Letters to the Editor
I was saddened, but not surprised to hear about a pedestrian’s death after being struck by a driver on Mecartney Road in Bay Farm. This particular stretch of Mecartney is dangerous to cross any time of the day. It’s too wide, there are no marked crosswalks or pedestrian refuges, and the vehicle parking on both sides of the street obscures the view of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. Nevertheless, drivers routinely surpass the 25 MPH speed limit and attempt to pass cars before the lanes are reduced, even in the morning, when the sunlight can be blinding.
Though Bay Farm is small and has no high-injury corridors, many of us have had near misses with drivers while navigating Bay Farm on foot or bicycle. This has the result of making people in Bay Farm feel unsafe to navigate on foot or by bike — at a time when we need to start relying more on active transportation due to climate change and health factors. Since the city will prioritize more dangerous corridors, I am compelled to beg my fellow citizens to slow down and drive more carefully.
Alameda has a low speed limit for safety, not inconvenience. According to one calculation, a driver going 25 MPH who reacted within 2 seconds to seeing a pedestrian cross the street would travel 103 feet before coming to a stop. The time to stop differs depending on the car’s weight and braking time, but it’s safe to say it takes a while.
We all lead busy lives and find ourselves late, stressed, or simply not paying attention when we travel, but the riskiness of this behavior varies drastically if one is driving versus walking. As a person who drives, I have to constantly remind myself to pay attention, slow down, and look. I’m not always perfect, but I hope that keeping these things in mind will prevent me from accidentally taking the life of another due to my own negligence. Remember, a few seconds saved is not worth the risk of killing someone’s child, parent, or grandparent.
The news media has reported that thus far Turkish authorities have detained 134 contractors, architects and engineers connected to the thousands of collapsed buildings and over 30,000 deaths.
This massive detention is reminiscent of the fawning Captain Louie Renault speaking officiously to Major Strasse, the visiting German Gestapo chief in CASABLANCA: “Realizing the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects.” The corrupt captain goes on to brag that he already knows who the culprit is but has not yet arrested him because he wants to stage the arrest for the Major.
While the media has reported on the rounding up contractors, architects, and engineers, thus far there has been no mention of rounding up any government inspectors who may have been paid bribes to ignore violations of building codes during the construction of the now collapsed buildings.
The most expensive construction materials are reinforcing rods (rebar) and the lime (calcium oxide) used in making concrete. Cutting corners on rebar and lime can save a bundle, only a fraction of which needs to be passed on to the government inspector. Sadly, the resultant buildings are effectively sandcastles.
Turkey is a remnant of what was once the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire became the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and remained such until 1922. The word baksheesh was first recorded circa 1615. Within the Ottoman Empire civil servants received little pay; their remuneration came from tips or extorting bribes, both known as baksheesh. Baksheesh is accepted as part of the culture in countries that were at one time under the heel of the Ottoman Çarık.
Where corruption and baksheesh are endemic, a member of the police force, or a migration or customs officer, or any other type of government official may be swayed from legitimately enforcing the law. Byzantine culture, specifically the baksheesh tradition enduring, it is seemingly impossible to extricate from a political culture or social climate.
The corruption behind the tragic pulverization and crumbling of Turkish construction, should serve as a broader lesson to governments that over-regulate then use the threat of enforcement by politicized Commerce Departments, Treasury Departments and Justice Departments to extort baksheesh or what are politely called campaign contributions.
Many letters have been written about the possible closure of Bay Farm Middle School, most of them expressing outrage for two reasons: First, the Alameda Unified School District’s failure to communicate with the community it serves; and second, the folly of closing a superior school and “forcing” those “successful students” to attend inferior schools. Some of these letters take potshots at a school district bloated with overpaid administrators.
I read these letters with interest, but I wish they contained more facts — which brings us to the Three Rs: Rules, rules, and rules. From the simplest games to the most complex societies, humans need to make and follow rules. At some point, our nation made a rule about compulsory public education. It’s a big, complex system; imagine if you had been put in charge of setting it up from scratch. Public education is a mix of federal, state, county, and local agencies, which brings us to the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD).
The board members of AUSD are elected and accountable to the public in various ways. The same goes for the representatives we elect at the county, state, and federal levels. Presumably, AUSD must follow rules for such things as transparency, including the possible closure of schools. There should also be rules for the educational standards that we desire, such as teacher to student ratios. Similar schools across a district should have similar class sizes. So, if a school, like Bay Farm Middle School, has 23 students per classroom, while other middle schools have 32 students, that might raise some financial issues as well as educational equity issues.
As for the overall education budget, and the “bloated” administration, I haven’t seen enough facts in these letters to have an informed opinion. I’ve tried looking up basic information on official government websites, but they seem strangely opaque (maybe by design). I’d like to see more letters on education, but with a high fact to opinion ratio.