Letters to the editor from June 24

Fix city’s ill-timed traffic lights

EDITOR: I noted with interest the front page article on roadways in Petaluma with the highest injury and accident rates: East Washington Street and Lakeville Highway (Lakeville is area’s deadliest roadway” July 10).

While there is no good excuse for speeding and other driving violations, at least part of the reason for these high rates can be attributed to some of the worst traffic and highway engineering on the planet. Ridiculously long or astoundingly short traffic light cycles, asynchronous sequencing of signals particularly on these two streets, and poorly conceived crosswalks contribute to drivers’ frustration and risk-taking. Some, if not all, of these problems could be fixed cheaply with a little brainpower, and without a one-percent increase in our sales tax.

There’s another benefit derived from synchronizing our signals: many folks who live on the east side would go downtown again. Even though, arguably, Petaluma’s best restaurants and most interesting shops are around East Washington and Petaluma Boulevard, I dread driving there. I do my shopping in greater downtown Cotati. I hear Petaluma Market is wonderful; I’ve never been there because of the trip. Last week, I went to the Cavanagh Center to play ping pong (a very enjoyable experience). From Maria and East Washington to the Center took 23, almost 24 minutes. Is it a wonder that drivers become exasperated and break the law?

If, truly, City Public Works Department doesn’t have the expertise or the funds to rationally re-engineer the signals on these two thoroughfares, I have a suggestion: challenge the advanced science and math gifted classes at our local high schools to come up with a plan. And to the city council, stop arguing which tax to raise (“Sparks fly over sales tax,” July 10) and start taking care of issues that you can with the resources that we have.

James Pointer, Petaluma

A real conversation without religion

EDITOR: Although I share in Joy Metten’s real concern about tending to issues regarding morality (“Cheating, religion and the morals of American children,” July 10), I believe that linking ethics with religion in our pluralistic society is neither helpful nor necessary. We have too many examples of members of various religions behaving in horrifying ways for us to be able to assume that religious affiliation or training results in morality. There is plenty of evidence, alas, that religion can even be given as the reason for such behavior.

In the current American spiritual landscape, there is a growing group of atheists called “secular humanists” who specifically commit themselves to rigorous moral principles regarding humanity and the planet. A colleague of mine who is risking her life in Doctors Without Borders is in this group — as is my husband, an atheist whose kind, ethical and generous heart often puts me to shame. They embody what George Washington could not have imagined 200 years ago; folks who are neither religious nor spiritual, but who live from an awareness of their union with and responsibility toward all life.

A conversation about how we can as a community address the life-denying values that plague us would be most helpful. As a Catholic, I would welcome the Judeo-Christian voices, but the conversation would be limited and distorting if we did not also include both people on other spiritual paths (including those that do not believe in a soul) as well as our secular humanist sisters and brothers.

Dr. Ruah Bull, Petaluma

Balderdash to fire union’s concessions

EDITOR: When it comes to laying smokescreens, our Petaluma firefighters are certainly at the top of their class. With labor discussions about to begin, Petaluma Firefighters Union president Ken Dick is laying it on so thick our eyes are burning (“Firefighters, city in negotiations for new contract,” July 10).

Claiming first of all that the union’s primary concern is staffing, one can only respond: Balderdash. The union’s primary concern, as is the case with all unions, is maximizing the salaries and benefits of its members. If the Petaluma firefighters union or any of its members had concern over staffing reductions these past few years, they would have agreed to the modest salary or benefit concessions necessary to save those positions. Of course, they did not. Firefighter salaries and benefits have gone untouched while the Petaluma residents who pay those salaries and benefits continue to struggle with housing foreclosures, job losses and reduced standards of living.

But the union president doesn’t stop there. He keeps pouring on the coal and claims further that the union made significant concessions to pension reform when it agreed to adoption of a two-tiered plan. Again: Balderdash. Two-tiered plans cost current union members nothing and are certainly not concessions. Why? Because two-tiered plans simply mean that current union members get to keep their excessive salaries and pensions while the next generation of firefighters (who, by the way, didn’t get a vote in the matter) are paid less.

It’s easy to adopt and claim credit for a two-tiered plan that doesn’t cost you anything. No courage is required, although facing yourself in the mirror the next morning may be a challenge.

A certain amount of rhetoric from union officials is to be expected as labor contracts are negotiated. But when the rhetoric comes from the firefighters union, who can we call to clear the smoke?

Dan Drummond, executive director of the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association

City’s $55 million liability

EDITOR: This letter was written regarding the article “Sparks fly over sales tax,” July 10.

What I find offensive is the slick “con job” the city administration is playing by surveying the community as to how they want to spend the proceeds of the proposed sales tax increase. When will they be honest and tell the public that they have already spent the money?

Petaluma’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows that three years ago, the city administration amassed $45 million ($34,510,293 plus $10,458,323) in unfunded pension liabilities and $10 million ($9,871,000) in unfunded post employment benefits.

This $55 million liability has been growing every year since. The city council hasn’t even discussed how they will pay these liabilities, much less restructure the city employee compensation packages to arrest the growth of these liabilities. In fact the city council just voted to adopt an annual budget which is increasing employee compensation by $2,000,000 over the previous budget.

These numbers don’t include the millions of dollars in claims payable and litigation losses the city has suffered. Giving them a sales tax increase before the city deals with their real problems is akin to giving heroin to an addict.

Bryant Moynihan, Petaluma