Letters to the Editor
Publication Date: Wednesday Mar 15, 1995

Letters to the Editor

Distorted rehash


When Gentry Magazine was asked by the Palo Alto Weekly to be interviewed for a cover story celebrating our second anniversary (Weekly, Feb. 15), I must admit we were somewhat reluctant, having suffered previously at the hands of the local press. Given assurances that it would be an article on our success and survival and not yet another Gentry-bashing opportunity, we agreed to the process. That Ms. (Diane) Sussman opted to rehash at length the controversy of our first two months of existence hardly speaks to the premise of a two-year success story. I am disappointed that a newspaper such as yours would condescend to distortions and falsehoods.

In reading the article, I found Ms. Sussman's prose colorful and provocative, which I assume was its intent, but not, unfortunately, particularly accurate. In writing that I "had never written for publication, (or) worked as an editor," Ms. Sussman seems to have forgotten our discussion of my nine-year career as an editor at Philco-Ford or the fact that, among other things, I had written and published an Irish family genealogical study/cookbook. She also very carefully neglected to mention the academic backgrounds of either Mr. (Sloane) Citron or myself that might have given credibility to our professional thrust.

That Ms. Sussman would portray me as a vapid, socially connected dilettante, looking for something to do after the children are gone, and to imply that I not only sold my Atherton home but spent my children's inheritance as well in order to be able to dabble in publishing is both untrue and irresponsible, highly prejudicial journalism. Sussman seems to discard the concept that there can be probity without ulterior motive.

We are proud to stand apart. Specialization is not necessarily anti-majoritarian. Let me assure you that our larger community has warmly embraced and supported Gentry Magazine in a most positive way over the last two years. We believe our success lies in our chartered goal to deliver substantive matter in a package befitting the expectations of our audience. That we can be a positive voice in dealing with issues in our neighborhood, that we can be responsive to our advertisers' needs, that we can be of service to the many benevolent organizations that make this community special, and that we have shown flexibility in rising to meet these needs, we consider important points in discussing our success.

Gentry Magazine is successful because we work hard and we believe in what we are doing. Like the Palo Alto Weekly, we are serving a very special community, deserving of a variety of newspapers and magazines whose goals should be to serve the community and not to criticize each other. There is room for all of us. That is the beauty of our system. It would never occur to our magazine to first seduce you into agreeing to be interviewed and then to write a feature on the pedantic, self-serving, iconoclastic viewpoints of your publication.

So, let us say it for you, Palo Alto Weekly. "Happy second anniversary, Gentry Magazine. We are happy that our community has such a quality magazine to serve us, and we hope that truth in journalism and freedom of the press continue to be supported and encouraged by communities all across America."

Elsie M. Floriani
Founder/executive editor, Gentry Magazine
Santa Cruz Avenue
Menlo Park

How rent control works


An important facet of the East Palo Alto rent control ordinance which was neglected in your reporter's analysis (Weekly, Feb. 22) is that the law permits the board to control rental management in many ways not connected with limitation of rents.

First, the law has established a bureaucracy which is too expensive. The two employees of the office staff (when one would be sufficient) cost more than $90,000 a year, including benefits. The cost of filing a redress petition as cited in the article is unreasonably high--$600--in order, I suppose, to compensate the hearing examiners at the rate of $150 per hour.

This dollar-gobbling system is supported by the annual fee charged each landlord for "registering" each unit, This fee, which increases every year (not a mere 3 percent), is established by whim and without reference to the costs of operating the Rent Control Program. The rather large overcharge goes into East Palo Alto city coffers, which have not yet been audited--Washington, D.C., learn from our techniques!--and even the rent control staff does not know what it is used for. No one ever attempts to justify the exorbitant per-unit fee. "We are in charge here!"

Second, the "Good Cause for Eviction" section of the ordinance was formulated to hamstring the landlord. It is too restrictive and insufficiently flexible to permit proper and necessary management procedures. If, for example, someone is given a free apartment for performing maintenance and/or clean-up duties and seriously shirks them, resulting in damage to the premises and/or tenants, the ordinance does not permit his or their eviction. This was told me by a private attorney, the acting director of the rent control Program and the program's attorney. Extend this unreasonable protection to the resident manager required in every larger apartment complex when he misappropriates tenants' rent or deposits, harasses tenants or enters their apartments without just cause or permission and you have a colossal no-solution mess!

Third, the staff interjects its uninformed and biased opinions into landlord-tenant disputes concerning which the ordinance does not require its intervention. For example, in the event that a tenant regularly breaks open other tenants' mailboxes in search of AFDC checks (which are easily forged in endorsing), and the apartment management with the tacit permission of postal officials adopts measures to secure the boxes, the board in response to a tenant complaint (perhaps the mail thief) protests to the Post Office and every office having no knowledge or jurisdiction in the affair, hoping perhaps that the burglaries will go away by themselves.

Fourth, without detailed knowledge of the "Implied Warranty of Habitability," required by California law for each residence, the staff will allege that matters as trivial as crayon-scribbled walls, ripped screens, greasy fan filters, undefrosted refrigerators and dirty stoves--invariably caused by tenant misuse or failure to clean--are serious code violations. What code a towel bar or toothbrush holder torn off a wall or a closet door slammed off its track violates is never specified, but it is always stated that the landlord has committed a sin sufficiently heinous to block the pathetically small annual rent increase.

Lastly, the Rent Control Board, the EPA Community Law Project and the County Health Department form an interlocking directorate which effectively prevents ordinance justifiable evictions. All unlawful detainer lawsuits must be delivered to the Rent Control Office, which overtly or covertly brings them to the attention of the Law Project, which in turn aids the delinquent tenant in filing an answer, which then forces a court hearing or the employment of a private attorney to prosecute the action.

The possibility of escape from this network of no-win situations would be ample cause for celebration for any landlord except those who have purchased their units recently for less than former land value at one of the spate of foreclosure sales in which owners and lenders have lost their equities and their loans.

Richard J. Herndon
Tennyson Avenue
Palo Alto

More than money


We are writing to express our excitement about being chosen a Renaissance school district by the 21st Century Education Initiative of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley (Weekly, March 3). The Challenge 2000 grant which we will receive involves far more than dollars. It means an opportunity for parents, teachers, students and staff to enter into a partnership with the leadership of the Silicon Valley to produce students who will be truly prepared to be contributing citizens and productive workers in the 21st century.

The real work is just beginning. There will be extensive discussions with members of the 21st Century Education Initiative to determine the nature of the support we will receive. We anticipate that it will be some combination of human resources, financial support and in-kind contributions, not necessarily $1.3 million. We will also jointly determine the expected outcomes of this project, the steps we will take to achieve the outcomes, and the measures used to determine the success of our collaborative efforts. The final scope of the project will emerge from these discussions.

As members of the Renaissance Team, we appreciate the support of the 21st Century Education Initiative and are grateful to Joint Venture: Silicon Valley and Smart Valley for making it possible. We have much to learn from each other.

Barbara Liddell
Associate superintendent, educational services
Susie Richardson
Board member
Palo Alto Unified School District
Churchill Avenue
Palo Alto

More details needed


The voters of Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills will have an opportunity in the June 8 election to tax themselves $63 per year per $100,000 of assessed value of their homes to pay for a $143 million bond issue to renovate and upgrade the 15 schools in the Palo Alto school district (Weekly, March 3). For a home assessed at $400,000, the tax will be $252 per year, or $7,560 over the 30-year life of the bond issue. Since we love our schools, respect our teachers and value the importance of a top education for our children, can anyone vote no on this issue? On the other hand, based on the amount of information released to the voters, how can anyone vote yes?

According to a recent letter from School Superintendent James Brown, our schools have heating and ventilation systems that don't work, inadequate electrical and lighting systems, leaky roofs and bathrooms requiring new plumbing. In addition, a few schools need additional classrooms and earthquake and safety repairs. What is a reasonable cost for this work? The $143 million bond issue will raise $9.5 million per school for our 15 schools. How can voters determine if $9 5 million per school is excessive or reasonable? Missing in all the information released to date is an item-by-item list by school of the required repairs and related cost of each repair. Also, I would like to know who was on the committee making the repair recommendations, and did any members of the committee have a conflict of interest, such as contractors, architects and teachers?

Is there no other way to repair our schools? How about a voluntary parent program to provide labor for the necessary repairs? We certainly have many engineers, scientists, artisans, architects, contractors and dedicated parents in our community with the expertise to initiate and guide a voluntary team to make most of the required repairs and upgrades. This will save millions in labor costs and provide people an opportunity to make a real hands-on contribution to our schools and community. Our recent visitor Jimmy Carter did this with his Habitat for Humanity (Weekly, March 8). We can do this with a Habitat for Children program.

At the moment my vote is no for the $143 million bond issue. But I may ultimately vote yes if the sponsors of Measure B provide more information about the repairs and prove the cost cannot be significantly reduced.

Howard Randall
Parkinson Avenue
Palo Alto

What has been done?


Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent James Brown, in an undated letter to "Parents and Neighbors" is soliciting support for a $143 million bond measure to finance repairs of district schools (Weekly, March 3). He states that when he assumed his duties, five years ago, he was shocked about the state of repair in Palo Alto school facilities. May I ask what he did in these five years to remedy this shocking state of affairs? As chief administrator of the school district, this would certainly have been one of his responsibilities. And, as he is compensated very handsomely, in fact much higher than many senior executives in local industries who are held responsible for competent performance and management with limited resources, am I expecting too much of the superintendent?

$143 million is a lot of money for repairs in just the Palo Alto school district. And new taxes in the amount of about $63 a year for each $100,000 of assessed valuation is a significant burden, especially for fixed-income property owners. I, for one, do not trust Mr. Brown to manage such a fund in the best interest of the community. The self-glorification of his "educational accomplishments" are mocked by the "English" of his letter and Q & A sheet. Many years ago, when I learned English abroad in seventh and eighth grade, I could not possible obtain a passing grade had I written these pieces. No, thank you, on Measure "B" and perhaps it is time to demand real performance from school district administrators, including reports in English, not "Educationalese."

Fritz Faber
Washington Avenue
Palo Alto

Falling test scores


One night last December at 11 p.m. the Palo Alto school board addressed the next-to-last item on its lengthy meeting agenda--the results of standardized test scores of district students. By that time only a handful of citizens remained in the audience. After a very positive presentation by a school administrator, four distraught parents spoke to the board about their concerns.

In particular, the mathematics scores for the eighth-grade students on the Stanford Achievement test have fallen from the 90th to the 80th percentile over the last three years. During the same period, subscores on the computation section have fallen from the 90th percentile to below the 60th percentile (Weekly, March 10).

One particularly troubling feature of the district report was that graphs displaying these results over the past three years were presented in reverse chronological order. This gave the misleading impression that a significant decline in math scores was actually an increase. I find it quite ironic that the superintendent (Letters, March 1) cited the (previously) excellent test scores from the Palo Alto students as a measure of the strength of the district's academic programs.

As a relative newcomer to the area I am quite puzzled. Why does a community whose economic well-being depends largely on "knowledge" industries not insist on academic excellence? Why is a school district that formerly prided itself on high achievement now using unproven methods to fix something that, for the most part, wasn't broken? When will declining school performance begin to be reflected by a decline in property values? Why do only a handful of people seem to care?

Joe Lipsick
Cedro Way

Don't hold kids hostage


I am dismayed by the use of the phrase "new new math" and the obvious attempt to discredit current math curriculum by linking it to the new math of the '60s and '70s (Weekly, March 10). I have one child who has just completed and another just starting the three-year middle school math program at Jordan. All of the facts, concepts, theorems, etc., they are learning are very familiar to me from my school days.

The term "new" in the '9Os refers to the fact that, in addition to the basics, our children are learning to think critically about math, to answer questions such as: What process did I use to get this answer? Are there other possible solutions? Why or why not? What do I do if I get stuck? They are also learning the relevance of math to the real world and are learning to work with diverse groups of people to solve problems. These are wonderful skills that will serve my children well throughout their lives. Frankly, learning to work with diverse groups of people to solve problems is a skill that would benefit most of us! I give two thumbs up to the so-called "new new math"!

I am also disturbed by the implication that if we don't like a particular school district policy we should not support the school bond issue on the June ballot. This bond issue is not about math curriculum, how decisions are made or any other district policy. Measure B is about facilities. The school buildings and grounds are a community asset and these buildings house the most precious asset of all, our children--our future--for nine months of the year.

I think the kids deserve to have facilities with adequate lighting, toilets that flush, rooms with heat, roofs that don't leak, the ability to connect to the outside world, room for a wheelchair to navigate, rooms with two exits in case of an emergency, etc. As a taxpayer and member of the community I feel an overwhelming responsibility to vote yes on Measure B. We can not allow our children to be held hostage! There are other appropriate forums for addressing any concerns individuals have with the schools.

Cathy Kroymann
Somerset Place
Palo Alto

Creative, dedicated kids


Our society hears so many stories about teen-agers who are at best apathetic and ignorant, at worst hostile and destructive. Last night I had a different experience of young people when I attended opening night of the Gunn High School production of "Anything Goes!"

The scene at the end of Act 1 epitomizes the spirit of the show. Imagine 60 high school boys and girls filling the set, from the ship's main deck, up the stairs and along the balcony of the upper deck. Imagine them tap dancing in unison to the music of the student orchestra and booming out the words to that wonderful title song.

Then consider the creativity and dedication needed to design and build the elaborate set, arrange the lighting, pull together the 1930s costumes and props, practice Cole Porter's sparkling music, rehearse the songs and lines and comic timing, learn the choreography, stave off colds, keep up with class assignments and work together to pull it all off.

If you'd like to give yourself a treat, attend one of the final performances on March 16, 17 or 18 at 8 p.m. in Spangenberg Auditorium. Tickets are $7. If you're like me, you'll laugh, you'll cheer and you'll know that teen-agers and their teachers can be very special.

Judy Kramer
Ferne Avenue
Palo Alto

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