"Throwing Money at Police," Feature, 5/29
Your reporting on the Oakland police debacle is truly extraordinary. By far, this the best-researched work being published on a subject that deservedly is getting national attention.
Kudos to you for this and other recent coverage on the subject. It puts to shame what has been published by the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune.
Keep after it. The clarity you are providing has the power to compel change.
Jeffery Kahn, Oakland
The Forest and the Trees
The same type of review that the authors of this article did on the compensation, inefficiencies, bad management, sick leave, etc. of OPD has to be performed for all city departments and outside contracts, even if the expenditures are not from the general fund. Yes, OPD costs should get immediate attention because we are about to spend more money we don't have on highly paid cops in order to quiet residents who are justifiably angry about crime. Yes, OPD and Fire Department costs do consume the biggest share of the general fund. Though the SEIU and the other non-sworn public service unions sacrificed their cost-of-living raises and increased their pension contributions, the reality for most residents of Oakland over the past several years has been pay cuts, health insurance deductible increases or worse, and collapsing 401Ks. Most Oakland residents don't get what even the worst-paid full-time benefited city employee gets: guaranteed pensions and medical benefits for life, and wages that are still decent even for the Bay Area.
Do what our elected officials and union leaders won't do: Look past the trees of the two-year city general fund budget decision coming up now, and look at the forest of the five-year forecasted revenues and expenditures for the entire city budget that has been prepared by the city budget office staff.
That forecast shows that in just two fiscal years from now, the general fund faces massive shortfalls when we start paying down the billions of dollars of retirement, infrastructure, and equipment expenses for all the city departments that we have delayed for over a decade of two-year "balanced" budgets.
The five-year forecast shows "imbalances" in excess of $111 million for the general fund rising to $128 million by fiscal year 2017-18. Even more disturbing is the projected imbalance for the entire city budget, aka all funds, which is set to grow from $180 million to $200 million. The personnel in those other city departments are not cops and firefighters.
Before we increase spending for any department or any program, we have to make sure that we can live with those spending decisions for more than two years without either imposing draconian cuts in all city services and programs or additional parcel taxes in the range of $1,000 per parcel.
Unless you think that Jerry Brown or Congress is going to bail out Oakland.
Len Raphael, Oakland
"Are More Cops the Answer?," News, 5/15
A Crime Expert's Take
I am a professor in the Sociology Department at New York University. A friend forwarded me this story. My research on the New York City crime drop bears on your subject. Analyzing data for crime rates and law enforcement in New York City precincts between the years 1988 and 2001, I concluded that adding more police to the force had no measurable impact on rates of violent felony crime. Nor did the introduction of Compstat. Crime rates started dropping several years before Compstat was introduced, and they continued to decline at the same rate after it began.
Arrests on misdemeanors did not reduce serious violent crime. Arrests for felonies did make a difference, but it was a modest, marginal effect. Locking up more people did not make a significant difference. A separate study by Richard Rosenfeld, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, collaborated on a separate study of the NYPD's stop-question-frisk policy, in collaboration with Robert Rengifo. They found that it did not make a significant difference. Both studies can be found online in Justice Quarterly (Jan. 2013).
David Greenberg, New York City
"Oakland Officials Withold Air Pollution Plan," Eco Watch, 5/15
The Big Picture
Charlie Mintz's story about mere mitigation of a small amount of the environmental harms that will be caused by redeveloping the Oakland Army Base totally misses the big picture. The fact is that all industrial activities are environmentally harmful. The real issue is whether to choose the industries that are the least harmful.
The story complains that Oakland isn't doing enough to mitigate those impacts, or, at the very least, is not forthcoming about its mitigation plans. This is patently absurd and laughable. What the city should have done with the former base is to either make it into a park or into a green-tech industrial site.
International shipping — from consumption and burning of oil on ships and trucks to noise in the oceans that disrupts communications between marine animals to transportation of non-native pests that destroy native ones to dredging to the race to the bottom where companies look for countries with fewer and less stringent environmental laws to manufacture (not to mention the social harms of removing well-paying jobs from one country and replacing them with near-starvation paying jobs in another) — is not something that should be expanded. (We have Bill Clinton and his ilk, via NAFTA, GATT, and their offspring to thank for this.)
It is the entire industry of international shipping that should be analyzed and denounced in your stories, not milquetoast complaints about Oakland failing to mitigate some of the effects of that industry. Your paper seems to advocate buying locally, as in the "Think Indie" ad and other ads and awards regarding local businesses. But then you schizophrenically advocate for the Port of Oakland's international shipping, which is the exact opposite. I realize that many jobs at the port are well-paying, but environmentally destructive jobs usually are. If you truly care about the environment, you should be advocating for the permanent closure of the port along with buying locally produced goods. The jobs for which you should be advocating are green ones (such as building rooftop solar panels), and there's nothing green about ocean freight.
Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley
"Debtor's Purgatory," Feature, 5/8
So Well Done
I greatly enjoyed your article. I have been working on establishing a right to counsel in California for a number of years. At the present time, I represent a mother in Sacramento who lost complete custody of her fourteen-year-old daughter when she had to appear in court and be opposed by her former husband, who had a lawyer. The case will be argued in the California Court of Appeal in a number of months.
You correctly identified Judge Austin as one of the supporters of the needs of the unrepresented. I am sending a copy of your article to a number of people because it was really so well done.
James Brosnahan, San Francisco
"Mad About the Girls," Movie Review, 5/1
A Little Harsh
I think Kelly Vance was a little harsh with Shannah Laumeister's approach to Bert Stern's work in the film. Stern seems a different kind of photographer in terms of how his career flourished and then disappeared and how he came back. It might not be a "Hollywood" production but I don't think it was meant to me a commodity exchange per se. I believe the importance of this film currently is in the fact that he is committed to his responsibility of archiving the negatives of a vast history of the subjects we all know and have loved for a very long time. Through the eyes of Shannah Laumeister I see Stern as struggling with remorse over the way things played out, and probably psychological and physical weakness from the drugs he used. I think he is trying to find his way out of the maze and Laumeister understands that. The film would never have been made without the trust that she and Stern share. No one else would have been able to make this film. I believe they were both going for integrity in everything that led up to this point.
Tutone Lyles Naranjo, San Francisco
"A Bohemian Disappointment," Restaurant Review, 4/3
Sad to say, the food was dreadful. Three visits, every bite bad. Cinnamon beef salad with more of a glaze than a dressing and no cinnamon flavor. Mussels delivered in a pool of sour. Breakfast? Don't get me started.
It's a gorgeous spot, and folks would love for the food to fit the setting in some way — either by being truly eclectic and beautifully presented or by being comfort food that rocks. Neither is happening at Loring. There is a fundamental problem with the taste level of the menu. It'll be very sad if it fails, but the reviewer is absolutely right: You can get better almost anywhere, and for far less money.
Tracy Baxter, Oakland
Our May 22 What the Fork column, "The Cottage Food Industry Finds a Home," misspelled Sara Moravej's last name.
Our June 5 music story, "The Golden Era of Bhi Bhiman," misquoted Bhiman regarding his performance of "When Doves Cry" at Carnegie Hall. The correct quote is: "I tried to work out the song but it would have been forced to have Questlove play or anybody play. But everyone else that night was playing loud, funky songs, so it was kind of cool to buck the trend."
Our May 22 cover story, "A People-Focused Solution," should have noted that the City of Oakland's Fund for Children and Youth is a limited, restricted fund within the city's general fund.