Berkeley Landmarks :: Letters


From: Anthony Bruce
To: East Bay Express
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2003
Subject: Letter to Editor

As a life-long Berkeley resident, I found Will Harper’s piece on preservation activities in Berkeley disheartening. Why is it necessary to disparage citizens’ efforts to retain the things that make Berkeley special? The landmarks that were chosen to illustrate the article are fragile threads of the fabric that is Berkeley, and they have suffered from the heavy hand of people who don’t care. It was unfair to focus only on these particularly vulnerable sites and structures.

Anthony Bruce


From: Jane Powell
To: Berkeley Landmarks
Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2003
Subject: hysterical landmarks

I was so angry at the article and depressed that I had to go out of town and didn’t have time to write a scathing letter to the editor. I was even more depressed when I got back and found that the Express hadn’t printed any letters regarding the article—did they squelch them, or did no one respond? Apparently it’s okay to beat up on preservationists these days.

I’d like to think that the louder they scream the more it means we’re getting to them.

Don’t forget—it’s always about money. Always.

And why the hell does the City of Berkeley allow buildings like the grocery store to get to the state it’s currently in? Don’t they have code enforcement?


Jane Powell
Author, Bungalow Kitchens
Past president, Oakland Heritage Alliance


Published in the East Bay Express, 8 Oct 2003

Goliath still has the power

When you blow away all of the smoke and rhetoric, what we’re left with is the simple fact that the only power that the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance gives the volunteer landmarks commissioner “Davids” against the big-monied big-building developer “Goliaths” is a one-year maximum protection against demolition. After that, the owners and developers are free to do whatever in the world they want. Period. End of story. Except of course for the other simple fact that no one screams louder when attacked than the schoolyard bully.

As a Berkeley citizen and as a former landmarks commissioner, I can only say thank goodness for all of those who have struggled to enable Berkeley to maintain its sense of scale and dignity, and who have had the good sense to recognize that what gets put up is oftentimes and sadly so much more ugly and useless than what gets knocked down.

The landmarks preservation process doesn’t so much “slam on the brakes” as slow things down just enough to help people to stop and think about the value of preserving what little remains, thereby enabling Berkeley to maintain its sense of place as a unique, livable, and humane community. And for that we are all better served.

Ken Stein

Will Harper responds:

The letter-writer oversimplifies the situation. Having something designated a landmark or a structure of merit is all too often a project-killer in Berkeley. Period. End of story. This is the “moment of reflection” argument advanced by Berkeley’s hysterical preservationists to justify their decisions. By designating something a landmark or even a lowly structure of merit, the commission imposes an extra layer of red tape and ensures itself a role in the fate of a project because it gets to review any proposed demolition or alteration of a designated historic resource. Perhaps more importantly, designating something a historic resource typically triggers an extra level of costly and time-consuming regulatory review under the California Environmental Quality Act that can delay construction for months, if not years. As the saying goes, time is money, and not too many developers want to spend what it takes to get something built in this town.


Published in the East Bay Express, 8 Oct 2003

Are we too wacky for you?

For a paper based in Berkeley and primarily distributed around Berkeley and Oakland, you folks sure have a low opinion of Berkeley and Oakland. These are, after all, communities that put “wacky” liberal ideas like a free-trade-coffee-only zone on the ballot even though they often lose, and consistently elect genuine progressives to office. You have a field day with Berkeley in your last issue, adopting a particularly condescending and nasty tone when speaking of the area’s famed preservationist and anti-development efforts. After all, these “Berkeley” attitudes ARE standing in the way of progress in the classic “I can do whatever I want with my property regardless of what neighbors, scientists, and the community think, so bulldoze everything and put up a strip mall” sense. As Dubya would perhaps say to people who oppose oil drilling in the ANWR, “They hate freedom.”

However, did it perhaps occur to you that most people in Berkeley and Oakland LIKE things this way? That maybe it’s why they keep electing progressives and placing hyperidealistic, impossible-to-implement propositions on local ballots? Of course, I know nothing about your background, Will Harper, but I do know very well that your parent company (New Times/Ruxton Group) is definitely NOT from the Bay Area and has been voraciously gobbling up independent newsweeklies across the country, then standardizing them to an identical format featuring a right-leaning Libertarian/NIMBY editorial bent.

In this capacity, you have nicely represented the needs of a small percentage of landlords, businessmen, and paranoid upper-middle-class residents in our region. I understand how the vast sea of poor people, enlightened intellectuals, and freaks surrounding you can seem disconcerting, what with their needs being thrust to the fore so often—but hey, that’s what happens when a group of people figure out they’re a majority. Maybe you should consider relocating the Express to its spiritual home, perhaps Danville or Walnut Creek. Or perhaps New Times/Ruxton could consider just leaving the region altogether, much like those formerly rich ex-tech émigrés who fled after the bottom fell out on our paper economy. After all, it is awfully “wacky” here.

John Mink



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