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June 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 02, 2004

LETTERS LETTERS (June 02, 2004)

Clarifying details of gift to Portola Valley


I want to clarify details of a gift I made as an "anonymous donor" (which we still prefer!) for the new Town Center in Portola Valley.

Prior to the gift in a letter to the council, counsel, planner, and administrator, I had no prior contact with the town government. I gather it was a happy surprise! It immediately followed the unanimous decision by the Town Council, whom I have great respect for, on February 9, 2004, to locate the new Town Center campus on the present site, after a lively public hearing followed by a round of applause.

The gift was for five specified structures that I felt essential for maximum efficiency of government with many volunteer committees and other community activities -- and with the greatest benefit to a maximum number of resident adults and children.

There were no restrictions for location on the 11 acres, new or rebuilt structures, or other limitations for further public debate or council and Planning Commission decisions (given land and financial restraints).

I have nothing to gain financially or otherwise by the gift. For newcomers to our very special town -- or those who don't know us -- my wife and I have a long record of involvement with the town and good causes we feel are important. And, I do know the territory. There was definitely neither quid pro quo nor naming request with the gift inferred during the public hearing at last week's Council meeting.

There is no reference to limiting facilities to only the structures the gift specified. The gift was a pledge. The sum of $250,000 has already been paid to the town with the donors' hope that the new Town Center "will be designed with examples of green environmental qualities for a low key, beautiful, open space 'Sense of Place.'"

Bill Lane
Portola Valley

Holocaust study misses evidence of Catholic response


I read your May 19 cover story, "Teaching the Holocaust," with interest, but also with some dismay. I am surprised that Mr. Davis, the creator of the Holocaust Study Center at Sacred Heart Prep, perpetuates the myth of the "non-response" of Pope Pius XII to Nazism and the Holocaust. In fact, a mountain of evidence exists to the contrary. To cite just a few points:

1) Of the 44 speeches given by papal nuncio Eugenio Pacelli (before he became Cardinal Secretary of State and then Pope Pius XII) in Germany between 1917 and 1929, 40 denounced some aspect of the emerging Nazi ideology.

2) Since Pope Pius XII was aware that his speeches were often followed by increased persecution of Jews, retaliation against prisoners in the camps, as well as danger to Catholics, he chose a policy of protection of Jews and other targeted groups by limiting public protests and increasing rescue efforts.

3) By the pope's directive, churches and convents throughout Italy gave refuge to Jews. In only one example, at least 3,000 Jews were sheltered at Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the pope. Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide, in his 1967 book, estimates that the pope was "instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands."

4) Although Jews were the principal victims of the Nazi regime, other groups were targeted as well, including Catholics. At least 1.9 million (figure from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) non-Jewish Poles died in concentration camps, and those were predominantly Catholic. Thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and seminarians in Europe were killed or sent to forced labor camps by the Nazis.

Studying the Holocaust, mourning its victims, learning from its survivors and absorbing its tragic lessons are essential, and I applaud Sacred Heart Prep, Mr. Davis and his students for their focus on this subject. However, making that study of history as accurate and comprehensive as possible is also essential.

Elizabeth Sewell
Hedge Road, Menlo Park

Truth at Abu Ghraib needed to come out


I am responding to Alan Zulberti's May 19 letter deploring the fact that the CBS television show 60 Minutes exposed the detainee abusing that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He wrote: "prudent judgment must be exercised by the media when airing deplorable and reprehensible acts." His supposition was that Nick Berg might be alive had that program not been aired.

Yes, and the humiliation and torture to those detainees might still be going on in that prison had not the truth been revealed.

In a recent open letter to President George W. Bush from Amnesty International, the following was quoted from a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Walid al-Qadasi, who termed the first night of interrogation by U.S. agents "the black night."

He said that: "they cut our clothes with scissors, left us naked and took photos of us ... handcuffed our hands behind our backs, blindfolded us, and started interrogating us ... threatened me with death, accusing me of belong to al-Qaida." What else is going on in Guantanamo Bay? The detainees have no access to family or lawyers and the media cannot investigate.

Republican Sen. John McCain has stated, and I paraphrase, "Torture does not reveal the truth as the prisoner will tell the torturers anything they want to hear."

What has happened to our constitution's promise that "you are innocent until proven guilty?" Due process is essential to democracy. The incidents at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo do not display the type of behavior that I can be proud of as an American. The constitution should be observed all the time and not be ignored under any conditions.

Lee Boucher
Valencia Court, Portola Valley

Unfair roadblocks to traffic-calming projects


This letter is addressed to members of the Menlo Park City Council:

I note that the draft Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan (NTMP) presently allows for residents of adjacent cities to be included in study area. Presumably, this means also that advocates of traffic mitigation may also be required to draw a portion of the 60 percent vote necessary to initiate a study from non-residents of Menlo Park.

What is the intent here? If it is to foster inter-city cooperation, then surely there ought to at least be provisions in plan requiring reciprocal action by other municipalities to shield Menlo Park from traffic generated by projects in these cities.

Incidentally, at the last traffic management plan public meeting, both staff and consultant assured the audience that NTMP applied only to Menlo Park.

The provision for external approval of calming measures, combined with the requirement for 100 percent approval of a calming device within 100 feet of that device; and requirement for 60 percent of residents (NOT respondents) even to inagurate a study, are all designed to make calming almost impossible.

Much of the public commentary at the hearings has dwelled on the unreasonableness of these requirements, yet no changes are made to the proposed NTMP policy, which will depart greatly from the spirit of the transportation component of Menlo Park's General Plan.

Under this component, the city is required to establish, "as a priority," the protection of local streets in residential areas from excessive speeding and excessive volumes of through traffic."

By erecting almost insurmountable barriers to protecting quality of life by halting cut-through traffic on our neighborhood streets, the Transportation Commission -- abetted by the City Council majority -- is flagrantly violating its fiduciary responsibility to the residents of our city.

Ross Wilson
Woodland Avenue, Menlo Park


I agree in great part with the May 26 letter of Jeffrey and Marcia Keimer, regarding the proposed new Town Center in Portola Valley. They stated, "This project all began a few years ago with talk of the need for new administration offices, costing ... $2 million to $3 million ...and has grown into a project costing possibly $15 million, with no vote of the townspeople."

I have recently reviewed the geologic survey called for by then Mayor John Wilson in 1977. This survey studied the Town Center and determined a very different need in terms of seismic safety for the existing buildings.

I question, therefore, the demolition of all the existing buildings. Do the majority of the residents of Portola Valley wish to take on such a project and debt without being given the opportunity to examine other options and bring this to a vote? I speak as a resident of Portola Valley for 43 years and as a past member of the Park & Recreation Committee. I have also served as a Planning Commissioner.

Fran Dempsey
Westridge Drive, Portola Valley

Tell Atherton about derelict buildings


This letter is a follow-up to the Almanac's April 28 cover story titled "Down and Out in Atherton."

The Atherton Civic Interest League and the Atherton Pride Committee did identify 55 properties in violation of Atherton Town Ordinance Chapter 8.20 "Nuisance Abatement." The ACIL turned over this project to town management in October of last year for appropriate action.

Of the 16 most egregious violations, 11 have been resolved through sale and tear-down or foreclosure, sale and construction restart. However, five of the worst violations still exist.

I recommend that all concerned residents verify the current status of existing public nuisances, and then email, phone or write your request for action to Mayor Kathy McKeithen or to City Manager Jim Robinson. Contact them at kmckeithen or, call 752-0504 or visit Town Hall on Ashfield Road.

Bob Jenkins, President
Atherton Civic Interest League

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