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Letters for the Week of March 4, 2015

Readers sound off on Oakland's new minimum wage, unions, and OPD's traffic stop practices.


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Additionally, all of us small business owners have costs that patrons/clients can't imagine (my personal favorite is the zoning tax paid by Oakland businesses that have a virtual location and no physical one) so that is part of the cost of doing business.

While this is new territory for Oakland it seems to me the right thing to do to take measures toward paying people a wage that can promote financial stability and independence. If the current iteration ends up not working, we should just be smart enough and creative enough to go back to the drawing board and come up with something else that might.

Ainka J. Fulani, Berkeley

"Oakland City Council Stumbles Again," Seven Days, 2/18

If Richmond Can Do It, Why Not Oakland?

Is it beyond the imagination of the Oakland city government to "do it themselves," by which I mean bringing together the fallow industrial/retail property with the currently unemployed retail food workers (clerks, cashiers, butchers, produce buyers, et. al.) to create a worker-owned co-op with the city acting as a temporary partner — that might help to get the project funded.

One would think that someone would have learned something after the fiasco of the 2013 Oakland City Council spending $1.1 million on a consulting firm to ensure competition on the garbage and recycling multi-year contract that resulted in one responsive bidder and no competition. The council was successful in making an award to a non-responsive bidder which, in turn, resulted in the city being sued.

It's astonishing that Richmond could have the thoughtfully progressive city government that, in every respect, Oakland lacks.

Stephen Shuttleworth, Oakland

"Berkeley's Anti-Union Shift," News, 2/18

Unions Are Not Always Good

It's important to remember that unions aren't a universal good thing — they simply exist to benefit their members, often at the expense of the people and communities they serve. Consider this quote from the story: "And I'm not guaranteed to have a job. They can cut me loose at any time for any reason." It's easy to empathize with Mr. [Patrice] Roland here, but when people are "guaranteed to have a job," big problems arise. When union employees are rendered un-fireable, it's easy for them to become lazy and incompetent (see: BART employees, Caltrans, etc.) because there's no longer any motivation to work hard.

In cases like BART, where the workers provide a needed public service, these union requirements can end up screwing the public just to benefit a select group of insiders (see: the BART strikes, where people making $30,000 a year couldn't get to their jobs because people making $80,000 a year wanted pay raises).

Anyway, I know it's in the Express' liberal DNA, but let's try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of "unions good, non-unions bad." It's a bit more nuanced than that, and often ends up being the opposite from the public's perspective.

Max Chanowitz, Oakland

The City Is at Fault

There are always isolated complaints about unions, but overall they serve to counterbalance the enormous power of corporations. As far as citizens contacting the City of Berkeley and being shut out from public information, an Public Records Act request should be filed.

It is the fault of the vastly overpaid city manager, an invisible administrator who seems to not understand that they work for the people, not the big money interests. They, of course, have fine jobs being paid in excess of $200,000 plus a 30 percent benefits package that taxpayers have to strain to pay.

And what do taxpayers get? No release of contract information that should be public information. It is also the fault of our mayor who has seen too many seasons come and go and won office as if it were some sort of prize. He seems disinterested and tries to distance himself from the machinery of government.

A new broom needs to sweep clean some of the ossified administrative deputies and heads of departments who with their ethereal pay have long forgotten the plight of what good old Leona Helmsly called "the little people." Those little people are you and me and we are not being properly represented in Berkeley's city government.

Steve Redmond, Berkeley

"OPD's War on the Poor Needs to End," Seven Days, 2/11

Dickensian Debtors' Prisons Have Arrived

Robert Gammon's article draws two important conclusions that I wish to highlight: the failure of one of two license plate light bulbs presents "no real threat to public safety," and that some vehicle repairs mandated because of citations are "often not that necessary." I wager that no one in history has been harmed due to non-illumination of a license plate light bulb. 

I hope that the well-educated and politically active Bay Area will soon realize the consequences of our path into criminalizing everyday life. These mistakes are not solely limited to the war on drugs and mass incarceration, although that is a large part of it especially with mandatory minimum sentencing.

Mr. Gammon's article highlights a disturbing national law enforcement trend: that of armed tax collector. This matters a great deal because Dickensian private debtors' prisons have arrived and are thriving in the United States. Collection of court fines made up 20 percent of the Ferguson, Missouri city budget this past year, helping fuel the anger present in that community, as a largely white police force harasses its black citizens. It was only after a massive public shaming campaign that Bill Gates started divesting his close-to-$200 million investment in G4S and GEO Group, two of the largest private prison operators in the world that are guilty of torture, among other wrongdoing.


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