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Letters for the Week of August 19, 2015

Readers sound off on the housing crisis, racial profiling on BART, and police funerals.


"A Green Solution to Oakland's Housing Crisis," Feature, 8/5

Let the City Be the City

For the past sixty years, America has been hugely subsidizing an automobile lifestyle. These subsidies come in many forms, at federal, state, and local levels. We build roads and freeways with tax dollars (not nearly covered by the gas tax), we reimburse commuters who drive to work and have to pay for parking, we use our military power to keep the price of fuel incredibly cheap. There are good historical explanations for these policies.

But times are changing. Do residents really need to dread the "impacts" of their neighborhoods becoming more dense? I wonder how it felt to be a resident of West Oakland in the early 1960s, watching your neighborhood being sliced up (or demolished entirely) by freeways. Talk about impact!

This article is not arguing for an instant transformation to a "bicycle nirvana." It's just saying, let market forces prevail. If there is a demand for condos without garages (and there is a demand), then why not let developers meet that demand? No one is telling you that you have to live in one. Why do we need outdated laws that essentially mandate that urban areas be built to resemble suburbs?

Let the suburbs be suburbs. Let the city be a city. Let the developers be free to meet the demand.

Owen Solberg, Oakland

Less Parking Hurts the Poor

More transit fantasy from the selfish "urbanist" wing. Why care if apartment or condo developers dig underground for parking spaces — the cost is embedded in the rents or prices that consumers can choose to pay. Forcing Oakland residents to adapt to elimination of parking spaces discriminates against the middle class and poor who have to drive to work, pick up and deliver their children, go to cheapest store for groceries, etc.

Forcing workers out of their car also severely limits employment options for better paying and more interesting jobs, especially for middle class.

Scott Law, Oakland

I'd Love to Get Rid of My Car

If I could live next to MacArthur BART station, I would sell my dying Camry in a heartbeat!

Matt Chambers, Oakland

You'd Have to Ban Cars

To effectively discourage private vehicle use by residents of newly constructed buildings in areas that are currently lower density residential lacking public garages, you have to do more than cut building parking spaces and encourage transportation alternatives. There needs to be enforceable and recordable contracts/easements that don't allow residents of the new buildings to own or lease vehicles. That might actually lower or at least slow the rise of rents/prices in at least some parts of Oakland. In other parts, the demand is so high and fueled by high tech wages, I doubt it would do much.

Len Raphael, Oakland

"BART Riders Racially Profile Via Smartphone App," News, 8/05

The True Villains Go Unpunished

I passed the Montgomery Street station, and reported that I saw corporate managers stealing the wages of workers, immigration officials harassing innocent civilians, and a criminal justice system playing its siren song of mass incarceration so loud it hurt my ears and killed my neighbors. The BART cops never came.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, Oakland

The BART App Is Revealing

It's really telling that when so many people come into contact with someone who appears to be homeless, their first thought is, "They should be arrested," rather than, "They deserve help."

Nicole Vermeer, Oakland

You're Reaching Unsupported Conclusions

I want to be up front that I consider myself very attuned to issues of racial disparities. I work in public health to reduce health disparities among disadvantaged populations (often Black and Latino), have been involved in Black Lives Matter, etc. — I don't want anyone to think that what I'm about to say comes from a place of invalidating that racial disparities exist.

But dear lord, this is absolutely abysmal journalism. You base your findings of racial bias on a data set where you only have race specified for 198 out of 763 alerts, but then go on to say that the alerts are disproportionate relative to BART's ridership. You do realize that you are missing data on 75 percent of the alerts? You don't actually know what the racial composition of your entire data set is.

Your conclusion also could be biased. For example, there's a well-documented sociological phenomenon in which race is only described in an account when the person is non-white. The average person telling a story about a white person will often omit that the person is white, whereas if the person is of a non-white race, then that detail is much more often cited. Your 198 accounts may be self-selecting for situations where the person is more likely to be black, whereas the other 565 may be biased to situations where the person is white, because of this phenomenon.

Do I think it's possible that an app could magnify our own well-documented social biases? Absolutely. But you're drawing conclusions here that aren't supported and reporting them as fact. There has to be a higher standard than this for your journalism.

Mingus Ball, Berkeley

Why Do We Have to Call the Cops?

It would be nice if instead we had an app to call for people who need assistance: food, medical help, psychiatric care, a home, a shower. Why is the only way to seek assistance to call the cops who seem much more likely to make someone's life worse than make it better?


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