keep fiddling with every bit of open space that exists? Granted, Cesar Chavez Park is a landfill — but it is open space. The entire area is a human artifact and is surrounded by human "art" ... buildings, towers — not to mention one of the wonders of the world ... the G.G. Bridge. Maybe leaving a place alone would be a good idea. And if the owls need protection, a simple split rail fence would suffice. It would cost $3,000 instead of $100,000. It would have a far lighter carbon footprint and it would be less visually obstructive.What has been created is ugly. It is out of scale and required wasting a lot of resources. I watched them use over 100 sheets of OSB (oriented strand board) as forms. They used hundreds of feet of re-bar (that's iron ... comes from brutal mining). Tons of concrete, toxic chemicals (for a few days the "artists" wore gas masks). Point is, there is low-impact art that would have been far more appropriate to the space. A truck load of stones and good mason could have created organic, freestanding walls for much less money, same protective effects and these would have blended with the land. But there is something that makes humans want to fill up empty space and put human signature on it. It is too bad. Berkeley has a tradition of selecting ugly public art and imposing it on all of us. This is no exception. There is virtue in leaving things alone sometimes or, at least, making the lightest impact. In Muir Woods you will see simple split rail fences — these work well, cost little, have minor carbon impact and, if you want to remove them later you don't need dynamite and bulldozers. I just hope the owls are not too artistically sensitive or they might decide to go elsewhere.

John Koenigshofer, Berkeley

"Inspections from Hell," Feature, 9/22

It's Not Just Alameda

Thank you for the excellent article "Inspections from Hell." Myself and others in my area have experienced this inspection/extortion racket firsthand.

In the Berkeley/Oakland hills area (I don't want to say exactly where), it has become evermore like paying off inspectors with "protection money," with dire consequences otherwise at stake. I watched one of my neighbors up the street from me go through a horrendous quagmire along these lines, when he attempted to build a very modest small deck extension in his backyard.

Apparently, there are various inspector personnel who literally drive around this area, looking for any sort of clues, such as a bit of lumber, a bag of cement, anything that might possibly be associated with some sort of home modification/improvement project, no matter how small or insignificant.

Like a cloud of locusts, as soon as such "clues" are discovered, they come by, with clipboards in hand. This is the nightmare my neighbor went through, having to actually tear down his deck, file a formal architectural set of plans and environmental impact documentation, and so on, with many hundreds of dollars of fees and the deck itself costing thousands.

Obviously the cities here in the East Bay are suffering budget difficulties, but this level of tormenting the local homeowners with this sort of heavy-handed extortion racket has created an underground revolt.

In my case, I also built a small redwood deck in my backyard. However, in my case, I rented a U-Haul van, and drove up to my house after dark with the lumber and other materials. I tore out my old deck at night, and delivered the remains to a trash container at a nearby shopping mall ... also at night. I finished my deck, costing a couple hundred dollars to complete. In fact I'm sitting out on it now, typing up this article on my laptop. Others in the area are catching on, and just about everyone I know of here locally has been quietly engaged in or already have done some sort of "underground" stealth building/improvement project.

The worst example, though, was actually covered in a previous East Bay Express article. A woman near here had purchased an electric car, and decided to put in a small concrete pad she could park her car on for recharging. No structures or buildings were even involved. It was just a concrete pad, the sort of thing I could do in an afternoon. 

But no, heaven forbid, she dared to do this in broad daylight, and sure enough, the permit police thugs came by, requesting their "protection money." This lady had to completely tear out the concrete pad, then file plans, pay many hundreds of dollars in fees, and then, just for good measure, had to hire a "recommended" concrete contractor to come in and install a concrete pad, with the end result costing thousands of dollars and unbelievable grief. 

Attitudes are hardening around here. People are getting really, really fed up with this organized-crime approach to inspections and permits procedures. Again, many thanks for publishing this article.

"C," Berkeley

Great Job, Not

I know of at least two other victorians in Alameda, near downtown, that have numerous code violations for apartments, too. Yet, nothing was done about one apartment on Alameda Avenue until the resident complained to the city. The stove had stopped working for almost six months and there was no heater in the apartment for over four to five years (PG&E removed the old heater and never replaced it). The landlord/owner refused to fix these things until the city was contacted and an inspector went out. The other Victorian home is on Union Street between Encinal and Central Avenue. One of the two units upstairs has no working oven (Victorian stove), exposed electrical wiring all over, outlets that are literally hanging on the wall, outlets that don't work, peeling paint, rusty pipes and fridge, no screens for half the windows, and galvanized steel plumbing. Yeah, the city inspectors are really doing a great job — NOT!