Oakland must change its fire-funding policy

As the Oct. 20 anniversary of the 1991 Oakland hills firestorm approaches, the city's wrongheaded steps are increasing the chances of history repeating itself.

First, it has instituted firefighter furloughs: On a rotating basis, Oakland firehouses are closed for three days every six weeks. This obviously can block a rapid response to a burning house or, as in 1991, a grass fire getting out of control.

At the same time, the city has adopted and interpreted zoning policies so that anything goes. It turns a blind eye to developers' potentially dangerous plans that cram multiple houses (and cars) onto already narrow, crowded streets, making emergency access and egress tougher.

This double whammy increases the chances of another Charing Cross Road, where in 1991 a narrow street in the hills turned into a fatal bottleneck for many people trying to flee the firestorm.

Oakland is being penny wise and pound foolish. Sure, the furloughs offer budget savings. But these are dwarfed by the human and financial costs of fires. And yes, new houses yield new property tax revenues. But the unsafe, undesirable nature of unconstrained construction hurts the city's reputation, the value of existing homes and overall property tax revenue.

To help prevent potential fires, we should say yes to an immediate end of the furloughs and to an allotment tax for fire protection. And we should say no to shortsighted zoning policies interpreted to make another Charing Cross Road more likely.

Betty Golub

Oakland

Teachers in Oakland being shortchanged

I agree with the Oct. 13 letter "Let's do a better job of paying teachers," wherein the letter writer provided examples of how poor teacher pay has affected Castro Valley teachers.

In Oakland, classroom teachers are also struggling with poor pay. The fact is, that while Castro Valley School Board met minimum amount in pay and benefits required by law in the school year 2010-11, the Oakland School Board not only didn't spend the minimum amount required, but spent more than $10 million less than required by the Education Code.

And, last month the Oakland school board requested a waiver from County Superintendent Sheila Jordan on the grounds that the amount Oakland teachers were shortchanged is too big an amount to pay out of the current budget.

Jim Mordecai

Oakland

Davis got it right by doing the math

Recently, AC Transit board member Jeff Davis stood his ground and said no to a proposed federal grant for $3 million for a solar panel project that would save $40,000 a year in electricity costs.

I applaud Davis for saying no after doing the quick math and realizing the solar panels would never recoup their initial cost. Another board member tried to sway Davis and stated it wasn't AC Transit money paying for the solar panels but federal money; to wit, Davis replied that it was taxpayer dollars.

After the Solyndra debacle, it's nice to see elected leadership recognize the problem with this country is its out-of-control spending. Davis saw the return on this investment would take 75 years to pay for itself, and it's just plain bad math.

Rick Cervantes

Fremont

A good day with no depressing news

Hurray and congratulations. Oct. 7 was the best day I can remember for reading this newspaper.

What made it so good? The front page of Section A and of the local news had all positive articles -- no killings, bombings, wildfires, shootings or anything else that made me want to dump the newspaper straight into the recycling bin.

So many good things happening: "Signs of hope in BART dispute," Nobel Prize winners, entrepreneur Tom Henderson creates 2,000 jobs in Oakland, Jimmy and Roslyn Carter building cohesion, illegal immigrants rights expand. Wow.

I applaud the paper for this wonderful issue, including, on Page B3, the article about Kennedy High School in Richmond making big strides.

I beg the paper to change focus and to print more hopeful, good news to make our lives more positive, more hopeful.

I was close to canceling my subscription -- I refuse to read all that depressing news -- except my 17-year-old son likes to read the sports section.

Our children need to know that there are good things happening in the world, not just murders and crime. I'm looking forward to seeing more issues like the Oct. 7.

Vicki Varghese

Alameda