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Letters for the Week of November 20

Readers sound off on racial tension at UC Berkeley, problems with Obamacare, and illegal dumping in Oakland.

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William Thompson, Walnut Creek


"Lost in Translation," News, 11/06

Confusing System for Everyone

Momo Chang's article makes clear how difficult it is for a non-native speaker to navigate the intricacies of the new health coverage. What is missing, however, is that these difficulties are almost as severe for native speakers.

This is the system, overly complex and confusing. It is important to note always in such articles that these difficulties would be resolved if the whole country adopted a single-payer system where everyone was covered and health care became a right.

Of course that would cut the big insurance companies out of the picture. Naturally, that would never do.

Rich Yurman, Oakland


"What a Waste," Feature, 10/23

Municipal Indifference

Always nice to see an article on waste in the Express; this was done pretty well although my own perspective would be slightly different.

The core of the problem is municipal indifference in the face of rapidly escalating disposal costs and a general increase in lawlessness. The fees at Davis Street Transfer Station have increased from $19 per ton in 1989 to $140 per ton today, probably three or four times the rate of inflation. Bureaucrats and do-gooders justify the rate increases, more than a little caused by public fees laid on top of what the garbage company gets to keep, but there's also been a general deregulation of rate-setting for disposal in the county. Several counties in the state have resorted to parcel taxes to support disposal costs, in large reasons to keep tipping fees low and to avoid illicit dumping.

The cities, unfortunately, do very little to help the independent trash haulers stay in business. When I ran the North Oakland Recycling Center on upper Telegraph (1983-1989) my strategy with the lawless was to back my truck into their trucks and put dents in their side panels and front bumpers; if I'd had a tank, I would have used it. I was often robbed but never, to my knowledge, by the same people twice. When the city gets serious and consistent about enforcement, locking up trucks in a yard where towing charges and storage fees run into the hundreds of dollars very quickly, the problem will disappear. Maybe if Oakland defined its illegal dumpers as a homeland security risk, it could deploy the cameras Uncle Sam is paying for on the hot spots for dumping instead of on the citizens walking down the street.

In 1990 the city made a push on dumping in East Oakland. Railroad Avenue was a major target and the enforcement found that over half of the criminals were from out of town, and were not Oakland residents. The weariness of Oakland's first-line responders is well known about Oakland (see Mr. Gallo's remarks) and whatever the council says it will do is always tempered by a discouraged workforce and a city attorney used to civil lawsuits and not street corner enforcements.

The article also states that "the cash-strapped city already spends $3.3 million a year on contending with illegal dumping." It would have been nice to know if the dump fees from the city's trucks that collect dumped trash are paid for by all ratepayers with moneys never seen by the city (there are a number of gimmees in the collection contract that the public pays for in its rates for which the costs are never directly assessed to the city), or if some of that $3 million mentioned above comes back to the garbage company in charges assessed on the city's trash collectors cleaning up after the illegal dumpers. If it is the latter case, then the city could take its once dumped, now collected, trash to a cheaper location where lots of salvage work could be done and jobs made. Otherwise, the city has no economic stimulus.

Although not really its intention, the great omission in the article is a discussion of the large private recycling industry based in Oakland that serves the entire Bay Area with scrap materials acquisition services that unitize small loads from local collectors into truckable quantities, then shipping materials through the Port of Oakland to locations and materials re-users all over the world. It's a wonderful story all too often overlooked in assessing Oakland's role in the Bay Area.

Finally, the article notes that "there have been no serious discussions in City Hall about creating or supporting sustainable solutions to the city's illegal dumping problems ..." That is all too true and some of Dan Knapp's ideas on sustainable disposal and my own low-tech interests could be stirred but the current council and staff appear to be part of the same old, same old. Waste is way down the line on most lists of problems for Oakland or anyplace else, but as the world's population continues to grow (three billion more people now than forty years ago) and we now have ever more clearly a world of finite resources, crunch time for what we throw away is getting ever closer.

Arthur R. Boone, Owner of the Center for Recycling Research, Berkeley

Correction

Our November 6 cover story, "Why Black Students Are Avoiding UC Berkeley," misstated the name of the campus survey that found that only 57 percent of Cal's African-American students said they agreed with the statement "students of my group are respected at this campus." It was the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey — not the University of California Campus Climate Survey.

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